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