Campfire Tales: Summer 2015

Howdy ya’ll. After a summer hiatus we’re back with a refreshed and revamped column of your favourite roots music. We’re going to cover the records that came out of the summer of underwhelming weather which means there’s a tonne to get through so let’s get a rollin’.

First up are a couple of Nashville’s up and coming male singers. The less said about Easton Corbin’s About To Get Real, a slice of the worst kind of homogenous radio friendly country music, the better. It’s a double disappointment as 2012’s All Over The Road was on the right side of decent. Canaan Smith, though, fares far better with Bronco. While it’s still radio friendly there’s a bit more heart about it, especially on the closing title track, ruminating on the death of his brother. Lighter moments come from radio friendly ‘Good Kinda Bad’ and one-for-the-fans ‘Hole In A Bottle’ (“Got a hole in my boots / So I gotta watch where I spit / Every time I chew”). August saw the latest from country chart slayer Luke Bryan. Now he’s having a tough time in the music press in the US as being a bastion for bro-country, though quite why he’s so bolshy about it baffles a bit as he’s selling mega amounts of records and singles. Kill The Lights is pure Bryan gold; frat boy lyrics are intact (“Skin on skin, don't care where we've been” and “We can make some sparks fly / We can make the dark cry” from the title track) and it still has the killer melodies and stadium friendly choruses that have taken him to his current heights. And while his nasal-y voice isn’t going to win over any fans if you’re looking for easygoing, radio friendly, pop-country, tracks like lead single ‘Kick Up The Dust’ and the back-to-basics ‘Huntin', Fishin' and Lovin' Every Day’.

Represent more traditional country is the new record from Alan Jackson, full of staple country stories: love (the honky tonk ‘You Never Know’ or steel guitar driven ‘The One You’re Waiting For’); drinking (Jim and Jack and Hank); family (the heart warming ‘You Can Always Come Home’); and religion (‘When God Paints’). Angels and Alcohol is a terrific album, with the country veteran in fine voice and some of the strongest genre tracks you’ll hear this year.

On the Brit-country front newcomers Dexeter and budding Lady Antebellum-alike Honey Ryder have new records out. Four Thousand Miles From Nashville is a more ballad-y take on country-pop with Deeanne Dexeter’s voice front and centre of the record. If anything the mix is just a little too strong on her vocals and the music suffers for it, but there’s real quality in the likes of ‘Breathe’ and the beautiful ‘Slow It Down’, if it gets a little repetitive at times (hello ‘Getaway Car’). The Honey Ryder trio have a slightly more rounded sound, as you’d expect on their third record. Born In A Bottle is more Nashville than London but there’s no mistaking the British roots, especially in frontwoman Lindsay O'Mahony’s beautiful English rose voice on ‘Damn It I’m In Love Again’. The title track, ‘If I Ain’t Got You’, and ‘Hitting The High Note’ are where the band fall right into the middle of Antebellum-land; not a bad place to be. Our third album is The Granary Sessions, and it’s the most authentic. The Rosellys have written of long road trips (‘A Thousand Miles’), Civil War soldiers (the simply effective ‘Asheville 1784’) and many other country tropes of loss and love. With the majority of lead vocals taken by the only girl in the band (Dr) Rebecca Rosellys, it’s given a clear British sound but, unlike Dexeter and Honey Ryder, the sonics surrounding them take a mainly traditional path; lots of pedal steel, dobro, fiddle, and twang.

With each of those bands being fronted by women it’s been a strong summer for the ladies of country and Lindi Ortega’s latest continues the high calibre of 2013’s Tin Star. Faded Gloryville matches its blend of world weariness and fascinating set of characters and really cements Ortega’s place at the top Americana table, exemplified by tracks like the knockabout ‘Run Amuck’, ‘Run-down Neighbourhood’, and smokey cover of ‘To Love somebody’. More commercially, if you thought ‘Girl In A Country Song’ was too novelty to sustain a full length record from Maddie and Tae then you’d have been wrong. Firstly, the lead single is not only witty, but well structured and bang on point, secondly, Start Here strikes a great balance between the traditional heart of country and the stylistic flourishes of modern country. From the screaming steel guitar of opener ‘Waitin’ On A Plane’ the duo show they can handle country pop (‘Shut Up And Fish’, the sassy ‘Your Side Of Town’), ballads (‘Fly’) and love songs (‘No Place Like You’) with great skill: this duo are the real deal. Rickie Lee Jones returns three years on from her last studio album with The Other Side Of Desire. It’s a mixed bag, with main highlights the soft, staccato ‘Jimmy Choos’, the longing organ-led blues of ‘Blinded By The Hunt’, and slow grooves of ‘Haunted’.

A balance of sexes is present on the recorded version of the Watkins Family Hour band. Having spent the last few years performing regularly and with a revolving set of guest vocalists, founding members and siblings Sara and Sean Watkins have got their key players together and recaptured their live feel. Full of covers their self titled debut sticks to the traditional, though the songs are as artfully diverse as Sean’s tender ‘Not In Nottingham’ (from the Disney animation Robin Hood), Sara’s version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Steal Your Heart Away’, and the ragtag skiffle of ‘Prescription For The Blues’. It’s genuine, beautiful stuff. Now to catch their monthly live show.

Lindi Ortega - Faded Gloryville 8/10
Caanan Smith - Bronco 7/10
Rickie Lee Jones - The Other Side of Desire 6/10
Alan Jackson - Angels and Alcohol 8/10
Honey Ryder - Born In A Bottle 6/10
Dexeter - Four Thousand Miles To Nashville 6/10
Watkins Family Hour - Watkins Family Hour 8/10
Easton Corbin - About To Get Real 3/10
Luke Bryan - Kill The Lights 6/10
Maddie & Tae - Start Here 7/10
The Rosellys - The Granary Sessions 8/10

Which is your favourite record?
Lindi Ortega - Faded Gloryville
Caanan Smith - Bronco
Rickie Lee Jones - The Other Side of Desire
Alan Jackson - Angels and Alcohol
Honey Ryder - Born In A Bottle
Dexeter - Four Thousand Miles To Nashville
Watkins Family Hour - Watkins Family Hour
Easton Corbin - About To Get Real
Luke Bryan - Kill The Lights
Maddie & Tae - Start Here
The Rosellys - The Granary Sessions
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