THE AMAZON REVIEWS – PART ONE

Back in the days before writing for the 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. Belong are those reviews, updated very slightly. Note: Amazon used a 5 star rating scale, not allowing for fractional ratings

REAL THINGS – JOE NICHOLS August 21, 2007 – Five Stars

Other than Brad Paisley, I cannot think of another of the current Nashville acts that has as good a grasp on what is or isn’t country music than Joe Nichols. This album simply is a delight from start to finish.

The opening track “Real Things” sets a nice placemat for the current single “Another Side of You” (currently a top 25 and rising). For this album Nichols has tapped the cream of Nashville’s songwriting community for good songs. Only one old song was selected for the album and that is the late Blaze Foley’s classic “If I Could Only Fly” performed here as a duet with Lee Ann Womack and with the legendary John Hughey on steel guitar (Paul Franklin plays steel on the remaining tracks where steel is used). All of the material is top-flight and my only fear is that it may prove “too country” for today’s wimpy country radio.

The copy of the CD I purchased has a 14th track on it, a wry song titled “When I’m Hurtin’ ” in which a country singer apologizes to the audience that the only time he really sings well is you know when. This song is easily a 5 star effort and should be released as a single

CHERRYHOLMES II: BLACK AND WHITE August 16, 2007 – Five Stars
A year ago I had no idea about the Cherryholmes family band. Today I know them to be the finest family bluegrass band going. In this, their second CD, the group shows impressive growth – several members of the band write original material and all of them can pick and sing with the best of them

Daughter Cia Cherryholmes continues to develop her skills as a banjo player, and is becoming a truly impressive songwriter and vocalist. I can easily see her becoming a significant solo artist. The rest of the family is pretty good, too. Close harmonies, tight musicianship, excellent lead vocals (although Cia is clearly the standout vocalist) What more could you ask?

I liked all of the songs on this disc but I was particularly impressed with the songs Cia wrote such as “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, “I Don’t Know” , “Turned Me Down” and Don’t Give Your Heart to A Knoxville Girl”

Three excellent instrumentals “Darkness On The Delta”, “The Nine Yards” and “Bootstrap Hill” give the family a chance to stretch and display their instrumental prowess. While the CD consists mostly of originals, they do a nice cover on the Lester Flatt composition “I’ll Never Shed Another Tear”

I really could rattle on all day about this CD but suffice it to say, this is one of the best bluegrass CDs issued in this, or any other year

BETCHA BOTTOM DOLLAR – THE PUPINI SISTER July 28, 2007 – Five Stars
I first heard of this group in “Commander Coconuts” column in the ORLANDO SENTINEL a few weeks ago. It took a while but I found a copy and it is everything he said it is. The vocals are strongly reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters and the Chordettes although the arrangements and tempos are a little more modern.

The repertoire is splendid – some old classics and some newer stuff, all performed to perfection. Some of the newer material takes on an entirely different light when performed by the Puppinis – Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” positively sparkle, and “I Will Survive” (which I never could stand whether by Gloria Gaynor or Billie Jo Spears) proves to be worth a listen. Throw in a couple of Andrews Sisters classics (“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, “Bei Mir Dist Du Schoen”), some Ink Spots (“Java Jive”), Boswell Sisters (“Heebie Jeebies”) and Chordettes (“Mr. Sandman”), mix with some other well chosen numbers and you have an instant classic.

The only criticism I have of this album is that it is TOO SHORT running just over 40 minutes – heck three hours of this stuff wouldn’t be enough!

BIG DOG DADDY – TOBY KEITH June 13, 2007 – Four Stars
Another solid effort by Country Music’s most honest and feerless performer. As always, Toby had a hand in writing most of the songs on the album, writing or co-writing 9 of the 11 songs.

I’ve always felt that Toby Keith was a superior balladeer and this album supports that notion. While the rowdy “High Maintenance Woman”, “Get My Drink On”, “Big Dog Daddy” and “Pump Jack” are all acceptable radio fodder, it’s on songs such as the Fred Eaglesmith-penned “White Rose” and his own “I Know She Hung the Moon” that Toby really shines as a vocalist. Both of these songs would make excellent singles

I also liked the lyrics to “Love Me If You Can”, a song that, while not written by Toby, certainly seems autobiographical. I think this may be the most meaningful lyric to show up in a country song in several years – it certainly resonates for a lot of us.

While Toby’s lyrics may never be politically correct (and the effete may take umbrage at his politics), they are always insightful. “Walk It Off” is an expression that any kid shaking off the effects of a foul ball off his shins knows.

Not quite his best effort, and I would like to hear the electric guitars toned down a bit, but this album certainly will please his fans

EASY MONEY – JOHN ANDERSON May 19, 2007 – Five Stars
John Anderson and George Strait are about the only two with a high profile left from the generation of male singers that came to prominence in the early 1980s. Obviously Strait has been the more successful but John Anderson is the superior balladeer.

Here, John Anderson returns with his first CD of new recordings in several years, this time with John Rich of Big & Rich serving as producer. Fortunately. Rich stays largely out of the way and lets Anderson focus on that which he does best, as seven of the CD’s eleven songs are ballads.

First some consumer advice. Upon inserting the CD into your player, troll over to track 11, “Willie’s Guitar” and give it a few listens as John, Merle Haggard (vocal) and Willie Nelson (vocal & a guitar solo) work their magic on this wistful tale which, curiously enough, wasn’t written by either John, Merle or Willie. No matter, as writers John Phillips and Ray Stephenson certainly caught the quintessential sense of heartbreak and resignation.

First the “bad”: the uptempo songs “Easy Money” , “Funky Country” and “If Her Lovin’ Don’t Kill Me” are merely okay – worth 3 or 3.5 stars each. These three songs are the ones on which the John Rich “Muzik Mafia” sound is the most in evidence.

Now the really good: The fourth uptempo number, however, “Brown Liquor” is really excellent, on a par with John’s best uptempo numbers like “Black Sheep”, “Chicken Truck” or “Swingin'”

Aside from the John & Merle & Willie offering, John has six really, really good solo ballads; in fact, I don’t think John Anderson has ever done wrong by a ballad in his life. For me the highlights are “A Woman Knows”, a sensitive John Rich-Julie Roberts penned ballad along the lines of Johnny Darrell’s 1969 hit “A Woman Without Love” and John Anderson’s song about about a woman’s threat to her wayward husband that she’ll give him “Something To Drink About”. “Weeds” penned by Anderson and his late friend Lionel Delmore, might prove to be the favorite ballad from the CD for many listeners.

All in all, a very pleasant surprise as I was having nightmares about how a John Rich-produced CD might sound. Fortunately, it sounds like John Anderson being John Anderson, and it doesn’t get much better than that

STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART – DARYLE SINGLETARY May 6, 2007 – Five Stars
Daryle Singletary never managed to become a megastar, mostly because he has too much soul and integrity for today’s Nashville. Simply put, Daryl is “too country”.

This album picks up where Daryl’s 2002 album THAT’S WHY I SING THIS WAY left off, with one original song “I Still Sing This Way”, one cover of a recent hit, the Larry Cordle-penned Rebecca Lynn Howard hit “Jesus and Bartenders” and ten classic country covers sung with feeling.

The cover songs are as follows:

“The Bottle Let Me Down” – a Merle Haggard hit from 1966

“Black Sheep” (w/John Anderson) – a #1 for John Anderson in 1983

“Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” – a #1 for Don Williams in 1977

“Promises” – a minor Randy Travis hit which Randy co-wrote

“I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail” (w/Ricky Skaggs) – a Buck Owens classic from 1965

“These Days I Barely Get By” – a top ten George Jones record

“Miami, My Amy” – Keith Whitley’s first top twenty record from 1986

” Lovin’ On Back Streets” – a #5 record for Mel Street in 1973. Like Daryle , Mel Street was ‘too country’, and like Daryle, he was a fine, emotive singer

“Fifteen Years Ago” – Conway Twitty’s immediate follow up to “Hello Darling”, I always thought that Conway’s performance was better than the song’s rather maudlin lyric. Daryl also handles it well, although it’s still a silly song

“We’re Gonna Hold On” (w/Rhonda Vincent)- a George & Tammy classic from 1973 that comes off very well. No surprise, really since Rhonda is a superior singer to Tammy, and Daryle hold up his end of the bargain.

The presence of legendary pianist Hargus “Pig Robbins” lends a strong sense of authenticity. Best of all no electronic keyboards or synthesizers – this is real country music played on real country instruments.

I’ve heard a bunch of good albums this year and this is my favorite album so far this year, better even, than the Nelson – Haggard – Price collaboration. This is not to say that Singletary is quite in their league as a singer, but his pipes are at least 30 years younger and in better shape.

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND May 5, 2007 – Five Stars
Miranda Lambert is a brave singer, exploring the dark crevices of life and romance. This is territory that other female singers may explore for an occasional song, but not for an entire album. Needless to say, most of the album is about romance gone wrong.

My two favorite cuts, however, are not about romance at all. “Dry Town”, writte by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, is the most traditional country sounding track, a humorous song about wanting a cool one and finding that liquor sales are banned where you are. “Famous In A Small Town” is one of those neat little ‘slices of life’ songs dealing with the realities of life in a very small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business and ‘everyone dies famous in a small town’.

The rest of the CD is about the down side of romance (I certainly hope Ms Lambert’s real life isn’t as bleak as depicted here – she penned or helped pen eight of the songs on the album). The opening cut “Gunpowder & Lead” is unfortunate choice to open the album as it (a) isn’t country” and (b) isn’t very good, the one misfire on the album. Hopefully listeners will work through this track to get to the good stuff. If they do, they are immediately rewarded with the lighter fare of “Dry Town” and the lighter “Famous In A Small Town”.

After that it’s back to the main theme. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” didn’t get much airplay in my area but it’s an interesting number with some nice banjo work by Mike Wruck. The self-penned “Love Letters” about letters written (I presume) on tear-drenched paper is a song with the depths of despair and desolation Hank Williams found in “Alone and Forsaken”

“More Like Her” is a wistful song about her beau returning to his former girlfriend whom he realized was really what he wanted anyway. The remaining songs deal with loss of self-respect, recriminations and regrets.

The album closes with the classic “Easy From Now On” penned by Carlene Carter & Susanna Clark that was a hit for Emmylou Harris back in 1978 – a classic about getting oneself readjusted after the end of a romance. I hope they issue this track as a single

In the hands of a less capable singer, this almost unremitting collection of “emotional downers” would be hard to stomach. Since the songs are well written and the singer so expressive, it is well worth the time spend listening to it. I rated the CD as 5 stars since it is a hair better than 4.5 stars, but if allowed fractional ratings I’d give it 4.75 stars with the major deduction for the opening track [If I were reviewing this today I would give it four stars – pwd]

A HUNDRED MILES OR MORE: A COLLECTION April 29, 2007 – Three Stars
A HUNDRED MILES OR MORE is Alison’s second solo effort, but her first since 1995’s NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU. The album is similar to the 1995 release in that it is a hodge-podge of soundtrack recordings, recordings from tribute albums, songs from other artists’ albums and some previously unreleased tracks. The biggest difference is that this new collection seldom features her Union Station band mates in any meaningful role.

As an aside, Alison Krauss reminds me of Emmylou Harris in that she has a very pretty, shimmering voice that is rather thin (although not as thin as Emmylou’s voice) meaning that Ms Krauss is at her best when she either is playing off another voice or has background harmony singers such as Dan Tyminski and Ron Block behind her. As a solo artist Ms. Krauss loses me after a while.

Tracks 1-4 and 16 are previously unreleased material. Tracks 1-4 have Alison going it alone vocally. Track by Track:

1) “You’re Just A Country Boy” – this is the worst track on the album, a misguided cover of the Don Williams classic from 1977. The lyric does not survive the translation to the feminine perspective any more than singing “Your Squaw Is on The Warpath” would work from the masculine perspective [1.0 Stars]

2) “Simple Love” [2.5 Stars], and

3) “Jacob’s Dream” [2,5 Stars], and

4) “Away Down on The River” [3.0 Stars], are, modern day Adult Contemporary

5) “Sawing On The Strings” – this is the best track on the album, a joyous romp through that debuted on CMT’s 2004 Flame Worthy Video Awards Show. This is the only real bluegrass number of the album. Krauss and Stuart Duncan play fiddle with Sam Bush on Mandolin and Krauss’s idol Tony Rice on guitar [5 Stars]

6) “Down To The River To Pray” – a nice gospel number with nice harmony provided by the First Baptist Church Choir of White House, TN (and others). This was the a standout track from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou ? [4.5 Stars]

7) “Baby Mine” was from the Best of Country Sings the Best of Disney album and is a nice number with Dan Tyminski adding vocal harmony. I believe this lullaby was in the film Dumbo [4.0 Stars]

8) “Molly Ban (Bawn)” was from the Down The Old Plank Road album the Chieftains recorded about ten years ago in Nashville. Bela Fleck plays banjo on this nice ballad [5.0 Stars]

9) “How’s The World Treating You” – this duet with James Taylor was from a 2003 tribute to Charlie & Ira Louvin. It wasn’t the best track on the album, but it’s quite nice and was a successful video [4.0 Stars]

10) “The Scarlet Tide” – this song appeared in a film I didn’t see Cold Mountain. It’s different, I’ll give it that [3.5 Stars]

11) “Whiskey Lullaby” – a recent hit duet with Brad Paisley. Alison and Brad play well off each other – this is a pairing I’d like to see again [4.5 Stars]

12) “You Will Be My Ain True Love” – another song from Cold Mountain. Alison sings well, Sting adds vocal (dis)harmony [2.0 Stars]

13) “I Will Give You His Heart” from The Prince of Egypt: Nashville Soundtrack –

Dan Tyminski provides vocal harmonies on this number [3.5 Stars]

14) “Get Me Through December” – This appeared on a Natalie MacMaster album. Alison sings, Natalie fiddles, and Alison’s brother Viktor plays bass – an enchanting track [4.0 Stars]

15) “Missing You” appeared on one of John Waite’s albums. Waite isn’t a very good singer but the pairing works to some extent (Rock really isn’t Alison’s forte) on this song, which I think was a hit for Waite about twenty years ago [3.0 Stars]; however,

16) “Lay Down Beside Me”, also with John Waite, is the second Don Williams classic murdered on this album [1.5 Stars]

My chief criticism of this album is that it is again too ballad laden. It is a nice way for Alison’s fan to pick up tracks scattered across albums that her fans might not want to purchase. If allowed fractional ratings, I’d give this collection 3.5 Stars

FALL – CLAY WALKER April 19, 2007 – Four Stars
Clay’s first album of new material in several years delivers the solid country sound that one has come to expect from Clay. The first single “‘Fore She Was Mama” received considerable airplay, and seems to hold up well upon repeated plays. I am surprised that “Mama” topped out on Billboard at around 21, because its appeal in the Sunshine State was considerably stronger than that. If radio stations still maintained their own charts, I would expect that this would have been a top five song on stations throughout the Southeastern and Southwestern parts of the USA, perhaps tanking north of the Mason-Dixon line

The album features a nice mix of slow and up-tempo songs. One of the slower songs “It Ain’t Pretty (But It’s Beautiful)” is a bit maudlin, but for me it’s the best song on the album. Another highlight is Clay’s recording of “Before The Last Teardrop Falls”, a duet with the late Freddy Fender. Freddy’s death isn’t acknowledged anywhere in the CD booklet, but I’m pretty sure it was his last recording.

The current single “Fall” is receiving substantial airplay. I would not have picked it as a single, but I can see where its lyrics would have a strong appeal to female listeners with its strongly supportive message to the wife (or girlfriend).

“Average Joe” is a song that should resonate with many, and it features legendary pianist Hargis “Pig” Robbins. Paul Franklin plays steel on all tracks, but several fiddlers share the spotlight on the various tracks (Rob Hajacos, Stuart Duncan, Larry Frankin)

Welcome back Clay

LAST OF THE BREED – HAGGARD, NELSON & PRICE March 21, 2007 – Five Stars
This may be the Holy Grail of classic country recordings. Three legendary figures in Ray Price, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, singing twenty-two selections containing some of the greatest country songs ever written, although not necessarily the biggest hits of Willie, Ray or Merle (except a cover of Ray’s “Heartaches by the Numbers”). On eleven (11) of the tracks all three artists appear. Ray and Merle each have a solo (Ray’s with Vince Gill assisting), and the rest feature two of the three (with Kris Kristofferson assisting on “Why Me”). The backing band consists of top current session men and some legends who played in the bands of the legends such as Buddy Emmons and Johnny Gimble. Plus the legendary Jordanaires can be heard on several tracks

Here’s a partial list of the songs and who made them famous:

My Life’s Been a Pleasure – Bob Wills

Mom and Dad’s Waltz – Lefty Frizzell, John Anderson

Why Me – Kris Kristofferson

Lost Highway – Hank Williams

I Love You a Thousand Ways – Lefty Frizzell

I Gotta Have My Baby Back – Floyd Tillman

Sweet Memories – Don Gibson & Dottie West, Willie Nelson

Pick Me Up On Your Way Down – Charlie Walker

I Love You Because – Leon Payne, Ernest Tubb

I Love You So Much It Hurts – Floyd Tillman

That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine – Gene Autry

Still Water Runs The Deepest – Bob Wills

Ray Price has had the lowest profile of the three over the last ten or so years, but even at 81 years of age, he is one of the most effective singers on the planet. It is no knock on either Willie or Merle to say that neither is in Ray Price’s league as a pure singer – no one else is either. Maybe this CD will sell well enough to introduce a new generation to the music of Ray Price. If so, it will have done everyone a big favor.

To summarize: Buy It

FOR THE LOVE – TRACY LAWRENCE February 6, 2007 – Five Stars

Among the younger singers, Tracy Lawrence has the best pure country voice this side of John Anderson and Randy Travis. Like previous efforts, this CD has two or three cuts that are merely okay, and the rest are terrific. My favorite songs is “Til I Was a Daddy Too” , as meaningful a song as you will ever encounter. “You Can’t Hide Redneck” is a fun romp and “Rock and A Soft Place is another highlight. Such is the vocal prowess of Tracy Lawrence that his solo cut of “Find out Who Your Friends Are” is considerably better than the cut on which he is joined by Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, both lesser vocal talents. I love this disc, an early nominee for CD of The Year honors.

THE RAY STEVENS BOX SET January 24, 2007 – Four Stars

Good recordings of classic Ray Stevens material but quite a few remakes that lack the sparkle of the originals. In a nutshell, if it was originally issued on Curb or Clyde, it’s probably the original recording but if it was issued on Mercury,Barnaby,Monument, MCA or RCA then it’s likely a remake.

If you haven’t heard these recordings before, or its been a long time since you’ve heard them, beware – you may bust a gut laughing

Even with the remakes, it’s well worth purchasing

16 BIDGGEST HITS – JIMMY DICKENS November 18, 2006 – Five Stars
While it could have been better, this collection gives a balanced look at Jimmy’s career. Best known for his diminutive size and novelty tunes, Jimmy was a superior ballad singer as tunes such as “My Heart’s Bouquet”, “Just When I Needed You”, “Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go)” , “We Could” and “Violet And A Rose” amply demonstrate. Yes, the novelties are here as well as a few of the jump tunes, but it’s the ballads that will enhance your appreciation of Little Jimmy Dickens. I would like to see a more encompassing collection, including more of his hillbilly boogie and his recordings on MCA /Decca, but until that happens this is a fine collection

DIFFERENT THINGS – TRACY BYRD November 13, 2006 – Four Stars

To my knowledge this is the first Tracy Byrd CD not on a major label. I’ve never regarded Byrd as a great interpreter of songs, but he has an excellent voice, better than 99% of the male singers.

Song list (the titles tell you a lot about the songs):

Different Things
More I Feel Like Rockin’
She Was Smart
Cowboy and a Dancer
Biggest Thing in Texas
Just One Woman
Saltwater Cowboy
Cheapest Motel
Better Places Than This
Before I Die
Hot Night in the Country

I don’t think there are any radio hits in this group of songs, but it’s a well chosen group of songs that play to Byrd’s strengths. I don’t have any particular favorites but I don’t dislike the any of the tracks, either. This CD seems to be bargain priced; Borders, hardly a discounter, is selling it for $9.99.

HEARD IT IN A LOVE SONG – MARK CHESNUTT November 13, 2006 – Four Stars
At last, another album from one of the most self-assured honky-tonk singers going, his first since SAVIN’ THE HONKY TONK in 2004. This isn’t quite as good an album as that one, but immortal albums only come about once in a great while.

This album is basically a bunch of old songs (some hits, some not) that Mark wraps his vocal cords around. The title tune, “Heard It In A Love Song”, is a lame Marshall Tucker tune to which Chesnutt to gives a superior rendering. I consider it the weakest song on the album but Chesnutt makes it quite enjoyable

The album has a nice mix of up-tempo songs (“That Good That Bad”) and slow ballads which are Chestnutt’s specialty. I really liked his takes on the old Haggard-penned Charley Pride hit “A Shoulder To Cry On”, the Hag’s own “Goodbye Comes Hard For Me”. and Hank Sr’’s “Lost Highway.

Proving himself to be a George Jones fan of the first order (they come from the same town), Chesnutt tackles the George Jones obscurity “A Day In The Life of A Fool” , a very minor hit, almost never covered, from the early 70s. Mark isn’t a George Jones (no one is), but his version is quite good.

This is just short of being a five star effort – I’d give it 4 1/2 stars if allowed fractional ratings

KICKIN’ OUT THE FOOTLIGHTS – MERLE HAGGARD & GEORGE JONES October 30, 2006 – Five Stars
This is the best CD issued this year, a romp through some of the great songs associated with George Jones and Merle Haggard. On this collection, Hag sings five songs that were hits for the Possum (“The Race Is On”, “She Thinks I Still Care”, “Things Have Gone To Pieces”, “I Always Get Lucky With You” and “Window Up Above”), while Jones tackles five Haggard classics (“The Way I Am”, “Strangers”, “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink”, “Sing Me Back Home” and “You Take Me For Granted”) . There are also four duets in “Footlights” (a Haggard album cut that should ring true for every veteran musician), “Born With The Blues”, “Sick, Sorry and Sober” (an up-tempo western swing number often associated with Gene Autry’s pal Johnny Bond)and a light-hearted and amusing take on the Duke Ellington number “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”. This latter song features Haggard’s band The Strangers; the rest of the recordings are with a very inspired group of session musicians

These arrangements are fairly true to the spirit of the original hit recordings. Curiously enough, when Jones sings the songs associated with Haggard, there is never any doubt that Jones is doing the vocalizing; however, when Haggard sings the Jones songs, you sometimes feel that you’re listening to a younger George Jones at work, so accurate and subconscious a mimic is Haggard. I suppose I ought to pick out a few highlights but the truth is I love every, repeat, every track on this album. This is country music at its best

THIS TIME – WAYLON JENNINGS October 28, 2006 – Five Stars

THIS TIME was an excellent album that pointed the way to bigger and better things for Waylon Jennings. The title tune “This Time” was the first Waylon tune to hit #1 on the Billboard Country charts (“The Taker” hit #1 on the Cashbox charts in 1970). The title tune was the only chart hit on the album but “Pick Up The Tempo” and “Louisiana Woman” were part of his live show for years, and “Slow Movin’ Outlaw” could have been his theme song. The five bonus cuts don’t really fit the rest of the album as far as the general sound of the album, but I am glad to have them.

Three of the tracks are Waylon’s tribute to his first producer and former boss Buddy Holly. Waylon’s take on Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” is very different from Holly’s version in tempo and feel with Waylon having altered the lyrics slightly to make it more of a brag than the original. “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” again is a bit more resigned than Holly’s recording. The third Holly track is a medley of “Well All Right” / “It’s So Easy” / “Maybe Baby” / “Peggy Sue”.

Great album

LIKE RED ON A ROSE – ALAN JACKSON September 26, 2006 – Four Stars

I purchased this at Target on my way to work this morning (Target features a bonus DVD with the video of the title song and interviews with Alan and producer Alison Krauss)

This album is a nice change of pace for Alan. It isn’t his usual (fairly) hard country nor is it the bluegrass album you might expect with Alison Krauss as producer. Instead, it is a somewhat bluesy folk-country album. The CD features excellent musicians playing a mostly acoustic setting – basically an augmented Union Station. Alan is in excellent voice throughout and the sound quality is excellent.

All thirteen songs on the CD are very good to excellent (I especially like “Nobody Said It Would Be Easy”, “The Firefly’s Song” and Alan’s take on Leon Russell’s “Bluebird”). If individually rating the songs, no song would get less than 4 stars and about half the songs are worth 5 stars.

The paradox is that the whole is less than the sum of the parts. While I liked each song on the album, listening to the CD is a somnolent experience. Every song is taken at a slow-to-very slow tempo. The CD could have been improved by including some mid-tempo (or up-tempo) songs.

Also, for better or worse, the production sounds like what an Alison Krauss & Union Station CD comprised only of slow songs would sound like. If you like AKUS fine, if not then you will be disappointed with this album. I do like AKUS but not nearly as much as some other bluegrass artists

I teetered between giving this CD 3 stars or 4 stars, and decided it was worth a bit more than 3.5 stars for the song quality alone

I do recommend purchasing this CD because of the high quality of the songs. You may find yourself listening to about half the disc at a sitting, or you may find yourself creating a mix CD, mixing in some faster songs to break the monotony. I must admit that I’d like to see Alan revisit these songs using his more traditional country accompaniment

SINNERS LIKE ME – ERIC CHURCH September 4, 2006 – Four Stars
This album represents an impressive debut for North Carolina native Eric Church, whose recent hit “How `Bout You” reached the top 15.

Eric Church wrote or co-wrote all of the songs contained on this CD, most of which are good songs. I must admit that I would like to have seen him tackle one or two pieces of “Classic Country”, if only to see if he could do them justice, but maybe he’ll take up that challenge later (maybe I should give him some credit for “Pledge Allegiance To The Hag” which features a brief cameo by the Mighty Merle).

Most of the songs on SINNERS LIKE ME fall into the “good ol’ boy” vein with the songs having a contemporary feel to them. I really liked “Can’t Take It With You” and “Before She Does” but I suspect that the real breakthrough for Church will be “Two Pink Lines” a clever twist on the the anxieties of pregnancy tests.

The most unusual song on the CD is “Death Row”, a topic not generally touched on in Country Music – the most similar songs to it were Marty Robbins’ “The Chair” (1971) and Mac Wiseman’s “Just Outside” (1964) although songs such as “The Green Green Grass of Home” (Johnny Darrell – 1965) and “The Long Black Veil” (Lefty Frizzell – 1959) skirted the issue. If allowed fractional ratings I’d give it 4.5 stars

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