Today’s survey of current Americana sounds has both old friends and fresh faces.
First things first. Drop whatever you are doing today. Go find the new album by Natalie Hemby. Give it a spin and prepare to be dazzled. It is absolutely brilliant. It is also the Disc of the Day.
We had plenty of first timers to choose from. Next to Natalie, my favorite was the new Nashville male-female duo Terra Bella. Give those kids a DisCovery Award.
HUGH PRESTWOOD/I Used To Be The Real Me
Writer: Hugh Prestwood; Producer: Hugh Prestwood; Publishers: Hugh Prestwood/Judy Collins, no performance rights listed; Wildflower/Cleopatra (track)
– The latest album by this Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member is on Judy Collins’s label. That’s sort of a “full circle” thing, since she was the first person to have a hit with one of his songs (1979’s “Hard Times for Lovers”). Judy sings with Hugh on two of the new CD’s tracks. Its compelling title tune is a rhythmic story song about a broken man who ruefully remembers better days. Also included is his own version of his celebrated “The Song Remembers When.”
ME AND MOLLY/Old Friend
Writers: Molly Stevens/Declan McGarry; Producers: Jeff Crawford/Molly Stevens/Declan McGarry; Publishers: Me and Molly, no performance rights listed; Tiny Human (track)
– This Nashville songwriting duo has a strummy, folkie sound. Both are strong singers. Amid this title track’s gently rhythmic track are their note-perfect harmony vocals. He carries the lead. She soars above.
THE NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND & JACKSON BROWNE/These Days
Writers: Jackson Browne; Producers: Michael Davis/Jeff Hanna; Publisher: Open Window/no performance rights listed; NGDB (track)
– The soundtrack to this band’s 50th-anniversary PBS TV celebration has now been released. Guests include John Prine, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Jerry Jeff Walker and Rodney Crowell. The inclusion of Jackson Browne is apt, since he was briefly a NGDB member in the band’s early days. The band evocatively backs him with echoey licks on performance of his signature 1973 song. On the track, he reveals that he actually wrote it way back when he was in the group. Recommended, as is the whole package.
TERRA BELLA/Road To Forever
Writers: Joseph Costa/Dave Gibson; Producer: Johnny Garcia; Publishers: none listed; TB (track)
– This couple made the move from California to Music City and got married. They are staging their disc debut with a six-song EP. Its title tune is a tough little country rocker with many hooky pleasures. Producer Johnny Garcia has been Trisha Yearwood’s guitar accompanist for years, and it sounds like he has a future behind studio boards.
JENNY GILL/Lonely Lost Me
Writers: none listed; Producer: Vince Gill; Publishers: none listed; JG (track)
– Vinnie’s daughter sings with a confident pop lilt. Her dad’s accompanying track has an irresistible groove embellished with guitar and organ accent notes. Very listenable. Very sweet.
SAINTS ELEVEN/Coming Back Around
Writer: Jeff Grossman; Producer: Walt Wilkins/Ron Flynt; Publisher: none listed; ASCAP; JG (track)
– These three are evidently a big deal on the live scene in Texas. Their third CD’s title tune moans the blues with plenty of twang and heart. There’s a raw, authentic edge to frontman Jeff Grossman’s honky-tonk drawl.
JIM LAUDERDALE/This Changes Everything
Writers: Jim Lauderdale/Bruce Robison; Producer: Tommy Detamore; Publishers: Laudersongs/Mighty Nice/Tiltawhirl/Bluewater, BMI; Sky Church (track)
– This prolific Americana record maker enters the new year with a solid 11-song collection that kicks off with this smoothly shuffling title tune. The band cruises like a finely tuned car, while Lauderdale’s vocal hangs back ever so slightly. This behind-the-beat phrasing keeps you hanging on with anticipation, note for note. As always, Lauderdale is reliably country throughout the album.
NATALIE HEMBY/This Town Still Talks About You
Writers: Natalie Hemby/Kelly Archer/Jnan Schott; Producer: Mike Wrucke; Publishers: none listed; GetWrucke (track)
– She’s been cowriting hits for Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Toby Keith, Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban and other top stars for years. Now a CD titled Puxico introduces her as a record maker. Her expressive, languid vocal on this track is matched with a dreamy, atmospheric production by her hubby, Mike Wrucke. It goes without saying that it is brilliantly written. Definitely don’t stop with this tune; hang around for the whole collection and get bathed in beauty.
RENEE WAHL/See You On The Way Down
Writers: Renee Wahl/Bill Maler; Producer: Patterson Barrett; Publisher: Renee Wahl/Ten Gallon Fat, BMI/ASCAP; Double R (track)
– Like many of our community’s Americana record makers, this gal is an East Nashvillian. Her six-song EP kicks off with this plaintively sung roots bopper. She’s not the strongest vocalist in the world, but the chugging production and hearty harmony vocals give her the oomph she needs.
BILL COOLEY/In Search of Home
Writer: Bill Cooley; Producer: Paul Martin/Bill Cooley; Publishers: Nancy Lee, ASCAP; NLM (track)
– Cooley has been Kathy Mattea’s accompanist for decades. He periodically issues instrumental guitar collections, and this is the title tune of his latest. It’s an acoustic tone poem with lovely filligreed picking that’s so inventive and involving that you forget you’re listening to just one instrument. Mattea drops by to offer a vocal on the Jesse Winchester song “That’s What Makes You Strong.” Enchanting listening.