Philippa Hanna returns to the spotlight

Philippa Hanna returns to the spotlight with her brand new album ‘Come Back Fighting’ and UK tour supporting Collabro this autumn.

Philippa Hanna, the UK’s answer to Taylor Swift is returning to the spotlight with her brand new album Come Back Fighting.

Most of her sixth studio album was written in Nashville, and she has brought together a range of pop, country and gospel influences, assembling an impressive collection of musicians. With features from BBC Radio 2 presenter Paul Jones on harmonica, world-champion banjo player John Dowling and a leading UK gospel choir.

Working with long-term collaborators guitarist Roo Walker and manager Andy Baker, the production has a fresh and unique flavour that won’t leave fans disappointed.

Her first single from the album Off The Wagon will kick off proceedings.

The album is set for release on 24th November, amidst Philippa opening a formidable 29 date UK tour for BGT winning vocal group Collabro which will be coming through your way.

From the acoustic-reggae infused Dorothy to the hard hitting bluesy title track Come Back Fighting, listeners can expect to be drawn into the storytelling narrative that has put Hanna on the singer/songwriter map. The album succeeds in catering for an incredibly broad fan-base that has seen the Sheffield singer open tours for the likes of Lionel Richie, Little Mix, Leona Lewis, Anastacia, and Marti Pellow.

Tour dates:

Tue 24 Oct Liverpool Phiharmonic

Thu 26 Oct Southampton Mayflower

Fri 27 Oct Poole Lighthouse

Sat 28 Oct Plymouth Pavilions

Mon 30 Oct Southend Cliffs Pavilion

Tue 31 Oct Northampton Derngate

Thu 2 Nov Birmingham Symphony Hall

Fri 3 Nov Guildford G Live

Sat 4 Nov Wimbledon New Theatre

Mon 6 Nov Oxford New Theatre

Tue 7 Nov Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall

Thu 9 Nov Ipswich Regent

Fri 10 Nov Cambridge Corn Exchange

Sat 11 Nov Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion

Mon 13 Nov Bristol Colston Hall

Tue 14 Nov Cardiff St David’s Hall

Thu 16 Nov London Palladium

Fri 17 Nov Hull City Hall

Sat 18 Nov Blackpool Opera House

Mon 20 Nov Gateshead Sage

Tues 21 Nov Nottingham Royal Concert Hall

Thu 23 Nov Carlisle Sands Centre

Fri 24 Nov Stirling Albert Halls

Sat 25 Nov Glasgow Theatre Royal

Mon 27 Nov Leicester De Montfort Hall

Tue 28 Nov Grimsby Auditorium

Thu 30 Nov Manchester Bridgewater Hall

Fri 1 Dec Sheffield City Hall

Sat 2 Dec Harrogate International Centre

 

Jaimie Wyatt – Felony Blues

Jaime Wyatt’s life story is about as country as it gets. After a recording contract fell through when she was 17, Wyatt developed a drug problem that ended in her robbing her dealer and going to jail. She spent eight months in county jail and came out the other side with a new lease on life—along with the seven tracks that constitute Felony Blues. Those include a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Misery and Gin” and the original composition “Stone Hotel,” an exuberant track about making peace with jail life (“Time holds still at the stone hotel / three free meals on the county bill.

Wyatt was born in Los Angeles but grew up in rural Washington, near Seattle. Country music was a big part of life for her family;  distant relatives on her mom’s side even lived in Bakersfield. The capital of California country music’s influence can be heard throughout Felony Blues.

“My mother’s extended family played country in Bakersfield. I never knew that, I was just always drawn to that kind of singing,” Wyatt says of her distinctive twang. “I remember seeing a pedal steel in their trailer, their double wide.”

For all intents and purposes Wyatt is outlaw country through and through. “I just like to take country and fuck it up” she tells me, paraphrasing Shooter Jennings, a good friend of hers. “I try not to get too frustrated with labels on that. I do think it’s funny that the outlaw country thing is so big right now, calling it that even is funny. Most folks don’t know about living outside of the law.”

Chelsea Williams – Boomerang

“What better way is there to express yourself than through music?” asks singer-songwriter Chelsea Williams. Her question is almost rhetorical, as Williams, in full obedience to her heart’s most urgent commands, documents her emotions in song in ways that can feel astonishing. Sometimes those feelings are carefree and luminous; other times they’re troubled and turbulent. But when channeled through her captivating voice and intoxicating melodies, they work their way into the thicket of your senses before coming to rest in your soul.

Whether Williams is the music industry’s best- or worst-kept-secret is open to debate. Sure, she’s performed on The Today Show and has opened for big names such as the Avett Brothers and Dwight Yoakam, and she’s even had a high-profile guest shot on a Maroon 5 video, dueting with Adam Levine on the group’s No. 1 smash “Daylight (Playing For Change).”

But the truly incredible part of the golden-voiced chanteuse’s story has taken place at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, where she’s performed acoustically for the past few years. During these appearances, Williams has managed to move an unprecedented 100,000 copies of her three indie records – Chelsea Williams, Decoration Aisle and The Earth & the Sea. Her customer base has even included the likes of Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard, who was so impressed by what he heard that he bought a CD. Even one of Williams’ biggest influences, singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow, walked away with an album.

“The Promenade is huge part of my life,” says Williams. “It’s one of the only spots that I know of in Los Angeles that has such a high volume of foot traffic. People are out and about enjoying themselves, and they know that they’re going to hear musicians. It’s incredible when I get comments like, ‘I was having a really bad day, but your music totally brought me out of it.’ That’s what I love about music myself – the ability to take somebody on a journey that they weren’t planning on.”

Kirk Pasich, President of Blue Élan Records, might not have been anticipating such a journey when he first caught one of Williams’ outdoor gigs, but he quickly knew it was one he wanted to take over and over. And so now we have Williams’ debut on Blue Élan, Boomerang, a thoroughly winning and transcendent mix of Americana, indie-folk and lush pop that places the young artist front and center among the preeminent performers of the day. “My aim with this record was to maintain integrity, creatively and musically,” she states. “I wanted to let creativity rule the process and not be afraid to step outside of what was expected of me.”

Williams musical journey began early. Born in Columbus, Ohio, she was still an infant when her mother picked her up for a move to Glendale, California. “My mom had dreams of being a songwriter herself,” she explains. “She was always writing and playing guitar and singing around the house. I used to fall asleep in the living room while listening to her playing music with her friends. I think it all sort of seeped into my head and stayed with me.”

It wasn’t long before Williams joined in on her mother’s living room jams. “It just seemed very natural to me,” she says. “Music always pulled me in. We would go to Disneyland, and I would always run toward the stage whenever a band was playing. I just wanted to be a part of it.” Her mother’s CD collection – Carole King, Todd Rundgren and James Taylor were favorites – made the first impression on Williams, but she soon discovered Bob Dylan. “We didn’t agree on Dylan,” Williams laughs. “I think my mother didn’t like his voice, but it seemed so beautiful to me.”

By the age of 13, Williams took up the guitar and started writing her own first songs. “It seemed so normal to me because that’s what my mom and her friends were doing,” she remembers. “I didn’t even worry about whether what I was writing was good or bad. I just enjoyed doing it.” In high school, her listening habits included solo artists such as Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan and Elliott Smith, but she eventually discovered bands like Radiohead and the Pixies. Williams recalls how hanging out with the “indie rock kids” at school led to an interesting musical exchange: “I introduced them to Dylan, and they hipped me to Death Cab for Cutie. It was pretty cool.”

Even before graduation, Williams hit the local clubs and coffee houses, and once she had her diploma in hand she made her way onto the stages of Hollywood, performing at the Knitting Factory, Hotel Café, Room 5, and On the Rocks. “They were great learning experiences, but in truth, I didn’t like to play those gigs,” she explains. “They didn’t pay very well, and you oftentimes had to go out of pocket just for the chance to be seen and heard.” Williams discovered that busking on the streets of Glendale offered a better opportunity to get her music across. “There were people walking around with Starbucks cups, and you had little kids trying to break dance,” she says. “The people really listened.” From there, she decided to take her act to the burgeoning outdoor scene of the Third Street Promenade.

With the Santa Monica Pier and the Pacific Ocean as her backdrop, Williams truly found her voice. Recording her music on her own (“I did a lot on my computer with GarageBand”), she found enthusiastic buyers willing to lay down $5 and $10 a CD. Connections were made – people gave her business cards and asked her to sing on sessions – one of them being producer Toby Gad, famous for his work with Beyonce and Natasha Bedingfield. The two worked on a collection of songs that yielded a full album, which strangely enough, resulted in Williams’ first taste of heartbreak.

“Toby pitched me to Interscope, and they bit,” she explains. “They said, ‘We love you and we love the album, and we want to release it as soon as possible.’ I was thrilled.” And then, a perplexing thing happened… as in nothing happened. “The label wanted me to do more writing, which I did, but then it became obvious that they weren’t going to release the album,” she says. “I couldn’t understand it.”

At first, Williams was crushed and even briefly considered quitting music (“I considered becoming a geologist”), but after extricating herself from the deal she realized it was all for the best. “After I got some distance from the album I’d recorded, I felt like it didn’t represent me anymore,” she says. “So I dusted myself off and hit the streets again, and after a while things came back around.”

By the time Williams met up with Kirk Pasich at the Promenade, she had a batch of new songs that would fully reflect her commitment to processing emotions with honesty, courage, hope and humor. Working with producer and multi-instrumentalist Ross Garren (Kesha, Ben Folds, Benmont Tench), she turned those songs into Boomerang, an album that grows in depth and meaning with each listen.

On the wistful pop symphony opener “Angeles Crest,” Williams paints a vivid picture of her childhood, envisioning the mountains she and her mother once drove by. With clear-eyed perception she looks back at the road once traveled and stares down the future on “Fool’s Gold” (“I wrote it right when I parted ways with my prior label. It’s me processing the situation”). Opening her throat with the bracing line “I was frozen by a mighty cold wind,” Williams further recounts that painful label experience on the aching country ballad “Dreamcatcher.” “Out of Sight” is a striking, chilling piece of torch-song blues, on which she casts off a previous personal entanglement with the mantra “out of sight, out of mind.” But on the buoyant, aptly titled “Rush” she finds herself caught up in the dizzying first flush of a new love. “It’s all about being in that moment,” she says, “all the crazy fears and hopes that come with the possibilities of a relationship.”

A stronger, wiser but no less hopeful Williams looks back on the recording of Boomerang thusly: “For me, this record has been an exercise in taking the reins and forging my own path in music and in life. I had never been given a record budget that came with so much creative control before. With that kind of freedom came a greater sense of responsibility and a greater pride in the work we were creating. I am so proud of the record Ross and I created.”

And with a characteristic note of levity, she adds, “I’m so happy that I didn’t give up music to become a geologist.”

Jade Jackson – Gilded

Jade JacksonGilded

ANTI-Release: 19 May 2017

Within seconds after a guitar plays the intro to her song “Aden,” Jade Jackson’s voice, illuminated by experience, sings: “I grew up my father’s daughter. He said don’t take no shit from no one. You’ll never see me cry …”
And it’s with that voice and those lyrics that imply a thousand stories, this singer/songwriter hints at what she is capable of crafting, of how many tears she can stir in recounting her rambles to the far corners of her imagination, further even than she has actually travelled.

For Jackson has spent much of her time in a small California town, working in her parents’ restaurant, jotting down verses and picking out chords during breaks, then venturing eventually to more formal music studies in college before coming back home and startling listeners with the depth and intensity of her music.

Scheduled to release in May on Anti- Records, Gilded introduces her preternatural writing and raw, roots-rough sound. Surrounded by the close friends and gifted musicians that constitute her band, Jackson finds the perfect twist of phrase again and again, to express regret (“Let me walk over the bridges I’ve burned,” on the mournful “Bridges”), foreboding (“He kept his shiny blue gun underneath his dash/Deep inside she knew their lives were gonna crash,” a doomsday premonition set a galloping beat and spaghetti-Western guitar on “Troubled End”) and freedom (“I feel my boot heels sink in quicksand, baby, every time we kiss,” she tells her baffled lover on “Motorcycle.” “Ah, understand, boy, it’s been fun, but my motorcycle only seats one.”)

How did Jackson develop this command so young? First, of course, she was born with talent, which her home life nurtured. Though neither parent was a musician, both of them — especially her father — listened constantly to a range of artists, from Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to The Smiths, The Cure and assorted punk outfits.
“There was always music at home,” Jackson remembers. “In fact, it weirded me out when I’d go to a friend’s house and we were supposed to be quiet.”

Just as important, she had a compelling reason to develop her talent from an early age. “I was just bored!” she insists. “That’s why I started playing guitar. I’d grown up in a really small house in a small town. I shared a room with my brother and sister until I was 12. Then when I was 13 we moved about 30 miles away to Santa Margarita because my parents wanted to open a restaurant there. So there were more people around but I didn’t know anybody. That summer it was 118 degrees and we didn’t have air conditioning. I didn’t have any friends. My parents were kind of anti-technology, so I grew up without the Internet.”

So she found escape on her own. “Even before I picked up the guitar, my favorite thing was to tell stories. I was so in love with poetry: I would watch how people reacted when I read something I wrote … and then I’d put myself in their shoes and try to imagine how it felt to be them because I was kind of sheltered.” She wrote prolifically — still does, in fact. “I couldn’t stop,” she admits. “I would write on whatever I could grab. If I was in the car, I’d write on a piece of trash. If there was no trash, I’d write on cardboard. In my junior year of high school, the local newspaper did a story that said ‘Jade Jackson writes a song every day!’ They had me count all the songs I’d written by then and I think I was up to 375.”

The numbers grew. Through hard work and a willingness to challenge herself with each new effort, the quality of the music grew too. At the same time, Jackson began thinking about music as possibly something more than a private escape. This epiphany dates back to the night she went to a concert for the first time without her parents. The headliner that night was one of her favorites, Social Distortion.

“When I watched Mike Ness walk onstage and felt the energy from the crowd, it ignited something in me,” Jackson says. “I wanted to be on that stage too. I never knew I wanted to perform until that day. That shifted all the gears in my life.”

She began by playing every Sunday at a coffee shop in Santa Margarita. “They had a guitar hanging on the wall, so I’d take it down, spread all my lyrics out on the floor, sit on the couch and read them from there,” she says, with a laugh. “But then this musician named Don Lampson saw me playing. He asked if I wanted to open for him. So I memorized four or five of my songs and for the first time in my life, sang through a microphone. I connected with that energy of performing. I loved it when I could make people feel emotions through my songs.”

Her following, like her catalog, grew steadily. By the time she’d completed high school, Jackson’s work had become impressive enough to persuade Cal Arts to accept her into its music program. There, she had her first formal music instruction as well as some more personal struggles and applied both to finessing her craft even further.

“When I was little and listening to Johnny Cash, his songs were so sad, kind of slow and melancholy,” she says. “I didn’t understand what the words meant but I understood how they made me feel. In college, when I had my first taste of real depression, all of a sudden his songs and Hank Williams’s stories came true. I was like, ‘Holy shit! Now I actually know what those words meant!’ It was like a circle completing itself.”

One more circle led Jackson to her most critical step forward, when she and Mike Ness began working together. Their mothers had been friends in high school, which brought the two artists together. A short while after hearing her perform, he offered to mentor her. They assembled the band that’s been by her side since they came together. He agreed to produce Gilded as well.

“He gave me homework,” she points out. “He made me listen to Lucinda Williams’s Car Wheels On A Gravel Road and told me to listen only to that album for the next three or so months. That was the template of the album he wanted to create with me, so I picked from songs of mine that had a similar feel. If I didn’t have him, Gilded would have been a lot more scattered.”

That’s the key, right there. Gilded is a closed circuit, a masterwork of emotional honesty, of epic tales and intimate confessions. What’s scattered beyond, in songs long completed and many more yet to come, is a promise of more circles, more unique perspectives on hard lessons learned and too soon forgotten.

This is just the first you’ve heard from Jade Jackson. So much more lies ahead, for her and for us.

Jesse Dayton – The Revealer

Texas native Jesse Dayton has a long list of career accomplishments, but the two that best describe his musical personality are playing lead guitar for both Waylon Jennings and X.

Add his stint with country-punkers the Supersuckers, expand that to this new solo album (his sixth since 1995, most for his Stag label) and you’ve got a sense of the sound for The Revealer. Dayton’s booming, baritone is reminiscent at times of Jennings with a side order of George Jones (who he pays tribute to on “Possum Ran Over My Grave”) on the pure country “Match Made in Heaven,” and a touch of Springsteen blue collar growl, especially when he digs into a Chuck Berry/Stones inspired rocker such as “Take Out the Trash.”

Dayton shifts his approach from rollicking wimmin, whisky and carousing in pick-up trucks material such as “3 Pecker Goat,” the Sun-era Johnny Cash inflected “I’m at Home Gettin’ Hammered (While She’s Out Getting’ Nailed” and the Little Richard unhinged rocking of “Holy Ghost Rock n Roller,” to more thought provoking, even tender fare. He describes in detail a nurturing relationship with his family’s black housekeeper in “Mrs. Victoria (Beautiful Thing),” a sweet, touching folk ballad sung with the emotional sensitivity of what seems to be a story plucked from his past.

On “The Way We Are,” a treatise on touring where one day you’re up and the next you’re down, he reflects on his life saying “We’d do it for nothing or drinks from the bar.” The closing acoustic “Big State Motel,” another tale of road existence that, despite its clichéd concept, rings true with the intensity and self-realization this is the path he has chosen as he reveals “… our lost souls go on and on/Lord, we’re too damn far to turn back now.”

The album’s title expresses the intent of Dayton’s pure country leanings, told in songs that reveal the innermost thoughts and outermost activities of a musician who, as Muddy Waters so pointedly sang, lives the life he loves and loves the life he lives … at least most of the time.

Zephaniah OHora’s debut is unadulterated classic country

American Songwriter has the title track from Zephaniah OHora’s debut album today!

We’ve got an incredible country album debut for you today from Zephaniah OHora! The title track, “This Highway“, is up over on American Songwriter who said its “leisurely pedal steel and electric guitar twang [provide] a lush backdrop for OHora’s nimble croon.” To get a different taste the album opener “Way Down In My Soul” has a sliver of psychedelia, which is definitely deliberate. Zephaniah wrote this track to connect the archetypal love song to a psychedelic experience. If you’re in the mood for a gussied up classic duet check out Dori Freeman and OHora’s cover of the Nancy and Frank Sinatra track “Somethin’ Stupid“. Check out the full album below and if you need any more information please do let me know!

It’s a dark little bar, named after Guy Clark’s bass player, that’s tucked into a lost corner of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. The band’s crammed up on the stage, nearly spilling into the audience, and young couples are two-stepping around the edges. With a nightly lineup of the best young honky-tonk bands in the US coming through, Skinny Dennis has become the center of New York’s burgeoning roots country scene, and Zephaniah OHora–his hair slicked back, all decked out in black–is leading this new community. OHora’s encyclopedic knowledge and burning love for old country music glows triumphantly throughout his new album This Highway (set for release June 9th, 2017), which frames his original songs right in the crossroads of a golden era in the music: the meeting of the Bakersfield and Nashville Sounds of the 1960s. This blend of New-York-City-meets-Merle-Haggard songwriting means that  OHora’s songs feel deeply personal even while presented through the smooth sound of a bygone era.

Perhaps it’s a credit to his ability to imagine himself in any place or time. OHora is originally from New Hampshire, where he grew up playing music for worship meetings at his church. These evangelical meetings centered around improvisational music, intense prayer, and even speaking in tongues. “It was kind of like a cult, although I didn’t realize it at the time”, he says with a laugh. Leaving the church, OHora walked a winding path through his early 20s. “I experimented with psychedelics at the time, and after you have that first life changing trip, everything seems to take on a more surrealistic nature.” Listening to the LSD-inspired “Way Down in my Soul”, you can almost envision OHora floating through a 70’s country love affair.

 

The Time Jumpers – Kid Sister

Although 2016’s Kid Sister is only their third LP, Western swing ensemble the Time Jumpers have been a Nashville institution since the late ’90s. Formed by a crew of top-shelf session players seeking a casual outlet outside of the studio, they became a Music City staple when they landed a weekly residency at The Station Inn playing old swing tunes, jazz, and pop standards. With 2007’s live album Jumpin’ Time, they parlayed their status as Monday night’s hottest band into a couple of Grammy nominations, then added Vince Gill to the band as a guitarist and occasional frontman. Fast forward to 2016 and the Time Jumpers are still Monday night’s hottest band, though their popularity caused them to move their weekly gig to the larger capacity 3rd & Lindsley. Following their 2012 self-titled studio debut, vocalist — and wife of fiddler and founding member Kenny SearsDawn Sears succumbed to cancer, leaving a major hole in what has become a tight-knit musical family. Named for and dedicated to Sears, Kid Sister is the group’s first album since her passing and is the last to feature her powerhouse voice, which can be heard on the two opening tracks. While the Jumpers are most vibrant in front of an audience, they turn in a solid set here, full of heart, soul, and plenty of craft. Highlights include the instrumentally dazzling live favorite “All Aboard,” the smoky “Blue Highway Blue,” and the heartbreaking title cut. As on-stage, their unity as a ten-piece band is at the heart of what they do, with vocals and licks deftly passed back and forth among the ranks, despite having a well-known commodity in Gill. Among the fine Western swing covers and ballads are a number of Gill-penned songs, one of which — “We’re the Time Jumpers” — acts as the group’s theme song. Still, he and his bandmates are team players above all, faithfully serving this timeless brand of American music and, in this case, doing so in the spirit of Sears and her years of camaraderie and collaboration.

Brent Cobb – Shine On Rainy Day

In the decade since releasing his 2006 debut, Brent Cobb also emerged as a Music Row songwriter, landing songs with high-profile artists like Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, and Kenny Chesney, among others. His move into the Nashville establishment may have brought his career some well-deserved success, but as an artist, his heart remained rooted in the Deep South of his hometown, Ellaville, Georgia. Produced by Brent‘s cousin Dave Cobb (Shooter Jennings, Sturgill Simpson) at his Low Country Sound studio, Shine on Rainy Day is personal and soulful, with little of contemporary country’s gloss and a stripped-down, earthy poeticism that some have likened to Kris Kristofferson‘s early albums. On these ten songs, small-town Georgia — its sights, smells, feelings, residents, and customs — are Brent‘s muse and partner. It’s a world he sketches in “South of Atlanta,” a gently sprawling five-minute waltz whose lyrics celebrate a town “where the water is clean, loblollies grow tall and winters ain’t mean.” It’s a feeling he yearns for in the easy rise and fall of “Country Bound,” as he questions what’s missing in his crowded city lifestyle. Even when not directly addressing his muse, its tone and texture creep in on deep, bluesy tracks like “Let the Rain Come Down” and “Black Crow,” the latter of which features some fine slide work by Jason Isbell. Framing the songs are Dave‘s unfussy arrangements and natural production style, which really bring out the relaxed intimacy of Brent‘s writing. Whether it’s the family connection or merely a shared understanding of what is needed, the two Cobbs seem to bring out the best in each other on this fine release.

John Prine – For Better, or Worse

In 1999, John Prine released a thoroughly charming and engaging album called In Spite of Ourselves, in which he covered a handful of classic country tunes (tossing in one new original for good measure) as duets with nine talented female vocalists. Prine has given the same approach another try 17 years later, and though For Better, or Worse isn’t quite as good as his first go-round with this concept, it’s still a fine collection of songs from a man who knows a bit about crafting a tune. The greatest strength of For Better, or Worse is also one of its weaknesses — Prine himself. Prine was nearly 70 when he recorded this album, and his voice has grown worse for wear (his battle with throat cancer in the ’90s and a more recent brush with lung cancer haven’t helped). But if he sounds his age on these tracks, he also spins that to his advantage; on numbers like “Who’s Gonna Take the Garbage Out,” “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke,” and “I’m Telling You,” he sounds like an wily old rascal who’s seen it all and has plenty to tell. Prine‘s female co-stars are all in better shape than he is in terms of their instruments, and across the board they sound happy and honored to be working with the great man. Alison Krauss, Lee Ann Womack, Kacey Musgraves, Susan Tedeschi, Miranda Lambert, and Kathy Mattea all bring their A game to these sessions, and help to give Prine a boost when he needs it. Of course, the best tracks are the ones where Prine teams up with Iris DeMent; the two singers have long shown they’re simpatico, and hearing them together on “Who’s Gonna Take the Garbage Out” and “Mr. & Mrs. Used to Be” is a delight. Add in a studio band that delivers the classic Nashville honky tonk sound these songs demand, and a closing solo performance of “Just Waitin’,” where Prine makes Luke the Drifter‘s lyrics sound like something he could have written himself, and you get a fine latter-day album from a seminal artist. It’s still troubling that one of America’s best songwriters seems to have lost the desire to pen new material, but For Better, or Worse shows John Prine hasn’t lost his spirit as a performer.

Blue Highway – Original Traditional

Blue Highway have been one of the most well-respected bands in bluegrass since they made their debut in 1996, and with the group’s consistent excellence on-stage and in the studio, there hasn’t been much in the way of change in their story. 2016’s Original Traditional actually marks a turning point in Blue Highway‘s career as they celebrate their 20th Anniversary — it’s their first album since Dobro master and founding member Rob Ickes left the group, and introduces Gaven Largent, a gifted 19-year-old picker making his debut with the band. (All the more remarkably, this is only the second personnel change in the group’s history, and Largent is the only current member of Blue Highway who didn’t appear on their debut album.) It’s a compliment to Largent to say that many fans might not notice the difference; the young man’s Dobro solos on numbers like “If Lonesome Don’t Kill Me,” “Last Time I’ll Ever Leave This Town,” and “She Ain’t Worth It” are technically impressive and melodically sound, and fit these songs like a glove. Elsewhere, Original Traditional finds Blue Highway doing what’s made them bluegrass legends; the group’s instrumental work is uniformly excellent, with tight ensemble picking and great soloing from Jason Burleson on banjo, Shawn Lane on fiddle and mandolin, and Tim Stafford on guitar. The band’s outstanding harmonies are still in excellent shape (their a cappella version of the gospel standard “Hallelujah” is one of this album’s highlights), and the lead vocals from Stafford, Lane, and bassist Wayne Taylor are strong and sincere. And as the title suggests, Original Traditional testifies to Blue Highway‘s gift for bringing fresh ideas to music that still honors the roots of bluegrass, with 11 original songs that deal with subjects as old as love gone wrong, and as urgent as a young man running from a life of abuse and desperation. Not many groups in any genre can sound as fresh and vital after two decades together as Blue Highway do on Original Traditional, and if another 20 years might seem overly optimistic, there’s no audible reason why this group shouldn’t have at least another good decade of heartfelt music in them.