Vincent Neil Emerson SELF-TITLED

Vincent Neil Emerson
Vincent Neil Emerson
La Honda Records / Thirty Tigers

A Reflective, Thoughtful and Warmly Human Set of Texas Singer-Songwriter Tales.

Arising and evolving out of a tradition of Texas songwriters such as Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Steve Earle, Vincent Neil Emerson throws his contribution to that body of sound with gusto; and comes out with his own distinct take, on this self-titled release.
There are elements of these listed influences scattered through the album – “Learnin’ to Drown” is vocally very Steve Earle in essence, and opener “Texas Moon” has the melodic feel of a young Guy Clark (and a bit of non-Texan John Prine too?) while “The Ballad of Choctaw-Apache” is very much in the Van Zandt story song mould.
Such pigeon-holing would do Vincent Neil Emerson a disservice though – those are just starting points to get a handle on where his music has been birthed form, inspirationally, and there’s a lot more personal observations and experience too in this album.
The aforementioned “Learning to Drown” is a cathartic release, dealing with Emerson’s father’s passing:
And I thought about closin’ the door
And endin’ it all
Like my father did before
But it ain’t worth
All the people who won’t see me anymore

Then there’s the earlier released single; “High on Getting By” which is a man coming to terms with the terms of our existence
Well I been drunk
On the ideas of my future
And I been high
On gettin’ by”
.
Both are musically framed with washes of acoustic stringed instruments like mandolin and fiddle along with keyboards around a picked guitar and Emerson’s caramel vocals.
Vincent Neil Emerson has certainly done his dues on the road, playing with friend Colter Wall, The Turnpike Troubadours and Charley Crockett too; and that road-toughness and sensitivity to other musicians is prominent throughout his own songs.
Stylistic changes such as shifts into bluegrass territory on “High On the Mountain” and the Western Swing flavoured album closer “Saddled Up and Tamed” are handled and sequenced with careful placing – big praise must go to producer Rodney Crowell here too; who has forged a big and warm sound throughout; yet still managing to make each song sound ever so intimate at the same time.
There are gems of lines to be found everywhere:
I pulled into Austin
‘Cause Fort Worth ain’t the same
” from “High on the mountain” is one of many that will bring a wry knowing smile to any listener’s face.
Over the ten tracks of the album, there’s a great deal of variety and depth but at the same time, there’s a clear Vincent Neil Emerson “sound” that is more than a just a composite of his influences.
If Country singer-songwriter is your bag and you’re missing some of those that have left us and are looking for the next wave to roll up on the shore, you could do worse than getting your feet wet on this thoughtful and warmly human showcase of Vincent Neil Emerson tunes.

Review by Nick Barber
Released June 25th 2021

https://vincentneilemerson.com/

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Stephen Flatt CUMBERLAND BONES

Stephen Flatt
Cumberland Bones
Flatt Family Music

Using Everything in the Country Music Arsenal to Woo You Into Total Submission

Scanning through my ‘to do’ list the name jumped out me; and sure enough Stephen Flatt actually is related to Lester Flatt, he of Flatt & Scruggs; and yep ……. he’s actually a long lost Great Nephew; but that matters not a jot here, as he is very much his own ‘man’ without ever really drawing on that legacy, no matter how tenuous.
Stephen’s rich and expressive baritone comes at you like a ‘sucker punch’ on opening track Brother. Even the first time you hear this song you will imagine a sepia tinted video with a homestead, a sunset and a beat up old wagon somewhere ‘in shot’; but don’t think that this is Country by Numbers; far, far from it ….. Flatt uses that template exceptionally well; but isn’t afraid to ‘colour outside the lines’ when necessary.
I’m smiling as I type; because to me, this is Good Ole Country Music, the type you want to hear on the car stereo or on a Thursday night at a Roadhouse on the edge of town; before the big hitters come in on the weekend ….. it sure ain’t what you will hear or see on the Awards Programmes.
The pedal-steel cuts through many songs like metaphor for a knife carving out a still beating broken heart; none more so than when Flatt’s voice sounds like it’s on the edge of breaking during Logan Creek; not your ordinary heartbreaker; but one with a delicious twist that slowly unfurls.
Oddly enough, there is a good ole Bluegrass toe-tapper here; White County Shine; and it’s really rather bodacious and I imagine it will come late in the set when played live; as it’s a sure fire floor filler.
The more I’ve played this album; the more I feel that Stephen Flatt sounds and writes a bit like a young Vince Gill; while no doppelganger the Master’s fans are going to love One More Time (based on the moonshine theme, updated to reflect running meth when “the boy’s got a batch cooked” to finance a better life.), Gone Away and the rather swoonsome Hold You Tonight; so if you know a Gill fan …… give them a nudge in this direction.
Like so many of his generation, Stephen has a musical background outside the Country Music world; but he’s finally been drawn into the fold; and to some extent it takes a life of experiences to be able to write a song like Talking Like The Devil and deliver it in a way that makes the listener think …… “We have all been there!!!! “
That song is probably the most commercial here; but I’ve decided to go in a different direction for my actual Favourite Track; it although the judicious use of fiddle and mandolin means El Camino (1965) usually means that the its a Bluegrass tune; which is probably where it started ….. but it builds and builds until it’s nothing short of being a Honky-Tonking, Country and Western song that uses every thing in the arsenal to dance you into total submission ….. and I absolutely love it.
To some greater level; this is a solo album where Stephen Flatt is finding his feet; but none the less it’s a cracker and well worth checking out.

Released April 16th 2021
https://stephenflatt.com/

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Catherine Britt HOME TRUTHS

Catherine Britt
Home Truths
Beverley Hillbilly Records

Heartbreakers, Tearjerkers and Plenty of Good Ole Fashioned Deluxe Country.

The first night I listened to this album I skimmed through the accompanying Press Release and when I saw ‘first release’ obviously presumed that this was a debut album; and was mightily impressed by every aspect; from songs through melody, and of course Catherine’s magnificently expressive voice.
Then two days later I read it more closely ….. DOH!
Without going into too much detail; she released her first record in 1999 aged 14 in her native Newcastle; Australia and was eventually ‘discovered’ by Elton John three years later, which necesitated a move across the world to Nashville at 17 as she was given a contract with RCA when they were in their pomp.
Subsequently she has won more Awards than Manchester United and played the Opry, while releasing a total of 7 previous albums before this little beauty on her own label.
The music! Tell me about the music!
Okay…. okay!
With nothing to compare or contrast with, opening track I Am a Country Song is the type of Old School Classic Country that ‘they’ say isn’t made any more; but ‘they’ don’t look hard enough, do they?
It’s everything; and more you’d expect from a Classy song of that title; a tearjerker, a look back and best of all it’s a good ole Country Love Song; and does music get any better than that?
What follows is more or less in that vein; with even more tearjerkers with Catherine squeezing every ounce of pathos out of Hard To Love, the divine Mother and of course the punchy title track itself; Home Truths which will be when the mobile phones get lit up when she’s in concert; and best of all it all sounds like they are done with raw honesty.
There was a time when I might have sneered at the likes of Country Fan; a duet with Lee Kernaghan and Fav’rit Song; but the older I get and the more I understand …… I bloody love both and if ever I get see Catherine ‘live’ I will be hollerin’ along with the rest of them.
I like to think that after all these years I can put myself into the ‘target demographic’ when I listen to new albums; and today that’s not been easy when you have songs aimed at Young Mothers …… Gonna Be a Mumma , with it’s opening gambit:
“Well I cook and I clean
Put on the washing machine
Make a coffee, drink it cold
Hang the whites; they’re dorks to fold
Put the dog in the yard
Will today be just as hard as yesterday?
Hey! Hey!”

That sure ain’t aimed at me; but I can imagine my daughter in laws (and wife) thinking ‘someone gets me at last!’
More than just about any other genre Classic Country mines emotional gold better than any other; and CatherineBritt sure can build the tension better than most on the duet with Jim Lauderdale; Hard to Love, Original Sin and the world weary wisdom of New Dawn too; which sit side by side and are sure fire Country Heartbreakers in the Loretta and Reba mould and more recently by Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert; but Hell; Catherine Birt can match them all tear for tear.
In one way or another everything here will be a ‘crowd pleaser’ in one way or another; but the self-depreciating biographical Me is an absolute highlight and delight too ……. perfect for Country Radio everywhere btw.
One of my Favourite Tracks Make a Diamond reads like it’s a similar story; but it’s actually a whole lot darker and will appeal to many of us who have lived similar paths; albeit not as Country Music Stars.
The other; and most likely my Favourite Song here is the finale; Long Way Round, yet another Country Heartbreaker, but one that somehow caught me unawares one evening and made me repeat it three or four times; which I’m sure will happen in many homes where this album will eventually reside.
A cursory look at Catherine Britt’s biography shows you that for every ‘up’ in her life she’s had her fair share of ‘downs’ too; and she’s a fighter to come out the other side smiling; which all helps make her the Real Deal when writing and singing; which is something of a rarity around these parts.

https://catherinebritt.com/

Release Date
19th February 2021

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Byron Dowd HIGH ROAD

Byron Dowd
High Road
Self-Release

Country Doesn’t Get More Country Than This.

I’m not even sure what drew me to this Mini-Album/EP last week. The CD cover is uninspiring; I’d obviously never heard of Byron Dowd before and while the Press Release eloquently describes Dowd’s back-story and name checks all the usual songwriters that I’d expect to see these days; but absolutely nothing prepared me for what I was about to hear ….. at all.
The maudlin intro, with some extremely sad fiddle leads into a tragically world weary male singer and a Country Song of the finest hue; full of knowing strength and wisdom.
My eyes nearly popped out of my head the first time I played A New Way; and had to put the Sunday paper down and go back to the beginning. The tale of a young man full of self-doubt; could and should be called Pawn Shop Guitar; as that’s the golden thread that weaves this gorgeously sorrowful story together; and just may be a tad autobiographical.
The next song; High Road takes a similar path; as Dowd recounts something his Father once told him not long before he died; telling the son to ‘always take the high road and and show character; no matter what.’ Ain’t that the truth, brothers and sisters.
As a bench mark; this track alone sounds like something Willie Nelson could have wrote recently and Johnny Cash recorded on his American series …… yup; it’s that damn good and indeed, poignant.
Now I’ve been into this album for a few days; choosing a category for it to settle in hasn’t been easy; but while the storytelling is pure Americana; I can’t see past this being a good ole fashioned Country Album in the vein of Waylon, Willie and those first couple of Sturgill albums.
Raindrop is a perfect example; it’s not quite Honky-Tonk but I can easily imagine Dowd singing the soul out of it one Friday night in some dusty and almost empty bar, just off an unlit highway; then on the Saturday night standing proudly pouring his heart out in a packed concert hall in the centre of the same City.
To some degree picking a Favourite Track out of these five songs has been difficult; but the final two are both exemplary examples of a songwriter; and a Country Songwriter at that, stumbling on a seam full of gold and digging deeper than many would think necessary.
Both songs have rather clever and neat twists to them; which I don’t intend spoiling; but Gasoline is a tale of retribution from a faithful brother who tells us;
My sister called last Sunday
The pain in her voice I heard
Twenty somewhat stitches
Over a few just little words.

then add the amazing fiddle of Milo Deering to eke out ever more pathos and you have a song that will haunt you forever more.
The finale, Millertone is another song, tenuously ‘about a guitar’ and blew me away when the penny dropped. As I say I’m not spoiling the ‘twist;’ but imagine the waitress in Neil Young’s Unknown Legend having a Mother who worked in the same small town restaurant and ……… a young musician starts talking about his guitar ……. no; check it out and prepare to smile like a ninny while you sob your heart out.
I don’t recognise any of the musicians featured here; but they and the arrangements are subtle and clever; always adding to the song and never threatening to over shadow the singer’s ‘barroom baritone,’ just always doing enough to keep your attention on the words; and the words are what this mini-album is all about.
Apparently Dowd’s self-titled album in 2012 flitted around the top of the AMA Charts; but fame and fortune didn’t follow, so he packed away his stage gear and got on with life, until his son asked why he had so many guitars ……. and HIGH ROAD is the result.

Released November 30th 2020
https://byrondowd.com/

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Dave Rosewood NO RODEO IN ROME

Dave Rosewood
No Rodeo In Rome
Aula Studio

A Really Authentic Cowboy Country Concept Album

We don’t receive near enough ‘Classic’ Country here; perhaps it’s because not enough is recorded these days ….. which is scary if you think about it.
Now; I say ‘Classic Country’ but even that name gets a bit dismembered these days, doesn’t it?
What I know as ‘Classic’ is another man’s ‘Insurgent’ or probably even ‘Countrypolitain’ or whatever; but it sure as Hell ain’t what you see on the CMA’s that’s for sure!
Dave Rosewood; once a native of the Ozark’s and now firmly ensconced in Sweden ticks all of those boxes; which is why this release excited me when I first heard it was on its way to me.
Opening track Long Distance Love starts with a cursory, “1, 2, 3 …4” before the Twangfest kicks in; with Dave telling his twist of the Country staple; someone having to earn their wages many miles from home and keeping in touch via the telephone; but in this case there may be a twist as to which character is the one ‘keeping house’ while the other is away; and it swings like pendulum in a storm.
I don’t feel that this is a ‘Country Rock Opera’ as such; but to some intents and purposes it is something of a concept album; as Rosewood’s songs are the type of fantasy that we all love from this type of music and drift easily from one to the next.
He may or may not have actually lived the life of the main character in the dark and melancholic Sarah (The Cowboy Song) or even Drinkin’ Man; but he manages to make the ‘character’ intensely believable and will have many listeners thinking that these songs are about them or at least someone they now.
The way he tells his stories conjure up ‘mini movies’ in the head with little effort; even the very neat and clever title track, No Rodeo in Rome; which should obviously be filmed in monochrome (I think); and the laid back Two Steps where the natural warble in Dave’s weary voice sounds like it could crack at any moment.
While not actually taking the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song; as it’s not actually a song, Sunset is stunning in many ways. Is it a short story? A Cowboy poem set to music? I’m not sure and damn sure don’t care; but I love it and the world needs more like this.
No Rodeo i Rome is a short album; coming in at only 8 tracks long; but that still leaves me in a dilemma as to selecting between the windswept and 100% authentic Cowboy Moon and the wonderful almost breathless instrumental, Canyons which sounds like the soundtrack to a Sam Peckinpah follow up to The Wild Bunch; but I’m probably tempted to go for the former as it really is the benchmark for a rather intriguing and tragically beautiful set of Country Songs; the likes of which you don’t hear enough of in the 21st Century.

Released October 5th 2020
https://daverosewood.com/

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Charley Crockett WELCOME TO HARD TIMES.

CHARLEY CROCKETT
Welcome to Hard Times
Thirty Tigers

A Bit of Country, a Lot of Western And Plenty of Heartfelt Honesty.

Just 36 years of age, Texas born Charley Crockett has had a very tough life, learning from family heartache and poor, albeit a series of unlucky personal decisions that most people would struggle to cope with.
He has also recovered from serious health issues in recent years, leaving a prominent scar on his chest as a vivid reminder, acting as inspiration to not let hard luck get him down.
Nevertheless, his music has enabled him to stay ahead of the game and Welcome to Hard Times is his 8th. album in only 6 years.
Generally, I tend to levitate toward artists who are difficult to place into accepted taxonomies, those that glide from one genre to the next with consummate ease. Well, Mr Crockett certainly does that, and some. However, if you want further clarity, then producer Mark Neil proclaimed that “it was a pleasure to be involved in what I believe to be the best Gulf and Western record ever made.”
The albums title track kicks things off with a mid-tempo tinkling piano backing with lyrics that include the profound warning that
the dice are loaded, and everything is fixed
even a hobo will tell you this”.
“Run Horse Run” follows, painting fleeing pictures with equine references, and bringing back some personal childhood memories of “Ghost Riders in the Sky”.
“Tennessee Special” ups the tempo into an almost Western Swing vibe, with a gentle, wailing steel guitar reinforcing the songs’ railroad journey. We then have a banjo intro into “Lily My Dear” that has a chorus asking his nearest and dearest
Lily my Darling, Lily my Dear,
for what awful reason have you come down here,
Is it for money, is it for pride, just for the joy of watching me die”.
Further songs about being down on your luck follow with the likes of “Heads you Win”, “Raining in my Heart” and “Black Jack County Chain” but the dark, self pitied subjects are delivered with plenty of varied instrumentation and different tempos that undoubtedly keep you interested.
It was a toss up choosing my favourite track with “The Poplar Tree,” just missing out to “The Man That Time Forgot”.
Both fell into the predominant noir and Gothic Western theme that runs throughout all the 13 tracks, but when Charley asks
Would you like to know the secret of my misery,
sitting in the pages of my history.
It’s a living hell, this painted veil, of illusions that I can’t stop,
I’m the man that time forgot.
then it’s so easy to visualise and then feel the sadness and misery behind all of these very well crafted songs.
Weirdly, each time I listened to the album it took me back to my childhood, watching black & white TV series like Rawhide, Gunsmoke & Bonanza, that were my Dad’s absolute favourites too. I could see the cattle, smell the leather, and could even taste the prairie dust, plus, there was always Frankie Lane singing too.
In those days the music would have been categorised as Country & Western, well this splendid album from Charley Crockett has very little Country in it, as it is virtually all Western, with and without the Swing; albeit sensitive and moody but paradoxically somehow always enjoyable.

http://www.charleycrockett.com/
Released July 31st 2020

Jack Kidd
“Messin’ with the Kidd” on lionheartradio.com

Heather Anne Lomax ALL THIS TIME

Heather Anne Lomax
All This Time
Self Release

Keeping The Classic Country Flame Burning Brightly.

I’ve just had a couple of days detox from reviewing; just sitting lazing around reading newspapers, shouting at the TV and eating and drinking far too much for a man of my age and girth.
So, this morning I was raring to go …….. but couldn’t think which of a dozen albums due for release later this week that I felt I wanted to immerse myself in for two hours.
Then, the little Angel (that looks uncannily like Kylie Minogue) that sits on my left shoulder whispered “Heather Anne Lomax” ….. whose album I missed writing about a month ago; but have thoroughly enjoyed each time I’ve played it.
So here we are.
Let’s start with the cover ….. it’s certainly eye-catching, with Ms Lomax looking like Reba McEntire dressed as Dolly Parton going out dressed as Elvis ……. just like me; you certainly would pick it up in a record shop!
And; do you know what? Straight outta the blocks; Heather Anne Lomax sounds just like that description on the Country Rocking and Rolling All This Time!
Currently hitching herself onto the Americana/Alt. Country bandwagon; to these ears Heart Don’t Lie, Crumbs and any song called My Dog are pure damn Classic Country. You know the type the Press tell us ain’t made any more …… well, trust me ……. it is; and Heather Anne Lomax is the latest in a long line of classy acts carrying a torch for the ‘old songs’ while writing and singing contemporary songs in that very same style and with style.
Heather Anne has a radiant voice; clear, expressive and carrying just enough wobble and warble to make every ballad sound like she’s fighting back the tears …… and if that ain’t Country, I don’t know what is.
Try listening to Prison Cell, Heart Don’t Lie and/or See You Again and then tell me Country Music has to be angry and full of squealing electric guitars …… no sirree Bub; Country music is all about a story added to Three Chords and The Truth ….. all of which Heather Anne Lomax keeps squeezing into three short minutes.
For an ‘Americana’ or ‘Alt. Country’ album there’s an awful lot of fiddle, pedal-steel, good ole Twang and heartbreak here; which is the basis for Just Like Yours and Better Look; two completely apposite songs and constructions; but both sure to bring a tear to a glass eye.
There’s enough light and shade here to make you think you are witnessing a musical eclipse; and that’s not just a good thing; but a clever trick to pull off on a single Long Player; and in itself that brings me to the three songs I’m undecided about as to which is my Favourite Track.
Comfort Me; about losing both her birth Mother and Adoptive one too, and Six Feet Under are two deeply intense acoustic based ballads; the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever heard and really showcases what a sharp imagination Ms Lomax has. The other; *Mr. Popular is an intense three minutes or so that errs towards the darker side of Country, with a swinging Blues beat that brings out the best in Heather Anne’s swinging and soaring vocals, so this is my actual Favourite Song on a fabulous LP.
(*NB regardless of what you first think …… this song is not about ME!)
Not only does Heather Anne Lomax have a fabulous voice; but she can really write a great song; and emotional songs at that which are multi-layered and contain more twists and turns than a Tory Spin Doctor testing his eyesight!

Released May 1st 2020
https://heatherlomaxmusic.com/
Purchase: https://heatherlomaxmusic.com/store





Whitney Rose WE STILL GO TO RODEOS

Whitney Rose
We Still Go to Rodeos
MCG/Factor

Meltingly Gorgeous Countrypolitan Goodness

To say I’ve been looking forward to this release is an understatement – Ms Rose’ previous melodic Classic Country has always ticked the right boxes for this particular reviewer (Me too! ED.) – and “We Still Go to Rodeos” surpasses all expectations.
Now releasing independently via her own MCG management/label, this has seemingly given her greater control to do things her way – and what we have is a delicious potpourri of styles, which is far closer in style to the live Whitney Rose ‘experience’ than perhaps her previous releases.
Kicking things off is “Just Circumstance” a character song coming from the same observational well as the likes of “Truckers’ Funeral;” but this tale tells of a poor girl whose choices in the ‘dice-man’ challenge of life always take her down a path where there’s “No pomp – just circumstance”, set to an arrangement that sounds like early Blondie, if they’d played in Austin rather than NYC.
“Home with you” is meltingly gorgeous Countrypolitan goodness that should unfreeze the hardest of hearts – great chorus too
“I wanna go home with you
Be alone with you
Maybe sit out I the yard and get stoned with you”.

The first single release from the album “Believe me Angela” follows and is a tale of a jilted wife offering sincere and practical advice to the younger woman who’s run off with her man #spoiler – He’s not worth it (he’s a dick!).
The tempo lifts again with a song that Whitney drew from personal experience – “In a Rut” – full of guitars that echo Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, and driven along by the formidable Pankrantz/Fordham rhythm section, framing an earworm that’s as catchy as…let’s not go there….but it is damn catchy.
Hank definitely didn’t do it (musically) this way, but he’d certainly approve the attitude!
“A hundred shades of blue” takes things down with latin-tinged minor key melody that would go down well with the customers at Twin Peak’s Roadhouse Bang Bang bar (David Lynch, please take note).
“I’d rather be alone” is anthemic chugga-chugga 70’s NY pop song, but with added banjos! In my universe it is already in full rotation on the music video station in my head.
“You’d blame me for the rain” is a sultry surprise – Dave Leroy Biller’s bluesy country-soul guitar lines, frame a late-night melody that confidently takes Whitney into previously uncharted musical territory – and wins.
“Fell through the cracks” is in power ballad territory, with Whitney delivering an effortless lesson in how to match the emotion of a song to its delivery – no fake histrionics here.
“Don’t give up on me” is an understated shuffle where the vocal and melody are to the fore in an ages old tale where you “fight until you bleed” to get the one you love – very much a statement of intent for the listener too. “Better Man” takes things up again and actually makes me think of a country version of The Undertones – hand-clap drumbeats and soaring bass and guitar iced with a nonchalantly assured vocal will have you leaping around your room hoping the neighbours don’t see you (I didn’t just do that by the way. Honest).
“Thanks for trying” keeps the loud guitars plugged in and is another single finger to a man/The Man.
Credit must go to producer Paul Kolderie for the harmonious balancing of the various stringed styles throughout, but especially here, where Pettyesque twangy guitar crunch, mixes with but doesn’t clash with raucous steel-guitar;a good job well done, sir!
The album ends in quieter mode with the Summery harmonica led and gently percussive title track – a further ‘statement of intent’ from an album that contains several more; metaphorically, musically and literally too. “There’s lots of things that we ain’t got” sings Whitney “We’ve got something different of our own” – this album shows that “something different” is definitely “something special”.

Released 24th April 2020
Review by Nick Barber
https://whitneyrosemusic.com/