MINI REVIEWS: Album & EP Releases You Need To Be Checking Out! (April 4th)

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To supplement our weekly feature on the latest single releases, we have turned our attention to a batch of new albums and EP’s that have been released over the last few weeks.

There’s a healthy mixture of styles and trends here which makes up the chameleon that is 21st century country music.

JESSE DANIEL – ‘ROLLIN’ ON’

We start with the album that many are predicting will be judged as one of the best traditional country albums of the year. It will certainly take some beating. A throwback to the days when Dwight Yoakam was regularly heard on the radio, and the toe-tappers were ruling the honky-tonks.

Jesse Daniel released his self-titled debut album 2 years ago. It was well received, but ‘Rollin’ On’ takes his career to a new level. He’s from small-town California and has experienced plenty of life’s experiences to draw upon, including drug and alcohol addiction, jail time and rehab. A modern day outlaw with a love for the Bakersfield Sound.

He’s also surrounded himself with top class musicians, including a Grammy-nominated producer/pedal steel player in Tommy Detamore, and recreated an era that spawned legends like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.

The album was recorded in San Antonio, Texas and features some top quality, heartfelt country songs.

LAURA OAKES – ‘HOW BIG IS YOUR WORLD’

Laura’s third EP, and her first collection of new music for 3 years. A multi-winner of the BCMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year and a stalwart at practically every country music festival in the UK since she burst onto the scene 7 years ago, it’s awesome to see her career now moving on to the levels that her talent and application deserves.

Her last EP ‘Nashville Stole Your Girl’ was acoustic, but for this latest release she has the full band and a good level of production that was needed to enable these songs to shine.

Her songwriting sessions with a collection of Nashville-based artists and her co-producer Alex Lanyon have now enabled the tunes that Laura’s been performing live to have fresh impetus and exposure. As a showcase for the best of UK Country Music, this 5-track collection has so much to offer.

JESSI ALEXANDER – ‘ DECATUR COUNTY RED’

Her first studio album since 2014’s ‘Down Home’. There are only 8 tracks included, but you will know that someone as talented a songwriter as Jessi Alexander will ensure that those 8 tracks are top notch.

A quick look at her song writing credits over the last decade is proof that she has carved out a niche in Nashville that attracts the A-listers. Blake Shelton’s ‘Drink On It’ and ‘Saviours Shadow’, Lee Brice’s ‘I Drive Your Truck’, Eric Paslay’s ‘Song About A Girl’ and Tim McGraw’s ‘Damn Country Music’ are mere samples, and the latter is included in this collection. We loved Tim’s version, but Jessi nails this song in the way that only the original author can.

It really doesn’t get much better than ‘I Should Probably Go Now’, and one has to wonder why the industry cannot embrace talents like Jessi Alexander as a star in her own right, rather than an accessory to enable other artists to shine.

BRETT JAMES – ‘I AM NOW’

Another master songwriter who should be a household name, Brett James has released a 5-track EP which is highly recommended.

His songs have been recorded by a cast of heavyweights in the country world including Carrie Underwood (Jesus Take The Wheel, Love Wins, Something In The Water), Dierks Bentley (I Hold On) and a batch of Kenny Chesney album cuts.

He appeared at the CMA Songwriters Series at C2C a couple of years ago, and released a self-titled album in 1995, but nothing since then apart from a couple of singles in 2002 and 2003. His brand of country music is accentuated by the soulful, almost bluesy delivery and the sheer force of the vocals and production.

As expected, the project was almost penned alone. There are song writing credits for JT Harding and Chris Stevens on the title track, but except for that it is an entirely solo project.

It seems as though turning 50 has inspired the release of new music and more is expected shortly. Highly recommended.

LUKAS NELSON & PROMISE OF THE REAL – ‘ NAKED GARDEN’

There can’t be too much complaint with the quantity of music that Lukas and his band have been releasing recently. Hot on the heels of 2019’s ‘Turn Off The News’ album is this 15-track collection, which is their 6th studio project. 5 of the songs are remakes of songs that appeared on the earlier album, which is a novel way of revisiting your back catalogue.

As we discovered at C2C, there are few bands that can match POTR’s energy and talent live, and there are numerous examples here of songs that would simply explode into life in that format.

The record displays all of Lukas Nelson’s song writing idiosyncrasies. His take on country music extends far beyond the realms of father Willie’s defined path. Songs will branch off at tangents and the pitch and pace will increase and decrease at will and at times bizarrely. There is almost a Godley/Crème early-10CC feel about certain aspects, including an opening 7-minute track.

His music straggles country, soul and R&B but always with a defined rock and roll base. Quantity hasn’t neutered quality. We will all need a night out with Lukas Nelson And The Promise Of The Real when the world resumes!

RACHEL REINERT – ‘INTO THE BLUE’

We will start by saying that this is one of the best albums released this year. Having made that admission, it’s useful to explore a little of Rachel’s back story. Back in 2008 when she was 18, Rachel was a member of Gloriana with brothers Tom and Mike Glossin, and Cheyenne Kimball. They made 3 albums and their first 2 albums made the top 3 in the country charts.

The band folded in 2017 after Rachel had departed during the previous year.

There followed a period of past reflection and introspection, and her music career was left in abeyance. She went broke, sold her house and prayed for doors to open. However, the time out has been well served. ‘Into The Blue’ contains 11 tracks of such maturity and quality that any of them could stand on their own merit. There are literally 11 potential singles on this album.

There’s a beautifully atmospheric, ethereal feel to the production, similar to what we heard on Kacey’s ‘Golden Hour’ record. The stories are deeply personal; she’s put all her heart and soul into the project from front to back.

The great pity is that an album that was literally 4 years in the making and of such high quality has been released when promotion is limited to home streaming performances and social media. We simply can’t let this album be overlooked.

RUTHIE COLLINS – ‘COLD COMFORT’

New York native Ruthie Collins has released her brand new album, ‘Cold Comfort’, produced by Wes Harllee and mixed by Grammy winner Ryan Freeland.

It’s a lovely 11-track collection packed full of strings and pedal steel; a dream for country traditionalists. Opening track ‘Joshua Tree’ sets the scene for the theme of the album; it’s got such a dreamy feel that paints the picture of a wide open American landscape. The perfect soundtrack for a long desert road trip.

Her storytelling examines the last 5 years of her life, finding hope in the darkest of situations. ‘Cold Comfort’ takes listeners on a journey of self-assessment and vulnerability with an open-book mentality, combined with a batch of stunning arrangements taking us back in time to the days of orchestral country music classics.

Ruthie has been attracting the likes of The Boot, Billboard and the Los Angeles Times with a string of critically-acclaimed releases since signing with Curb Records in 2011, and has drawn comparisons to the likes of Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris.

Well worth checking out.

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