Bloomington, Illinois’ Cody Diekhoff, otherwise known as Chicago Farmer, independently released his 7th album, Midwest Side Stories on September 30th. The album, a collection of ten American tales - nine originals and one cover - begins with the sobering “Umbrella” and draws you in with Diekhoff’s affecting vocals as well as his thoughtful, and wise story songs from those centered around protest (“Skateboard Song”), factories (“Farms & Factories”), and economic hardship (the heart-wrenching “Rocco N Susie”). While Chicago Farmer’s songs have depth, they certainly do not lack in melody and you’ll soon find yourself tapping your toe or singing along to “Two Sides of the Story,” the delightful “New Used Car,” and the relatable, rootsy “9pm to 5.” Midwest Side Stories closes with Diekhoff’s lively rendition of John Hartford’s “I’m Still Here” which maintains hope despite the stumbling blocks we encounter in life.
Folk hero Todd Snider has said, "I love Chicago Farmer's singing and playing and songs, but it's the intention behind the whole of his work that moves me to consider him the genuine heir to Arlo Guthrie or Ramblin' Jack Elliott…. Chicago Farmer is my brother; if you like me, you'll love him." If you like well-crafted songs with honesty, insight and melodies a plenty, you’ll love Midwest Side Stories. Give it a listen.
Canadian-born artist Donovan Woods released his fourth album Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled in February of this year. Featuring ten songs, the album is a refreshingly eclectic mix of soft rock, country and folk. With soft, warm vocals and simple poetic lyrics, Woods’ mature, reflective stories are made even more compelling by the unique instrumentation. Violin, fiddle, piano, acoustic guitar and steel guitar inhabit the same space on many songs, creating a melting pot of sonic goodness.
“What Kind Of Love Is That?” exemplifies that aspect of the album beautifully. Rapid-fire lyrics juxtaposed with the soothing sounds of a violin portray the complicated emotions involved in loving, or being loved by, someone struggling with personal demons.
There have been quite a few fine songs written recently about the aftermath for towns ravaged by a crumbling economy and “They Don’t Make Anything In This Town” is one of the best. It’s a touching story about realizing the idyllic town you grew up, in essence, no longer exists and finding a way to let go.
The album closes with a realistic and poignant reflection on the ups and downs of chasing the dream of being a songwriter in Nashville, where singles are king and games must be played. “Leaving Nashville”, co-written by Woods and recently recorded by Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley for his solo project, conveys a love/hate relationship with the business while acknowledging that the desire to fulfill those dreams will prevail.
One listen to Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled is sure to make you want to know more about Donovan Woods. You can find tour information, album purchase links and more at www.donovanwoods.net
In 2011, Radio Romance, Sam Hayes (Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar), Josh Gramling (Lead Guitar, Vocals) and Moises Padilla (Drummer, Vocals) met, felt a musical connection and began playing shows all across Nashville.
Since 2013, the band, who borrowed their name from an Eddie Rabbit album, released two EPs featuring songs that were written or co-written by Sam, Josh and Moises. Now, the trio are gearing up to release a new single, "Secrets," on September 30th. The contemporary country tune about a clandestine, urgent love features Hayes' smooth vocals and prominent banjo alongside a driving pop/rock beat that's easy to fall into.
"Let's keep it down
Play it close
Ain't nobody gotta know
I aint arfraid
It's too much fun
Sneaking around like we're on the run
Assasins in the night
Let's keep it classified
'Cause secrets make damn good lovers"
Radio Romance has had the opportunity to travel all across the US performing their music. They have had shared the stage with Luke Bryan, Lee Brice, ZZ Top, Phil Vasser, Parmalee and many others. For more information visit their official website.
It’s a special live record that is able to hit that often indescribable sweet spot - a feeling of excitement, and a rush of adrenaline, mixed with a sense of anticipation beginning with the first downbeat (that can typically only be experienced by being there); where you can press play and have it feel as if you’re there whether you’re in your living room, car or back porch. But William Clark Green’s latest, double-disc set Live at Gruene Hall, which was recorded over two nights this past January at, appropriately enough, the historic Gruene Hall in Texas, does just that.
Ben Ryan opens things up with a spirited introduction before Green and his band of four - Steven Marcus (guitar), Josh Serrato (guitar), Cameron Moreland (bass) and Sawyer McGee (percussion) - dive straight into “Next Big Thing” and continue with seventeen more tracks, drawing tunes from all four of his full lengths including “Gypsy,” “Hanging Around” (with a little of Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” perfectly seasoning the song), his mother’s favorite, “Caroline,” and “Sticks and Stones.”In addition, Dani Flowers makes a guest appearance on “Final This Time” as do Ross Cooper and Randall Clay on “Ringling Road.”
In between tracks, Green speaks briefly, letting the listener know the titles of the songs or what they’re about (which is perfect for someone who may be listening for the first time), saluting Kent Finlay or applauding his opener, Red Shahan. And while it’s apparent the crowd is having a hell of a time, the production never lets the noise overpower the music, leaving amplified crowd responses to the end of a song (or the occasional “Remember the Alamo” shout out), and allowing Green’s vocals (which honestly have never sounded better), his songs and his band’s killer musicianship remain the focus.
And while the music is certainly the main event, it’s evident throughout that Green is humbled and grateful, not only for the opportunity to record at the beloved venue, but for his family, friends, fans, and bandmates; bandmates whom he lets shine throughout the record - particularly the dueling guitars of Serrato and Marcus - on extended versions of “Rose Queen,” “She Likes The Beatles,” and “Wishing Well.”
The show is rounded out by “Tonight,” “Sympathy,” and the always emotional Kent Finlay co-write, “Still Think About You” before closing out the night with pal Jack Ingram who sings his own “Goodnight Moon.”
While experiencing live music is always a thrill, if you can’t leave your house to get your fix, WCG and Co. will bring the show to you with Live at Gruene Hall.
NB. In this digital age, the rich-in-detail packaging for the double-disc recording – once again done by Backstage Design Studio (with a contribution from Reckless Kelly’s Willy Braun) - is superb, making it essential that you pick up a physical copy.
From a young age, Virginia native Crystal Day grew up singing the National Anthem at NASCAR speedways all over the south. After high school, Crystal moved to Los Angeles where she acted and began studying at the Songwriting School of Los Angeles. Eventually, she moved to Nashville and earlier this year released a new EP, Brave, which was produced by Biff Watson (Tim McGraw, Martina McBride). This new project contains five songs including her current single, “Brave.” The song, which features Day’s soaring, emotional vocals is a moving anthem that highlights the incredible courage of cancer survivors and military veterans. Watch the video here.
While their previous outing, 2013’s Long Night Moon, had a gentle, quiet lean, Reckless Kelly balance the ballads with roots rockers on their latest, Sunset Motel, due September 23rd. Their ninth studio album finds the quintet – brothers Cody and Willy Braun, David Abeyta, Joe Miller and Jay Nazz - continuing to excel at creating music with their signature sound, centering around affecting songcraft, rousing and emotional melodies, and dynamic musicianship.
The collection, all penned by front man Willy Braun, opens with their current single, “How Can You Love Him (You Don’t Even Like Him)” and includes twelve additional tunes (with guest spots from The Mastersons, Bukka Allen and more) that are replete with themes of love, heartache, and questioning - as well as some social commentary.
The wistful (with a hint of grunge in that electric guitar) feel of “Buckaroo” reflects on the demise of a relationship “It was finally the last time we reached the end of the road/and I know I could call you but I don’t know what I’d say/so I’ll just keep pretending that it's better this way;” while the propulsive “Give It Up” centers on a man finally realizing he needs to break-away from the one who keeps wasting his time, “I’ve wasted a thousand words/I’ve wasted a thousand smiles/ I’ve wasted a thousand hellos, but I’ll only be using up one goodbye” - a theme that continues in “Who’s Gonna Be Your Baby Now” where patience for another to commit has run thin and he's ready to move on, “Now I know that winning doesn’t always mean winning the race/’Cause I was on the bit and all out but you bet on another to place.”
The quintessential roots rocker, “Moment In The Sun,” with its retro harmonies, relates that all too familiar feeling of finding comfort for a moment and then somehow ending up lonelier than before; “The Champ” uses metaphors to deal with the age-old issue of who emerges victorious when there are disagreements in relationships (with maybe one giving in to keep the peace) and “Sad Songs About You” mixes anger, sorrow, false hope and self-examination, “And I don’t know why I write all these sad songs about you/’Cause I’ll have to sing ‘em somehow for the rest of my life…I don’t know why I write all these songs about you/Well I guess they just hurt a lot less than another goodbye.”
Reckless Kelly has always been adept at pairing melodies and lyrics such that a song’s emotional impact is often felt that much stronger; and while that’s found throughout the album, it’s particularly apparent on three tracks. The emotive harmonica alongside a subdued percussion evokes the melancholy on the thoughtful, complex “One More One Last Time,” “It’s hard to tell if this old uphill battle is winding down or just begun;” while on the title track, the overall serene tone conveys a human want for safety and comfort in another, fearing the destructive tendencies of loneliness. “So baby when the darkness tries to pull me back in/Keep me from going down that road again/Don’t turn me away don’t leave me out in the cold/You know that I’ve only got one place to go/Just like the last time it won’t work out well/Don’t let me go back to the Sunset Motel;” and finally, on the achingly beautiful “Forever Today” where the longing to be with someone is immense and intense, “But I don’t wanna wait for another life to be with you/Our hearts are one but somehow they remain as two/ I’m a patient man but what if it don’t work that way/I wish you and me could start our own forever today.”
Never ones to avoid topical issues, RK nestle social commentary on two impassioned tracks, “Radio” and “Volcano.” The former opens with a scratchy tuning of the FM dial before diving into a driving melody and blunt lyrics about what it takes to be played on mainstream radio, “You’re underrated, but dedicated/You try to practice but you get so bored…Hey, I know I few tricks and we’ll fix it in the mix…It doesn’t take a lot of talent but no one will know;” while the latter puts the attention on the importance of not only recognizing, but taking action on climate change before “the ice all melts…we’re fish food.”
Before checking out, Sunset Motel returns to the romantic, closing with the elegant “Under Lucky Stars” which with its accompanying celestial melody finds you enveloped in a brilliantly lit sky where all that matters are the two people present, “Hold me close and breathe with me…Under the watch of Orion/Until the morning comes, to steal you.”
Over the past twenty years, Reckless Kelly has remained steadfast, staying true to themselves and the music, and in doing so, garnered a devoted fan following while earning recognition and respect….and that, undoubtedly, will ensure them at least twenty more.
Released on August 26th, Charlie Daniels’ latest, Night Hawk, is a musical tribute to the hard-working American cowboy and his way of life. Rolling in with Daniels’ signature spritely fiddle on the Bob Wills tune “Big Balls In Cowtown” the journey takes a turn further south with the flamenco stylings in “Billy The Kid” and veers to the west in the title track, which recalls Pinto Bennett. Other songs in the collection include the western swing of “Stay All Night (Stay A Little Longer)” - another Wills song – which will have you slapping your knee and tapping your toes, “Goodnight Loving Trail” whose harmonica expresses a real lonesomeness and the jaunty “Old Chisolm Trail.” The album is rounded out with the classic folk tale of “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend” and Daniels’ own “Running With The Crowd” before closing with the somber “Yippie Ki Yea.”
Night Hawk is a thoughtful, reverent acknowledgement of the cowboy and his rich history. Give it a listen.
On September 23rd, The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum will open an exhibit, Million Mile Reflections, in Daniels’ honor. In addition, on October 16th, Charlie Daniels will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with Randy Travis and Fred Foster. And finally, on November 30th, Charlie will celebrate his 80th Birthday at his Volunteer Jam at Bridgestone Arena with Kid Rock and Chris Stapleton, among others. For more information, visit here.
19-year-old Georgia native Whisper Whitlock graduated from high school in 2015 and is currently gearing up to release her new single, "Breaking Hearts and Curfews." The guitar driven country-rocker, produced by Cowboy Troy, tells the story of a feisty female who is ready to rebel and get in a little trouble. Whitlock's strong vocals convey a woman who is sassy, determined...and refreshingly unapologetic.
"Daddy's little angel's gonna raise a little hell
No one around to tell me what to do
I'm gonna get in trouble, oh the stories I could tell
Breaking hearts, mama's rules and curfews"
Whisper has opened for several bands including Jeff Vaughn, the Dalton Gang & the Old School Outlaws and is a proud Heart Songs for Veterans Ambassador. Pre-order the single here.
New Jersey's C.R. and the Degenerates released their latest full-length, Salt of The Earth in June of this year. All of the collection’s ten songs were written by front man C.R. Gennone and offer a “window seat through life's strangest and most glorious adventures” via a soundtrack that merges alt-country, rock, folk and more often recalling Tom Petty, Uncle Tupelo and more.
C.R. and his Degenerates - James Abbott (guitar, lap steel), Keith Williams (bass, guitar on "Sandpaper"), Max Rauch (drums, bass, tambourine, vocals, guitar on "Sandpaper"), Cameron Smith (banjo, mandolin) and Harrison Bieth (keys) kick things off with the alt-rock inspired “Edge of Hell, Kansas City” that segues seamlessly into the harmonica-laden, jangly pop of “Iron Curtain” and the guitar driven “Pink Slippin.”
The album also includes the somber “Western Upholstery Supply,” the gritty and raucous title track and the folk-leaning “Georgia Guarantee” before closing out with “Sandpaper” (which reminds one of a subdued New Order) and the atmospheric, “Louder Than Words.” For more information visit here.
Atlanta‐based singer‐songwriter and The Voice season seven veteran, Jean Kelley recently released her first single, “Stacking Stones.” The song, whose soulful and exhilarating pop melody is supported by a driving piano, thumping percussion, and energetic hand claps, showcases Kelley’s undeniably powerful and emotive vocals delivering empowering lyrics that consider one’s past choices while consciously deciding to choose a path that reflects one's self-worth.
“Stacking Stones” can be found on Kelley’s Kickstarter-funded EP, Stacking Stones, which is named for the challenges and hurdles Kelley has had to overcome personally and professionally. For more information, visit her official website.
"I keep stacking these stones breaking my bones
It's killing my soul
You don’t even care, no
I wasted my prayer of faith in the Lord for nothing
No one’s gonna save my ill-fated soul from caving in
Hold up, I just heard someone say
Good God you’re throwing it all away
One shot is all we got
Come on everybody
Hands up, stop trying to control
Give it up, you just got to let it go
One shot is all we got, come on"