Ashley Monroe has a new album coming out December 18, and she’s offering the title track as a free download on her Facebook page. You just might find it to be the best non-purchase you’ve made in quite some time.
How to describe “Like a Rose”? Thoughtfully written, clear-eyed, quietly sincere, and country through and through – not that we would expect anything less from a song co-written by Jon Randall and Guy Clark. An absorbing, inspiring story of moving forward from a troubled past to a bright future – told in one simple snapshot of a narrator sitting at a cafe, waiting
Like Kacey Musgraves on her surprisingly well-received hit “Merry Go ‘Round,” Monroe shows that she’s not afraid to delve into the not-always-rosy details of life as she builds her characters back story. She’s had to cope with the death of one parent and the alcohol addiction of the other, as well as some romantic disappointment. But the overall tone is not despondent, but hopeful as the narrator prepares to move on to a new life, fully understanding that it is not her past heartaches that define her.
The arrangement supports the lyric beautifully, with sweet strains of dobro and steel guitar showing just how effective pure country instrumentation can be at enhancing the narrative of a well-constructed lyric. But it’s ultimately Monroe’s unaffected, sincere vocal reading that makes “Like a Rose” such a compelling record. The Pistol Annies connection has given Monroe’s profile a well-deserved boost, but “Like a Rose” gives one reason to be thankful that her solo career is not being abandoned. Now let’s hear that new album.
Written by Ashley Monroe, Jon Randall, and Guy Clark
Loveless’ Bluegrass and White Snow is one of the best Christmas albums around and a staple of my holiday soundtrack. This song boasts background vocals from Jon Randall and Emmylou Harris, which proves that if you want to make a great song even better, get Emmylou to sing on it.
Leeann’s Pick: Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors
I am not familiar with Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors outside of the Christmas album on which this song can be found, but I can say that the album is a mix of fun and warmth and this song is just one example of that.
This single review is written by Guest Contributor Jennifer Bernard.
“Draw Me a Map,”the second single from Up on the Ridge, contains lyrics which are cleverly evocative and packed with passion. The acoustic arrangement combined with the vocals of Dierks Bentley and Alison Krauss make for a soothing delivery of words that definitely dive below the surface. Specifically with lines such as “I’d beg forgiveness but I don’t know where to start” and “I’ve never been so at loss, I’m at a canyon I can’t get around or cross,” you can truly feel the anxiety and hopelessness that Bentley illustrates.
What strikes me while listening to this song is the vulnerability of the man in this situation. It is obvious that he regrets letting her go and now understands that she and him are meant to be (“You’re my destiny and destination”). It’s always refreshing to put pride aside and express how one feels on a deeper level which the ballad so strongly conveys. Krauss doesn’t have a major presence in this song which is both dulcet as it is symbolic. We understand that this song is about the man’s apology and the woman’s forgiveness. Furthermore, with Krauss in the background we are comforted knowing that she is there listening and possibly yearning for their relationship, too.
I’m a huge fan of metaphors, so there’s no mistaking that I appreciate this song’s metaphorical lyrics. No, he’s not asking her to physically draw him a map to help him find her. Rather, he’s desperate for her to tell him how he can come back in her life. It’s a song about a tender subject, so the simple vocals and music execute a harmonious match. Although the tune may not have an outstanding presence or be as memorable as its country ballad predecessors, all in all, this collaboration provides a unique touch to the album and is a nice addition to Bentley’s musical résumé.
As Dan observed in his single review of “Up on the Ridge”, there was a noticeable decline in Dierks Bentley’s music after his well received Long Trip Alone album. It is purely speculative to suggest, but one can’t help but wonder if Bentley himself felt staleness creeping into his music as well. It’s not farfetched for the idea to be true, since Dierks has proven himself to be an astute artist in the past. So, why wouldn’t he notice if there was, indeed, a shift?
Speculation aside, Bentley has taken a break from the routine of his last four albums to create an album that is far removed from what is popular on mainstream country radio and somewhat different than what he’s put on his own previous albums. However, he is still marketing to radio, as his first single, the title track, has been treated like any other Bentley single release. The album is not as adventurous, or as strong, as the Dixie Chicks’ unapologetically acoustic album, but it may be as close to the concept as we have gotten since their targeted mainstream acoustic project, Home.
It has been appropriately publicized that this album is not a pure bluegrass project. Instead, it is close in style to the bluegrass influenced tracks that Bentley has consistently included on each of his studio albums. Yes, mandolin, banjo, dobro and fiddle are ever present, but Bentley is not shy about using drums, exploring subversive melodies (“Up on the Ridge”, “Fallin’ for You”), or deviating from traditional bluegrass rules of engagement along the way. Moreover, Bentley does not possess the high lonesome tenor that is typically associated with bluegrass. He, however, proves himself to be a capable vocalist within the parameters of his unique style of it.
A handful of covers, songs by well respected songwriters, and some of Bentley’s own compositions makes this rootsy album a well rounded set. The best of the covers is bob Dylan’s “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) and Kris Kristofferson’s Bottle to the Bottom”. While the otherwise solid “Bottle to the Bottom” features a somewhat pointless cameo by Kristofferson, the addition of the Punch Brothers on “Senor” is inspired art. A less successful cover is U2’s “Pride (in the Name of Love).” While Del McCoury’s distinctive tenor does well to do the heavy lifting, the over all recording still lacks the etherealness of the original. Ironically, as they are most closely associated with Americana, the Buddy Miller cover is the most mainstream friendly sounding song on the album. Unfortunately, it is also inferior to Miller’s version.
Among the strongest of Bentley’s songs is “Rovin’ Gambler” (once again, with the Punch Brothers), “Draw Me a Map” (featuring Alison Krauss on background vocals), “You’re Dead to Me” (co-written by and featuring Tim O’Brien”, and “Down in the Mine.”
Bentley wisely enlists the help of some of his creative friends such as the Punch Brothers (with Chris Thile of Nickel Creek fame), Del McCoury, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert, Tim O’Brien, and Kris Kristofferson. Complimented by Jon Randall’s organic production sensibilities, this impeccable support adds a welcome texture to the project. However, the collaborations work best when they are more subtle. For instance, while the prospect of Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson collaborating is, indeed, an appealing concept, the result does not rise to the occasion in practice. Both Lambert and Johnson deliver excellent performances with Bentley on “Bad Angel”, with Lambert’s voice being huskier than usual, but the parts together translate as more disjointed than natural. Likewise, the results of Del McCoury’s and Kris Kristofferson’s contributions were not as successful as one would hope for from such revered artists. On the other hand, the Punch Brothers (who played on several tracks), Alison Krauss, Tim O’Brien, Jon Randall, and Vince Gill (“Fiddlin’ Around”) were used less overtly to greater effect.
With expert musicianship by the best in the business, solid songs, and impressive vocal support, Up on the Ridge is a refreshing album from an artist who is taking a chance with this musical detour while still in the throes of a considerably lucrative career. Not only is taking such a chance commendable, Bentley has created a solid album to justify the diversion.
McBride has a voice that would have been as relevant in country music fifty years ago as it is today, and her album of cover songs exemplifies this. She doesn’t attempt to move any of the songs to a different level, but instead inhabits the artists’ original style with precision and spirit. The result is a pure, respectful homage to the country greats. – Tara Seetharam
Recommended Tracks: “Make The World Go Away”, “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”
Felice Brothers, Yonder is the Clock
The Felice Brothers are the least-known among the members of ‘The Big Surprise Tour’ headlined by Old Crow Medicine Show and featuring Dave Rawlings Machine with Gillian Welch, and Justin Townes Earle. Melding country-rock and folk-rock, they are roots-influenced and made their start playing in the subway. While it may take an extremely big tent to call them “country,” consistent Dylan comparisons make Yonder is the Clock hard to ignore. – William Ward
Recommended Tracks: “Run, Chicken, Run”, “The Big Surprise”
Big & Rich, Horse of a Different Color
Big Kenny’s and John Rich’s voices and creativity blend to form a richly textured harmony that is only fully realized when they work together, as is most evident on their debut album that took country music by storm in a huge way. While their subsequent projects haven’t even come close to matching the potential of their first, Horse of A Different Coloris an album of refreshing risks and creativity that has been both embraced and criticized as a result of unique production and odd lyrical twists. Songs ranging from ridiculous to philosophical and all points inbetween make this album one of the most memorable, if not controversial, mainstream albums of the decade. – Leeann Ward
Recommended Tracks: “Holy Water”, “Live This Life”
Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone
Bentley takes his road theme all the way, crafting a concept album that both celebrates the loneliness of the road and mourns the resting places left behind by those who choose to stay on it. – Kevin Coyne
Recommended Tracks: “Long Trip Alone”, “The Heaven I’m Headed To”
Josh Turner, Everything is Fine
Turner’s third album is an outstanding example of a style that is deeply traditional yet still current, assured yet still vulnerable. His distinctive voice is paired with a well-crafted and charming set of songs on this album, which further solidified him as one of the genre’s leading traditionalists. – TS
Recommended Tracks: “Another Try”, “Nowhere Fast”
Reckless Kelly, Bulletproof
Country and power-pop collide in one of Texas’ most memorable albums in years. If Bulletproof has a weakness, it’s that its love songs and road anthems are all so damn hooky that the deeper material has to fight to steal your attention away. – Dan Milliken
Recommended Tracks: “American Blood”, “Mirage”
Chick Corea & Béla Fleck, The Enchantment
The Enchantment is a collaboration between jazz pianist Chick Corea and banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck. Full of soaring energy and technical prowess, The Enchantment blends the influences of both Corea and Fleck resulting in jazz compositions infused with bluegrass overtones.- WW
Recommended Tracks: “Mountain”, “Sunset Road”
James Otto, Sunset Man
On his breakthrough sophomore album, Otto’s voice is commanding and rich with soul, proving he has one of the most interesting male voices to come out of country music in the past few years. Sunset Man is a solid contemporary country album that has his voice melting just as effectively with bluesy, mid-tempo numbers as it does with muscular power ballads. – TS
Recommended Tracks: “For You”, “These Are The Good Ole Days”
Jon Randall, Walking Among the Living
Thanks to his very lucrative songwriting collaboration with Bill Anderson that resulted in a smash hit for Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss with “Whiskey Lullaby”, Jon Randall received a major label deal with Sony. Unfortunately, Randall’s only album with them was not even a blip on most people’s radars, though not due to lack of quality. Randall’s gorgeous tenor, most closely comparable to Vince Gill’s,tastefully blends with rootsy instrumentation and solid compositions to create a humble work of art. – LW
Recommended Tracks: “I Shouldn’t Do This”, “Lonely for Awhile”
Crooked Still, Shaken By a Low Sound
Crooked Still is an alternate bluegrass group led by vocalist Aoife O’Donovan. With haunting vocals and technical prowess Crooked Still pushes acoustic music in a manner similar to Nickel Creek but with a slightly more recognizable traditional bend. – WW
Recommended Tracks: “Wind and Rain”, “Little Sadie”
“the night was freezing cold, from a heavy snow that day, we warmed our hearts on old time songs and danced the night away” — Gordy/Loveless
Back in 2001, Patty Loveless made a wondrous, rustic and rootsy album called Mountain Soul, a stunningly beautiful and highly acclaimed work of art. Mountain Soul was a natural evolution for the coal miner’s daughter Loveless, who has always been known for the passionate mountain sound that she brings to her award winning Country repertoire. Mountain Soul is potential realized, a bountiful harvest that Loveless continues to cultivate to this day, her current masterwork Mountain Soul II being her most recent offering.
Patty’s immediate and worthy follow up to the original Mountain Soul is entitled Bluegrass & White Snow, a Mountain Christmas With it’s stripped down yet sophisticated feel, this 2002 release has the quality and the character that entitles it to be called ” the Mountain Soul of Christmas records,”, It is that good.
Bluegrass & White Snow is an inspired, joyous and reverent labor-of-love from Patty Loveless and husband/producer (and genuine musical genius) Emory Gordy Jr. It seems that every project this talented couple undertakes is done with the golden touch of artistry and creative good taste, and their mountain Christmas record is no exception. What has made this classic a perennial favorite is the natural blending of two wonderful musical traditions, the organic feel of it’s acoustic production, and the warm and expressive voice of the finest pure-Country vocalist of our time.
Bluegrass & White Snow is an enchanting mix of Christmas Bluegrass and beloved traditional carols. This album has a warm and personal feel to it and rings with Appalachian authenticity. No surprise, since the Kentucky native invests so much of herself into the music with three autobiographical songs, and an open reverence for her family’s Christmas traditions and Mountain heritage.
The album opens with the Christmas lullabies “Away in the Manger”, and “Silent Night”. and Loveless gracefully covers such traditional carols such as “Joy to the World”, “The First Noel”, and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. Her Appalachian alto is accompanied by ubiquitous mandolin, fiddle and guitar infusing a rustic flavor and giving these beloved carols an earthy yet elegant feel throughout.
The artistry of any Loveless/Gordy record often extends even to the album cover and Bluegrass & White Snow is one of the best examples. Here Patty “walks in beauty like the night” wearing the woolen coat-of-glory metaphorically alluded to in the original Mountain Soul. She looks every bit the Appalachian archangel in humble disguise, down from the mountain like a dream. She walks upon a cloudlike snow bank, an understated vision in royal blue and misty white.
Combine this with the clever title and the descriptive subtitle; it all conjures up scenes of mountain hospitality and beckons to the warmth of the music that is offered within. There, the listener will encounter Patty and Emory and their Holiday guests. A distinguished circle of musical friends that includes the finest talents in Country and Bluegrass music. Folks like Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill and Amy Grant. And the listener is embraced by this fine company in true Christmas spirit and is made to feel welcome and never left out in the cold.
All throughout, Patty’s vocals ring with pure silver clarity and warm golden tones. Her soulful voice sometimes seems to resonate in celestial dimensions and always conveys uncanny depths of emotion. “Joy to the World” is a beautiful example. It is a majestic Patty Loveless-Jon Randall duet and is the first of several carols to employ some creative musical accents; subtle wind chimes and wine glasses that seem to ring with Patty’s voice in resonant harmony like Heavenly tuning forks. They infuse the middle tracks of this extraordinary album with extra doses of Holiday enchantment.
“Carol of the Bells” softly descends upon the musical landscape like a surprise overnight snowfall, courtesy of the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble. It is an instrumental interlude saturated with mandolins that mimic harpsichords for a real old-fashioned feel. The subtle eerie overtones are from the wine glasses ringing with delicate magic, like crystal elvin bells. The whole piece gracefully turns into an extended instrumental introduction that Loveless uses as a springboard for her spellbinding rendition of “The First Noel”. With exquisite harmony provided by Trisha Yearwood and Claire Lynch, the three sound like a trio of down-to-earth angels singing their hearts out to the Heavens.
“Little Drummer Boy” is an inspired change of pace from the usual Christmas repertoire, and works brilliantly. Patty joins forces with a fellow Kentuckian and gifted young vocalist Rebecca Lynn Howard in a wonderful duet that blends two glorious voices in parallel melodic lines. The exquisitely interpreted lyrics conveys the song’s comforting sentiment that the Deity graciously accepts all heartfelt gifts, be they ever so humble:“I have no gift to bring par rum pum pum pum, that’s fit to give a king…shall I play for you pa rum pum pum pum, on my drum?” Patty graciously shares the spotlight, and allows Miss Howard to shine. Howard’s clarity and Loveless’ warmth make for the perfect vocal blend. And in a departure from strict Applachian convention, a lonely recorder hovers over the musical proceedings like a dove, It is a brilliant innovation, and a musical benediction.
“Christmas Time’s A Comin’” heralds not only the Holiday, but also the Bluegrass section of this wonderful album. It begins with Patty setting the rhythm on sleigh bells, and Emory joining in with compelling acoustic guitar hooks. Then all Bluegrass Heaven breaks loose as Patty and friends run with the melody and twin fiddles fly. They all conjure up images of home for the holidays, Country style.
“Santa Train” is the first of three songs written by the Loveless-Gordy team, and once again, they demonstrate their talent as first rate songwriters. Their originals fit seamlessly along with the more established and traditional songs on this album.
The actual Santa Train runs from Pikeville KY, ( Patty’s birthplace,) to Kingsport, TN and provides Christmas gifts to Appalachian children in need. And if it sounds like Patty is singing from experience, it is because she’s been there. She saw Santa wave to her from the back of the train when she was a mere 6 years old, and as an adult has joined Santa as a volunteer spreader of Christmas cheer three times now, in ’99, ’02 and ’07. Indeed, with this musical version of the Santa Train, Patty has given children yet another gift and awakened the inner child within us all. “Santa Train” chugs along with plenty of fiddle and perfectly evokes train rhythms, Bluegrass style. There’s even a real train whistle played by Patty herself, and she sings out the stops like a conductor, calling out storybook sounding names like Shelbiana, Dungannon, Copper Creek, and Cady Junction. But make no mistake, this song, like “Christmas Day at My House” is fine Bluegrass
music. The quality of the songs themselves and the virtuosity of the vocal and instrumental performances raise both these child-friendly songs far above novelty status.
The album closes with soaring festive harmonies, as Loveless is joined by Dolly Parton and Ricky Skaggs for the album’s closer. The song “Bluegrass, White Snow” like the album that bears it’s name, is absolutely saturated with Appalachian hospitality.
Patty Loveless and her musical companions make a compelling case that Christmas music is meant for Appalachian acoustics and soaring mountain harmonies. And Loveless herself continues to demonstrate that there is nothing more powerful than a gifted artist deeply connected to her roots singing from the depths of her being.
By any standard, Bluegrass& White Snow is a fantastic record. The few rough edges that are present only serve to enhance the authentic feel of the album even further. Christmas music is just great music to begin with, and this is a Christmas album with a mountain soul. The exceptional quality and Appalachian flavor of this record makes it entirely suitable for year round enjoyment, in and out “of season”.
Loveless and friends celebrate the essence of Christmas giving; the gift of God’s grace and the gift of music. And as always Patty Loveless and Emory Gordy Jr. continue to give their all. This is their Christmas gift to the music world. Make it part of your tradition and you are bound to experience this sonic wonder as a musical benediction. As is so often the case with Patty and Emory’s work, their music will leave you spiritually and emotionally enriched, nourished and blessed.
Bluegrass & White Snow is truly the “Mountain Soul” of Christmas albums, the finest of its kind.
Amidst her generation of successful female country artists, Lorrie Morgan was the only one who was clearly from the tradition of heartbreak queen Tammy Wynette, with a healthy dose of Jeannie Seely in the mix. With her contemporaries far more shaped by the work of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, Morgan was instrumental in keeping the sound of female country from the sixties still relevant in the nineties.
While Morgan never earned the critical acclaim or industry accolades of peers like Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis, she was immensely popular with country fans, able to sell gold with albums that radio largely ignored. She was the first female country artist to have her first three studio albums go platinum, with three additional albums going gold and a hits collection selling double platinum.
Many of Morgan’s best recordings were never sent to radio, and those interested in discovering her in depth should seek out her finest studio albums, Greater Need and Show Me How.
But her singles were pretty good too, with these being the most essential.
Ten Essential Tracks:
from the 1989 album Leave the Light On
This song broke through just as news of the death of Keith Whitley, Morgan’s husband, became known. She was unfairly accused of capitalizing on his death with this release, as people both misinterpreted the song’s meaning and apparently ignored the fact that it had gone to radio weeks before his death.
“We Both Walk”
from the 1991 album Something in Red
One of her more cutting performances. She refuses to let her roving man come back home, because when he leaves, he walks away and she walks the floor.
“Something in Red”
from the 1991 album Something in Red
Her signature hit is the tale of a woman’s life through conversations while shopping for clothes. Amazingly poignant, especially given the conceit of the song.
“What Part of No”
from the 1992 album Watch Me
“Back off, buddy,” is the message of Morgan’s biggest chart hit, which topped the charts for three weeks.
“I Guess You Had to Be There”
from the 1992 album Watch Me
In my opinion, Morgan’s finest performance from her platinum years. When this was on the radio at the same time as Pam Tillis’ “Do You Know Where Your Man Is”, it was the next best thing to having Tammy Wynette back in heavy rotation.
“If You Came Back From Heaven”
from the 1994 album War Paint