YLIAS Album Picks: 4th September

File_000 (1)It’s time to cast our eyes and ears on the latest batch of new releases that have appeared in last couple of weeks.

JACK INGRAM – ‘MIDNIGHT MOTEL’

How many artists record their album in a studio ‘live’, as in “lets play it and you record it as we play it” live? An album where the lead messes up the lyrics occasionally and where the recording process is left running when the song has finished. An album where you can hear the band discussing the song before and after. That’s where we are with Jack Ingram’s new album, his first for 7 years.

It may have been a complete mess. We can assure you that it isn’t. It’s probably one of the best collections of songs that you will hear this year. Back in the day, Ingram moved from Texas to Nashville and signed for Big Machine Records. He became part of the Music Row establishment. He had a number one single in 2005 with ‘Wherever You Are’, the first number one for the label.

He was voted ACM’s top new male vocalist in 2008 and his albums sold moderately well. The sales soon began to drop off and Ingram parted ways with his label in 2011. He returned to his roots in Texas and toured constantly.

There are two versions of the album. One includes the dialogue the other disc contains the songs. The experience of listening to this album would be totally lost without hearing the full version. Save the second disc for the car.

‘Blaine’s Ferris Wheel’ is a masterpiece of a country song but the story that precedes it is part and parcel. The songs are raw and he uses the backing provided by his band sparingly. Most of the songs could be performed acoustically. Some have been written by Ingram exclusively in motels whilst on the road. Some have been co-written with industry stalwarts Lori McKenna, Ellis Paul and Mando Saenz. The result is an album that tells stories and tells them in a way that country music should.

Recommended listening.

JUSTIN WELLS – ‘DAWN IN THE DISTANCE’

Bands come and go. The competition is ferocious and the rewards are very hard to come by. If we sometimes think that our UK country artists have chosen a dead end profession spare a thought for the US market.

It might potentially be lucrative but for every Keith Urban there is a 1000 wannabes that strive to take their place on the podium. We witnessed a female country singer performing in a large city-organised event in the centre of Atlanta, Georgia two weeks ago and there were 8 people watching. 4 of those were asleep having over indulged on the white powder.  Heartbreakingly she was very good.

What does this have to do with Justin Wells you might ask? He was formally with a band called Fifth on the Floor. No, we haven’t heard of them either but they toured extensively and built up a loyal following. The band eventually folded when they came to the conclusion that they would never escape from the underground scene. Former lead singer Wells has now gone solo.

This album sums up precisely the fact that those 1000 wannabes probably have as much natural talent as the Urbans or Bryans but don’t get the breaks. Wells has gone away, regrouped and used life’s experiences to create a very good country music album.

The opening track ‘Going Down Grinnin’’ is a stunner. It might be one of the best we have heard all year. An infectious foot-tapper that has a killer guitar riff that transforms the song from the ‘very good’ to the ‘excellent’ catagory.

He has a distinctive voice. He almost growls through his songs but you really can’t imagine anyone else singing them. ‘Still No Rain’ and ‘The Dogs’ show incredible maturity in the storytelling and Wells nails the delivery.

Things didn’t work out too well for Wells when he was out on the road with the band but it sure has provided masses of material for his poetry. Special credits go out to the production. It’s top drawer. The guy in charge is Duane Lundy who has worked with Sturgill Simpson.  He sure knows his way around a country record.

This guy sings with integrity. If you found the recent Cody Jinks album favourable we would have no hesitation recommending this one.

KELSEY WALDON – ‘I’VE GOT A WAY’

Things are looking up for the ladies of country music. Some of our more pleasurable listening experiences this year have been when we heard the latest releases from Lori McKenna and Brandy Clark.

Margo Price is making inroads, and at the more commercial end, Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini are challenging Miranda and Carrie in the top 30. Into the mix comes this lady. We doubt that Kelsey Waldon will receive much of a leg up from country radio but her sophomore album will certainly appeal to the country music traditionalists.

We have followed her career since we had the pleasure of hearing ‘The Gold Mine’ album that was released in 2014. She originates from Kentucky and lists her influences as Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn. Throw in a healthy dose of pedal steel guitar into that mix and you know exactly what you will get.

Apart from two covers, Rex Gosdin’s ‘There Must Be A Someone’ and Bill Monroe’s ‘Travelling Down This Lonesome Road’, the 11 track album is self-penned by Waldon.

It’s a treat for those that strive for real country music. A country singer who has strongly remained true to her musical beliefs and resisted any trends.

The delightful pedal steel of the opening track ‘Dirty Old Town’, an old style honky tonk foot-tapper, sets the scene nicely for the rest of the album. It’s an album that is not being made by mainstream Nashville artists anymore. Traditional country music is still being made but you have to dig deeper to find it.

The path has recently been trodden by Kacey Musgraves who also originated from small town America. Whether Kelsey Waldon can emulate her depends upon a number of factors and a potential hit single. There are contenders here.

We took a liking to ‘Don’t Hurt The Ones (Who’ve Loved You The Most)’, a gentle swayer that preaches the virtues of remaining true and loyal to families and loved ones, and not to allow your head to be turned too much by those who promise much yet deliver little.

The time has come for Waldon to move onto the next level.

WHISKEY MYERS – ‘MUD’

Southern Country Rock group Whiskey Myers release their 4th studio album on 9th September.

They are due to visit the UK in December, playing dates in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, also fitting in an appearance at Planet Rockstock which is being held in Trecco Bay. It should be an interesting tour. These guys know how to please a raucous crowd. In truth the music certainly falls rather more into the rock end of the spectrum rather than the country end but there is enough in the latest album to attract our attention.

Southern rock is thriving and Whiskey Myers are just one of a number of bands who are branching out from their Texan roots. Most of the ground work has been self-supported. All three of the band’s previous albums have been self-released and they don’t have the support of country radio. They have thrived on good old fashion word of mouth.

Lead singer Cody Cannon has that distinctive gritty voice that is suitably rough around the edges. Whilst the majority of the material on offer is pure rock and roll, there is the delightful acoustic ‘Trailer We Call Home’ that stood out for us. The lyrics tell us the tale of what it’s like to strive for a better life when you are restrained by the working class circumstances that you have, on the whole, created yourself. Great song.

The opener ‘On The River’ is a song that begins with a haunting fiddle introduction but gradually builds into an electric guitar-filled conclusion. The band have transformed the song across multiple musical styles in less than 4 minutes.

The guitars don’t ease up on the title track ‘Mud’. Mid-tempo and almost Stapleton-esque in the vocal delivery and style. We haven’t mentioned that Dave Cobb was involved on the production side. Maybe this is why we hear the Stapleton vibe throughout.

The brass is introduced in ‘Lightning Bugs and Rain’, a song that loses the guitar riffs but demonstrates the band’s versatility. Certain songs take your imagination into the place where the writer intended. This is one of those songs.

‘Some Of Your Love’ with its retro sixties rock and roll and ‘Frogman’ with its pounding beat and guitar riffs loosen the strict country feel to the album but the band never stray too far from their Texan roots.

‘Hank’ and ‘Good Ole Days’ complete the set. The former with its heavy fiddle influence, and the latter a potential honky tonk standard, ease us back nicely into familiar territory.

Be sure to check these guys out when they come to visit just at a time when the concerts will be winding down. A very good album that will reinforce their standing as one the hottest country-rock bands to come from the modern Texas scene.