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Paradise Valley

John Mayer

Columbia

John Mayer returns with latest album ‘Paradise Valley’ which sees a return to roots of sorts with a largely country-tinged affair held together by a light smattering of the more bluesy pickings he is more renowned for. Such familiar sounding ground can be heard midsection with the (almost) brisk tempo of ‘Call Me The Breeze’ that is dramatically cut short when in full swing only to be greeted by the mellow pop edges no doubt brought to the table by Katy Perry during ‘Who You Love’. In fact, there is such an effortless quality about the majority of songs held within that one cannot help but succumb to such delights of album opener ‘Wildfire’ that is all handclaps and campfire boogie or the gentle acoustic strum of open love letter ‘Dear Marie’ to realise that John Mayer possesses something of the Midas touch when it comes to songwriting.


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The Wild Feathers

The Wild Feathers

Warner Music Norway

Interestingly, The Wild Feathers amalgamated from a number of bands where several of the members were responsible for main vocal duties. One would assume a clash of egos due to their former responsibilities but not for newcomers The Wild Feathers as they merely utilise such clear advantages to their overall benefit. The end result for the band’s eponymously titled album blends country, folk, blues and rock that harks back to a 70s era full of Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills and Nash yet given a modern sheen. Guilty of such comparisons is opening track ‘Backwoods Company’; a song full of vigour with its raucous guitars spliced with occasional bluesy harmonica. Next up is the driving and melodic ‘American’ that is nostalgic in its outlook and suggestive of open roads. ‘Tall Boots’ reveals a tender side as does ‘Left My Woman’; the latter of which draws out the strength in depth of the vocals. Our money, however, is on the gathering momentum of ‘The Ceiling’ with its uplifting qualities and dramatic finale that render ‘The Wild Feathers’ a resounding success.


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The Civil Wars

The Civil Wars

Columbia

Debut album ‘Barton Hollow’ from American country-folk duo The Civil Wars was always going to be a tough challenge to overcome when it came to album number two. Despite any initial fears held due to the sheer quality running throughout their debut album, The Civil Wars pull out the stops once more and deliver a resounding triumph that expands on its predecessor with a fuller and slightly firmer sound. The cover artwork with its darkened cloud depicting a sense of impending doom sums up the regret felt during ‘The One That Got Away’. There is a real sultriness about ‘I Had Me A Girl’ that even stems to the guitar strings sounding tetchy under the song’s humidity. ‘Same Old, Same Old’ is anything but tired sounding as it reveals an aching beauty that leads appropriately into the tenderness of ‘Dust To Dust’. It is sincerely hoped that The Civil Wars fight off any further sense of unrest, as reported in the media, and make it to third base because they now have two classic albums on their CV.


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Wrote A Song For Everyone

John Fogerty

Columbia

Having a longstanding relationship in the music world, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame has teamed up with a number of interesting collaborators ranging from the Foo Fighters Dave Grohl and (modern) country legends Brad Paisley and Alan Jackson, to the more indie obscure My Morning Jacket as the man himself has taken to handpicking a number of songs from his own back catalogue in an attempt to breathe new life into them. The results more than work as the raucous ‘Fortunate Son’ was built for the Foo Fighters with Dave Grohl’s trademark holler almost claiming the song for one of their own. Elsewhere ‘Wrote A Song For Everyone’ sees Miranda Lambert giving it the country touch with Tom Morrello adding the midway guitar break, leading nicely into a slightly more jaunty version of ‘Bad Moon Rising’ with Zac Brown. The highlights remain, however, with the Fogerty solo outings ‘Mystic Highway’- listen out for the gospel interlude – to the gritty country blues of ‘Train Of Fools’ making ‘Wrote A Song For Everyone’ a resounding success.


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Bright Sunny South

Sam Amidon

Nonesuch Records

There is an honest confession parting from the lips of Sam Amidon and that being his debut ‘Bright Sunny South’ on Nonesuch Records is “a lonesome record”. Nothing could be further from the truth as ‘Bright Sunny South’ gives the impression of Amidon sitting alone in a deserted, ramshackle barn somewhere deep in the countryside as he strings together these beautifully complex folk songs of sparse arrangements. True, songs detail issues concerning fears of dying and the unfortunate spectacle of war, but elsewhere unrequited love and a burning sense of longing permeate throughout. Despite such sensitive subject matter, ‘Bright Sunny South’ is a beautiful album that slowly comes to its senses with the delicate opening breeze of keys and acoustic guitar of the title track as the revelations of war come into full focus. The light touches of jazz instrumentation continue the journey during ‘I Wish I Wish’, whereas ‘Short Life’ has a putrid scent of unfortunate times gone by. The mood is lifted, musically, somewhat from its knees with ‘My Old Friend’, possessing a lovely set of intertwining melodies, only to resume to the singular once more, despite its riled finale of distorted guitars, with the beyond bleak confessions ‘He’s Taken My Feet’. Sam Amidon has produced a profoundly beautiful and accomplished body of work that deserves to be heard by more than just the minority because ‘Bright Sunny South’ is a magnificent introduction to hopefully a long-lasting career.


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Thorn In My Heart

Kim Richey

Lojinx

There is a great openness about Kim Richey not only in her music but also in the quest for new inspiration, something of which is reflected in her latest album ‘Thorn In My Heart’. A recurring sense of longing for change in the surroundings appears to be the dominant force at work here, with the seats permanently nailed down in songs such as the lovely mid-tempo and ‘Til Tuesday-esque ‘Come On’, attempting to rid the devil from the protagonist’s back, to the restrained banjo strum of ‘Something More’ that literally daydreams itself away. Loneliness is personified in ‘London Town’, and compounded to great effect with the drifting smoke of an intermittent horn, only to be supplanted by the melancholic beauty ‘Love Is’. Such phrases as a ‘return to form’ are utterly redundant when it comes to Kim Richey as ‘Thorn In My Heart’ is merely an extension of a great canon of work. Welcome back!


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Mother

Natalie Maines

Sony

Being one of the former vocalists of country-pop outfit the Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines decision to embark on a solo career would always be a tough challenge to undertake considering the success of her previous band. Fortunately, for all concerned, the end results are to be admired. Ditching the country guitars for a more gritty approach comprising of a mixture of covers and original compositions, Maines has crafted a fine solo album. With co-production duties coming from Ben Harper, ‘Mother’ also leans on the songwriting talents of Eddie Vedder whose ‘Without You’ is trademark latter-day Pearl Jam, despite being a solo effort, and Maines does not do it any disservice. In fact, there is no hiding when it comes to Maines’ decision-making as the choice of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’ slightly misses the mark whereas title track, and Pink Floyd song, ‘Mother’ more than makes up for the lacklustre of the previous song. After a seven-year absence from the music industry, it’s hoped that Natalie Maines does not wait another seven years for her next creative foray because ‘Mother’ is as good as any place to start a solo excursion.


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Annie Up

Pistol Annies

Sony

Pistol Annies open up with the blues tinged ‘I Feel A Sin Comin’ On’ that is all finger clicks, gorgeous harmonious vocals and more than a little suggestive in its desires. From this sultry opener it’s business as usual as the country roots branch out with the addictive country-pop of ‘Hush Hush’, nicely followed by the pressures of the daily routine of trying to look presentable ‘Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty’, and further complimented in nature with the unfortunate reality that plagues some relationships ‘Unhappily Married’ compellingly told in its darkly humorous trade-offs. There is some contentment to be found here, however, as the Steve Earle influenced ‘Loved By A Workin’ Man’ reveals that the male species has its charms only for the absorbing and beautifully executed ‘Blues, You’re A Buzzkill’ to bring the mood back down and revert to type once more. Difficult second album syndrome is definitely not a part of Pistol Annies’ vocabulary as ‘Annie Up’ is deserving of the highest plaudits.


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Didn’t It Rain

Hugh Laurie

Warner Music Norway

Incredible to think that Hugh Laurie has gone from comedic actor to serious actor and now turning his attention to blues music with follow-up album ‘Didn’t It Rain’ to the well-received debut ‘Let Them Talk’. Whilst the latter focused on celebrating and reviving classic songs from the world of NOLA blues, ‘Didn’t It Rain’ is a departure from the New Orleans sound and a steady progression into the exploration of the blues further inland towards America’s central regions. In doing so, Laurie has turned his attention to early pioneers such as W.C. Handy ‘St. Louis Blues’ and the imaginatively titled Jelly Roll Morton ‘I Hate A Man Like You’ bringing this up-to-date with more recent artists Dr. John ‘Wild Honey’ and The Animals Alan Price with ‘Changes’. If there are any doubters remaining, however, as to the musical credentials of Hugh Laurie, then roll back to the contented sentiments of ‘Junkers Blues’; weep at the quite exquisite ‘Careless Love’ or eavesdrop on the stripped-back sounding before adding some weight confessions of ‘Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair’ to realise that ‘Didn’t It Rain’ is more than a simple side project reliant on its various collaborators to give it kudos. ‘Didn’t It Rain’ is the second instalment of a fascinating journey of America’s blues music. Long may it continue.


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Tate Stevens

Tate Stevens

Sony

Slipping into a confident country-rock groove from the off with ‘I Got This’, Tate Stevens ability to balance work and play is far from troublesome. Such self-assurance has no doubt been gained from previous stints fronting the Dixie Cadillacs; the Outlaw Junkies and later the Tate Stevens Band, therefore making the transition to solo artist a natural progression as the move looks set to pay dividends. Such conviction can be garnered from the robust and guitar-driven ‘Ride It Out’ that simply lights up this self-titled debut. Mamma’s approval is sought after concerning Tate’s latest flame on the mid-tempo rocker that is ‘Sweet’ whereas ‘The Last Thing I Do’ is relentless in its desires as guitars and occasional piano compete for pole position. There is room of course for the obligatory ‘big’ country ballad with ‘Power Of A Love Song’ but it remains the slightly more quirky, and Brad Paisley-esque, ‘El Camino’ that truly charms.


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The Low Highway

Steve Earle

Warner Music Norway

With Steve Earle’s creative enthusiasm for coming up with the goods time and time again, ‘The Low Highway’, accompanied by The Dukes and Duchesses, shows no signs of waning as this album will take some topping. Being cited as his ‘road’ record, nicely illustrated by the liner notes, ‘The Low Highway’ reveals a breadth of acoustic strummers, country-rock numbers, elements of bluegrass and in the process revealing all facets of Earle’s enduring talents. The mid-tempo jaunt and slight carefree attitude of ‘Love’s Gonna Blow My Way’ breezes through only to be halted in its tracks by the wonderfully portrayed barroom blues of ‘Pocket Full of Rain’. It is left to the title track and lovely drifting strum of ‘Burnin’ It Down’, however, to claim the overall prizes.


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Life On A Rock

Kenny Chesney

Sony

Kenny Chesney is really opting for a more simplistic way of life with latest album ‘Life On A Rock’. Nowhere is this more evident than current single, and album opener, ‘Pirate Flag’ with intentions of finding the remotest destination in an attempt to get away from it all. This is pretty much the mood throughout as songs stroll blissfully in the midsummer sun, drawing on the talents of country legend Willie Nelson with the carefree and wishful thinking ‘Coconut Tree’ and digressing with the reggae inspired ‘Spread The Love’ featuring the Wailers. Surprisingly the latter song is thematically suited to the overall ambience being projected here but remains at odds coming from the lips of a country singer. Fear not as normal order is restored with the beautifully touching ‘Lindy’; country-rock ‘Life On A Rock’ and delicate strumming of ‘Marley’ to suggest that Kenny Chesney is not ready to hang up his spurs just yet.



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