march 2009

Michael Martin Murphey, BUCKAROO BLUE GRASS
Buckaroo Blue Grass advances the dominant themes of Murph's life in some songs from his past revisited (some of which he had previously reconsidered on 2001's Playing Favorites, herein given a new whirl altogether), some from his "Cosmic Cowboy" days in Austin in the '70s to more recent fare originally crafted for his acoustic albums, plus two new songs that could hardly be more moving bookends to this stirring collection.

Songwriter, vocalist par excellence, and a pretty fair banjo picker, Pam Gadd can pretty much do it all when it comes to music. She's done exemplary work as a member of the New Coon Creek Girls, the Muddy River Band and the beloved Wild Rose, as a backing vocalist for the likes of Patty Loveless and Porter Wagoner, and especially as a solo artist. Benefit Of Doubt takes her artistry to a higher level than ever with, arguably, the best original songs she's ever committed to disc; impeccable, soulful country and mountain vocalizing; and the support, vocally and instrumentally, from some of the finest artists of the day. The album hews to traditional bluegrass and country, with some tasty instrumental forays punctuating the sharp focus on each song's message, which is another way of saying it's Gadd's deeply involved singing that's the story.

Arriving radio ready, appealing to the eye, the ear and the heart, intensely immersed in her largely self-penned songs, Megan Munroe is set to join the lineage of tough country gal singers descended most recently from Gretchen Wilson and Miranda Lambert, the latter being the whom she most resembles in her sassy attitude and chip-on-the-shoulder self-assurance. She sets herself apart on her sophomore album by the simple act of putting the load right on herself when it comes to pinpointing the fault lines in her romantic relationships. This is not to suggest that the fetching Ms. Munroe goes gently into the good night of broken hearts and lost souls.

In Steal the Blue April Verch has crafted a mature, striking album full of heart and heartbreak, wondrous and nuanced instrumental work and rich, rustic textures. Produced by a couple of her former band members, Stephen Mougin and Jon Weisberger, the long player is indeed "blue," and manages the neat trick of stealing a listener's heart with each new song. Should any critic grouse about Ms. Verch sounding too much like a certain Ms. Krauss, pay the complainant no mind-when you can get deep enough into a lyric to make it seem as personally revealing as this artist does, you are blessed with a singular gift.

Randy Weeks, GOING MY WAY
Following up his heralded 2006 release, Sugarfinger, Randy Weeks rolls out another stimulating exercise in fine songcraft and inspired playing on Going My Way. To call it '60s-style garage band country-rock is a compliment. Though well played, the music has a shambling, Band-like quality, mostly owing to the consistently busy drums sounding slightly off mic and the mix having a bit of a sludgy, extemporaneous feel. Over this soundscape, Weeks's Reedy (as in Lou Reed), unaccented voice, deceptively unpolished but always eager, earnest and, when appropriate, sardonic, is exactly right for the setting.

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