DISClaimer: Americana’s Top-Shelf Stars, Sizzling Newcomers In The Spotlight

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• April 13, 2017

Americana, country music’s kissing cousin, today shows that it can field a team of writer-artists that’s easily the equal of Music Row’s most commercial record makers.

Malcolm Holcombe, Sunny Sweeney, Tift Merritt and Chip Taylor all have gripping tales to tell this week.

So does singer-songwriter Matt Urmy, who hauls in the DisCovery Award.

The Disc of the Day is a tie between David Olney, who is a songwriter’s songwriter, and the always enthralling Rodney Crowell, who dazzles with words as well as the star power of his trio with John Paul White and Rosanne Cash.

TIFT MERRITT/Love Soldiers On
Writer: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Yep Roc (track)
– The latest collection from this outstanding writer-artist is title Stitch of the World. Its first emphasis track is smokey, bluesy, languid tune. Her soprano hesitates and drawls in all the right places as she delivers its message of believing in the ultimately healing power of love.

DAVID OLNEY/Don’t Try To Fight It
Writers: Olney/Kane; Producer: Brock Zeman; Publishers: Red Lily/Little Duck, ASCAP/SESAC; Red Parlor (track)
– The great Olney returns with this moody, groovy title track of his latest CD. His protagonist gazes into a dark, dank world and concludes that it’s best to go with the flow. The track rumbles and grumbles around him, offering its own commentary on the status quo. Elsewhere on the collection are his eclectic, eccentric characters who fulminate, lie, steal, love and think too much. As usual, the songs are fantastic. The imaginative textures added by his new producer Zeman make this the most splendid David Olney album in years.

JESSI COLTER/Mercy and Loving Kindness (Psalm 136)
Writers: Jessi Colter; Producer: Lenny Kaye; Publishers: none listed; Legacy (track)
– Colter’s new collection’s lyrics are all drawn from the Bible’s psalms. She adds distinctive melodies based on her inimitable piano style. On this track, producer Kaye mixes in mandolin, mellotron, bass and wafting backing vocals. The effect is quite lovely, in an airy, inspirational kinda way. Jessi Colter’s other current project, by the way, is a gentle, gracious memoir titled An Outlaw and a Lady.

 

MATT URMY & JOHN PRINE/Out Of The Ashes
Writers: Matt Urmy; Producers: Cowboy Jack Clement/ Matt Urmy; Publishers: none listed; Tritone (track)
– Nashville singer-songwriter Matt Urmy was thrilled when the late, legendary Jack Clement agreed to work with him. When the album was nearly completed in 2010, Clement’s studio/home burned and Urmy believed his record had literally gone up in smoke. Miraculously, its raw files were saved. To celebrate, Urmy wrote this for Clement as a phoenix statement. John Prine agreed to make it a duet, and the addition of a chorus added just the right gospel flavor. Now, it is the collection’s title tune.

THE MAVERICKS/Damned (If You Do)
Writers: Raul Malo/Alan Miller; Producer: Raul Malo/Miko Bolas; Publishers: Malo/Wixen/Miller’s Tale/Me Gusta; BMI/ASCAP; Mondo Mundo/Thirty Tigers
– The debut single from The Mavericks’ just-released Brand New Day album is relentless, low burning, torrid, midtempo track that explores the swirling conflicts of romance. The sizzling electric guitar, blazing accordion and churning percussion are particular audio delights.

SUNNY SWEENEY/Better Bad Idea
Writers: none listed; Producer: Dave Brainard; Publishers: none listed; Thirty Tigers
– In any kind of a just universe, this woman would be a country superstar. Alas, she is too country for country. On this track from her new Trophy album, she rocks smartly with a tangy Texas twang and some snarling backing instrumentation. On the rest of this sterling collection, you’ll find booze, pills, divorce, longing, death, celebration and many other topics that make her one of our most credible and authentic roots artists. Highly recommended.

 

RODNEY CROWELL, JOHN PAUL WHITE, & ROSANNE CASH/It Ain’t Over Yet
Writers: Rodney Crowell; Producers: Jordan Lehning/Kim Bule; Publishers: Coolwell, ASCAP; New West (track)
– Crowell has just issued Close Ties as his once-more victorious return to fighting form as a writer. This track meditates on aging and experience with a track that clicks along at a sprightly pace. The dazzling lyric is made even more vivid as his guests take their turns as singers. Then the trio singing at the finale adds the icing on the cake. Mickey Raphael closes the whole thing out with a harmonica solo. P.S.: Buy this one on vinyl.

MALCOLM HOLCOMBE/Pretty Little Troubles
Writers: Malcolm Holcombe; Producer: Darrell Scott; Publishers: Gypsy Eyes, BMI; Gypsy Eyes (track)
– Holcombe’s blues-soaked, whiskey rasp makes him sound aged and barely coherent. But as he drawls his way through this lightly swinging title tune of his latest collection, you smile and nod in sympathy. Why complain? You’ll still be just as broke and busted whether you do or you don’t. Producer Scott has surrounded this ol’ boy with an awesome studio band. You’ll savor every note, as well as every lyric.

CHIP TAYLOR/A Song I Can Live With
Writers: Chip Taylor, Producers: Goran Grini/Chip Taylor; Publishers: Back Road/Sony, BMI; Train Wreck (track)
– Thanks to “Wild Thing,” “Angel of the Morning,” “Any Way That You Want Me,” “I Can Make It With You,” “Son of a Rotten Gambler” and “Try Just a Little Bit Harder,” Taylor entered the Songwriters Hall of Fame last year. After a career as a country-rock pioneer, he left music in 1980 to become a professional gambler. Since returning in 1996, he has become one of Americana music’s most prolific record makers. This slow, measured title ballad of his latest, is delivered in a whispered vocal as he vows undying love and prays for a final great musical statement. It practically makes you hold your breath as you listen.

BETH GARNER/Snake Farm
Writers: Hubbard; Producer: Beth Garner/Randy Kohrs; Publishers: none listed; The Music of Nashville (track)
– The title tune of this lady’s CD is the only song on it that she didn’t write. Its author is Ray Wylie Hubbard, who is being inducted into Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame this year. Garner delivers it with plenty of personality. Also plenty of electric-blues guitar, since she’s an ace picker, as well as a writer and singer. Garner has paid dues in the honky tonks of Lower Broadway for years, and her experience shows in the confidence and professionalism that’s all over this collection. Blues and roots-rock programmers take heed.

 

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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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