Campfire Tales: Vol 1 2018
Aaaaaannnndddddd... we're back, if the tiniest bit late... After taking a hiatus in 2017 your regular monthly column full of the latest in country and Americana returns. It's a great start to the year too, so let's get right into it.
Right at the top is a record that's likely to appear on our "best of 2018" list, Tyler Childers Purgatory. It's been on most US publications lists for 2017 but missed our 2017 list by five days. If you've heard anything about this astonishing debut it's probably that the mighty Sturgill Simpson produced it. That shouldn't take any of the focus away from the main man here; Childer has lit up the scene. 'I Swear (To God)' is the most country song this side of, well, anything on a major label in 2017. And his use of imagery in songs like 'Feathered Indians' delivers a stunningly clear picture of his stories. The banjo of 'Banded Clovis' and the meandering prog-country of 'Honky Tonk Flame' add flavour to the mix, while the echoing 'Universal Sound' has a touch of 80s Springsteen to it. Purgatory is the most exciting of records.
Moving squarely into the country-pop mainstream are the debut records from two acts on major Nashville labels (Sony and Warner). LANCO are kinda like a country One Direction, particularly on opener 'Born To Love You'. The five-piece come stadium ready thanks to tracks like 'We Do', and there's the requisite love songs like 'Pick You Up' and the very 1D-alike 'Greatest Love Story'. If that all sounds like damn with faint praise, it isn't. Hallelujah Nights  is a promising debut from a talented quintet, and more along the lines of 'Trouble Maker' would be good next time out.
Devin Dawson, on the other hand, is everything that country traditionalists love to hate. The opening track from his debut, Dark Horse , is 'Dip', and though it's a good party song it's way down the Sam Hunt road of urban country-pop. It mellows from there though, 'All On Me', 'Secondhand Hurt', and 'Asking For A Friend' are all on the slow side of love songs and are lyrically closer to Nashville's mainstream sound. There's also the matter of the 28-year-olds smooth as butter voice, and likable turn of melody. Dark Horse is definitely one for the newer breed of country fan.
Continuing his journey into country-soul is Anderson East. Having moved in that direction with 2015's Delilah, the Alabama singer slips into his groove on his third effort, Encore . A smooth, soulful thing, it's pepped up by a prominent brass section, noticeably on 'King For A Day', and organ, on the longing 'This Too Shall Last'. It's such a throwback record, 'Sorry You're Sick' brings to mind The Blues Brothers in the best way, though 'Girlfriend' has a contemporary feel all its own. There's no-one else out there doing what Anderson East is doing right now.
If you've seen Angel Olsen live over the last couple of years you might have noticed the spiky-haired guitarist looking lively in her band. It turns out that guitarist is a mean solo artist in her own right. Having parked her touring with Olsen and her work with her band, Mount Moriah, H.C. McEntire has released a magnificent album of her own. Lionheart  is an Americana album of rare confidence, from the restrained opener 'A Lamb, A Dove' through the rockier 'Baby's Got The Blues' and 'Red Silo', and the unsettling drum machine driven 'Wild Dogs', it's punchy and peaceful. Standouts are everywhere but the wistful 'When You Come for Me' and slow building indie-country of 'Dress In The Dark'. An impressive mix of traditional country, celebrating the southern USA through music, accompanied by an all too rare set of lyrics written and delivered by a gay woman. Outstanding stuff.