This week's slate of new releases includes a plethora of anticipated albums including the newest albums from Texas-based country music stars Wade Bowen and Stoney LaRue, Sam Hunt's debut album Montevallo and, of course, Taylor Swift's 1989 (which we're going to feature here, even if it's completely a pop album). Also streeting this week is Caitlyn Smith's debut EP, Joey + Rory's Country Classics (after 6 months of exclusivity at Cracker Barrel), Darius Rucker's first Holiday album Home For The Holidays and a few 'catch-up' notes on Mac Powell's sophomore country album Southpaw, Abbey Hirvela's The Start, the Lonesome River Band's Turn On A Dime and Reed Foehl's Lost In The West.
Reed Foehl - Lost In The West (NeverFoehl Records)
Foehl, who co-wrote the song "Fly" on Lee Ann Womack's The Way I'm Livin' album, delivers a stunning collection of Americana (singer/songwriter) fare. Fans of Neil Young and Ryan Adams should enjoy the airy tenor voiced Reed Foehl as he runs through the seven tracks on Lost In The West. Standouts include "Four Lanes," "Caroline," "Hope It's Me" and "Steal Away." Really, though, there's nothing to dislike here.
Joey + Rory - Country Classics (FarmHouse Recordings/Gaither)
The husband and wife team are taking time off so they can enjoy time together with newborn Indiana but that doesn't mean they couldn't find the time to record a sweet 12 track collection of the duo's all-time favorite Country songs, or songs that inspired them to become singers. Standouts include "I'm Not Lisa," "Let It Be Me," "King Of The Road," "I Believe In Love," "Coat Of Many Colors" and "Back Home Again." The harmonies are sweet (with an assist from Heidi Feek) and the melodies are as timeless as ever.
Mac Powell - Southpaw (Independent)
The frontman of Grammy-winning Third Day returns with his sophomore solo (and country) album Southpaw and it's immediately evident that he's in this gig seriously, not just to capitalize on any modern sales successes and overall love for the modern Country genre. Working with Jason Hoard as his producer, Mac co-wrote all but one of the songs on Southpaw, including co-writes with the likes of Travis Tritt, Levi Lowrey, Darius Rucker, Kristian Bush and his bandmates of Third Day (on the revisit to "I've Always Loved You"). Powell is a powerful vocalist so writing with powerful singers like Tritt ("90 To Nothing" and "Runaway Train") makes sense. His soulful side is showcased on the one song he didn't write, Chris Stapleton's "Sittin' Here Talking With You" and songs like "Red Boots" and "Run Outta Love." "Everything To Me" is a sweetly romantic love song. This record can compete with any major label release and here's hoping one of those labels may pick it up to make Mac Powell, the solo artist, a household name.
Darius Rucker - Home For The Holidays (Capitol Records)
For his first Yuletide album, Darius recorded two brand new tracks (well One really since "Candy Cane Christmas" was released in 2009) and 10 classic Christmas songs. A longtime pet project for the Grand Ole Opry star, he brings his children into the fold for "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and duets with Sheryl Crow on "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Darius Rucker's vocal tone is second to none so his take on these and other classic songs like "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" and "White Christmas" is a wecome addition to the yearly Christmas playlists.
Lonesome River Band - Turn On A Dime (Mountain Home Music Company)
Newly signed to Mountain Home Music Company, Lonesome River Band’s “Turn On A Dime” once again showcases why the band has earned praise from publications everywhere. Brandon Rickman remains a dynamic lead vocalist while Sammy Shelor, Mike Hartgrove, Barry Reed and Randy Jones (who also sings lead vocals) tie the band into one of the best in all of Bluegrass and Country music. Stellar songs include the title track (co-written by the late Tim Johnson), “Lila Mae” (written by Rickman, a pair of Adam Wright tunes (“Teardrop Express” and “Bonnie Brown” and the band’s take on the classic “Cumberland Gap.” Fans of Randy Travis will recognize “Every Head Bowed,” a tune about life every sunday at Church. Turn On A Dime is a mighty fine collection of music and amongst the LRB's best.
BlackHawk - Greatest Hits & More (Loud N Proud Records)
The first country artists signed to the rock label, BlackHawk's return started earlier this year with Brothers Of The Southland and continues with Greatest Hits & More, a record that includes every hit the band's recorded and two tracks from Southland. Among the stellar songs here are "Down In Flames," "Goodbye Says It All," "That's Just About Right" and "Postmarked Birmingham." While BlackHawk's heyday was the 1990s/early 2000s the band is still as strong as ever and Greatest Hits & More proves this.
Wade Bowen - Wade Bowen (Independent/AMP Entertainment)
One of country music’s most deserving artists is back with his latest collection of material. Released via his own label after records with labels like BNA Records, Sustain and Smith Music, Wade Bowen’s self-titled album is his fifth studio album (to go along with a pair of live albums). Produced by Justin Niebank, the 12 track effort features lead single “When I Woke Up Today,” already a hit in Texas, and was written with co-writers like Will Hoge, Jeremy Spillman, Scooter Carusoe, Matt Nolen, Lori McKenna and Travis Meadows, to name but a few. Two tracks on the album (“Honky Tonk Road” and “Sun Shines on a Dreamer” were written by outside writers but totally fit within Wade Bowen’s style and sound. “Watch Her Drive” and “West Texas Rain” feel like potential hits as does “When It’s Reckless.” “Sweet Leona” stands out amongst the dozen tracks as well. Here’s hoping folks finally take a shine to Wade Bowen’s music as he’s clearly one of the best ‘unknowns’ we’ve got in this business.
Stoney LaRue - Aviator (eOne)
Another 'unknown' who is actually a big star in Texas, Stoney LaRue, like Wade Bowen, has been building up his fanbase on a national scale the past couple of years and now, with new label eOne partnering with him, things are looking up for the singer as his third nationally distributed album Aviator hits the market. The Texas native helped define the whole "Red Dirt" scene and his new record showcases this with standout tracks like "First One To Know," "Aviator," "Still Runnin'" and "A Little Too Late." After folks hear Aviator, we have a feeling they're gonna wanna hear more and see more of Stoney in the coming months and years.
Sam Hunt - Montevallo (MCA Nashville)
Here's an artist that's scored success as a songwriter ("Cop Car," "We Are Tonight" and "Come Over") and on Montevallo, his 10 track debut, Sam Hunt showcases an artist who is ready to breakout to superstardom and probably crossover to the pop world as well. Sure, Montevallo isn't remotely close to a traditional country record but if you listen to the way Sam phrases lyrics (all of the songs on here are co-written by Sam Hunt) and sings lines in the mostly lyrically inventive album, you hear a country singer. The melodies and production from Zach Crowell and Shane McAnally may not scream 'country' but that's fine as songs like "Take Your Time," "Ex To See," "House Party" and "Single For The Summer" all scream 'hit to be.' They're not your typical radio fare and if Sam Hunt was to have recorded music that was so much like what everyone else was doing, would he be poised to be the year's breakout new act? Nope. It's the old adage "if a tree falls." You have to stand out to make it in the music business and Sam Hunt clearly does that with Montevallo. The album also features the #1 hit "Leave The Light On" and the popular "Break Up In A Small Town."
Taylor Swift - 1989 (Big Machine Records/Universal Republic)
The superstar finally succumbed to her pop tendencies and dropped a completely pop album. Why are we writing about it on a country website? Well, because she's been a country artist in the past and will be again. 1989 is a great, great pop record and the songs like #1 worldwide hit "Shake It Off" prove so. Stellar tracks also include: "Blank Space," "All You Had To Do Was Stay," "I Know Places," "How You Get The Girl" and "Style." The ballad "This Love" also stands out. Fans will likely be hearing lots of this album on the radio as it is amongst the best pop releases of 2014.