DISClaimer: Love and Theft, The Rifters Lead Country Variety Pack

Love-and-Theft-Whiskey-on-my-breath-CountryMusicRocks.net_We have a variety-pack of country styles today.

Keith Urban rocks. The Rifters are folky. Chris Janson has a country love ballad. Michael Martin Murphey has a cowboy song. Bonnie Bishop brings blue-eyed soul. Ray Scott portrays a smoldering outlaw. Tom Huddleston tries to channel The Hillbilly Shakespeare with an old-school sound.

Our contenders for Disc of the Day are Urban, Janson, Scott and our winners, Love and Theft.

The DisCovery Award goes to The Rifters. This New Mexico acoustic trio describes its sound as “blue-gramma-grass,” but it sounds like gently strummed contemporary country-folk to me.

THE RIFTERS/The Architecture of a Fire
Writers: D. Richmond/C. Pyle; Producer: The Rifters, Don Richmond; Publisher: none listed; Howlin’ Dog (track)
– The title tune of this trio’s current CD is a languid, hushed folk ode characterized by soft acoustic guitar/fiddle/steel/mandolin accompaniment and gentle vocal harmonies. It’s quite entrancing. Stay tuned for the even more hooky following track, “A Hundred Miles.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 9.37.04 AMEASTON CORBIN/Are You With Me
Writers: Tommy Lee James/Terry McBride/Shane McAnally; Producer: Carson Chamberlain; Publishers: Pretty Woman/Super Phonic/BMG Chyrsalis/Orbison/Turn Me On/Crazy Water/Little Blue Egg/Kobalt, BMI/ASCAP; Mercury (CDX)
-He dreams of freedom and days of joy. And he wants to know if she’s game to come along. This mid tempo outing has a juicy melody and a beefy production. Corbin’s vocal pleads, but lacks fire and desire.

KEITH URBAN/Wasted Time
Writers: Greg Wells/J. Hart/Keith Urban; Producers: Greg Wells/Keith Urban; Publishers: Firehouse Cat/BMG Gold/360/Ray Daniels/Jayded Ink/Songs of Universal/Mary Rose, ASCAP/SESAC/BMI; Capitol (CDX)
– Electronic throbbing and rocking percussion underscore Keith’s soaring tenor vocal performance. The best days of his life, he says, are summer wasted time. I get it. Sing on.

LOVE AND THEFT/Whiskey On My Breath
Writers: Stephen Barker-Liles/Adam Craig/Russell Dickerson/Mark McGuinn/Tyler Reeve/Trent Tomlinson; Producers: Josh Leo/Love and Theft; Publishers: Hate and Purchase/EMI April/Rockapop/Sony-ATV Tree/Internal Combustion/Atlas/Warner-Tamerlane/Kirbfinder’s Mucho Love/Brown Hound/Big Spaces/BootHeel/Big Mosquito/Amplified, ASCAP/BMI; Curb (CDX)
-Fabulous, stacked vocal harmonies. The stately ballad faces all the sins he’s committed. He knows he’s going to heaven anyway, but he needs to pull himself together because he doesn’t want to meet Jesus with whiskey on his breath. A terrific song, and an equally terrific performance. By all means, play this.

RAY SCOTT/High Road
Writer: Ray Scott; Producer: Dave Brainard; Publishers: Cherry Heart/Songs of Universal, BMI; DeciBel (CDX)
– As always, his ultra-masculine singing is infused with conviction and emotion. The “outlaw” lyric admits that he burns beer joints down and he’s headed straight to perdition. As a songwriter, he sure knows how to get the job done. As a recorded presence, he’s charisma on the hoof.

TOM HUDDLESTON & THE SADDLE SPRING BOYS/Hey Good Lookin’
Writer: Hank Williams; Producers: Rodney Crowell, G. Marq Roswell, Carter Little & Ray Kennedy; Publishers: none listed; Legacy (track)
– The new I Saw the Light bio flick is getting lukewarm reviews. But everyone seems to agree that Huddleston’s acting nails Hank Williams’ personality. As a singer, he lacks the pinched-nerve hillbilly soul of Hank. But The Saddle Spring Boys have The Drifting Cowboys’ sound down to a T.

Bonnie BishopBONNIE BISHOP/Not Cause I Wanted To
Writers: Al Anderson/Bonnie Bishop; Producer: Dave Cobb; Publishers: none listed; BB/Thirty Tigers
-This longtime Music Row favorite has teamed up with red-hot producer Dave Cobb for her latest CD, Ain’t Who I Was. It includes a version of her song that won a Grammy for Bonnie Raitt in 2012. I love her slightly sandpapery style and aching phrasing. Jimmy Wallace’s organ sighs mournfully in the background.

CHRIS JANSON/Holdin’ Her
Writers: Chris Janson/James Otto; Producer: Byron Gallimore; Publishers: Red Vinyl/Buckkilla/Words & Music/Songs of Universal, BMI; Warner Bros.
-A rounder is on the wrong path. But he’s saved by a good woman’s love. This country ballad has a slow-burn vibe that heats up into a bonfire of passion. What a performance.

LILI BELLE/Angel
Writer: Lili Belle; Producer: none listed; Publisher: lili Belle, BMI; LB (track)
– The title song of this artist’s debut EP is a sweet, lilting gospel tune. She sings with an excellent clarity, and at just age 22, she is clearly already on the right path as a writer. The steel-laced production is nicely soft and subtle. For a taste of how she fares on a country tempo tune, check out “A Guy Like That.”

MICHAEL MARTIN MURPHEY/Campfire on the Road
Writers: John Robert Williamson; Producer: Bobby Blazier; Publisher: none listed, APRA/Emusic PTY LLD; Murphey Kinship
-Murphey’s seventh Western-song collection is titled High Stakes. It includes this lovely Australian cowboy ballad that echoes the style of the late John Denver. The beauty of the great outdoors is something I never tire of hearing poets and songwriters convey. This one’s a keeper.

Michael Martin Murphey

Michael Martin Murphey

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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