Totally Biased Fan Review: The Tree – Lori McKenna

 

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I bought this album a few weeks ago and I haven’t been able to find time to review it until now. I have played it quite a few times though. I heard that Gretta Ziller was listening to it after I had bought it and I thought, yes, I can hear that, see that. our Queen of Boomtown has many of the same qualities as Lori.

‘She has written songs for artists including Sara Evans, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, and Keith Urban.[10] She wrote 10 songs that made it to the Billboard Hot Country list, including Hunter Hayes’s “I want Crazy,” Faith Hill’s “Stealing Kisses,” Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” and Little Big Town’s “Your Side of the Bed,” “Sober,” and “Girl Crush.”[12]’ Wikipedia  

Like most amazing songwriters, the songs that they write other people become more famous than them, the singers who cover them become more well known and more associated with a song and they are spending so much time writing for others that their own albums don’t get as recognised.  Lori’s voice is just awesome and she sounds way more country than hay and cowgirl hats, even. There are some amazing songs on this album. I have listened to it about 50 times in the last few weeks, wondering how I am going to do justice to a review on this fabulous album.

In one review that I read, the writer said: “She has a terrific eye for detail.” I think sometimes, that is the key to great songwriting. Think about Kris Kristofferson’s lines like “Cleanest Dirty Shirt”, from Sunday Morning Coming Down, James Taylor “I’m just a bartender, I don’t like my work, but I don’t mind the money at all.”  Bob Dylan ….well just about every Dylan song….you get the picture….it is all in the detail but it is also in the mystery….just leave the door or window a bit open so that we can decide which way to go with it….let us have our senses going,  but don’t give away every secret.

My job picking the Kazzies this year nationally and internationally has  been made all the more harder by albums such as this. There are some awesome musos on this album and with Dave Cobb guiding the ship, it was never going to sink.

Every song on the album is pretty near perfect. There are a dozen mood changes and to quote Kristofferson again: we go in “every wrong direction on that lonely road back home”. There are the usual great country elements….broken hearts, lonely nights, alcohol, love and other bruises (thanks Air Supply), the road of a woman, memories, etc.

The story of a life passionately and wholeheartedly lived is etched in the lyrics of every song here, whether it is as a bystander, someone in the crowd watching on or someone who is involved in the situation up to their eyeballs and beyond, Lori sells her songs to a knowing and growing audience who know exactly what she is talking about.

From gentle strumming to more meatier chords, it is more than three chords and the truth, it is the whole gammut of a guitar. As much as the melodies are amazing, it really is in the words where we find the greatest gems. It is hard to pick favourites, here. The first and the last tracks are definitely highlights for me, but all of the songs in between make this eleven track wonder an enormous gift. This is truly a very special album.

 

Musos:

 

 

The Tracks:

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “A Mother Never Rests” Barry Dean, Lori McKenna
2. “The Fixer” McKenna
3. “People Get Old” McKenna
4. “Young and Angry Again” Dean, Luke Laird, McKenna
5. “The Tree” Natalie Hemby, McKenna, Aaron Raitiere
6. “You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone” McKenna
7. Happy People McKenna, Hailey Whitters
8. “You Can’t Break a Woman” Hillary Lindsey, McKenna, Liz Rose
9. “The Lot Behind St. Mary’s” McKenna
10. “The Way Back Home” Laird, McKenna
11. “Like Patsy Would” Linsey, McKenna, Rose
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Totally Biased Fan Review: Pretty Bird – Kathy Mattea

 

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I tend to concentrate on singer/songwriters, but I have always admired Kathy Mattea’s voice. It has been about 6 years since Kathy has recorded, because she was in danger of  losing her voice, or at least it was changing. The classically trained Mattea hired a jazz music coach to help her get a voice back…singing country folk songs!  Ah, you have to love music.

To be honest, Kathy has very carefully chosen songs that took her a year to record. Apart from one obvious song on here, the songs are not exactly repeatedly covered songs.  Kathy has a similar voice (now) to my favourite Female Country Music singer/songwriter, Mary Chapin Carpenter. There are some fine songwriters, on here, don’t get me wrong, specifically Joan Osborne, Jesse Winchester, Bobbie Gentry (the obvious song), and Hazel Dickens, but we’re not talking Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Tammy Wynette, MCC, etc, here, and songs that are done over and over again.

These are all beautiful songs. Kathy sings them from the heart, and hardly like someone who is losing a voice, if anything, I think that she is sounding better. She teamed up with fellow West Virginian, Tim O’Brien to put this album together.

She thinks of herself as a West Virginian who lives in Tennessee, where she has lived since she was 19. The interpretations of these songs, some which sound familiar, if not well known, are sometimes in the footsteps of Joan Baez and Judy Collins, rather than the torch and twang of what is considered more trad. country. It is definitely a mix of styles, mostly favouring folk, Appalachian music and a Celtic thread is there too.

I am a folkie, first, have been since I was about 4 in the 1960’s, and that is probably why I am drawn to someone like Kathy, when I normally would have favoured a songwriter. It speaks to that little kid whose first loves in music were more The Seekers, Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan and James Taylor rather than the country artists of the time.

Known more previously for hitting high notes, Kathy now goes for the low notes. There is a new depth and meaning and feeling to her voice and there are some extra special versions of songs on here that you wouldn’t have figured that she would go for.

I like this quote from Kathy from The Rolling Stone magazine:

“This album has led me, slowly and unexpectedly, into new nooks and crannies of singing,” Mattea tells Rolling Stone Country. “Songs showed up in random ways… and became part of our musical landscape during regular Thursday jam sessions in my living room. It’s a very eclectic collection, and for me, each song has a very specific reason for being here, showing me some new point of view about singing along the way.”

I think that pretty much sums it all up. This album is a joy to listen to, to mellow out to and I am so pleased that she is back singing. It would have been a great loss to music if she couldn’t sing again.  The choices that she has made on this album are spot on. I love the lyrics from “Tell me what you ache for” in particular, especially the line: “If you’re not true to you, then where’s the truth in that.”  These are all amazing songs, where the lyrics are special and have real meaning. Kathy sells them like icecream on a hot day.

Listen and learn.

Tracks:

1 3:48
2 5:24
3 5:27
4 4:01
5 3:51
6 4:19
7 4:16
8 3:16
9 4:02
10 4:13
11 3:44
12 3:07

Totally Biased Fan Review: Wouldn’t It Be Great – Loretta Lynn

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The word ‘legend’ is tossed around like a football in a grand final, but it very rarely lands on the head of a person who deserves it.  I have probably been guilty of using the moniker out of context, myself. However, when I think of true country music  legends, one name is there in the top 10….probably top 5 that can’t be disputed….the old Coalminer’s daughter, Loretta Lynn. Like Willie Nelson, she has been written off in this life about 5,000 times…said to be dead or dying, but strangely enough, they both end up on a stage singing and playing to sold out crowds and they produce more albums than they have produced children….and they both have had a few of those.

We have lost a few legends over the last few years, but Loretta and Willie and a couple of others are still going strong.  What both Loretta and Willie do best is a combination of songs on their albums. They tend to do a few of their own classic songs or other legends’ songs and then they write new material, usually co-writing with other legends or someone from a totally different generation, and/or genre.

The opening track on this track and the title of the album is probably one of my favourite songs of the year. That is a big call, considering how many wonderful songs have been released this year, but lyrically, it is just so spot on. No doubt, it is more than a bit autobiographical.  The song has been recorded twice before by Loretta but this is a much different cut.  There is a mix of traditional country, bluegrass, and a few other types of country thrown in here….the classics are probably two of Loretta’s best songs, Coalminer’s daughter and Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ – at least, they are two of my favourites.

Loretta gained a new audience when the Sissy Spacek/Tommy Lee Jones movie of her life came out quite a few years ago now, winning Sissy a well deserved Oscar for her portrayal of L.L.  She gained yet another audience when she went down another avenue with her amazing album with Jack White from the White Stripes (Van Lear Rose), and her willingness to write with young and different composers.

Thus, her music is not confined to one audience, most country music lovers and indeed other music fans will find something on her albums or in what she has to say to admire and treasure.  There is not much that Loretta hasn’t done in music circles in her 86 and a half years. Probably, Loretta would reckon that she hasn’t scratched the surface.

There is only one song on the album that Loretta didn’t write or co-write and that was Lulie Vars, a murder ballad that our own Lachlan Bryan and Andrew Wrigglesworth would have wished that they had written. It is co-produced by John Carter Cash (I think that the name may be familiar with y’all) the son of John and June and Loretta’s daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell, who was named after you know who.

The songs are fightin’, lovin’, hard times, good times songs, just as you would expect from Loretta. She throws in a couple of curve balls, as usual and she doesn’t mince words. There are a few repeats from other albums, not always her best known songs, just sleepers that are re-done and re-mastered.   God doesn’t make mistakes is from the Van Lear Rose album, for example.

Loretta broke a lot of ground back in the early 60’s, along with Patsy Cline and continued to shake things up during her almost 60 year career. Sometimes, you get the feeling that she took up living for both her and Patsy after she passed away tragically in 1963. Her feisty, sassy, no holds barred kind of honesty in her songs and what she has said off stage and off record has won her the respect and the hearts of many generations. A lot of women would not have been the successes that they are today if it had not been for Loretta.

Her voice is still strong and proud and she still sings like she believes in everything that she writes and records. Her songs still tell a good story, they still hold up through the test of time and tide and she is still gathering new fans of all ages and from all walks of life. It is almost worth buying an album just for the sake of seeing what fabulous dress she is going to wear on the cover.  You shouldn’t judge an album by its cover, but we all know what we are going to get when you listen to a Loretta album. A pinch of controversy, a blend of old and new and a big shot of reality from one of the true legends of country music.

Tracks:

Wouldn’t It Be Great?

Ruby’s Stool

I’m Dying For Someone

Another Bridge to Burn

Ain’t no time to go

God Makes No Mistakes

These Ole Blues

My Angel Mother

Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’

The Big Man

Lulie Vars

Darkest Day

Coalminer’s Daughter

 

Totally Biased Fan Review: We played with Fire – Mustered Courage

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A few years ago, Mustered Courage hit the stages and streets of Tamworth and set the annual mega festival on fire.  This is their fourth studio album….I have three…so will have to check which one is missing!  Of the ones that I have heard, I consider this one to be their best so far. The boys from Melbourne have mustered more than courage to put together a fine finger picking good album. A highlight is their song with the amazing Fanny Lumsden.

On a couple of websites their music is described as Alt. Country Bluegrass which is an interesting combination but it is probably an apt moniker. There are some pure bluegrass numbers here but it is true that Alt. Country (which itself is a fusion of many kinds of trad. country styles) does creep into some of the songs.  Some just call them Alt. Bluegrass.

Whatever the label, it is just great music. There are toe tapping songs, songs that make you want to light a campfire in your living room and others that make you want to get up and dance like no one is watching. The boys are all polished musicians.  The line-up has changed slightly a few times over the years, but it is basically the same guys that started back in 2010.

The album that I don’t have is their first one, a self titled one. I just checked on that. There is nothing much written about them, even on their own website!  I just let the music speak for them and itself. I will get the “real life copy” as they put it, at their next gig. They have toured quite extensively, and obviously believe in quality rather than quantity, because their albums are all well produced and well crafted.

Their harmonies and musicianship are top notch. If you love the banjos and fiddles and anything with strings, then you will love this.  The songs are a mixture of tempos and moods.

On the way back from Tamworth, that time, we played the album Powerlines about 5 times between Tamworth and Sydney.  I think that this is even better. I think that it was the first album that I reviewed when I arrived back at the flat, and I had bought about 16 that year in Tamworth.

This album rollicks and rambles and takes you along roads and tracks like bluegrass music tends to. Their first studio album since 2015 is a beauty. I have played it about 6 times already and that is amongst other music that I have been playing in the last day. – it tends to end too soon…you really want another few tracks….but that is a good thing, to leave you wanting more. Down here, we have some pretty cool bluegrassy/folk bands and artists, it must be something about the South of Australia…..Kristy Cox, The Davidson Brothers, The Wilson Pickers, The Heggarties, John Flanagan Trio and these guys for starters…..

Yee Haa!

Tracks:

 

Fire in Her Fingers

When We Played With Fire

Free Wheelin’

Lay Them Down

Wrong Kind of Medicine

Before I Go

Best Impressions (featuring Fanny Lumsden)

Stardust

Thank Goodness

Back on the Horse

 

 

 

Totally Biased Fan Review: Melissa Robertson – Little Country Life

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This is Melissa’s most personal and revealing album to date. As a person, Mel is a very “what you see is what you get” kind of person. She is very honest and straight forward. This album pulls no punches. It dives into some very private and personal matters and she is honest and straight about those too.  This is probably her most “country” album too. There are still some folk elements there, but there are definitely more fiddles, twangy guitars and down home keynotes as the title suggests.

Having been lucky enough to know Mel as a friend, (must be something about Mels and I!  We seem to have a connection!)…..I know a fair bit about her personal history and a little bit more than most fans. There weren’t as many surprises in the lyrics for me as there will be for some listeners, but I admire her actually recording some of the songs on this album which must have been difficult to decide on.  Simon Johnson has assembled quite a fabulous array of musicians for this album which add even more quality to the sound and enhance Melissa’s beautiful voice.

Knowing that this is such a personal album, it would have to be handled very carefully and thoughtfully and you are always in pretty safe hands with Mr Johnson.

Two of the songs are already well known to listeners. Melissa’s tribute to Luke O’Shea, He’s a Writer of Songs was released last year and Red Head At Heart ( a catchy little number) was released earlier in the year. Two songs with totally different sounds.  Mel gets a bit daring on Wild Flower and it is probably the most “up tempo” song on the album.  A lot of her songs are about her family, namely her husband, Andrew and their  two sons, Elliot and Billy. At times, this album is like reading someone else’s diary. You feel a bit guilty about reading the personal notes but at the same time, you feel humbled that the writer is sharing their life with you.

My personal favourite is her duet with Ian Burns – Love Like A River. It is a beautiful song and their voices blend really well together.  I remember being at a gig with Mel a few years ago at Tamworth where both Ian and herself were on the bill and we heard Ian sing and we were both impressed. The rest, as they say, is history.

Wouldn’t Be Without You is another one of my favourites. Personally, I would release this one as a single.  Way Back Home is a very personal and heartwarming song. It was probably one of the hardest ones for Mel to write and sing, I am guessing, but I am glad that she did. In Your Loving Arms is a sweet love song to take us out. I think Melissa’s voice is at her strongest on this song. It is a simple song, but very gentle and melodic.

We have waited a while for this album and it is an album, not an EP or an EEP but it was well worth the wait. Melissa’s country music is a mixture of folk, celtic and slow, lilting ballads. She throws in something else on occasion, but I like it when she lets her voice do the work and the way she lets you into her life through her songs. It takes guts to be this honest about love, life and the whole damn thang, and Mel has done that here. It is a deeply moving and sensitive album. I am lucky to have many country music artists as friends, Melissa is definitely in that category but it doesn’t sway me from telling you all how I feel about her music, honestly. Give this album a spin and catch her in a gig near you. She does a lot to help out other artists and her passion for music and life are obvious in her songs.

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Tracks:

 

Little Country Life

Make Love To Me

Red Head At Heart

Love Like A River (with Ian Burns)

Wouldn’t Be Without You

Angel

He’s A Writer of Songs

Way Back Home

Wild Flower

Heart of Gold

In Your Loving Arms

Totally Biased Fan Review: Matt Joe Gow – Break, Rattle and Roll

 

 

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Earlier in the year, I went to a gig in Melbourne that was an Alt. Country Musicfest, or Americana. I knew all of the acts very well, bar from one. I had heard his name and my friend was a big fan. I only knew one song, but of course, now I know that there are many more. That guy was Matt Joe Gow. Unfortunately, that night, due to a “blackout” of sorts, I didn’t get to talk to Matt after the gig, let alone purchase any music. However, I started to do some homework, via Youtube, other friends and eagerly awaited his next album. Matt Joe Gow is originally from Auckland, yet another Kiwi artist we have adopted as our own and he is now firmly entrenched in Melbourne giggery and with the cool clan of fine musicians that are abundant and awesome.

Matt’s music is a fusion of a few types, as Alt. Country is, in many respects. Ransom is my favourite track, it is a real bluesy kind of number…..my style of course. At times there are traces of Springsteen, other times I can hear a bit of Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry but Matt is a much better singer. These are subtle undertones. His music is a mixture of things which echo quite a few genres. There is even one song which starts with a Rolling Stones sort of riff and then goes into something totally different. Any musician who includes a sax is okay with me. Another has a bit of a The Doors thing going on there.

He has good company of this recording….those Weeping Willows, Gretta Ziller, Thor Phillips and many others are included in an album which takes you on many happy detours. Not too shabby at all.

The lyrics are sometimes relaxed, uncomplicated and little stories within big stories, at other times, they go a bit deeper. I like a song that I can listen to in several different ways and extract different meanings from. Matt Joe Gow provides many of those here.

There is an element of music taken from a few decades of music. You can get lost in the music as it meanders through an interesting course of styles and moods. Amongst all the comparisons to other musicians and genres, there is an original vein that breathes new life into the genres it depicts and perhaps an introduction to a much younger generation than I, into a world of music which was probably the greatest era that we will ever know.

This is a polished production that oozes class and gets better with every play. A gently strumming, smooth song takes us out… We get lost – and it is a beautiful way to fade into the next album that you spin on your stereo or into a moonlit night.

If you can catch Matt Joe Gow LIVE in the next few months, do. This is an album which will be on high rotation and it will be one of those albums where you discover new things every time you play it.

Tracks:

1.Bridge Over Concrete

  1. Ride On
  2. Details
  3. Ransom
  4. Light My Way
  5. Break, Rattle and Roll
  6. Gamblin’ Man
  7. Old Hotel Room
  8. Sun Will Set
  9. Love Sick Child
  10. House That Burn Down (Reprise)
  11. We Get Lost

 

All Songs and Lyrics by Matt Joe Gow except tracks 7 and 9 by Matt Joe Gow and Andrew Pollock

Produced and arranged by Andrew Pollock and Matt Joe Gow

Mixed by Fraser Montgomery, Andrew Pollock and  Matt Joe Gow at The Aviary

Engineered by Fraser Montgomery, Nick Edin and Andrew Pollock and Chris Elliott

Recorded at The Aviary and Leafy Green Studios

Mastered by Jack the Bear at Deluxe Mastering, Melbourne

Musicians: Matt Joe Gow, Andrew Pollock, Brendan Mitchell, Daniel Brates, Katya Harrop, Gus Rigby, Oscar O’Bryan, James Van Cuylenburg, Pete Carolan, Gretta Ziller, Thor Phillips and The Weeping Willows.