If you didn’t find any new music to love last month, that’s entirely your own fault: April will undoubtedly go down as one of the best release months in all of 2011, with fresh tunes from Alison Krauss, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Jason Isbell, Foster & Lloyd, Del McCoury, Diana Jones, and more.
Here’s your quick-and-dirty guide to some of our favorites. As usual, some of the more obscure tracks date back a bit further. Believe it or not, we’re fairly busy people and can’t always be online to discover everything the minute it becomes available. But we do try to get caught up as quickly as we can.
Lots of songs to discuss, so let’s not waste any more time on idle chatter. Off we go!
Craig Campbell – “You Probably Ain’t”
from Craig Campbell
Based on the truism that “if you gotta tell me how country you are, you probably ain’t,” Campbell’s song falters slightly in defining country as “about being honest and working hard, looking someone in the eye and being who you say you are” — which is, in its own way, every bit as hackneyed as the Skoal and tailgate references many of us have come to loathe. But the contrarian concept, and the Alan Jackson-esque baritone paired with prominent fiddle fills, make this one ultimately pretty hard to resist.
Emmylou Harris – “My Name Is Emmett Till”
from Hard Bargain
Brimming with ethereal sorrow, Harris sympathetically gives voice to the black teenager whose grisly 1955 murder became a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Personal tributes “Darlin’ Kate” and “The Road” seem to be attracting most of the attention, but this one’s beautifully done.
Steve Earle – “Every Part of Me”
from I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive
A beautiful and hypnotic little love song, it’s Earle at his most accessible.
Owen Temple – “One Day Closer to Rain”
from Mountain Home
With a back porch shuffle beat whose earthy insistence mimics days spent looking out on unchanged weather from a creaky veranda, this song about surviving drought — and, in more general terms, the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity — is a real charmer.
Jessica Caylyn – “Just Can’t Help Myself”
from On the Edge
If you have no time for anything with a little Nashville polish on it, this won’t be for you. But if there’s room in your heart for the occasional Carrie Underwood or Kellie Pickler song, you might be pleasantly surprised by the poise shown by this 18-year-old Californian, whose first EP of original material includes this mightily infectious bit of ‘all in’ enthusiasm that’s at least as good as half of Play On and Kellie Pickler. Another track called “I Don’t Mind” is available as a free download to anyone who joins Caylyn’s mailing list.
Diana Jones – “Drug for This”
from High Atmosphere
One of the best-written songs I’ve heard in some time, this is where Trisha Yearwood needs to be looking when she sources material for her next album. High Atmosphere was produced by Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor and features a duet with Jim Lauderdale on “Funeral Singer.” It’s every bit as good as Better Times Will Come, the previous Jones album I persuaded Carolyn Dixon to review here in 2009.
Alison Krauss & Union Station – “Dimming of the Day”
from Paper Airplane
Alison Krauss covers Richard and Linda Thompson. Timeless.
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – “Codeine”
from Here We Rest
May the man with the best drugs and the catchiest singalong chorus win. But if those end up being different guys, I’m firmly in the camp of the latter, especially if there’s some sweet harmonica and fiddle involved. If you find this to your liking, I’d also recommend checking out “Daisy Mae” from the same album.
Ralph Stanley – “Are You Washed in the Blood”
from A Mother’s Prayer
The 84-year-old bluegrass legend’s voice is understandably showing some wear on the album as a whole, but he sounds pretty spry on this lively gospel standard.
Robyn Ludwick – “Can’t Go Back”
from Out of These Blues
What is it about that Robison blood? Charlie and Bruce’s little sister is an impressive singer-songwriter in her own right, as exhibited by this jaunty fiddle-laced rumination on the passage of time.
Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers – “If I Can’t Trust You With a Quarter (How Can I Trust You With My Heart?)”
from Starlight Hotel
Brody was right about this track, in which a suitor’s poor taste in music proves a dealbreaker. Key lyric: “When you said that you’d never heard of John Prine/Well, I knew right away you weren’t worth my time.” Luckily, Muth’s own musical inclinations are right on the mark: Anyone who loves a good classic country shuffle would do well to give this song and album some time.
Gary Floater – “That’s What I’m Gonna Do”
from Floater Rising
All the other artists in this roundup are just trying to measure up to the high standards set by Gary Floater.
Newfound Road – “These Days”
from Live at the Down Home
The bluegrass outfit that recorded one of my favorite albums of 2009 offers up a killer acoustic cover of a Jackson Browne song, highlighted (as usual) by great playing and Tim Shelton’s strong baritone.
The Lost Pines – “I’m Leavin'”
from Sweet Honey
This young Austin-based bluegrass band went from busking to teaming with Grammy-winning producer Lloyd Maines for their sophomore album in just a few short years. The way they tear through “I’m Leavin'” will make you wish you could drop a few dollars in their guitar case on a street corner near you.
Danny Darst – “Marilyn”
from Exit 10
Great western storytelling in song form. Ed Bruce or Waylon Jennings could have recorded this.
Webb Dalton – “I Love You for Me”
from Mine’s Bigger
Attention, Wade Hayes fans! Here’s some ’90s country with a deep, soulful baritone for you.
Abbie Gardner – “Break It Slow”
Bluesy female singer who plays three different types of slide guitar? No objections here. Gardner is also 1/3 of Red Molly, an all-female New York-based Americana/roots trio.
Byron Hill – “Alright Already”
from Radio Songs
So, this site has been around long enough now that I’m getting another pass at artists whose new releases I’ve covered previously. Byron Hill’s latest is a collection of live versions of some of his best-known cuts, which you’ll recognize from hit recordings by George Strait, Alabama, George Jones, Sammy Kershaw, Gary Allan, and more. Hill’s a pretty likable singer himself, and his take on “Alright Already” – which served as Restless Heart frontman Larry Stewart’s debut solo single in 1993 – is especially infectious. That one’s not on Youtube, so here’s his take on “Politics, Religion and Her” (also on the album) instead. You can find my previous articles on Hill here and here.
Wynn Varble – “Honey Do Hell”
from The Only Honky in This Honky Tonk (Live at the Dixie Theater)
Cowriter of Brad Paisley’s “Waitin’ on a Woman” and Darryl Worley’s “Slow Dancin’ with a Memory” releases a live album of humorous neotraditional songs. This one’s about the struggle to complete a seemingly interminable list of Saturday chores. He introduces another as “a song I wrote for Johnny Cash… It was about a year after he passed. Like I say, timing’s everything.” Pretty funny stuff.
Del McCoury Band & Preservation Hall Jazz Band – “One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)”
from American Legacies
Del McCoury singing classic country is always a ‘can’t miss’ proposition.
Foster & Lloyd – “Something ‘Bout Forever”
from It’s Already Tomorrow
I think this might be one my favorite Foster & Lloyd or Radney Foster songs of the past few years. Where’s Keith Urban? While you’re here, check out the close harmony of “When I Finally Let You Go.”
The Black Lillies – “Three In the Mornin'”
from 100 Miles of Wreckage
Who doesn’t enjoy a good drunken hootenanny?
Dale Ann Bradley w/ Alison Krauss and Steve Gulley – “I’ll Take Love”
from I’ll Take Love: From the Pen of Louisa Branscomb
If there’s one hidden gem of a bluegrass album in this roundup, it’s this one, featuring the compositions of noted songwriter Louisa Branscomb performed by Dale Ann Bradley, Claire Lynch, John Cowan, Becky Schlegel, Josh Williams, The Whites, and more. Dale Ann Bradley singing with Alison Krauss and Steve Gulley ought to be enough to entice you.
I know that was a lot to throw at you all at once, but too much good music isn’t a bad problem to have. Activate the player below to sample everything and see what catches your ear.