Alabama native Shane Owens has experienced career setbacks that would make most abandon their dreams. In 2005, he released a full album, Let's Get On It, whose single "Bottom of the Fifth," was a hit in Texas. However, the label Owens was on soon folded and with it the record, something he similarly experienced again in 2009. Through it all, though, Owens never gave up and later this year, the warm-voiced baritone will release a new cd on Amerimonte Records. The newest single from the project, “Country Never Goes Out of Style” holds true to its title, recalling 90’s country as Owens (in his warm drawl) touches on what being country means to him while avoiding any current clichés.
As the tide begins to turn and we see country artists, and listeners, embrace their roots, Owens could be prepared to make waves.
“I drive an old Ford pickup circa 1969
When Papaw passed away, Mamaw told me it was mine
I tuned up that engine
Rebuilt that old transmission
And never touched that radio dial
‘Cause country never goes out of style.”
With his latest release, Roots & Branches Levi Lowrey celebrates his musical heritage, present, and future. The double disc set begins with Roots where on the spoken “I Grew Up In Dacula” Lowrey describes his musical history from learning fiddle and watching his elders play in the weekly jam to ultimately being welcomed into the fold at that jam, cutting his teeth at the “The Chicken House."
On the songs that follow, the feelings of community and intimacy are apparent, transporting you to that chicken shack listening to Levi and the modern day Skillet Lickers (Lowrey’s great grandfather’s popular band in 1920’s and 1930’s). Brought to life by superb musicianship, the songs on Roots include standards (“Soldier’s Joy” and “Lorena”), Skillet Lickers’ originals and instrumentals that celebrate the past and furnish a traditional, down-home feel. The first chapter also includes "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" and “The Old Spinning Wheel” before concluding with “Community” on which Lowrey reflects on the communal sense music provides and the impact it can have on people, “Fleet Stanley” where he talks about that lack of believability that is lacking in popular music and “Lamp Lighting Time In The Valley” which recounts his journey while noting that while much has changed, he can still be found at the Chicken House every Friday when he is home as it ”is the place that will guide me wherever I go.”
With his roots firmly planted, the second disc, Branches demonstrates how those early influences shaped his branches as an artist and as a man, who while still questioning and dealing with his struggles, remains realistic, thoughtful, compassionate….and a dreamer. Opening track, “Prodigals Postcard” is a narrative detailing that familiar story of leaving one’s small town for bigger things, yet being held – or pulled - back (for better or for worse) by one’s roots. “If folks say there’s a way to get out of this town what am I still doing here?”
Lowrey brings his beautifully warm, striking and heartfelt vocals to a myriad of songs about love, life, and death. “Dance With The Devil,” where a long-passed girlfriend returns from the grave calling him to come with her, is instantly chilling while “Too Late” relates that familiar feeling of regret and lost love, “Sometimes it takes the sound of a fool-heart breaking down to make you realize that every little tear in her eye was just hourglass sand” with a melancholy melody trailing off as he sings, “You can’t go back it don’t work like that…” and “Old Trouble Like Me” which finds him openly and honestly warning another not to give their heart to him because he’ll just break it, “Give your cards to old gypsies, they'll read them for you/Give your youth to old habits and old points of view/Old memories of lovers don’t die easily/Don't give your heart to old trouble like me."
The gentle, folk-inspired “Play An Old Time Fiddle Tune” is hopeful and encouraging, offering the wisdom that comes with time to “keep your hopes up tall and your worries short” and spending our limited time here on earth wisely, focusing on loved ones and dreams. Similar themes continue on the driving, “Like They Should” where more modern melodies are infused in a song about the often unexpected turns life can take from illness to the fulfillment of dreams and to the (literal) fall of an old and special tree. “And I chase dreams juts to watch them burn been deemed unworthy of the praise I’ve earned/It’s a side of effect of living wouldn’t change it if I could/Things they don’t always turn out like they should.”
Branches is rounded out by three stellar tracks: “Play An Old Time Fiddle Tune,” “One Good Year” and “The One That Broke The World” The lively, inspiring and lovingly written first examines death as a physical event, but one where you can still be present, living on in other ways. “Bury me beneath the weeping willow/I'll live on forever in a tree/If your bow runs out of grip just wait for the sap to drip/You can play an old time fiddle tune with me." Death is again addressed on the personal “One Good Year” where he pleadingly requests “300 days and two good months” to feel a semblance peace and get his demons off his chest before his time comes, before closing with the acoustic “The One That Broke The World” an introspective and incredibly stirring song blending religion and struggle. “I keep moving though there ain’t no signs I’m gaining any ground I guess you can’t lose what you ain’t ever found.”
Roots and Branches originates from an artist who shows great reverence and respect for his past while continuing to grow his own boughs into a beautifully shady tree full of songs filled with emotion, insight and indelible melodies that will continue to nourish long after he moves on.
The Vogts Sisters released their third album, Homeward, June 2016. The talented duo unapologetically embrace the power of an acoustic guitar, a fiddle and flawless vocals in this ten track, self-produced gem. Sisters Maggie (fiddle and harmony vocals) and Abigale (acoustic guitar and lead vocals) write and sing songs about love and all the things, good and bad, that it engenders. Strong Americana and Folk sensibilities are represented throughout in both the instrumentation and the stories told that are universal to the human condition.
The power of true love and loyalty is honored in the opening song “Remain.” The aching, all-encompassing love for a child is beautifully recounted in “Emma’s Song” and the love of music and the inherent conflict between artistry and commercial success is conveyed through the timely “Maybe.”
Two of the many highlights on the album are “Once In A While” and “The Golden One.” The former deals with coping with feelings of longing and self- doubt in the wake of a breakup. “Once in a while I still wonder why I was so easy to leave.” The latter accurately describes the emotional aftermath of deceit and betrayal. “But the silver tongue will be leaving while the golden one’s still believing.”
The Vogts Sisters site Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch as influences. I think any of the three would be happy to hear that. I found their stories and vocals reminiscent of another fine duo, First Aid Kit as well.
Read more about them on their website at www.vogtssisters.com and download Homeward at Amazon or itunes.
Review by Harriett. Find her on Twitter here.
Late last year, Australian singer-songwriter-guitarist Paul Kelly released, Goin’ Your Way, a live collaboration with fellow countryman Neil Finn and this July 29th the songsmith will release a new project (his 21st studio album), Seven Sonnets & A Song. Inspired by the artist’s love for the works of William Shakespeare, Seven Sonnets & A Song is a “mini-album” that finds Kelly singing six Shakespeare sonnets with Australian vocalist Vika Bull taking the lead on “My True Love Hath My Heart,” written by Shakespeare’s contemporary Sir Philip Sidney.
Hearing Shakespeare paired with pedal steel, double bass, harmonica and banjo may sound surprising, but once you actually listen, you’ll realize the arrangements work (and work successfully) - and that is a direct result of the creativity and vision of Kelly, who makes the bard’s words accessible with gracefully layered melodies and warm, understated vocals.
Opening piece “Sonnet 138” is ethereal and jazzy, “Sonnet 73” evokes a 1970’s folk feel and “Sonnet 18” (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) which begins acapella beautifully segues into a work that is spacious and string-filled. The album is rounded out by the sparse beauty of “Sonnets 44 & 45,” the atmospheric, slightly volatile “Sonnet 60” (which is performed semi-spoken) and the gentle guitar and harp permeating “O Mistress of Mine” from Twelfth Night.
Kelly notes, “Just about anything you want to say, Shakespeare’s said it already.” However, as he proves in Seven Sonnets & A Song, those words can be interpreted such that we see, hear and appreciate them in a whole new way and that is all due to Kelly who once again demonstrates why he is one of the most beloved artists in Australia and beyond.
Released July 15th, the new EP from Angie and The Deserters, Blood Like Wine, highlights the foursome’s distinctly edgy Americana sound. The short set includes the first single, “Country Radio” as well as five other tracks with unabashedly frank – including the use of expletives that never feel forced or gratuitous - lyrics that are coupled with equally gritty guitar licks, thumping percussion and Angie’s passionate vocals.
The emotive strings on “Smile” beautifully capture the heavyheartedness that accompanies the loss of someone special, “These days blue skies don’t appeal to me/And the flowers can die where they grew/God damn this life so hard to take/Why did they have to take you?” while heartache and dark undertones abound on upcoming single “The Gift” which finds her asking a soon to be ex-lover, “Would you die for me to?” The sentiment continues on the mid-tempo “Ain’t Goin’ Down” where the one who gives her heart away (perhaps too easily) is alone with hurt “the size of Texas.” Angie’s raspy, undeniably honest vocals, take on a softer tone on “Don’t Cry” where she is the one who abandons an unhealthy relationship. “You screaming my name, all things in vain/You spit in my face I can still taste it now/And you cannot understand how I can leave somehow/High society I guess I’ll never be/There’s some things all of your money can’t buy/So in the end I guess I am worth something now.”
The EP appropriately closes with “On My Way” which perfectly fades out as she tells of seeking a destination, life’s purpose and, perhaps, the person to take the journey with her.
Angie and The Deserters’ - Kyle Stevens, Danny Hulsizer, and Chris Lawrence – Blood Like Wine connects the listener with stories of love, anger and sorrow in ways that are raw, emotionally impactful…and most importantly, real.
From the first note of Kyle Britton’s new EP, Villain, you’ll be drawn into his exceptionally distinctive style – one that is marked by dark undertones, jarring melodies confessional lyricism – which is featured on five tracks including his two singles “Riddle” and “Villain.” The former painfully details the demise of a relationship and features famed violinist Ginny Luke who provides a Belle Époque texture to the song. “They say love is blind and often unkind but that just ain’t truth/It’s a lonely excuse which leads to abuse/It’s evil in use, don’t be confused.” While the latter is a dramatic, blunt confession with an aggressive percussive cadence. The final three songs include “Sleepover” a bluesy, funky, poppy, playful delight (a la Eric Hutchinson) about escaping the world and spending the day (and night) with that special someone, “Shade of Grey” which address emotional growth and the striking “Fire Walker,” which again features Luke’s erratic violin on a tale of two souls are “too bold” to be held together.
Britton possesses a fearlessness in his music and dares to color outside of, and blend, the lines - both lyrically and sonically - which ultimately translates into an EP that is alluring, evocative and utterly unique.
Fresh off his debut single, “Just Keep Falling In Love” which charted in the Top 50 on the MusicRow Breakout Chart and in the Top 30 on the Texas charts, Jake Worthington is prepping to release his new single, "How Do You Honky Tonk?,” on July 22nd.
A lively two-stepper with an inescapable pedal steel and fiddle-filled melody, “How Do You Honky Tonk?” finds Worthington posing that question, but rather than focusing on what one might do at a honky-tonk, he cleverly asks the question in terms of how someone might unwind after a long week of work, suggesting everything from dancing, pickin’, taking the truck out in the mud or singing in church on Sunday.
No matter how you answer the question, you're sure to love this tune, a bright spot on the current country music landscape that would sound good on the radio, a playlist or...in a honky tonk.
South Carolina native Mark Webb’s newest EP, Home, is a polished collection of five songs that are heartfelt, melodic and undeniably pleasing. Recorded at Studio 101 in Woodruff, and distributed on Gold Ship Records, Webb’s songs blend folk, pop and roots rock alongside well-crafted lyrics beginning with the thoughtful, “Queen,” the story of a broken-hearted woman who settles for a king for the night, which kicks off the short set.
Throughout the EP, Webb’s (could-listen-to-him-all-day) vocals are smooth, tender and so genuine that you often feel like he is telling you his stories directly. Webb asks a simple question regarding a complicated relationship on “Can We Make It Right,” quietly struggles with staying on the poignant ballad, “Weak Enough” and aims to rectify things on the rootsy “Come Back Home.” The EP closes with the harmonica-laden “Friend of Mine” (Just Like You), where he seeks salvation in love. “Well the devil he’s a good old friend of mine/And he wants me to follow his wicked, evil ways/And the truth is a little hard to find, but I ain’t one whose really for destruction/If I turn to you, can you save my life?”
With its pleasing melodies and sincere lyrics, Home should take Webb far from his - gaining him appreciation and a growing audience far outside the Palmetto state.
Singer-songwriter and Nashville resident Mason Lee recently released his debut EP, Something That You Know. Something That You Know includes seven tracks - all written or co-written by Lee alongside Dan Fernandez, Jake Anderson, and Carly Tefft - that introduce us to a young artist who has a natural ability to pen songs that possess strength in both lyrics and melody.
Whether it’s his current single “Already Gone,” the gentle ballad “Something Good” or the guitar-fueled, rockin’ “Someone to Fill My Bed” which describes a changed man who wants more than a one-night stand, the songs, brought to life by Lee’s emotive and earnest vocals, have the ability to connect with the listener...a connection that continues on the three stellar and impactful tracks that round out the EP. They include the heartwarming “These Two Hands” a song of appreciation to specific people and things who support him, “Further Down The Line” a rootsy blend of rock and country which brings to mind the wonderful Sean McConnell and the closer, “Outlaw State of Mind.” Sonically recalling his Texas roots, the song, with its driving percussive beat and fiddle, is an extremely well told, gritty narrative that keeps your ears glued to a story whose ending may surprise you. “I said preacher I’ve been on the run got nowhere left to go/I’ve been making my way from New Orleans on down to Mexico/These rangers have been on my trail they all want me dead/They shoot to kill cause they all want that bounty on my head.”
Something That You Know is the satisfying debut of an artist who is surely bound for “something good.” Pick up a copy, tell your friends and spread the word.
Celebrating their 30th anniversary, Americana band Marley’s Ghost released their eleventh album, The Woodstock Sessions, on July 15th. The album, produced by Grammy Award winner Larry Campbell at Levon Helms’ legendary Woodstock studio, finds the group excelling at what they do best: embracing varied musical styles from country, folk, gospel, blues and bluegrass on an album that can best be described as nothing less than delightful.
From the first track, “Blind Fiddler” to the last, “Uncle Joe,” The Woodstock Sessions winds gently through a collection of songs that are simply flawless. The sextet – comprised of singer/multi-instrumentalists Dan Wheetman, Jon Wilcox, Mike Phelan, Ed Littlefield Jr., Jerry Fletcher, and Bob Nichols – displays their impeccable musicianship (pedal steel, banjo, mandolin, even Hawaiian steel guitar) and acclaimed harmonies on the Cajun-flaired “Ain’t That Trouble In Mind,” the tale of the engine man “Alabama John Cherokee” and on the Celtic lean of “The Unconstant Lover.” There’s the feeling of lonesomeness on “Stone Walls and Steel Bars,” a message that resonates on the jaunty “Run On For A Long Time” and the story of a jailbird on “Louisville Burglar.” “Storms Are On The Ocean,” “Field Hand Man” and “Oh Sweet Wind” round out this beautifully cohesive and enjoyable collection that recalls the past while remaining distinctly current.