Since it’s nearly impossible to give every album released an in-depth report, I have decided to present my thoughts on a few of the recently released records with a grade. At the very least, these mini-reviews aren’t Maxim-like ‘educated-guesses.’ I’ve actually listened to them.
Allison Moorer – Mockingbird
(New Line Records)
I have been a fan of Allison Moorer’s since her first appearance in “The Horse Whisperer” years ago. The idea of her doing a cover record was a good one. However, I don’t think she should’ve left it with just female songwriter/artists. While a unique take, the whole album leaves me wanting more. Take her spin on Joni Mitchell‘s classic “Both Sides Now.” That song was brilliantly re-worked by Mitchell herself so Allison had a lot to live up to and she simply didn’t do it. “Ring of Fire” is reworked here but it sounds too weird to my ears. A couple songs are given brilliant arrangements and one of them is “Dancing Barefoot.”
Dolly Parton – Backwoods Barbie
Dolly Parton hasn’t released a mainstream country record in almost two decades. She’s dabbled in bluegrass and gospel and even tossed out a patriotic record for fans to devour. While critically acclaimed, the bluegrass records didn’t set the charts on fire so Dolly decided to return to what she knows. Perhaps one of country music’s greatest songwriters, Dolly also sings quite well for someone who’s 62 years old. She could actually teach some of the new female artists a thing or to. The record starts off with the criminally ignored “Better Get To Livin’.” I would’t have expected Fine Young Cannibals‘ “Drive Me Crazy” to be a good choice for a country song but Dolly makes the song work with her charming persona. It’s still not very ‘country’ as some other tracks are on “Barbie” though. Dolly shows her roots on the stone country title track and current radio single “Jesus & Gravity” is the most mainstream song on the record and if it cannot get Dolly back on the airwaves as a solo artist, nothing can.
Doug Stone “My Turn”
(Progression Music Group)
It might seem like it’s been a cat’s lifetime since Doug Stone has been in the public eye but his “My Turn” record proves that he’s still hard at work. Released in late 2007 (but given a digital release in ’08), the album shows that Doug still has the goods as a vocalist. The biggest problem for Doug is his love for anonymous ballads that derailed his career in the late 1990s. Aside from “Don’t Tell Mama,” a cautionary drinking and driving song, there are no “I’d be Better off (In A Pine Box)” tracks to be found here. Only more of the “More Love” types of songs. This is a record only the loyalist of his fans will enjoy.
Trent Willmon – Broken In
(Compadre Records/Music World Records)
He released two albums on the Columbia label before parent Sony merged with BMG. Since Willmon barely sold anything, the Texan rancher was part of the corporate artist purge (along with Rodney Crowell and Jon Randall). Compadre Records signed him up and released a fine ballad “There Is A God” that got lost at country radio. The title track is the new single and its finding more of an audience. The problem with the record seems to be that Willmon doesn’t know rather to ditch Nashville for Texas or Texas for Nashville. It’s a quandary that was present on his first two records as well. Still, Trent does have a strong voice, writes well and has a few tracks worth seeking out. “Cold Beer and A Fishing Pole” is as country as they come while the Brett James/Ashley Monroe penned “The Truth” has potential to be a big hit at country radio.
Eric Durrance – I Lost It All (EP)
There’s no denying the fact that Eric Durrance has vocal and writing talent. What I don’t understand is why Wind-up, a label new to the Nashville ‘game,’ would release this digital EP now. It seems to be under-produced. While this is usually good for a demo, it doesn’t work as the first major release for the artist and label in the genre. The title track follows the same path as Emerson Drive‘s “Moments” does and it packs as strong of an emotional impact to boot. While I actually love the acoustic nature of the song, I expected a full band to back up Durrance after the first verse. It’s a problem that plagues the whole effort. “Wait ‘Til I Get There” was a recent free iTunes “Discovery Download” and with the right production touches, it’s a smash hit. The closing track, “And Then Some,” which I first heard on songwriter Dan Demay’s own record, closes out the EP with a similarly themed song as the title track. My basic problem with the EP is that country music isn’t exclusively ‘acoustic.’
Tift Merritt – Another Country
I fell in love with Tift Merritt the first time I heard her major label debut “Bramble Rose.” After the acoustic soul “Tambourine,” Tift was unceremoniously dropped by Lost Highway Records and in between that time Tift moved to France and, despite not knowing the language, began to thrive again artistically. The results are present on “Another Country.” The title track absolutely sparkles while “My Heart Is Free” rocks and recalls her last record. There’s something about that crystal clear voice that just hits me hard. There really isn’t a bad track on “Another Country,” including the album closing French track “Mille Tendressess.”
Jim Lauderdale – Honey Songs
(Yep Roc Records)
Jim Lauderdale is probably known to most country music fans as the writer of many country songs (for example, George Strait‘s “We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This“) but there are more fans out there who know of Jim’s Grammy winning stint as a bluegrass performer (with and without Ralph Stanley). On “Honey Songs” the prolific artist returns to his roots-rock/country hybrid that he’s been playing since his mid-1990’s days as a Warner Brothers artist. Featuring a short 10 tracks, “Honey Songs” is the work of a man who’s making music for the sake of making music. “Honey Suckle Honey Pie” kicks off the record with a rollicking’ melody that recalls Dwight Yoakam while “It’s Finally Sinking In” sits right next to the stone country tracks “Hittin’ It Hard” and “Borrow Some Summertime.” The latter of which wouldn’t be outta place on a Strait or Alan Jackson record.
Those of you keeping record at home may notice that I haven’t covered the two most recent releases. That’s because both Alan Jackson‘s “Good Time“ Ashton Shepherd‘s “Sounds So Good” will both be features here in seperate, longer reviews.