We’ve chosen some of the best under-the-radar releases that are well worth checking out!
Johnathan East – ‘Land Of Cotton’
Country Music, Alabama style, from someone who has always admitted an infatuation with the music that shaped his life. Since the release of his first album in 2007, East has always remained true to the traditional country music instrumentation and styles that have been sadly overlooked by mainstream country radio in the last few years.
To date he has not had the breakthrough hit that his music deserves, but for fans of fiddles and steel and infectious songs that will recreate the honky tonk vibe, this album’s for you. Shades of Brad Paisley in the opener ‘Growin’ Old’ and some mighty fine fiddle playing in his tribute to the ‘American Farmer’.
13 tracks of traditional solid country with a number of highlights. ‘Nobody’s Lookin For Jesus’ is East’s lament about the current state of the world and the lack of faith and redeemers. ‘If It Ain’t Broke’ is a fine tale about stability and settling for what you have in your relationships.
East doesn’t compromise to gain acceptance. He remains true to his musical beliefs and this album is all the better for it.
Pete Schlegal – ‘J-Town #realcountryandproud’
Another singer cut from the same cloth is Ohio native Pete Schlegal who has released his sixth album. Schlegal takes his musical roots very seriously. The album cover includes an advisory sticker that states “Country Advisory. Real Country”. You have been warned! Bro Country fans, look away now.
Pete wouldn’t make a record without a generous portion of pedal steel guitar, but all the country instrumentation in the world won’t work without a good smattering of decent songs and this is Schlegals forte. By recent standards, 10 tracks is not generous but what you get is an album that doesn’t contain a sniff of a filler.
‘Money’ has a bright an upbeat feel and ‘The River’ takes the mood down a notch without losing the hooks that this album displays in spades.
There is a growing tendency for country artists to return to their roots. Pete Schegal never actually left his.
Caroline Spence – ‘Spades And Roses’
A singer songwriter who was featured in Rolling Stone’s ‘10 new country artists that you need to know’, but this was in the spring of 2015. ‘Spades and Roses’ is the follow up to her 2015 album ‘Somehow’ and is an album that just might now propel her to the heights that were predicted two years ago.
She is certainly attracting the plaudits of fans in high places. Miranda Lambert has given her praises and Spence is out touring with John Moreland. This is East Nashville song writing at its most compelling.
She’s not afraid to tackle the tough subjects. A real standout is ‘You Don’t Look So Good (Cocaine)’. She describes it as the “voice of a concerned friend” and she becomes hugely personal with ‘Southern Accident’, which deals with the emotional baggage of her parents’ divorce.
Her voice has a wispy sweet quality that thrives on the minimalistic backing and production that Neilson Hubbard provides. It’s an album to savour. One for the headphones and a glass of fine wine. You won’t be disappointed.
Cottonwood Creek are husband and wife Scott and Maggie Little who have released their debut album.
It’s been a long process. It all began back in 2015 when they played with Mark Chesnutt. This led to them receiving an invitation to Nashville and a chance to showcase their talents. The album was recorded at the end of last year at the Rukkus Room in Nashville.
There’s certainly an opening for a guy/girl duo on the country charts and there’s enough here to interest the masses.
They wrote or co-wrote all of the songs save for a Jamey Johnson composition and they perform live without a band. Scott uses a kick drum and plays guitar and harmonica. Maggie plays banjo. Collectively they are producing seriously good country music and there are big hopes that their debut single ‘Oh’ can gather enough traction to set their careers on the path that their talents merit.
The album is predominately up-beat and foot-tapping. It’s also predominately traditional country. ‘Down That Road I’ll Go’ with its fiddles and steel sounds shares more than a passing similarity to a certain Dierks Bentley classic of a few years ago without losing it’s own identity.
A new name for many but well worth checking out.
‘Guy Clark – The Best Of The Dualtone Years’
A victim of the annus horribilis that 2016 is remembered for in relation to musicians, Guy Clark’s passing was felt acutely by the Nashville community that had appreciated his many talents both as a performer and master songwriter. He released more than 20 albums in a career spanning over 50 years, but his songs also became famous due to the covers by many of the A-list artists including Johnny Cash, Brad Paisley, Emmylou Harris and Kenny Chesney.
He was famously described by the New York Times as the “king of the Texas troubadours” but it was in Nashville where he made his home and forged his long career.
This compilation from his years with Dualtone contains many of his classics, apart from ‘Desperados’ which is probably his most iconic song. ‘L.A. Freeway’ is included but somewhat surprisingly as a live version.
These 19 tracks serve as a reminder of the immortal qualities that Guy Clark has passed on to the country music community.
Dualtone was the label that Clark was signed to towards the end of his career and it was his last musical home. The compilation contains 3 previously unreleased tracks and this in itself is ample reason to check this one out.
His relevance to modern country music remains. Angaleena Presley has recorded Guy Clark’s final song ‘Cheer Up Little Darling’ which is to be included on her upcoming album.