At the time of writing the top slot on the UK Country chart is held by Ward Thomas. The interesting, and surprising, thing about this is Ward Thomas is Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas, 20 year old sisters from Hampshire. With the renewed interest in the genre due to the hit TV show ‘Nashville’ and with the Country2Country festival bringing top USA acts to the UK it would seem to be an opportune time for UK acts to make a dash for the spotlight. Hopefully Ward Thomas will be one of many acts to strike whilst the iron is hot.
The duo have recently released their first album, recorded in Nashville with top session players including Chris Rodriguez (Keith Urban, Faith Hill), Dan Dugmore (Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor etc.) and Bobby Blazier. The cool thing is you might take the girls to Nashville but the end result still has a hometown feel. The closing foot tapper ‘Town Called Ugley’ is a great example as the girls reference ‘Cotton Pickin’ and ‘the Old Kings Head’ in the same song. The twelve songs here are all, obviously, well played and produced with a nice range of styles from the bouncy opener ‘Push For The Stride’ to the ballad ‘From Where I Stand’ which features some really nice guitar work as does ‘Take That Train’ which reminds me of The Allman Brothers ‘Jessica’. At the end of the day the whole album is held together by the lovely harmonies of the two girls as their voices effortlessly merge and complement each other.
To sum up if you’re on the lookout for a traditional Country album with a nice pop edge that you can relate to while stuck in traffic on the M25, as opposed to cruising down the USA highway, then this is a good place to go.
The duo have just completed a UK tour but are out again later this year with follow Brit act The Shires.
When The Steel Woods burst onto the scene with ‘Straw in the Wind’ in 2017 they bought fresh new energy to the burgeoning Southern rock scene – not an easy thing to do with the likes of Blackberry Smoke and Whiskey Myers already spreading the word in fine style. A mix of original material and contributions from such heavyweight songwriters as Darrell Scott and Brent Cobb ‘Straw in the Wind’ was a fine record that found the band equally adept at picking out a country tune, when they weren’t exploring a melancholy Southern gothic vibe reminiscent of the solo work of Zakk Wylde. Coincidently, the band even found room for a Black Sabbath tune with a powerful blues-rock take on ‘Hole in the Sky’ which might well prove to be the first of many such excursions into the Sabbath catalogue.
When David Leask reflects on the reasoning behind his latest release, “6/8 feels like a musical home to me, a signature of time, a sense of place” he sounds like a man at peace with his surroundings and the creative process. It’s hardly surprising then that the six songs on this fantastic EP are so impressive, even if the initial idea seems a little off-kilter. Six songs recorded in a 6/8 time signature might sound a little strange until you realise the great range that 6/8 allows, especially when coupled with superior tunes. If you’re wondering about 6/8 then think of it as a variation on a waltz—a lilt if you will—and you’ve got the idea. Many of your favourite songs will have been written in this time signature, trust me we’re not talking weird Frank Zappa approved strangeness here
As one half of the Indigo Girls for over thirty years, Amy Ray’s feistiness and grit always served as a contrast and balance to Emily Saliers’ tenderness and sheen and this is doubtless what has made the duo such an enduring success. Ray has, by now, rightly earned her place as a member of folk rock royalty and on Holler, her sixth (who knew?!) solo record, her creative fires are burning as bright as ever.
Danny Kiranos aka Amigo The Devil arrives on the scene with ‘Everything Is Fine’ and the one thing I can tell with absolute certainty is that things most definitely are not fine. In fact, we’re as far from fine as it’s possible to get. “This life is a joke and death is the punch line” gives you a good idea of Kiranos’ state of mind as Amigo The Devil. So join me, if you’d like to partake in an hour or so of Southern gothic murder folk country, with an occasional hard rock/metal left turn, because you never know things might turn out fine in the end, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
The really great thing about country music these days is the wide range of music associated with the genre. If you like your country with that Nashville sheen, or maybe look for something a little more pop or bro it’s out there. If you’re looking for a good old-fashioned tune, that’ll bring a tear to the eye because your dog died, or your wife/significant other left you, it’s out there. In many ways, due to the sheer weight of music being produced these days there really is something for everyone. I’m happy to check out pretty much anything under the country/Americana banner but I must admit that you can’t beat an album that sounds old-school and timeless yet current. With that in mind, J.P. Harris has delivered a record that feels right, looks right and above all sounds right.
RGM first encountered Josh Taerk in late 2017 with the release of his ‘Stages’ EP a five track collection full of lyrical positivity and melody. Less than a year later and Josh is back with ‘Beautiful Tragedy’ which takes up where ‘Stages’ left off. I’m pleased to report that despite a serious haircut Josh hasn’t endured a Samson style loss of his creative strength.
Ruston Kelly has one of those back stories so strange you couldn’t make it up. Born in South Carolina Kelly's early childhood was fragmented as his dad worked in paper mills and travelled often for work, so every couple of years the family upped sticks. In his early teens Kelly hoped for a career in figure skating, so he moved to Michigan and joined an Olympic coaching team, which proved to be a very tough and lonely existence. Those dreams didn’t pan out, but with the music of Jackson Browne and his dad’s old guitar for company, the songwriting seed was sown. It wasn’t until his senior year in high school that he discovered The Carter Family and Johnny Cash in, of all places, the Belgium city of Brussels that things really started to click. At seventeen he returned to the USA and moved in with his sister in Nashville. Eventually, in 2013 a publishing deal was signed and Kelly placed songs with Josh Abbott and Tim McGraw — that helped pay the rent — before he snagged his own record deal and released the ‘Halloween’ EP in 2017 to impressive reviews.
When Glenn Frey passed away in 2016 he left a legacy of music of which any artist would be proud. Over the years his work as a solo artist and with the Eagles seems to have divided opinion, for every Eagles fan there seems to be hater just around the next corner, a situation I’ve always found very surprising. ‘Hotel California’ and ‘Their Greatest Hits 1971-75’ (the latter of which is the second bestselling album of all-time with 29,000,000 sales in the USA) are a fitting tribute to Frey and his talents. After forty years I’ll still happily spin 'Hotel California' and those early hits, which I consider to be solid gold classics, and I’m pleased to report the Library of Congress selected the hits album for preservation as "culturally, historically, or artistically significant" so I’m in pretty good company. The 3-CD + 1-DVD set ‘Above The Clouds’ finds us venturing far from those early country rock roots as Frey the solo artist seemed content to follow his muse wherever it took him, generally in a soft-rock / soul / R&B direction. The results, especially looking back in the cold light of day, are uneven but not without some genuinely standout tracks, all of which are presented with a professional sheen when maybe, on occasion, a little grit would have been welcome.
Growing up there was one album that never seemed to be very far from the old stereo in the back room (as we called it) of my family home. That album was ‘Johnny Cash at San Quentin’ and to this day I can’t hear that album and not think of my Dad. There always seems to be a debate over the Prison albums but for me, it’ll always be ‘San Quentin’ that I’ll reach for and Johnny Cash would, in a roundabout way, become the inspiration for Red Guitar Music, but that’s another story. I have a good deal of respect for John Carter Cash and the Cash family who’ve treated the Cash catalogue, in the nearly fifteen years since Johnny Cash passed with great dignity. No signs of mud-slinging and courtroom battles here, maybe the likes of the Zappa and Prince families should take note.
Looking back, It must have been four years ago and the fledgling RGM was just starting to get noticed by Pr companies and labels. It was an exciting time; a review of the self-titled Parker Millsap album would lead to an invite to see him open for Old Crow Medicine Show on their UK tour, at The Roundhouse in London, in support of the ‘Remedy’ album. Parker was excellent and he fully lived up to the promise of his record and Old Crow would be up next. Now, to be honest, I wasn’t really fully aware of O.C.M.S. much beyond ‘Wagon Wheel’ but a very quick spin through the highlights of their back catalogue on the day of the show made me think they could be pretty good. Obviously, as any fan of the band knows, they’re a monster live act with songs and musical dexterity to burn. Needless to say ‘Remedy’ became pretty popular in the RGM office in the days that followed so when ‘Volunteer’ hit the RGM inbox I was very keen to check it out.