Prime Cuts: May 2012

Lots of worthy stuff to get through this time, so no sense in dilly-dallying. Here are the finest country album tracks released in the month of May.

Get those samples rolling and see what we have to say about the songs below.

Since people seemed to appreciate the Spotify option last time, there’s an hour-long playlist of the available tracks – all good stuff! – at the end of the post.

The Mavericks – “Back in Your Arms Again”
from Suited Up and Ready EP
They’re back, and sounding as Mavericksy as ever. Especially on this song.

Larry Stephenson – “You’re Too Easy to Remember” (unavailable on Spotify)
from What Really Matters
Larry Stephenson applies that famously clear, soulful voice of his to a Louvin Brothers-style heartbreak song, with some standout fidde work by Aubrey Haynie. Versions of “Philadelphia Lawyer” and “Seashores of Old Mexico” will also be of interest.

Wade Bowen – “Say Anything”
from The Given
Emotionally unavailable and no great drinker, all Bowen’s heartbroken barfly really wants is the clatter and the chatter, a bustle capable of temporarily turning memory into just one more background noise. While heartache probably won’t be so easily out-maneuvered, at least the distraction will tide Bowen over until Guy Clark shows up to commiserate on a fine duet of “To Live Is to Fly” three songs later.

Chelle Rose – “Alimony”
from Ghost of Browder Holler
All drawling aggression and dark humor, Rose fires off a few rounds at the man silly enough to think he can keep her under his thumb. Ain’t happening, bud. This gal was made to rock, Appalachian style. (Not exclusively, though. To hear what she can do with a ballad, check out “If I Could” or “Wild Violets Pretty.”)

Willie and Lukas Nelson – “Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her”
from Heroes
Note to Willie: A little father-son collaboration goes a long way. On an album attributed to Willie alone, the vocal presence of son Lukas on 9 of 14 tracks proves a bit much. But the younger Nelson does ultimately impress by contributing an album highlight in “Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her,” which sounds like something that could’ve sat comfortably on one of his dad’s career-defining ’70s albums.

Paul Thorn – “What the Hell Is Goin’ On?”
from What the Hell is Goin’ On?
Playing off Elvin Bishop’s funky electric blues guitar riffs, Paul Thorn tears into a world gone mad.

Bill Evans – “A Hard Day’s Night”
from In Good Company
Beatles cover, banjo style.

Rob Baird – “Same Damn Thing”
from I Swear It’s the Truth
A humanizing look at the various classes of barroom (and live show) habitues – including, in a nicely self-reflective turn, the musicians – emphasizing that we’re all more alike than different.

Loafer’s Glory – “Ridin’ the L&N” (unavailable on Spotify)
from Loafer’s Glory
You can never have too many train songs. This one’s by the new old-time/bluegrass band Loafer’s Glory, consisting of Desert Rose Band alumni Herb Pedersen and Bill Bryson and the father-son pair of Tom and Patrick Sauber. Sounds like they’re having a good time together.

The Brothers Comatose – “Modern Day Sinners”
from Respect the Van
Hand-clapping, Guthrie-inspired populism by a San Francisco string band whose energetic mix of bluegrass and folk-rock seems designed to keep ’em out on the floor.

Mark Collie & His Reckless Companions – “On the Day I Die”
from Alive at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary
Just a little sin and redemption song, performed live at a state penitentiary.

Callaghan – “The Only Thing Real”
from Life in Full Colour
The presentation is a bit ‘coffee shop country’ for my tastes, but the song is undeniable.

Pat Green – “Austin”
from Songs We Wish We’d Written II
Pat Green wishes he had written a Jon Randall song? Well, I’m sure plenty of songwriters have his back on that one. This fun roadhouse rocker is from Randall’s 2005 opus, Walking Among the Living.

Two Man Gentlemen Band – “Shut That Gate”
from Two at a Time
Kind of a gypsy jazz, hillbilly swing type deal.

Turnpike Troubadours – “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead”
from Goodbye Normal Street
Chugs along with the same sense of abandon endorsed, in the abstract, by the lyric – though you might still want to think twice about jumps off of high ledges and fast, headlight-free nighttime drives along winding roads. There’s a fine line between carefree and stupidly reckless, after all.

Michael and the Lonesome Playboys – “Low Down Poverty Blues”
from Last of the Honky Tonks
Michael Ubaldini’s clever reworking of familiar country themes in tracks like “Married by the Gospel, Divorced by the Law” and “My Liver’s Bad, My Life’s a Mess (and I Blame You, Sweetheart)” sometimes walks the line between the sincere and the parodic in a manner that calls to mind Robbie Fulks. As with Fulks, Ubaldini is ultimately just a little too smart and historically savvy to ignore, playfully tweaking country conventions with which the genre’s current class of stars seems scarcely even familiar.

Carrie Underwood – “Wine After Whiskey”
from Blown Away
Like “Someday When I Stop Loving You” from her last album, one of those times when Carrie Underwood finds her way to a decent country song and you kind of just sit there, transfixed. Still a good bit louder and slicker than it needs to be, but pretty subtle by mainstream country standards.

Bobby Osborne & Rocky Top X-Press – “Low and Lonely”
from New Bluegrass & Old Heartaches
When you hear the way his strong, recognizable tenor easily brings new life to an old Fred Rose composition, it’s easy to forget that Bobby Osborne is already in his 80s. Sounding vital as ever, he’s still after it like a man half his age.

J.P. Harris & The Tough Choices – “Return to Sender” (unavailable on Spotify)
from I’ll Keep Calling
Nothing new, but nothing skippable. Happily, a good honky tonk band never goes out of style.

Todd Snider – “Railroad Lady”
from Time as We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker
Snider revives a Jimmy Buffett/Jerry Jeff Walker song so good that even Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard had to record it. There are versions by Willie Nelson and J.D. Crowe & The New South, too.

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