With the inaugural HRH C.R.O.W.S. just weeks away we round up the very best of the country releases making waves on both sides of the Atlantic right now.
Cowboy Junkies – All That Reckoning
Out July 13
Alt country, folk rock, Americana…call them what you want but Cowboy Junkies don’t need a genre to prove their worth. And 30 years on from classic The Trinity Session, the Canadian kings and queens of understated cool are back with a quite brilliant collection of thought-provoking, attention-grabbing tunes perfectly showcasing the Timmins siblings’ enduring quality. Always thinking outside of the box, Cowboy Junkies have never been satisfied with playing it safe.Consequently, All That Reckoning provides an ambitious commentary on 21stcentury life with The Things We Do To Each Other and Missing Children just two of the songs that demand close scrutiny and deal in a degree of discomfort. The soundscape is frequently mellow but this is far from easy listening. Margo Timmins has never sounded so affecting – few vocalists drip with the raw emotion that pours forth from the Montreal native’s every syllable. Country music for grown-ups? Maybe. Gritty folk rock? Quite possibly. Album of the year contender? Without doubt.
Midland – On The Rocks
(Big Machine Records)
Seventies-style Californian country cool has never gone out of fashion but it’s taken Texan trio Midland to revive a golden age of Eagles-style melodic goodness. Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson and Cameron Duddy might be unashamedly retro but this is music for country’s modern generation – fusing classic hooks with the genre’s most fashionable looks. This is the sound of garish suits and white Stetsons, oversized belt buckles and scuffed boots. And it’s a sound honed by Giant’s Dann Huff. The rocker turned country kingpin produced On The Rocks (alongside Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne) and perfectly taps into Midland’s ability to marry the past with the present – never more so on the Merle Haggard-inspired lead single Drinkin’ Problem. There’s a nod to Eddie Rabbit on Nothin’ New Under The Neon and the harmonies underpinning Make A Little are simply sublime. But the Eagles are never far away and set closer Somewhere On The Wind could be a tribute to America’s finest – and maybe it is. On The Rocks might have flown under the radar but don’t miss out on Midland’s magnificent ode to a genre reborn.
Kendell Marvel – Lowdown And Lonesome
The title track of this low down and dirty slice of outlaw country kicks things off in typically feisty style as Kendell Marvel mixes a classic ZZ Top-style riff with a cutting vocal tone. To some it may sound overly generic but the opposite is true – the veteran songwriter turned acclaimed performer pitches his devilish debut just perfectly. The stripped down, piano-led Gypsy Woman allows Marvel room to breathe and prove his class as a recording artist in his own right. After decades spent penning hits for George Strait, Jake Owen, Blake Shelton and Chris Stapleton, the Illinois native makes a striking impression as he strikes out alone. And Lowdown And Lonesome provides a fascinating glimpse into what life must be like at Marvel’s Honky Tonk Experience nights in Nashville – where star collaborators have included Alison Krauss, Foot Fighters, The Black Crowes and HRH Mag approved duo and Snakefarm label mates Brothers Osborne. Closer To Hell is an outlaw classic but this is record conceived in country heaven.
Sugarland – Bigger
(Big Machine Records)
When Taylor Swift and Train’s Pat Monahan joined forces to pen the pop country anthem Babe, there was only one band deemed capable of capitalising on its potential. Swift and Monahan brought the song to the table but Sugarland brought it to the masses. And a band hardly renowned for relying on star-studded collaborations chose well. Then again Sugarland have always been smart. And Bigger – the band’s first new music in seven years – is smarter than double denim paired with patent white cowboy boots. Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush might be a bit too tame for the average HRH fan but those partial to a harmonised melody and a catchy hook (think Def Leppard doing country) won’t need much persuading to set aside any preconceptions where the lighter side of country is concerned. Babe is the only track written by ‘outsiders’ – the remaining 10 songs are Nettles-Bush through and through with the huge title track, emotive Mother and Love Me Like I’m Leaving all confirming Sugarland’s status as masters of their craft.
*Tickets for HRH C.R.O.W.S. are on sale now. Visit www.hrhcrows.com