Nine Below Zero – 13 Shades of Blue

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Nine Below Zero
13 Shades of Blue
Zed Records

White Knuckle Rollercoaster Ride Around The Blues.

Well! I wasn’t expecting that….or that or, indeed this; as 13 Shades of Blue opens with a sizzling slice of Funk; albeit with a Bluesy back bone, but Funk none the less. Don’t Lay Your Funky Trip On Me was probably the last thing I’d have thought Britain’s foremost R&B Band would open an album with; but why not? They have treading the boards since 1977 and have evolved from the ‘four to the floor’ ‘sweaty bar-band’ that won my heart at the legendary Riverside Club in Newcastle that year.
Now I’ve got my head around the completely diverse tracks that make up the album, Track #1 makes a lot more sense with Dennis Greaves distinctive voice serenading his wife Helen on backing vocals and harmonies as Mark Feltham trades harmonica licks with Adam Davey and Tom Waters on Alto-sax and Jeff Brown’s soulful trumpet. There’s a lot going on; but every second is pure magic.
The band go on to shimmy and glide through every Blues format known to man (apart from Delta Blues) with the greatest of ease, with friends aplenty adding an array of instruments not normally associated with not just the band; but da’ Blues itself.
Although not as raw as their legendary live performances, the band do include several Blues tunes with a hefty dose of Rhythm. Greaves guitar sparkles on You’re Still My Woman and his vocals could be straight out of Chess studios and later My Woman Is Good To Me sees Feltham blowing the reeds out of his harp, just like the fans love to hear.
My head was spinning by the time I first heard their cover of Allen Toussaint’s Hercules; as it’s a song I associate with the Jazz-Funk of my early 20’s but Nine Below Zero keep the beat, but add a late night Bluesy vibe to this beautiful song.
Although I don’t know the original but It’s Your Voodoo Working, makes a delicious accompaniment to that dish, with the brass section swinging like a leaf in a storm.
(Nice) Surprises like that come thick and fast, with John Mayall’s toe-tapping Crawling Up a Hill being dragged out of the cupboard and getting a new lease of life as the band pay homage to the Godfather of British Blues.
Surprises? What about Glen Tilbrook from Beat-Combo The Squeeze adding sitar to the normally standard R&B ballad That’s What Love Will Do For You? Who knew it would work, but it does, turning an above average song into a barnstormer.
I definitely love that opening track; but the title of RM ‘Favourite Track’ is a tie between the smouldering duet Don’t Play That Song (You Lied) between Dennis and Helen, with the band, and again harmonica player Mark Feltham in particular showing the world why the Blues is as sexy as Hell!
The other song, oddly enough is an instrumental…The Toddle. Here Feltham gets to shine in the spotlight, as he takes us on a cool shuffle that will have even the most boring among us shaking a tail-feather….baby.
It did take three or four plays to get my head around 13 Shades of Blue; but that was only because I had pigeon-holed the band who are actually, so, so much more than an average Blues Band churning out hits and classics to ever dwindling audiences. Nine Below Zero have grown and evolved over the last 40 years (how long???) and this album showcases their talents in all of their glory.

http://www.ninebelowzero.com/

Released September 30th 2016

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Amanda Shires – My Piece of Land

amanda-shires

Amanda Shires
My Piece of Land
Silver Knife

Beautifully Heartfelt Folk Songs From Country’s Softly Beating Heart.

I am a huge fan of Ms. Shires two previous albums; so was giddy with excitement when her new PR Company casually asked if I would be interested in reviewing her latest offering.
I couldn’t wait for a CD to cross the Atlantic so even asked for a download….which is so unlike me.
As those two previous albums had been significantly different from each other coupled with the fact that I had deliberately ignored any other reviews, I was genuinely excited to hear what direction Amanda had taken; especially considering husband Jason Isbell has finally found the success his talent undoubtedly deserves and the pair had made and had a beautiful baby (they aren’t shy of sharing photos).
Well, first track The Way It Dimmed is actually a bit jauntier and even ‘Countrier’ than I’d expected, with Amanda’s voice being slightly richer and warmer than I’d remembered; all coming together to make a lovely song to open with.
Never leaving her Country Roots, Amanda introduces us to several new strings to her bow, with the brooding My Love (The Storm) touching on Southern Gothic with a Soft Rock heart, as her violin and the guitar solos mid way through will testify.
Perhaps it was because she was confined to barracks writing this album during the last few weeks of pregnancy that there is a brittle melancholia to songs like Pale Fire and I Know What It’s Like, both reminding me of early Nanci Griffith for some reason; but when the mood takes her Amanda isn’t afraid to rock out too….with When You’re Gone being the most pumped up I’ve ever heard Amanda on record.
I’ve loved the whole album from start to finish, yet from the first listening one song caught my attention above all others, Apparently Mineral Wells is an old song that Amanda wrote when relocating to Nashville to pursue her career several years ago. While loving the excitement of her newly adopted home the narrator still has pangs of homesickness for Mineral Wells. The simple song is touching in every which way, and even after leaving my own home town 40 years ago I too have similar rose-coloured memories, but don’t have the vocabulary or way with words like Amanda to express them.
My most pleasant surprise has been the way Amanda tells her stories via Folk, Country, Rock and with the twee Nursery Rhyme an almost pop tune, without ever not sounding like Amanda Shires. The mix of genres works in a way it shouldn’t, as Dave Cobb’s perfect production values brings out the best in both Amanda’s singing and songwriting on every single track, regardless of the chosen style; making this her very best album to date.

http://amandashiresmusic.com/

Released USA 16th September
Released Europe ????

Curse of Lono – Debut EP

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Curse of Lono
Debut EP
Submarine Cat Records

Moody, Atmospheric Stories from the Dark Heart of Americana.

Obviously we receive numerous discs at RMHQ from bands and singers we’ve never heard of, so it can be a difficult choice what to put in the disc machine first as the coffee is brewing; so it’s often a case of ‘judging a record by the cover Roulette.’
Such was the case with this debut EP from London’s Curse of Lono. The moody mono photo on the cover of a series of giant cactuses captured the mood I was in, and the first song Five Miles lived right up (or down?) to my expectations.
It’s a glorious multi-layered slice of deep dark, melancholic lo-fi Americana, but with a drum beat and enough scorching fuzz-box laden guitar to make it almost 60’s Garage in essence, but very, very of the present.
This links nicely with track #2 London Rain, only this time singer Felix Bechtolsheimer (real name) does a moody and very descriptive ‘talking Blues’ as the band steer just the right side of a Doors medley in the background, with Dani Ruiz Hernandez channelling the ghosts of both Ray Manzerak and Keith Emerson at the heart of the melodic line.
The jauntiest tune here masks the saddest song…..which gives you some idea where Curse of Lono are coming from. He Takes My Place is heartbreaking to the extreme; but the way the words seep from Bechtolsheimer’s velvety and expressive voice you will cling to every syllable like a limpet in a storm.
Arguably, my favourite track here is the finale Saturday Night, another slow and drawling ‘talking Blues’ but with lyrics that have more sharp edges than a broken window, on a sexy and almost dirty song that could and should be the soundtrack to TV Drama about the dark heart of a man in a dead relationship. I’m free to write the script if anyone is interested.
Curse of Lono has risen from the ashes of London band, Hey Negrita and with that wonderful background to drawer on and these wonderful four songs; I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am in anticipation of the forthcoming album.

http://www.curseoflonoband.com/

Released October 14th 2016

 

John Prine – For Better, or Worse

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John Prine
For Better, or Worse
Oh Boy Records

Founding Father of Alt. Country Has Fun On Some Classic Country Duets.

This album appears to have come right out of the blue for not just me and you but John Prine too.
While putting together the vinyl release of his previous album of duets, In Spite of Ourselves (1999) his wife and son suggested he record some new ones to fill the fourth side of the double album. So pleased with the ensuing six songs, more singing partners were sought and this is the result; and he must have some special address book judging by the names on this album.
The album opens with a delicious slice of Old School Country when one of his ‘oldest’ (as in longest) friends Iris Dement joins him on Who’s Gonna Take The Garbage Out? The two bounce of each other like George and Tammy at their very best and even if the rest of the album was disappointing; it would be worth buying just for this song alone……but its not.
To some degree the elderly statesman of Americana has never sounded better than on songs like this one and Mr. & Mrs. Used To Be also alongside Iris Dement; as he has finally ‘grown into’ his trademark gravelly voice.
One of the songs that ‘got me into Country Music’ was Elvis Costello’s version of Colour of the Blues on Almost Blue; and over the years I must have heard another dozen versions but none as bittersweet at this version where Prine is joined by the ever wonderful Susan Tedeschi.
Perhaps it’s my age, or where I am in my life but a couple of songs somehow managed to overwhelm me on first listening. I’ve always been a sucker for a good love song; but wasn’t expecting to be so effected by the way his voice and Kathy Mattea’s intertwine so well on Remember Me and Dreaming My Dreams, which also features some stinging guitar and a haunting harmonica. Both are great songs in their own rite, but here the couple seem to find a new resonance in the way they structure the lyrics.
This disc may be John Prine’s ‘swansong’ , as he’s not getting any younger but the way he interacts with Miranda Lambert on the hoary old Cold, Cold Heart and Miss Amanda Shires on Dim Lights, Thick Smoke it proves there is more than a little bit of life left in the old dog yet!
I’ve only had time to listen to the album three times so far; but this is a winner from the get go….and on that very first listen I fell in love with two songs, and both are at opposite ends of the Country spectrum.
First is the intricately beautiful Falling in Love Again alongside Alison Krauss; which shows off the great man’s sensitive side in a way I didn’t expect and then towards the end the latest Princess of Country Kacey Musgraves helps John get his ‘Honky Tonk on’ with a swinging version of the long forgotten Buck Owens and Rose Maddox song Mental Cruelty; taking a song that’s over 55 years old and making it as relevant in 2016 as it was the day it was written.
The album comes to a close with John Prine doing what John Prine does best; him all alone on a confessional ‘talking Blues’ Just Waitin.’
That song has made me want to dip back into his back catalogue for the first time in years; but the other 14 songs have me waiting with baited breath for a follow up album of yet more Classic Country songs be given the same loving and charming treatment, and if I can make a suggestion or two….I’d love to hear John duet with Neko Case, Kelly Hogan and especially Laura Cantrell.
Just a thought….but a bloody good one!

Home

Released USA 30th September 2016
Released Europe ?????

BLINK-182 SEVEN Album Vinyl Box Set

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BLINK-182
SEVEN Album Vinyl Box Set
All Six Studio Albums PLUS an EXCLUSIVE Live Record
UMG/Universal

Since their humble beginnings twenty-four years ago, when they started playing in a San Diego garage, Blink-182 has sold over fifty million albums worldwide and rocked audiences from Adelaide to Zurich having become one of the defining rock bands of their generation. The trio of bassist/vocalist Mark Hoppus, guitarist/vocalist Tom DeLonge and drummer Travis Barker, emerged from the Southern California pop-punk scene of the early ‘90s and quickly gained a reputation for their raucous live shows, incredibly catchy songs and irreverent, tongue-in-cheek humor. Blink-182’s latest studio release, California, with new member Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio who replaced DeLonge, debuted at #1 in July, giving the band their second career #1 album and first in 15 years.
UMG will bring Blink-182’s entire Universal catalogue together for the first time as a limited edition vinyl box set on October 7. The 10-LP collection will include their six studio albums on heavyweight 180-gram vinyl complete with MP3 downloads and consist of 1995’s Cheshire Cat, 1997’s Dude Ranch, 1999’s Enema Of The State and 2001’s Take Off Your Pants And Jacket on single LPs and 2003’s blink-182, 2011’s Neighborhoods and their riotous live record, 2000’s The Mark, Tom & Travis Show: The Enema Strikes Back!, as double LPs.
A limited number of the vinyl boxes will come with exclusive stickers and a slipmat, only available at uDiscover: here. All titles will also be made available individually as “Back To Black” releases.

# Recorded over two nights at L.A.’s Universal Amphitheatre and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco in November 1999 by producer Jerry Finn, The Mark, Tom & Travis Show: The Enema Strikes Back!, released in 2000, captured the band in the midst of their meteoric rise as they enjoyed their first-ever arena tour. The high-energy set showcases songs from across their three studio albums with a focus on Enema Of The State which they were on tour supporting. A handful of songs – “Family Reunion,” “The Country Song,” “Blow Job,” – were songs made up on tour and only played at the shows. The album features one non-live track, “Man Overboard,” which was written during the Enema sessions and recorded after the tour. Released as the album’s lead single, it peaked at #2 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart. The record debuted at number eight on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 110,000 copies its first week. The fourth side of the vinyl release, titled “Words of Wisdom,” closes out the album with 29 “skits,” examples of some of the wild between-song patter by DeLonge and Hoppus that has distinguished the band for its fans.

CHESHIRE CAT (1995)
SIDE A

1. Carousel
2. M+M’s
3. Fentoozler
4. Touchdown Boy
5. Strings
6. Peggy Sue
7. Sometimes
8. Does My Breath Smell?

SIDE B

1.Cacophony
2. TV
3. Toast and Bananas
4. Wasting Time
5. Romeo and Rebecca
6. Ben Wah Balls
7. Just About Done
8. Depends

DUDE RANCH (1997)

SIDE A

1. Pathetic
2. Voyeur
3. Dammit
4. Boring
5. Dick Lips
6. Waggy
7. Enthused
8. Untitled

SIDE B

1. Apple Shampoo
2. Emo
3. Josie
4. A New Hope
5. Degenerate
6. Lemmings
7. I’m Sorry/Dog Lapping

ENEMA OF THE STATE (1999)

SIDE A

1. Dumpweed
2. Don’t Leave Me
3. Aliens Exist
4. Going Away to College
5. What’s My Age Again?
6. Dysentery Gary

SIDE B

1. Adam’s Song
2. All the Small Things
3. The Party Song
4. Mutt
5. Wendy Clear
6. Anthem

THE MARK, TOM AND TRAVIS SHOW (THE ENEMA STRIKES BACK!) (2000)

SIDE A

1. Dumpweed
2. Don’t Leave Me
3. Aliens Exist
4. Family Reunion
5. Going Away to College
6. What’s My Age Again?
7. Dick Lips
8. Blow Job

SIDE B

1. Untitled
2. Voyeur
3. Pathetic
4. Adam’s Song
5. Peggy Sue

SIDE C

1. Wendy Clear
2. Carousel
3. All the Small Things
4. Mutt
5. The Country Song
6. Dammit
7. Man Overboard

SIDE D

“Words of Wisdom”: 29 hidden tracks documenting Mark and Tom’s on-stage banter

TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS AND JACKET (2001)

SIDE A

1. Anthem Part Two
2. Online Songs
3. First Date
4. Happy Holidays You Bastard\
5. Story of a Lonely Guy
6. The Rock Show
7. Stay Together for the Kids

SIDE B
1. Roller Coaster
2. Reckless Abandon
3. Every Time I Look for You
4. Give Me One Good Reason
5. Shut Up
6. Please Take Me Home

BLINK-182 (2003)

SIDE A

1. Feeling This
2. Obvious
3. I Miss You
4. Violence
5. Stockholm Syndrome Interlude

SIDE B
1. Down
2. The Fallen Interlude
3. Go
4. Asthenia
5. Always

SIDE C

1. Easy Target
2. All of This
3. Here’s Your Letter
4. I’m Lost Without You

NEIGHBORHOODS (2011)

SIDE A

1. Ghost on the Dance Floor
2. Natives
3. Up All Night

SIDE B

1. After Midnight
2. Snake Charmer
3. Heart’s All Gone Interlude
4. Heart’s All Gone

SIDE C

1. Wishing Well
2. Kaleidoscope
3. This Is Home
4. MH.4.18.2011

SIDE D

1.Love Is Dangerous
2. Fighting the Gravity
3. Even If She Falls

Released October 7th 2016

 

The Mavericks – All Night LIVE (Vol 1)

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The Mavericks
All Night LIVE Vol 1
Mono Mundo Recordings

Possibly The Best Party In The World!

I’ve seen Raul Malo play live several time including with a Symphony Orchestra and the Mavericks; in all their pomp and glory twice; so to some degree I’ve been waiting for this album for several years.
There’s no disguising that this is the Mavericks from the swinging trademark instrumental intro to All Night Long; and when Raul Malo’s distinctive voice sweeps from the stereo after about a minute I knew that all was well with the world and the next hour and a half was going to be as good as music gets…..and I was correct.
Perhaps because The Mavericks actually had worldwide hits on the Pop Charts they don’t appear to be given the laurels that their music; and indeed success deserves, but I defy anyone to listen to All Over Again or Fall Apart and not tap a toe or shake a hip….I am doing both sitting at my desk!
It’s all too easy to think that the band are just a back-up for Malo; but when you see them live, or listen on this disc you realise the sum of the parts are very much equal to the total….with guitarist Eddie Perez showing from start to finish what an accomplished and underrated guitarist he is, and always has been. He can do ‘flashy’ when required….his solo on Come To Me is staggering in its intensity and quality but throughout he just adds flourishes of colour that embellish the songs in a way very few, if any can achieve.
But, the true trademark sound that defines The Mavericks is the rhythmic powerhouse drumming of founder member Paul Deakin and the coolest accordion player in the world, Mr. Michael Guerra, who alongside the Tex-Mex bass section form a flexible and unbreakable spine for the songs that Malo sings to take on a life of their own.
Obviously some of the Hits are here in all their glory, with Dance in The Moonlight taking it back to the sweaty Miami Saturday night it was originally meant to represent and Back In Your Arms Again; a personal favourite certainly doesn’t disappoint as the brass section even adds a bit of Ska to their playing if I’m not mistaken. That Ska chunka-chunka beat make a fulsome appearance later when the band let rip on I Said I Love You. A song I wasn’t familiar with, but one Mrs. Magpie and I now love!
That’s the joy of this album, there is surprise after surprise with songs like Stories We Could Tell, reminding me of the Big Bands my mother loved years ago, and Every Little Thing You Do showcases Malo at his crooning best.
But, the biggest surprise of all is the inclusion of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon. The opening bars piqued my interest but Guerra’s mournful accordion threw me off the scent; but this interpretation sounds like the song could actually have been written with the Mavericks in mind, not just an old hippy with an acoustic guitar.
The album, and party comes to an explosive end with the scintillating Come Unto Me, which showcases the talents of each musician then the gears are cranked up for We’re Waiting For The World To End, by which time band and audience must surely all have been exhausted but smiling like idiots.
After 25 years ‘in the business’ the Mavericks have had their collective ups and downs; but this Live album (Vol 1?) points to a bunch of guys who aren’t going to fade away gracefully….and nor should they.

http://www.themavericksband.com/

Released October 14th 2016

Michael Hearne & Shake Russell- Only as Strong as Your Dreams

michael-hearne-and-shake

Michael Hearne & Shake Russell
Only as Strong as Your Dreams
Howlin’ Dog Records

Laid Back Troubadours Strumming on a Porch.

I only discovered the delights of Michael Hearne’s music last week and now I can’t stop listening to this album with his long time friend and cohort Shake Russell.
By nature I prefer louder, punchier music but every so often I need to kick back and relax listening to good, old fashioned acoustic music; and it doesn’t get finer than this.
The Twangtastic I Got News For You opens the disc with Shake taking the lead and Michael and guitarist Don Richmond providing layer upon layer of harmonies. An up-tempo toe-tapping tune; by the standards of what follows and a wonderful way to start the record.
Michael Hearne follows with I Heart Texas, a soft and slightly ‘tongue in cheek’ ode to his home state, through the eyes and words of a weary musician who is down on his luck and returns home to sing Van Zandt and Guy Clark songs to ‘cowgirls who dance at old Gruene Hall, the Broken Spoke or at a Cowtown Ball,’ in a way too many musicians will feel is a familiar story.
During research for the previous album a song called The Girl Just Loves to Dance turned up on YouTube and instantly became a bit of a favourite; and it turns up here as a pleasing duet between Hearne and Russell, as an almost Hawaiian pedal-steel cuts through the waltz time tune like razor; making it a definite favourite at RMHQ.
Irish Prayer is a bit of an oddity as it is exactly that; with Hearne and Russell taking it in turns to lament over a maudlin Irish fiddle and some soft Celtic instruments in the background. It shouldn’t, but it fits in perfectly with the rest of the authentically Western acoustic songs.
By the time I got to You Make The Blues Feel Like a Sunny Day and This is What Happy Is; the penny dropped that, while neither singers are anything like him, but the tone and mood of this album takes me right back to the time I first discovered JJ Cale.
While the closing track Ballad of the Snow Leopard and the Tanqueray Cowboy may have a long and convoluted title; its a beautiful and deep song sung with grace and ease by Russell; with Hearne complimenting him with rich harmonies in the background.
And then there is the title track; a song that took me by surprise when I first heard it. Only As Strong As Your Dreams is exactly what the title suggests and the lyrics are both intelligent and beautiful in equal measures.
I’m sure Michael and Shake put an inordinate amount of time and effort into producing these songs; the end result sounds like a bunch of friends sitting around a front porch on a sunny Sunday afternoon just picking and singing for fun and beer.

http://www.michaelhearne.com/

Released USA March 2016
Released Europe August 2016

Michael Hearne – Red River Dreams

michael-hearne-1

Michael Hearne
Red River Dreams
Howlin Dog Records

Delightfully Laid Back Country Infused Americana.

Michael Hearne? Me neither; but yet again my Swedish friends at Hemifran have come up trumps again with another album by someone destined to become my new favourite singer of the moment. I will start with the album cover; who reading this wouldn’t pic a CD out of the rack featuring a man in a big white cowboy hat and a well manicured greying beard? Not many I guess. The title track Red River Dreams opens the album like a warm summer breeze. Hearne’s light and charming voice reminded me straight away of John Denver and even Don Gibson; and the song itself is absolutely delightful. By track #3 Magic it felt like kicking off a tight pair of leather shoes and paddling in a mountain stream, as Hearne gently sings about the ‘magic of a Tennessee night’ conjuring up more romantic images than a tour guide could ever imagine. The pace eventually picks up to ‘stroll mode’ on The Highway Is a Friend of Mine; as Hearne really, really picks his guitar, showing why he has been singing and playing on stages since the age of 7 many years ago. With an album like this it is all too easy to just settle back and let it all drift over you; but that would be a mistake as you would miss the marvelous nuances in the lyrics of The Drunken Lady of the Morning and later Lesson to be Learned From Love; both of which brought a tear to the corner of my eye. The album closes with two disparate songs that will probably be in the collections of everyone; but define Michael Hearne’s style and taste. The Texan adds some sweet pedal-steel and tricky acoustic guitar to Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain and this followed by the album closer Return of the Grievous Angel. A song I have sadly heard being publicly murdered many time over the years; Michael Hearne doesn’t add or take away very much; but his voice manages to bring this classic up to date as a Country/Americana crossover, making me smile from start to finish. It took a couple of plays before the ‘penny dropped’ as to who the subject of June 25, 2009 was about….and, boy what a subject for a Country singer to write about….the effect the death of Michael Jackson had on him! A clever and very interesting song and subject that sits very comfortably with everything else here; which is the sign of a very good songwriter. My favourite song though; and one that probably defines Red River Dreams more than any other is Back in the Day. Okay; the subject is a staple of Country Music; but this song has stuck in my head days after last playing the disc. There’s nothing fancy about this album, and nor does it feature an array of famous guest stars (although RMHQ favourite Kelley Mickwee does provide harmonies on a couple of songs), but it’s an album you dream of finding in a record store in the middle of nowhere; and it will go on to never be far from the top of your pile of music to play on a sunny day.

http://www.michaelhearne.com/
Released July 2016

 

Monday Video Sean McConnell -Holy Days

Sean McConnell
Holy Days
Rounder Records

Nashville songwriter Sean McConnell releases the single and video ‘Holy Days’ ahead of the physical release of his new self-titled album on 30th September 2016. The album, his debut for Rounder Records, marks a personal and professional breakthrough – a career-defining record, with McConnell ready for prime time, yet still blessed with all the soulfulness and reflective storytelling for which he is already respected and admired.

McConnell has an impressive resume of writing credits over the past few years, writing songs for artists including Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Buddy Miller, Rascal Flatts, Wade Bowen, Brothers Osborne, Martina McBride, the Eli Young Band, David Nail and many others; with a few songs also being featured on the smash hit television show ‘Nashville’.

The album ‘Sean McConnell’ will be released in the UK & Europe on 30th September. Sean will be performing in London as part of the Texas Music Takeover, from Nov 28th – Dec 5th 2016.