CD Reviews

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Alayna & Zeb – The Real Thing

Pittsburgh duo Alayna & Zeb consists of best-friends-since-college Alayna Carroll and Sara Zebley. Their solid debut effort is “The Real Thing,” a pop-rock-country crossover recorded in their home state. Five of the six tracks offered here are written by these two women, joined by a co-writer on one, and Zebley solely penning another. Their chemistry blend produces lyrics reflecting stories of strong women, singable, commercial chorus melodies, and thick, might-as-well-be...
 
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Suzanna Choffel - Steady Eye Shaky Bow

Texas native Suzanna Choffel's influences run deep and wide. Erykah Badu. Paul Simon. Bebel Gilberto. Marie Daulne. When that many ingredients enter your musical stylings, you know it is going to figure into a very interesting mix, and Choffel definitely delivers in that regard. There's a very retro feel to this disc. Several of the cuts sounds like they are from another era. "Archer" sounds very much like it could have been the theme song for an early James Bond film for example, and she conjures up a 70s sound on "So...
 
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The Marshall Ford Swing Band - It's About Dam Time

Sometimes, an album sounds exactly the way it is advertised. The name of this group is the Marshall Ford Swing Band, and believe me, that's exactly what this five-piece combo is. A listen to this disc is like a trip back in time, and I think you will enjoy the ride. This is definitely old-school swing from the get-go. The opening cut, "Lyla Lou," shimmers with a light and easy vocal from Greg Harkins, and his guitar playing also makes the track a winner. Emily Gimble's immaculate work on the keys is also...
 
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Ruthie Foster – Let It Burn

2011 Blues Music Association Best Traditional Female Blues Artist and 2010’s Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist is one and the same person, Ruthie Foster. This Texas singer’s musical style defies labeling, reflecting a blend of gospel, folk, rock and soul in her cornucopian mixture of blues. In early 2012, Foster is scheduled to launch her latest project: an eclectic collection of thirteen originals and covers, “Let It Burn,” released by Blue Corn Music. Produced by John Chelew, and recorded in New Orleans with local A-list musicians for an authentic sound, this album features special guests – gospel greats, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and soul singer William Bell.
 
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Lisa Matassa – Me Time

The story of Lisa Matassa is definitely one that is a little bit different as opposed to most that you hear these days. The striking beauty doesn’t hail from a small town in Southern Alabama, but rather, Long Island. And, having been married with children for quite a while, she has definitely lived the words of some of these songs for quite a while. Vocally, she draws from a mixture of influences without trying to sound like any of them. On the first two cuts, “I Don’t Feel Anything” and the feisty “Wouldn’t You...
 
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Brandon Adams & The Bad Bastards - Self Titled

My thought process worked a little harder than usual on this disc in trying to explain it to you. At times, it plays just like an Americana-type recording. At other times, it flows just like a Texas Music offering. Then, there's a Rock element to the album, and yet, when J.P. Downey cuts loose with some sad licks on the fiddle, it's nothing but Country Music -and some dang good Country Music, at that. Vocally, Adams has a ton of confidence. It shows best on cuts such as "Can't See Heaven" and "Love's Given...
 
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Micky & The Motorcars - Naive

Sometimes, Texas bands can be a dime a dozen. After all, how many songs can you come up with about Armadillos or Budweiser? That’s not to say there’s not some fine bands out there, but sometimes there’s a great deal of repetition. That is not the case with this very enjoyable disc from Micky Braun and Company. There’s not really a clunker anywhere to be found on this disc, and Braun’s songwriting is also well worth the price of admission. “Amber,” an affectionate recall of the ‘one that got away’ is a winner...
 
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Gretchen Peters - Hello Cruel World

With a list of singles credits as impressive as "Independence Day," "The Secret To Life," and (my favorite) "A Bus To St. Cloud" to her credit, Gretchen Peters has carved out a name for herself as one of Nashville's top tunesmiths. The only thing better than hearing others' versions of her songs is having it come straight from the source, and after a few years' away from the recording studio, Peters is back with a whole new batch of songs. These songs detail some of the challenges of life that we all have faced at one time or the other over the years. The lyrics are -a Peters hallmark - very deep, and will really hit home on a lot of levels. A few of the highlights include...
 
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Victoria Shaw – Fa La La

“Changing the world, one song at a time…” is what reads at the top of the home page to Victoria Shaw’s website. That’s no exaggeration. This award-winning songwriter, producer and respected vocalist HAS changed how we hear country music, having written multiple #1 hits like Garth Brooks’, “The River,” and John Michael Montgomery’s, “I Love The Way You Love Me,” as well as introducing us to Lady Antebellum by co-producing their crossover debut album. She’s...
 
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Ian Siegal & The Youngest Sons – The Skinny

On the title cut to the latest album from Ian Siegal, you get the point. This band has a ton of confidence, and their self-assuredness is in full view from top to bottom. An English native, Siegal’s influences are all over the map – from Elvis to Jerry Lee to Muddy Waters, and each of these can be heard in the distance on this album. To lump this album as one musical style might be a little tough, as it is all over the map. But, even when they take a musical chance – like they do on the different (!) “Stud Spider,” you...
 
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The Mighty Short Bus – Forever Endeavor

“Write what you know” is the old-hat advice given to writers, meaning write from an honest place and from personal experience. This is how Madison, Wisconsin band The Mighty Short Bus approaches their songwriting. These veteran highway hogs perform up to 200 shows a year, traveling the country in their red GMC, and their songs reflect life on the road, with chug-along-train beats and stories about leaving home. Members of this roots rock country soul band all have...
 
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James Hyland & The Joint Chiefs – Celestial Navigation

In doing some research on James Hyland, I read someone describe his music as a mixture of “Beck and Alison Krauss.” After listening to this disc, I totally get that comparison. There’s a laid-back (Krauss) quality to this disc, but also a little bit of dramatic flair when it comes to the production and the lyrics on the disc (Beck). The steel playing of Kim Deschamps sets the mood of this album on “Radio City.” But, there’s other factors that sit this album apart. One of those is the songwriting here. The lyrics of “Lancelot...
 
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Darren Warren – Cowboy Up And Party Down

They say that honesty is the best policy. So, I will choose that route in telling you about this disc. I have heard a lot about this newcomer, so I was very curious when I put this EP in the player. The first track didn’t impress me much. I just didn’t hear anything that set itself apart from the rest of the pack out there. That particular song just sounded like everything else out there about parties, dirt roads, and the like. Had I put the CD away then and there, I would have done Warren a huge disservice. He definitely knows his way around a song, as evidenced by the cute and energetic “Southern Belle,” which should no doubt be a huge crowd favorite. But, it’s the ballads on...
 
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Taylor Swift – Speak Now World Tour Live

Just a few weeks ago, Taylor Swift reclaimed the Entertainer of the Year trophy at the CMA Awards. The award was won by the singer thanks to the elaborate stage show and production that she featured this year. Just in time for the holidays, Big Machine releases a CD / DVD set that proves what a phenomenon the singer has become, and that there is no end in sight. Swift knows her audience, and caters to them in a large way on this collection. Kicking off with the title cut, which may be the best tempo song she has...
 
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Jimmy Lehoux - Thirteen

Jimmy Lehoux is somewhat of a rare breed as far as new Country artists go. When you hear him sing, you know that he’s country, and not ashamed of it. A native of New Hampshire, Lehoux wraps his vocals around these songs in quite the effective manner. From the sing-along feel of “The Way Things Are” to the simple understated balladry of “Even When It Rains,” Lehoux is able to paint quite a picture with his vocal approach – communicating his emotions to the listener. Lyrically speaking, he’s also surrounded himself with...
 
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