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Album/Single Reviews

YLIAS Album Picks: 23rd October



file_000-4Here are a few recent releases that have caught our attention – be sure to check them out!

Jamie Richards – ‘Latest and Greatest’

For those of us that have been encouraged by the resurgence of traditional country music, the recent number one for William Michael Morgan and the healthy chart position of John Prine’s new album is to be celebrated. The benefits may not entirely be felt by the artists who are leading the charge. Those who may feel that their style of country music has been ignored during the ‘bro-country’ era see this as an opportunity.

Jamie Richards is one of those singers who has been steadily producing good traditional country music for the last few years without great recognition or reward. He has now released an album that is in part a collection of his greatest hits but also a showcase for 5 new songs. He has recently given his take on the recent shift in sand.

“It seems like the environment of country music is changing. It’s shifting back to what I’ve done all along with songs that have a message and make you feel something. I’m very excited for everyone to hear this new album. Whether you are a new fan looking for real country music or a long time fan waiting to see what happens next there is a song on here for just about everyone.”

Richards was born in Oklahoma and honed his craft in the local honky-tonks before chasing his dream in Nashville. His brand of country music was deemed to be commercially unattractive at that time but he found employment as a staff writer with Curb records. He remained for 5 years writing songs for others. His own career was on hold. He was deemed “too country” for corporate Nashville. It was compromise or leave.

Richards left and moved to Texas where he secured a recording deal with D Records a label with a country music pedigree. It was the label that launched George Jones’ career. This was 2001. Since then he has released five albums and has made a name for himself on the Texan music scene with 12 top 10 singles on the local Texas charts.

He has never altered his style. He does music from the heart and his songs reflect that. Copious pedal steel and fiddles with traditional themes and melodies that will delight traditionalists. The album’s opener ‘Last Call’ tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Jamie Richards. We began by name checking William Michael Morgan; this song compares favourably with the music that many are discovering on Morgan’s album.

I’m sure that Jamie Richards will be a new discovery to many of us here in the UK. The 5 new tracks on this album won’t mean that much as all 13 tracks will be fresh to our ears. Real country music will only be heard extensively again if the patrons support it. ‘Latest and Greatest’ by Jamie Richards is album that is very worthy of your attention.

Mandolin Orange – ‘Blindfaller’

Modern American roots music has now been reclassified under a label, ‘Americana’, that encompasses folk, country, bluegrass, gospel, traditional country and occasionally pop. Billboard have renamed their folk chart and there is even an Americana chart in the UK. Labelling music is fraught with danger but it would be safe to suggest that Mandolin Orange safely fit into the Americana section at your local HMV.

North Carolina is the home to Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz who have produced 5 quality roots albums in the last six years, the most recent being their new release ‘Blindfaller’.

Marlin and Frantz both possess voices that would stack up against most solo country artists. Together their harmonies have delighted audiences throughout North America and Europe. Not only do we get some of the best two-part harmonies that grace modern roots music we also get to hear two musicians who are at the top of their game. As you would expect, guitar, fiddle, pedal steel and that ubiquitous mandolin dominate the album but it’s the immediate quality of the songs that raise this album above the norm. Andrew Marlin has that knack of creating melodies that fool the listener into that feeling of familiarity on first listen.

The best double acts seem to happen by chance. They met at a jam session on the night of President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. The chemistry worked so well that this proved to be the culmination of their solo careers. Mandolin Orange was born. This new album has a fuller sound to their earlier albums but the production remains true to the style that has made Mandolin Orange what they are.

The lead vocal duties are shared. Frantz takes lead on the opener ‘Hey Stranger’, whereas Marlin is employed almost exclusively on ‘Wildfire’, not only as chief vocalist but also dominating with the signature mandolin sound. He started out as a metal and heavy rock guitar player but states that he fell in love with mandolin when hearing bluegrass and folk.

The band recently added Josh Oliver to the line up and his harmonies add to the mix particularly on ‘Wildfire’ which is also the band’s most politically charged song dealing with the recent resurgence of hate and particularly its Southern historical upbringing.

Frantz’s fiddle playing opens ‘Lonesome Whistle’ and gloriously dominates throughout. Acoustic folk music at it’s very best. The only minor gripe is the fact that the album is limited to 10 tracks. You will inevitably be left wanting more.

Jamestown Revival – ‘The Education Of A Wandering Man’

I guess that most will describe the opening track ‘Company Man’ as a politically charged southern rock influenced anti-corporate anthem. However, from our UK perspective I hear a huge sixties Beatles vibe which even extends to the subtle harmonica that was so often heard in their classics. The sixties influences are prevalent later with ‘Airliner’, a song that could have been crafted in Detroit in the iconic Motown era and ‘Midnight Hour’ which is Wilson Pickett personified.

Stick with us. Not the most obvious beginning for a review on a country music website. However, the strength of this semaphore release from TX duo Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance is its diversity. You don’t have to search too hard for some good honest country.

This is the follow up to their 2014 debut album ‘Utah’ that was so well received that they became well recognised on the burgeoning US Americana scene. For this album, the band have returned to Texas from a brief stay in Los Angeles and have included a song ‘Back To Austin’ which they say perfectly describes their “return to the hill country”. The album covers many genres and the only consistency is the quality of the song writing and two-part harmonies. The harmonies dominate every song and whatever the vibe, whether it be soulful, country or southern rock, it’s a fun listening experience.

These guys can also create a very authentic finger-plucking anthem ‘American Dream’ which will delight the honkytonks and will dominate their live shows. They are deserving of a wider audience and ultimately the path to greater recognition comes via a hit single. Easier said than done, particularly when you factor in the reluctance of country radio to embrace new music from artists who do not fit their narrow criteria.

Jamestown Revival have released ‘Love Is A Burden’ as a single. It’s supported by a video which appears to demonstrate that their label is prepared to throw money into promotion and marketing. It’s a good song. With repeated exposure it is a song that could go places. However, it’s not hugely country. It was released in July and has not yet dented the country charts. Music Row publish their ‘Country Breakout’ chart which gives a snapshot of the songs that are being played on a selection of country stations; It’s not definitive but this track is not included in their top 80. Not a good sign but we all know that some songs take an age to break.

This is an album that will delight those who like a more alternative angle to their country music. They are hugely inconsistent in terms of musical styles and draw upon a range of influences but they are in for the long haul. Let’s hope that this album reaches the audience that their collective talents deserve.

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