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Using studio quality headphones, it is Strictly Country’s policy to review all material sent.  We pride ourselves in taking the appropriate time to enjoy each album, movie, book and or single to create an honest, non-compensated, opinion about each piece of work.  We base our opinions on all of the material in country music, and not what is popular.  To purchase one of the following albums, simply click on the album image.  Not all albums are available to purchase.  To submit your work for review, please click here

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Blackie And The Rodeo KingsKings & Kings

Blackie And The Rodeo Kings


2016 - File Under Music.  This is our first introduction to this group, even though we have heard many of these talented men before when they worked with other notable artists.  Just a bit of background on this group; Tom Wilson, Stephen Fearing and guitarist / producer Colin Linden started Blackie and The Rodeo Kings as a tribute to one of their favorite Canadian folk artist—Willie P. Bennett.  The name was taken from Bennett’s 1978 album of the same title.  What started as a side project has turned into a full time job.  The group teams up with many notable male artists on this, their ninth album.  This album features twelve cuts that includes a remake of Willie P. Bennett’s song “This Lonesome Feeling.”  The boys gain the help from Eric Church, City and Clour, Raul Malo, Buddy Miller, Fantastic Negrito, Nick Lowe, Bruce Cockburn, Jason Isbell, Keb’ Mo’, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell and The Men of Nashville.  I have listen to this album over and over again and nothing really stands out.  Granted each of the songs are well performed, they just lack the ingenuity that brings a song to life.  On top of that, each song is slightly different but has the same baseline melody.  There are a few songs that stand out enough to really say take a listen.  The first is the opening cut called “Live By The Song” which is an biographical song for those trying to make it in this industry.  Another song that stands out is “Highwire.”  One can certainly enjoy the message contained in “A Woman Gets More Beautiful” especially if you understand French. Although they use many notable Robert Frost lines, “Long Walk To Freedom” is another song that stands out. Nonetheless, the only way I would suggest this album is if only you enjoy the musical styling of Dwight Yoakam and similar artists.  I really find this album lifeless, common and uninteresting.  Perhaps if they would have changed the baseline melody a bit, it may peak one’s interest.  This group is quite talented, this album just lacks any stimulating songs. It’s as if I have heard these melodies before… Perhaps if they were to team up with other songwriters out of their realm, they could create an album worth the money.  $$$


Curtis BralyYou Matter

Curtis Braly


2016 - CD Time Records. We were first introduced to Curtis in 2016 when he released his debut EP.  Well much has not changed since then.  Curtis still lacks the passion and sentiment that it takes to bring a song to life.  The proof of this statement is found in two of his songs; “Hate Me” and “Pour Me A Memory.”  Both are well written songs that have a substantial storyline within the lyrics, however, Curtis does not have agility to finesse his vocals to breathe life into them.  As for the rest of the album, it’s quite manufactured with a fabricated synthesized beat and instrumentals.  The best word that describes Curtis Braly is noise.  Half the time he is talking through the music, not as a recitation but trying to sing.  Now mix that with a forged melody that is more pop than country and you get pure unadulterated noise!  There is one song on this album that stands out, and only stands out as it is an adequately written song, with “You Matter.”  The overall theme of the song is found in the title.  However, it’s Braly’s lack of vocal competence that declines this incredible song.  That and the awful mix of phony instruments.  In the end, Curtis Braly is no more than a  unskilled, inefficient, want-to-be singer. $


Kenny ChesneyCosmic Hallelujah

Kenny Chesney


2016 - Columbia Nashville.  Over the years we have been entertained by Kenny Chesney with some incredible songs.  As we enter into the era of fast money on songs that have a short life span, Kenny’s music has evolved into that cycle.  If I were his manager, I would strongly suggest to him to release EPs rather than full length albums.  This album will upset longtime Chesney fans as it contains several manufactured songs including “Setting The World On Fire” and “Rich and Miserable.” Nonetheless it is his song “Noise” that says it all as it speaks about how we now settle for a world filled with noise.  On the flip side, there are a few songs that Kenny stays true to his mentality and character that we have come to love and cherish.  These songs include “Trip Around The Sun,” “All The Pretty Girls,” and “Coach.”  Kenny has fallen into the industry standards of jerky and twitchy chants mixed with the screaming melodies that tend to come across as noise rather than the beautiful songs that they should be.  On top of that why would a talented entertainer like Kenny Chesney record a cover of a well known song as he did when he included his version of Foreigner’s 1984 hit song “I Want To Know What Love Is?”  I understand why he chose the songs that he did… he included the manufactured songs to capture those who know nothing about real music, he then included the real songs that his fans would enjoy and then to balance it all out he includes a classic rock cover in hope to attract a new audience.  In other words, this is just your basic money making scheme!  This album deserves to be scored low due to this mentality.  However, I must score it a bit high due to the few songs that stand out.  Nonetheless, I can not find any songs on here worthy of earning a nomination for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award. This will hit our list of worst albums of 2017. $$-$$$


Mark CollieAlive: At Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

Mark Collie & his Reckless Companions


2015 - 101 Ranch Records.  Reading the story behind this album makes me wonder how many albums, songs or entertainers do not get heard because of the stupidity and dumbassity of record labels?  The story behind this album begins in 2001 when Mark Collie went to Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Tennessee.  Collie wanted to follow in the footsteps of Johnny Cash and record a live album, of newly written songs about crime and punishment, in a prison.  On October 17, 2001, Mark teamed up with an all-star band to record a live album at Brushy Mountain State Pen.  Joining him and his crew was a film crew to document inside the prison walls as well as Collie’s performance.  However, the release of the album and video were delayed due to changes at MCA records.  Then on May 4, 2010, a record flood left majority of Nashville under water.  Many things were destroyed and even lost, including the footage taken at the prison.  For ten years Mark has painstakingly tried to acquire the rights to this project.  When failure was close at hand, a chance meeting with Tim Wilbanks brought new light.  In 2009, Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, who once housed Martin Luther King’s assassin James Earl Ray, closed its doors.   An album that was presumed lost now emerges to a welcoming audience. This album is a prime example of how an entertainer should record a live album.  Within these fourteen songs, Mark Collie takes the listener on a ride through the life of a prisoner—from actions to emotions, each song tells the story.  For being a live album, the recordings are pure and docile while they show us the down to earth person that Collie is.  Among the fourteen cuts, Collie includes his version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” as well as a version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me Lord.”  Mark teams up with Kelly Willis and Shawn Camp throughout the album.  On this album you can find “One More Second Chance,” “Maybe Mexico,” “Someday My Luck Will Change,” “Reckless Companions” and “On The Day I Die” to name a few.  Collie gives slot on this album to the Brushy Mountain Prison Choir as they perform “Gospel Train.”  As good as all of these songs are, there are two that stand out enough to earn a position on our list of Top Songs of 2017, while earning a nomination each for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award.  These two songs include “Dead Man Runs Before He Walks” and “Do As I Say;” both are co-wrote by Collie.  Live albums are quite special, when they are as complete as this one is.  But this one is quite special as Mark was not willing to give up on a dream that was inspired and hopefully inspired someone else.  As for the film footage, it’s being worked on as we speak.  I highly recommend this one for its historic value; but most of all for the value of songs that it contains.  $$$$


Charlie DanielsNight Hawk

Charlie Daniels


2016 - CDC Records.  It is my belief, the best part of an entertainer’s career is when they leave a major record label and start up their own.  It is then that they can truly shine as they show us their true creative side.  Personally, I believe that Charlie Daniels is in the prime of his creative career as in the last few years he has conceived some of the most beautiful, works of art that are true masterpieces.  Night Hawk is truly a piece de resistance.  Daniels draws from his personal life of a ranch owner as he gives us ten appealing songs referring to the cowboy way.  Among the songs you will find two new versions of classic cowboy western songs.  In “Stay All Night (Stay A Little Longer)” Daniels revamps this 1945 hit that was originally recorded by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.  Charlie and company breathe new life into this classic song with a few minor adjustments.  The second song, “Ghost Riders In The Sky: A Cowboy Legend,” was written and recorded by Stan Jones in 1948.  Since then it has been recorded by more than fifty artists including Burl Ives, Marty Robbins, Eddy Arnold, Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby, Gene Autry and a more notable version was recorded by Johnny Cash.  Nonetheless it is Charlie’s version that brings this classic song back to earth with it’s simplistic, acoustic instrumentals that make you feel like your sitting around a campfire listening to ghost stories.  In fact, in my mind’s eye I can see Daniels filming a video of this song while sitting around a cowboy’s campfire.  Charlie and company really accomplish breathing new life into these lost and forgotten songs.  On the flip side, Daniels shares with the listener several songs that he wrote including a song called “Billy The Kid,” that is a new narration of the legendary William H. Bonney.  Charlie teams up with several other songwriters in “Running With The Crowd.”  Charlie steps into the role of an ole’ cowboy while he shares wise words of wisdom, many of which people can relate and should follow today.  This is the first of three songs that will hit our list of Top Songs of 2017, while earning a nomination for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award.  The second song to hit our list is “Old Chisholm Trail.”  This song will certainly remind you of those old barn dances we once knew with it’s fun melody that is sure to get your toes tapping.  This astounding album also includes “Big Balls In Cowtown,” “Goodnight Loving Trail,” “Can’t Beat The Damned Ole Machine” and the title track.  However, the most amazing and awe-inspiring song on this album is a song that is one of the finest songs that we have heard in a long, long time.  If you take anything from this album, please take “Yippie Ki Yea.” Charlie gives a commanding performance in this gentle song about the closing of the day as he tells his son or grandson it’s time for bed after a long day of playing cowboy.  One can hear the love and admiration that Mr. Daniels has for his grandchildren as he sings this soft western lullaby.  If I were to choose the best song that Charlie Daniels has ever written, this would be the one. Throughout this entire album, the Charlie Daniels band reminds us that Country Music once portrayed the everyday life of hard working people like the cowboys and ranchers of the wild west.  Has that music disappeared like the tumbling tumble weed?  No, it still lives in the hearts of the wranglers, ranchers and most of all the dreamers.  Hitch up the wagon and wrestle yourself some Charlie Daniels in Night Hawk. $$$$+


Jenny GillThe House Sessions

Jenny Gill


2017 - Yes, Jenny Gill is the daughter of Vince Gill and Janis Oliver and the step-daughter of Amy Grant.  But let’s stop right there.  The music industry tends to be hard on any child who follows in the footsteps of their country music entertainer parents as they believe that the child is riding the coat tails of their infamous parents.  The industry can not think outside the box, so to speak, as it gravitates towards comparing the offspring to their parents.  When in reality, we all walk our own individual paths.  That being said, let’s shed the Gill mentality and take a look at Jenny as an individual.  For her debut project, this EP is a good start for her career.  Within the six songs on here, Jenny gives us a glimpse into her talents as a songwriter and as a vocalist.  As a vocalist, her style is more of the early 1990’s soulful sound of Barbara Mandrell mixed with Bonnie Raitt.  As a songwriter, she tends to use too much rhyme and gravitates towards using way to many words.  As a listener, you are apt to get lost amongst the words which creates space for your mind to stray away from the song.  We have to remind ourselves that Jenny is at the beginning stage of her career. Jenny does stoop to the industry standards to include a cover of Joe Cocker’s infamous song “The Letter.”  If you set aside this song and get to the heart of this EP you will find some well written and performed songs that still need a little polishing.  This polishing only comes with experience and once gained, she will emerge as country music’s top female artist.  Provided, that the industry gives her the chance to prove herself as an individual an not as the child of country music royalty.   The EP begins with “Lonely Lost Me,” then continues with “Look Where Loving You Landed Me.” Both are skillfully written.  But it is the third cut, “Whiskey Words,” in which Jenny excels.  Even though this heartfelt ballad needs a bit of work to develop it into a well polished professional song, it will certainly hit our list of Top Songs of 2017 while earning a nomination for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award.  The other song that stands out, but not enough to hit our list, is “Your Shadow.”  Jenny pays tribute to her father in this biographical song. There are very few times that I come across a new artist in which I can hear within their projects the respectability and competence that is needed to make it in this industry.  I strongly feel that Jenny has the skills needed.  She just needs someone, other than her parents, to help her develop it to the point in which she will excel.  I pray that the rest of the industry will accept her for her.  Perhaps if she were to drop the Gill name and use a stage name of Jenny—it may help.  Country music needs, in fact it demands, an incredible female artist to emerge.  I believe that in time, Jenny will be that woman.  I look forward to seeing how she evolves and flourishes…$$$-$$$$


Heidi And RyanHeidi & Ryan

Heidi & Ryan


2016 - Mountain Fever Records.  It really disturbs me when I come across an album filled with well written beautiful songs that are destroyed by incompetent vocals.  This is our first introduction to this bluegrass duo and it’s not a good one, especially in the vocal category.  First lets take a look at the music...the album begins with a graceful song called “Grandma’s Knee” which was written by Heidi Greer.  The lyrics ride a gentle wave as they take the listener on a journey back to a time spent with a Grandmother as she told stories about her life.  Nonetheless, it’s Heidi’s limited vocals that tend to make us shy away.  She does open up a bit more within the chorus, but then it’s back to the controlled and constrained vocals in the next verse.  It is her restraint that takes the presumption and persuasion out of the song.  The same is found in the rest of the songs.  The duo includes some beautiful inspirational songs with “Come To Jesus,” “The Darkest Day,” “Will You Be Ready” and their version of “Somebody’s Prayin’.”   All of which are well written songs that lack the feeling and convictions found in non-traditional gospel songs.  The group includes a marvelous song written by Lee Roy with “Pictures,” again they do not know how to bring the validness out within their performance of this song.  Heidi & Ryan are incredible and competent songwriters, but they lack the skills to bring their songs to life.  I am not ready to write this duo off just yet.  Perhaps a little bit of help from a vocal coach to bring out the spirit of their songs will bring this duo to the forefront of the Bluegrass industry.  I hope they follow this advice as they do have all the other skills needed to make it.  They just lack the vocal skills, the heart and soul, to bring it all together.  Vocals - $.  Songs - $$$+


William Michael MorganVinyl

William Michael Morgan


2016 - Warner Bros. Records.  This one is a toss up for me.  There are some well written songs on this one such as “Back Seat Driver,” “Beer Drinker,” “Somethin’ To Drink About,” and “People Like Me;” but there is something missing.  Perhaps its due to the fact that William sounds way too much like Alan Jackson.  Then again, many of the songs are overly produced with the addition of forged instruments.  On one song, “Spend It All On You,” Morgan attempts to hit the high notes but his lack of vocal diversity forbids him from hitting them.  Where as in the title cut, the song is destroyed with the overuse of a single word, “Girl.”  William Michael Morgan includes a song that was once recorded by Eric Church called “I Know Who He Is.”  To bring this heartfelt and honest ballad to life, one must perform it with pure raw emotions and this is something that Morgan lacks.  On top of that this incredibly well written song was destroyed with a horrendous manufactured beat. If everyone involved on this project just would have sat back and simplified the production, it would have been worth the time and money.  When I break this entire album down I do not hear anything new.  Everything on this album has been done before! The vocals sound like Alan Jackson and the melodies sound like something Kenny Chesney would create with their Caribbean mentality.  This album lacks heart and soul, but most of all it lacks value. There is no weight to this album as it doesn’t breathe. As for William Michael Morgan, well he’s just another want-to-be karaoke type singer. If you like the same old stuff then waste your hard earn money and precious time on this one. I score it high as there are some well written songs on here. $$


Sara PetiteRoad Less Traveled

Sara Petite


2017 - Sweet P. Music.  Just when you thought it was safe to listen to new music again… then you come across this, whatever this is… where, oh where—do I start?  Booked as “She’s a little bit country, and a little bit Rock ‘n’ Roll!”  That statement is completely dishonest, but more so that statement was taken from Donnie and Marie Osmond’s 1976 song of the same title.  Sara  Petite is better described as a want-to-be, groupie, wish-I-was in the spotlight deceiver.  The best way to characterize her style is… well, she tries so hard to sound like Loretta Lynn with her country flare but she screams like Miranda Lambert which comes out sounding frightful and disastrous.  I don’t want to use the word fraud, but this album has a feeling of a flimflam.  Sara tries to hustle the listener as she uses a Johnny Cash-esque style drum beat throughout the album.  Wait…it gets better!  In the song “You Don’t Care At All,” she struggles as she purposely shoots to reach all aspects of country music and bluegrass that the song sounds hideous.  Trust me, it gets the next four songs contain melodies, words and ideas from previous songs and even movies!  Let’s begin with “Good 2 B Me,” forget about Sara dropping the F word and let us focus on the fact that she took a well known line from the 1993 movie Dazed And Confused, with “Alright, Alright.”  Now granted, inspiration for a song can come from any where and every where, but when the phrase is even said exactly like that of the movie and the song does not pertain to the movie...then it’s well stolen. Where as in “Sweet Pea Blues” one can definitely hear the melody of Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard’s iconic song “Poncho and Lefty.”  Oh, it gets better… When I came to “Monkey On My Back,” I was instantly brought to the dance scene of the 1994 cult classic movie Pulp Fiction with it’s similar melody of Chuck Berry’s 1964 hit “You Never Can Tell.”  Yes, there is more!  The piece de resistance came with “Patchwork Quilt.”  Dolly Parton is too nice of a person to take action, but all of her fans should file a lawsuit against Sara Petite, not for money—but to destroy this song and delete it from the face of the earth.  This song is a thesaurus version of Dolly’s iconic “Coat of Many Colors.” In other words, it’s as if she took Ms. Parton’s song and used a thesaurus to re-write the entire song.  Whatever you do, do not and I repeat do not play “Sweet Pea Patch” with children around as it has a very informative sexual innuendo of the female genitalia. The only thing missing from this album is a cover song! So what do you call someone who takes these kinds of actions within their work?  The word that comes to mind is that Sara Petite is a kleptomaniac of music, and not in a good way.  I have seen people who want so bad to be someone important and recognized, that they’ll do anything to get it. However, it always ends up to be a bad situation.  This is the part where I usually make helpful suggestions and the only suggestion I can make to Sara is seek help, professional psychological help. This one is so unacceptable, that I can not even rate it as it makes Red Cowboy sound good! On the positive side, I believe we have a winner for the 2017 CD Coaster Award!


Noam PikelnyUniversal Favorite

Noam Pikelny


2017 - Rounder Records.  It has been a bit since we heard anything from Noam, so it was nice to hear that he was releasing a new project.  Noam is quite the accomplished banjo picker and has a wonderful baritone voice.  However, I am quite disappointed in the collection of songs that he includes on here.  Out of the twelve songs, five our covers of well known songs.  These covers include Josh Ritter’s 2010 hit song “Folk Bloodbath,” Carl Butler’s 1964 hit “My Tears Don’t Show,” “Sweet Sunny South” that was written by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, an instrumental version of Elliot Smith’s “Bye” and an unjustified version of Roger Miller’s 1966 hit “I’ve Been A Long Time Leavin’ (But I’ll Be A Long Time Gone).”  With the exception of the Roger Miller song, the other covers are well done.  But, covers only prove you can perform other entertainer’s pieces of work.  On the flip side, Noam reminds us of his vast talents as a banjo picker in the rest of the songs as they are each performed as an instrumental.  These songs include “Sugar Maple,” “Hen of The Woods,” “The Great Falls,” “Moretown Hop,” “Redbud,” and a unique song with “Waveland.”  With the resonance  and fullness of his voice, I question why Noam does not team up with a few songwriters to create music?  I have faith that if he were to collaborate with others, they could conspire to create some of the best and most artistic songs to come out of bluegrass since Bill Monroe!  If you love the artistry of music, Noam is an artist to seek.  I just wish he would have released an EP of the seven instrumentals than the album with the covers. I hate to do this, but I have to score it low, due to the covers. $$$


Jeannie SeelyWritten In Song

Jeannie Seely


2017 - Smith Music Group.  If you have ever been to the Grand Ole Opry and seen a live show, then chances are you have witnessed first hand the vast talents of Jeannie Seely.  Ms. Seely has been a staple at the Opry since she joined in September 1967.  Throughout her fifty years in the music industry, she has gained much success as an entertainer and as a songwriter.  Claimed as one of the most anticipated albums of 2017, Ms. Seely releases a collection of fourteen songs that she wrote and or co-wrote.  Among the collection she includes “Sometimes I Do” that was recorded by Ernest Tubb, “He’s All I Need” recorded by Dottie West, “My Love For You” recorded by Merle Haggard, “Enough To Lie” recorded by Ray Price and a song Jack Greene recorded called “You Don’t Need Me.”  She also includes “He Always Got What He Wanted” which was recorded by Dallas Wayne, Trey Hensley and even Little Jimmy Dickens.  Another song that she includes is “Leavin’ And Sayin’ Goodbye” which was recorded by Faron Young, Robyn Young, Jack Greene, Justin Trevino and the most recent Dawn Seas with the Time Jumpers. Jeannie Seely also wrote the popular song “Senses,” which was once recorded by Connie Smith, Willie Nelson, Johnny Carver and Doyle Lawson.  The second most iconic song of Ms. Seely’s is “Anyone Who Know What Love Is.”  One would certainly remember this song once you hear it as it was recorded by Irma Thomas, Samantha Whates, Jessica Brown-Findlay and Ruby Amanfu.  Very few entertainers take the opportunity and time to create an album filled with their self-penned songs. Jeannie shares with the listener four additional songs that she wrote including the soulful ballad “I’m Never Gonna See You.”  It’s back to real country music with “The Pain Once You’re Gone.”  Ms. Jeannie shows us her versatility as a songwriter and as an entertainer in the sassy “Who Needs You.”  Nonetheless, the song that stands out the most on this incredible album would have to be the final cut “We’re Still Hangin’ In There Ain’t We Jessi.”  Ms. Seely gains the help from Jessi Colter and Jan Howard in this autobiographical song.  As phenomenal as all of these songs are, we chose three to hit our list of Top Songs of 2017 while earning a nomination each for the Spirit award’s Song of The Year Award.  These songs include “I’m Never Gonna See You,” “Who Needs You” and “We’re Still Hangin’ In There Ain’t We Jessi.”  This album is filled with an incredible collection of songs filled with substance that are performed with heart and soul.  Ms. Jeannie Seely is truly a gifted songwriter, but she is also a class act when it comes to her vocals as she breathes life into these songs.  If I had the money, I would make sure that every new entertainer in today’s country music had a copy of this album—this is what REAL country music sounds like!  Legends are not born.  Legends become legends from hard work, blood and sweat.  This is a must have for any country music collection! $$$$+


Sister HazelUnplugged: From Daryl’s House Club

Sister Hazel


2016 - Croakin’ Poet Records.  I am at a quandary with this project.  First and foremost, the entire project consists of a live recording cd as well as a DVD.  The live recordings are simplistic and elegant as the band performs in a more acoustic style.  I rather enjoy this band like this as they are not overly produced. If this band were to continue performing and recording like this, I can see them rising to the top. The album features fourteen songs including one cover of Emerson Drive’s 2009 song “That Kind of Beautiful.”  So here is the dilemma I am facing…  The album opens with a song called “Prettiest Girl At The Dance.” In the jewel case of this project it states that “lyrics and music by Andrew Copeland and Billy Montana.” However, in my research I found that an entertainer by the name of Mike Ryan also claims that he wrote the song and the lyrics and released it on his 2015 album Night Comes Falling.  Who do you believe?  When I find one song such as that, I question the validity of the rest of the songs on the album.  Which brought me to “Something To Believe In.”  Although the lyrics are quite different, the mentality of the song is somewhat similar to a song, with the same title, that the rock group Poison wrote and recorded. This might be just a coincidence, nonetheless, it does have a fishy smell to it as many of the other songs contained on this album feature titles of  songs that have been released before.  Now writing songs with the same title as well known songs could be an ingenious way to draw attention to a new group or it could be considered plagiarism.  But here is question that I ask—Is this a money making scheme, a fraud or just a coincidence? This album and DVD truly showcases this band’s instrumental and vocal capability.  I really want to give Sister Hazel the benefit of the doubt. In fact, we were ready to add a couple of these songs to our list of Top Songs of 2017. However, do to that one song, I can not rate this one as I question the genuineness and legitimacy of the songs on this project.


Rhonda Vincent & The RageIn Concert Volume One

All The Rage

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage


2016 - Upper Management Music.  There is one thing that I have come to dislike about Bluegrass music and that is the fact that many of the artists tend to focus more on recording covers of previously released, well known songs. I understand that this is found in all musical genres, but it seems more prevalent in Bluegrass.  Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the fact that recording covers is a way to show respect to the entertainers who paved the way.  Nonetheless, when I hear a talented entertainer like Rhonda Vincent record covers it just doesn’t make sense to me!  Through the years, I have heard some beautiful music come from Ms. Vincent and I inquire where is that talent now?  On the flip side, this is a respectable album although it does contain several covers.  These covers include Jimmy Rogers’ 1930 hit “Muleskinner Blues,” “Girl From West Virginia” by Doyle Lawson and Keith Allison’s 1967 hit “Freeborn Man.”  Amongst the collection of songs you will hear several that Rhonda recorded that were recorded by others including “I’ve Forgotten You” later recorded by Michelle Wright and “You Don’t Love God (If You Don’t Love Your Neighbor)” that was later recorded by The Gaithers.  If you set those aside, you will find some incredible songs that were written by members of The Rage.  These songs include “Wow Baby,” “All About The Banjo,” and a powerful Gospel song with “If We Would Just Pray.”  Amongst the collection of songs you will also find some of Rhonda’s more popular songs including a tribute to Bill Monroe with “Is The Grass Any Blue (On The Other Side),” “Missouri Moon,” and her self penned song “Kentucky Borderline.”  This project was recorded live at Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee.  For a live album, it is compiled in the correct format as it includes the brief moments between each song.  However, it does lack the playful banter that usually exists within a live performance.  I long to hear a new album from Rhonda.  One that is filled with her own personal songs that will showcase her true vast creative skills as an entertainer.  $$$+


Welcome Home

The Gospel Plow Boys


2016 - Mountain Fever Records.  I tend to have animosity when it comes to most Gospel albums as they are generally filled with previously recorded songs.  Much of which have been overly recorded that the message within them has lost its power and meanings.  I’ll give credit to the Gospel Plow Boys for choosing songs that have not been overly recorded.  Nonetheless, this album includes twelve covers of previously released songs.  You will find amongst the covers “Because He Lives” written and recorded by The Gaithers, “Dearest Friend” recorded by the infamous Speer family, “Daniel Prayed” written and recorded by Dr. Ralph Stanley, “Forever On My Knees” recorded by The Easter family and the rock group Saga’s “Rise And Shine.”  They also include a song written by Indiana Evangelist Billy Fields which is the title track.  The Plowboys begin this song with a beautiful upright bass riff that draws you into the song, the bass then fades into the background to ride with the rest of the instruments.  If it would have been me, I would kept the bass in the foreground as it adds the much needed emotion into this song.  This group does have tight harmonies, however, at times I find it hard to listen too them as the pitch is quite high and some what ear piercing.  Other songs include “The Dream,” “It Is Well With My Soul,” “and “Saved By The Blood.”  Its not the fact that this entire album is filled with covers that distracts me from this album, rather it’s the fact that these boys do not draw on the emotions found within the lyrics to bring each of the songs to life that prevents me from really enjoying this non-traditional Gospel album.  If you are a fan of Bluegrass music that lack heart and soul, then this one is for you.  $$


Country Faith: Volume 2

Various Artists


2016 - Word Entertainment LLC.  Compilation albums are generally hard to piece together as contracts and record labels tend to get in the way.  Nonetheless Country Faith, spear headed by Deborah Evans Price, has a unique way of drawing out what needs to be spoken.  When people think about Gospel music we think about the songs taken from the old Hymnal we sang from in church. Throughout country music, we can find a great deal of songs that pertain to God and inspiration.  This album is a collection of twelve of those non-traditional Gospel songs found hidden amongst the rest of country music.  For the most part, this is a great collection of songs.  Amongst this collection you will find “Pray About Everything” by Luke Bryan, “Real Men Love Jesus” by Michael Ray, “Stubborn (Psalm 151)” by Lee Ann Womack, “When I Get Where I’m Going” by Brad Paisley with Dolly Parton, “Live With Jesus” by Wynonna Judd and closes out with Shenandoah’s “Hallelujah For The Cross.”  There are a few songs on here that don’t belong as they really don’t go well with the rest of the assortment.  The first comes from Wade Hayes with “What’s A Broken Heart For You” due to it’s less than inspirational message.  I find that LeAnn Rimes’ “I Need You” is excessively produced with its fabricated drum beat.  I would not have placed Phil Vassar’s song “This Is God” on here as Phil is well known in the music industry as a robber of other people’s music. Then again, Jesus did dine with the sinners of his day.  On the other side, we have pulled three songs from this album to hit our list of Top Songs of 2017.  “The Little Girl” by John Michael Montgomery featuring Alison Krauss & Dan Tyminski, “Tractors Don’t Roll” by Drew Baldridge and “Believe” by Brooks & Dunn will earn a nomination each for the Spirit Awards Song of The Year Award.  In the end, this is a good collection of songs to inspire anyone with.  Gospel music does not always have to be hard core, Bible thumping music.  It can be inspiring music that speaks about every day living.  Share this one with anyone, especially a teenager, they may just get inspired! $$$$


Voices: Vintage Hymns With Heart & Soul

Various Artists


2016 - Breezewood Productions. It takes a special kind of vocal talent to create and breathe new life into vintage hymns.  Very few artists, entertainers and or singers can pull it off.  Depending on the song, Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers are one group of people who have the capability and they show it with their addition of “It Is Well With My Soul.”  Another artist who has this ability is Trae Edwards.  Trae includes his version of “Old Rugged Cross,” which we rate as one of the best versions of this classic song.  Trae also teams up with Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys in their version of “I Love To Tell The Story.”  Where as William Lee Golden, also of the Oak Ridge Boys, lends his vocals to a classic country version of “In The Sweet By And By.”  It’s Joy Gardner who captures your attention with her gentle and sweet vocals in “Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus.”  Woody Wright creates a wonderful song that he calls “Light Medley” from the song “This Little Light of Mine.”  The first complaint I have with this album is in the opening song “Oh Happy Day” performed by Michael English.  This song demands a light, energetic airy feel and Michael delivers a version that leaves a heavy impression.  Larry Stewart closes the album with his version of “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”  The instrumentals in this version capture the classic quality that Larry is unable to match with his country style vocals.  Perhaps the biggest complaint comes with the addition of  Timothy Moore’s “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms.” Personally, I would not have included it due to its modern day, Caribbean style beat.  Who ever put this project together, did so with thought.  However, I believe that if one were to record the vintage hymns that are as old as the story of God, one must do so out of the respect that each of these songs were written.  Personally, I would have chosen Trae Edwards, Joy Gardner, Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers to lead.  I would then add the talents of Gorden Mote and his wife Kim Mote.  As background singers I would have invited The Oak Ridge Boys and requested the Statler Brothers as well.  I believe that Larry Stewart did a great job in producing and I believe that he would be the one to bring it all together.  If you wish to reach outside the country music genre, then I would seek Sinead O’Connor’s vocal help as well.  Again, it takes a special set of vocals to capture the heart and soul of traditional Gospel songs.  There is something missing throughout this album.  Perhaps it’s the joy of the song. Then again, perhaps it’s the way the song is performed.  Whatever it is, it’s missing.  Seek the songs that I mentioned as they are worth the time to listen too.  As for the rest, set it aside and pass it by. $$$


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