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CRICKETS 

Joe Nichols

In a recent press release, former Show Dog Universal recording artist Joe Nichols declares Crickets, his first album for Red Bow Records – and his first since 2011’s It’s All Good – to be his finest work. While I’m not sure I would agree with that statement (I think Real Things remains my own personal favorite), there is certainly plenty to enjoy on this ambitious 16-track offering.

The theme of Crickets (nothing to do with Buddy Holly, as Joe confirmed in an interview with me recently) runs throughout the record. The familiar sound of the popular and ever-present-during-the-summer nocturnal insect is clearly audible in some of the tracks, including wonderful opening number, "Just Let Me Fall In Love With You."

Probable second single, "Yeah," is fairly enjoyable and could be a major hit on today’s country radio (as could "Hee Haw," "Smile On Mine" and "Hard To Be Cool"), while the committed family man’s love for the older style of country music comes through beautifully on "Billy Graham’s Bible" and "Old School Country Song" (my stand-out moment on the CD). 

I’m not a huge admirer of lead-off single, the Top 20 hit "Sunny And 75," to be honest, although it has been pretty successful, so what do I know? I personally prefer the gorgeous "Better Than Beautiful," the catchy sing-a-long "Gotta Love It," the outstanding cover of Merle Haggard’s "Footlights" and the whimsical title track, where, perhaps unsurprisingly, crickets can once again be heard.

In spite of the fact that I fully understand Joe’s desire to add a few more "progressive’" songs into the mix, I can’t help but think that his amazing voice is better suited to mid-tempo, more traditional country tunes and heartfelt, steel-and-fiddle-drenched ballads (both of which are represented here). Still, as I said at the beginning, there is more than enough to be thankful for – and definitely something for everyone – on what is a very-well-produced album, and fans of this uniquely talented artist will undoubtedly be delighted to have him back. Expect more Top 20 chart action soon.

— Adrian Peel

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THE TRUTH

Gary Chapman


Unsurprisingly, the always surprising Gary Chapman has released a new studio album, his first since 2002’s CIRCLES AND SEASONS.  And it should come as no surprise that the new album, THE TRUTH, showcases Chapman at his best. 

Never an artist to be content with the sweet and syrupy, Chapman’s latest project doesn’t shy away from some of the grittier aspects of life.  In “Twenty Bucks Away” (co-written with wife Cassie) Chapman sings of meeting a homeless guy who’s way down on his luck, so he reaches in and hands him twenty bucks: “It didn’t take a lot to make him smile / One Andrew Jackson would keep him for a while / And just today, he was twenty bucks away.”

Chapman’s wry sense of humor has not deserted him.  He is still fondly remembered by fans of TNN’s  ‘Prime Time Country,’ a talk show that he hosted for several years in the 90s and was a success mainly due to Chapman’s dry wit and laid-back attitude.  That unique quirk is evident in THE TRUTH, with lines such as, “These days I look to Washington for nothing / And that’s exactly what I get,” from the song, “Ain’t Got a Prayer (Without Jesus).” 

In addition to writing or co-writing most of the tracks, Chapman also knows how to pull in songs from other writers, and here we find cuts that fit seamlessly with the theme of THE TUTH. Case in point: “If God Had a Front Porch,” written by Jason Cox and Michael Boggs and featuring the wistful voice of Alison Krauss. 

THE TRUTH’s sixteenth track (yeah, you get your money’s worth with this album) wraps up the project with “The Rough Crowd” featuring Tanya Tucker and John Rich.  Surprised?  You shouldn’t be. Remember, this is Gary Chapman.

If there’s any justice, THE TRUTH will find its way onto the list of nominees for the GMA Dove Awards. And lets hope we don’t wait another ten years for a new album from Gary Chapman.

— Preshias Harris

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ICONIC DUETS 

Kelly Lany & TG Sheppard

Country music superstar TG Sheppard and his beautiful wife Kelly Lang have put their amazing vocals together to release "Iconic Duets." The project is filled with wonderfully done covers of some of country music's most famed duets. 

I must tell you that I am a fan of both of these artists. I never imagined that I could double my pleasure by having both of them on the same CD. As I listened to cuts from "Iconic Duets," it transported me back through time to when I was a little boy listening to Johnny Cash and June Carter's "Jackson," and even further back to a child of three with the "iconic" "I Got You Babe," by Sonny and Cher. No matter what the song, the one thing that stays constant is the way they keep the listener pleased by putting their touches on country classics and making it work.

Other selections on the CD are "Every Time Two Fools Collide," and Kenny Rogers/Dottie West hit, Conway and Loretta's "After The Fire Is Gone," George and Tammy's "Golden Ring," Eddie Rabbit and Crystal Gayle's "Just You And I," and the mega-hit, "Islands In The Stream," by none other than Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. 

There are ten songs on this super set of songs. Do yourself a favor and get this CD… I promise you won't be disappointed. Here is a complete list of the songs:


1. Jackson

2. Every Time Two Fools Collide

3. Islands In The Stream

4. Lonely On Lake Shasta

5. I Got You Babe

6. You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma

7. After The Fire Is Gone

8. Golden Ring

9. Just You And I

10. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’


Early in his career, TG was named Best New Male Artist by CASHBOX. He was also nominated for Song of the Year and Most Promising Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music. During the next two decades, TG charted 10 consecutive No. 1 hits including, “Only One You”, “Party Time”, and “War Is Hell (On The Homefront)”. TG started in Memphis where he signed with Motown Records, which was working to break into the country music scene. During this time, TG developed a close personal and professional relationship with Elvis Presley. Elvis gave TG his first tour bus to help him jump-start his career and hit the road full-time. Now after much public demand, TG has come back with a new album, Partners in Rhyme, with some of country music’s biggest names, such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, Conway Twitty, and many more. 

Kelly Lang has performed with and had her songs recorded by some of music’s biggest legends spanning through-out all genres of music. She has made numerous appearances on the biggest music shows in television history and her songs can be heard on radio waves throughout the world. She brings her life experiences to the stage each night and captivates audiences of all ages. She released her third studio album 11:11 in late 2011, and gained much critical acclaim. The single and video for her popular break-up anthem “I’m Done” is still in rotation on radio and can be seen on some of the biggest music video networks. Her highly anticipated fourth studio album, Shades of K, a compilation of love songs, was released in April 2013. 


For more information on TG Sheppard and his new album, please visit www.tgsheppard.com

For more information on Kelly Lang, visit www.kellylang.net

— Doug Smith

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THE WOMAN I AM

Kellie Pickler

Kellie Pickler has released her, fourth studio album, The Woman I Am. This release comes on the heels of Kellie’s winning Season 16 of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars with dance partner Derek Hough earlier this year and marks her album debut on Black River Entertainment.

  "The Woman I Am is the perfect marriage of uptempo and ballads, traditional and contemporary...Kellie Pickler shows that in addition to being one of Country Music's most dominant personalities - she's also one of it's most effective singers. Hopefully, this album will show that to the masses!" – Chuck Dauphin, Billboard.com

  Produced by Luke Wooten and Frank Liddell, The Woman I Am is comprised of 12 new songs including "Someone Somewhere Tonight" and Kellie’s current radio single, "Little Bit Gypsy."  Three of the tracks found on The Woman I Am were co-written by Kellie, including the title track, which she co-wrote with her husband Kyle Jacobs.

  "I was doing an interview," shared Kellie, "And a gentleman said, 'So, if I were to tell someone who doesn't listen to country music and is not familiar with you to get one song off iTunes to download that kind of describes you in a nutshell, what would it be?' I thought and then I said, 'I don't think I've written it yet, but I'm going to,' and my husband and I wrote it that night."

 

The Woman I Am

1. “Little Bit Gypsy” (Kyle Jacobs, Tammi Kidd Hutton and Fred Wilhelm)

2. “Ring For Sale” (Chris Stapleton and Jim Beavers)

3. “Buzzin'” (TJ Osborne, John Osborne and Steve Moakler)

4. “The Woman I Am” (Kellie Pickler and Kyle Jacobs)

5. “Closer To Nowhere” (Carson Chamberlain, Wade Kirby and Phil O'Donnell)

6. “Selma Drye” (Kellie Pickler, Billy Montana and Phillip Lammonds)

7. “I Forgive You” (Busbee, Hillary Lindsey and Aimee Mayo)

8. “Bonnie And Clyde” (Kellie Pickler, Kyle Jacobs and Liz Rose)

9. “Where Did Your Love Go” (Kalisa Ewing and Rivers Rutherford)

10. “No Cure For Crazy” (Kyle Jacobs, Joe Leathers, Billy Montana and John Ozier)

11. “Tough All Over” (Gary Nicholson and Leslie Satcher)

12. “Someone Somewhere Tonight” (Davis Raines and Walt Wilkins)

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ONLY ME

Rhonda Vincent

Fans of Rhonda Vincent are in for a double-decker treat with her new album titled ONLY ME. Scheduled for a national January 28 release, ONLY ME is a two-disc album with a unique twist. Remember vinyl LPs that had six songs on each side? ONLY ME echoes that concept, CD-style: Disc One is a six-song set of bluegrass songs, while Disc Two features a six-song country set. Neat, eh?

But ONLY ME is definitely more than a novelty package, and these twelve cuts showcase the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist at her best.

The bluegrass disc opens with the rip-roaring “Busy City” before settling down to the wistful “I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You (Than Nothing At All)” that has been picked as a single release from the album. It’s a slow waltz, penned by Larry Cordle and Lionel Delmore, in traditional style with twin fiddles and harmony vocals from Josh Williams.

Guest artists? Sure! Willie Nelson, an avowed Rhonda fan, joins in with vocals on the snappy “Only Me” and Daryle Singleterry adds his voice to “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds.”

The country disc will still have plenty to interest diehard bluegrass fans while having cuts that will maybe bring her to the attention of country music fans. In fact, Rhonda’s solo career began when she was the winner of “You Can Be A Star” on the Nashville Network in 1985, and this led to performances with Opry star Jim Ed Brown and a brief mainstream country recording stint on Giant Records. Since then, her focus has been on her bluegrass roots, but ONLY ME shows that Rhonda still knows her way around a good country song.

The six songs on disc two have a vibe that will appeal to fans who hanker for the kind of traditional country songs that are heard less often these days where country/pop is to the fore. There’s even a nod to Western Swing in the final track, “Drivin’ Nails,” a version that Ernest Tubb would approve of. If there’s any justice, radio programmers will listen to this album and find room on their playlists for at least one Rhonda Vincent cut.

Standout tracks:  On the bluegrass disc: “I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You;” “”I Need Somebody Bad Tonight.”  On the country disc: “Bright Lights and Country Music;” “When The Grass Grows Over Me.”

— Preshias Harris

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FEELS LIKE HOME 

Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow released her newest country album "Feels Like Home" via her record label, Warner Music Nashville. A nine-time Grammy-winning songstress, Crow co-produced the project with Justin Niebank and she co-wrote ten out of its 12 tracks.

The opening track "Shotgun" is strong with a neat tempo to it and it is followed by her lead-off single, the smooth "Easy," where sings about a stay-cation. "Give it To Me" features Vince Gill and Ashley Monroe on backing vocals and "We Oughta Be Drinkin'" has a traditional country vibe to it.

The highlight track on the CD is the stellar ballad "Waterproof Mascara," which she co-wrote with country mega-star Brad Paisley and it would make an excellent choice for a follow-up radio single.

"Nobody's Business" is more upbeat and Zac Brown, the lead singer of the Zac Brown Band, joins her on harmonies on "Homesick." "Homecoming Queen" also has potential to become a single in the future, which is the ultimate paradigm of her superb storytelling ability.

She chances the pace with the up-tempo "Best of Times" and it closes with the soothing "Stay At Home Mother," where she showcases her angelic vocals.

Sheryl Crow has certainly found her new "home" in country music with this record. It is evident that she co-produced and co-wrote an album that is from the heart. It is a very promising debut by one of pop and rock's music most decorated female vocalists. She conveys a lot of love towards the country genre and she connects well with her audiences.

It garners 4.5 out of 5 stars and this will be the album that will aid her in securing nominations for "Female Vocalist of the Year" at a future Academy of Country Music (ACM) or Country Music Association (CMA) awards ceremony. Well done Sheryl Crow.

— Markos Papadatos

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RESURRECTION 

Stella Parton

Stella Parton's latest album,"Resurrection" is a two-disc set featuring twenty new dance mixes by some of today's hottest DJ's; from New York's Gomi to Atlanta's T.C. Walker Jr.

The project mixes an array of Stella's biggest hits such as "I Want To Hold You In My Dreams Tonight" and "Danger Of A Stranger," into hot club mixes. The songs bring new life to the traditional country arrangements. The title "Resurrection" came after Stella heard the first mixes and said it was as "if they were resurrecting" her songs.

"Trouble On The Line," the first single from the CD, is being received very well in clubs across the country already! It is one of three tracks on the album that have never been released. Stella penned this particular song especially for the project. The strong vocals coupled with an urgent mix make it perfect to dance to. The story of a lover scorned seeking understanding is not only relatable, but separates the single from most dance songs. Stella is a brilliant songwriter who writes songs that are inspired, rich in meaning and tell a story.  When these songs are mixed with the new arrangements, you wind up with an incredibly versatile final product unlike anything out there.  "Trouble On The Line," as is the case with all the tracks, is just as equally enjoyable at home on your everyday playlist as it would be blasting on the dance floor of your local club. 

If you are one who appreciates first class songwriting, yet also enjoy a high-energy CD that is going to have you itching to hit the club and bust a move, then "Resurrection" is most definitely for you! 

Stella comes from one of the most incredibly talented family of writers since the Hemingway's, and the writing on this project is 5-star. Her voice is strong and has quite the range, allowing her to transition effortlessly between sexy, sultry lines to exciting high notes that showcase her girlish energy. Package all of these components together and it makes "Resurrection" an exciting project for Parton fans and fans of club music alike.

— Michael Price

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