Bob Harris – Country Sessions

(Hump Head Records)

With this year’s Country 2 Country Festival 2016 in full swing and with our old friend Bob Harris planning a further Country/American festival for May here in England, you and other discerning roots music lovers may well be in the market for a Various Artists compilation that embraces established artists and many relative newcomers. This is not the land of layered synths, processed electronic beats and Vocoded singing. Like the bluesrock sphere, this entire strand of music struggles for decent and comprehensive coverage in the mainstream media yet from a singing, playing and moreover songwriting perspective has arguably far more to offer the listener. The UK is producing more quality country-oriented acts by the year; by the time the American and Canadian artists arrive here to perform, they have honed their best material and benefit from the adrenalin of a warm reception on our stages.

So let’s bite the bullet for this piece and – bearing in mind that these tracks are NOT the editions you may already have, but special editions for Bob and his radio show – say something about each cut:

Lady Antebellum Downtown – fabulous performers with one of the best touring bands on the planet. This has twin acoustic guitars and the three warm voices on this steady-rolling Laird/McAnally/Hemby tune. Crisp and insistent

Steve Earle Burnin’ It Down – a man who keeps going whatever comes his way.This is a reflective world-weary song and languid performance. Where Springsteeen is inclined to head to vocal overdrive too often, Earle is mellower but somehow has more bite. A self-penned gem

Kacey Musgraves Merry Go Round – twinkling acoustic guitar brings this in and a hard-hitting trailer park lyric. Some unusual chords in this sonic dark study. Post-Lucinda thoughtful stuff. It’s beautifully sung, too

Brandy Clark Stripes – sassy strummed bitchery delivered with force, albeit tongue in cheek. The spirit of Warren Zevon surely lives on

Eric Church Give Me Back My Hometown – I did see Eric on his first major show here and the heavy rock mix did him and the band no favours, but undeniably his songwriting chimes with his audience. He speaks their language. Subtle tale of regret in Church’s distinctive voice. A very good take on a special song. If Johnny Cash was still around, he would surely record a few of Church’s songs

Maddie & Tae Girl In A Country Song – This song is reviewed elsewhere on the site but they are easy on the eye and ear. This rocksteady guitar version is cool as …whatever. Their voices blend, like a softer duet by The Partons

Dwight Yoakam Honky Tonk Man – roots and country rock superstar. Dwight picks his acoustic path through this celebrated rocker with a touch of the yodel here and there. Rhythmic prowess and that fine voice makes this one a pleasure

Jason Isbell Speed Trap Town – former Drive By Truckers singer and guitarist is now a key figure in the Americana scene, with songs ranging from celebratory to downright sulky which makes him a great storyspinner. This very recent recording captures the talent of this major figure. The song itself could be off ‘Nebraska’. And I don’t think Jason would object to that thought. I recall his electric power trio set at The Garage in Highbury with great admiration. An act worth following

Jace Everett Bad Things – a performer with real edge and to me a modern-day Johnny Rivers..sort of. He has that John Lee Hooker guitar strut and this sparse version of one of his hits shoots some Merle into his performance and it’s a real toe-tapper

Sugarland Tonight – a chugging intro brings us a stealthily delivered Jennifer Nettles/Kristian Bush/Kevin Griffin country torch song with gorgeous sustained vocal notes. Haunting effort

Striking Matches Make A Liar Out Of Me –what a rhythm! If Sly & The Family Stone did country, they would lock onto this. A biting lyric and vocal duet over a ‘Watchtower’ tinged chord progression.This crew will garner a weighty following on this form

Holly Williams Drinkin’ – Hank Williams’ granddaughter and a very charming person. This own composition uses soft arpeggio guitar chording, the voice aches and the bitterness is palpable. He sounds an utter b*********d, if there’s a different side to this tale it had better be good, amigo

Emmylou Harris Pancho & Lefty – an old chestnut of a song – Townes Van Zandt if memory serves. This dates from 2011 and the country countess delivers as always with guitar accompaniment. Fans will savour this cut

The Shires Only Midnight – English act finding success in North America and beyond. Steady and sombre reading of a sad lament. Lovely tune and their voices do work well together. Her voice has the occasional echo of Linda Ronstadt.

Andrew Combs Silk Flowers – folky and slightly husky reading of a thoughtful composition, marinated in regret and heading towards self-pity. Easy, Mr Combs – Adele has doused us all in enough of THAT! The guitar on this is steadily impressive

Tim McGraw One Of Those Nights – brush drum intro with gentle guitars weaving and that individual vocal styling. The key choice makes this a very listenable number and the vocal harmonies are spot on. It’s not The Eagles song, btw

Gretchen Peters The Matador – one of the scene’s great songstresses. Atmospheric song as we would expect. Soft accordion breathes in the background. She sounds bewitched by this bloke but we all sniff trouble….why do girls fall for rotters? Twas ever thus

Dierks Bentley I Hold On – mournful fiddle over strumming guitar. His voice has such a great edge whilst staying tuneful. This is a paean to cherished vehicles and instruments and the like. A gypsy tempo makes this a winner. Very cool song

Darius Rucker Radio – a successful solo career now attained, this banjo-led effort shows off that seasoned rootsy voice. A fine selection to drive along to

Thomas Rhett Die A Happy Man – lovely piano-soaked love song, sung and not shouted and all the better for it. The tune is strongly reminiscent of Jackson Browne and certainly this is one of the best compositions on this expansive set

Ward Thomas Town Called Ugley – there is a town called Ugley and there WAS and Ugley Women’s Institute ! It doesn’t seem that long since I was at their first EP launch in London, giving them a Good Luck card. The tuneful sisters have fun with this ditty. The acoustic guitar riffing is insistent and the lasses belt out the words on this bad-night-out story

Luke Bryan That’s My Kind Of Night – bluesy tread of a song and sounding like a classic set-opener. Fantastic bass, too. Horniness embodied in a rocking tune. One of the best ensemble performances on the collection

Jason Aldean When She Says Baby – his treasure trove of songs grows and grows. His band is full of ace players. Steady rocker here with pulsing bass and a Dylan-in-Nashville ambience. You can also hear the dark clouds assembling above…

The Steeldrivers Midnight Train To Memphis – emphatic and banjo-sprinkled polyrhythmic down-home song, sung with spirit and a country blues undercurrent. In that Taj Mahal could easily tackle this tune. Check that subterranean dobro riffing!

Cale Tyson Can’t Feel Love – includes Pete Lindberg on vocal and guitar. This evokes Chuck Berry in its lyric and chugging delivery. Nice guitar runs and his voice that that something that is his own

Rascal Flatts Changed – one of the very best live acts you can see in this field, is this about a baptism or some kind of salvation? Clean acoustic guitar and other instruments bobbing about in the mix. Underplayed and benefiting from this, the song is memorable and played with real feel. Not typical of RS perhaps – except in quality

Kristian Bush Trailer Hitch – She has a real Old School dark-brown singing style. Theme is that we can’t take it with us, in essence. A charming performance and this sounds like a live favourite

JD McPherson North Side Gal – wow! This sounds like a Ry Cooder song or choice, a skipping tempo and animated vocal. The electric guitar rocks along and the singing is almost early Van Morrison ..a Radio DJ could segue this into Six Days On The Road

Kip Moore Dirt Road – what a singer this chap is! Throaty and convincing. This is almost a Tom Petty style song with its steady pace and rich guitar chording. Maybe my favourite on this release

Lee Ann Womack The Way I’m Livin’ – electric tremelo’d guitar on a song that relates a meeting with Satan. Lee Ann’s voice has Dolly Parton’s drive but her own tone. Insanely catchy too

Sam Hunt Break Up In A Small Town – the one act I saw at C2C that I didn’t enjoy. He speaks his way into this story and at his C2C show quite a few females were melting as he slunk around the stage. So good luck to him!

Ashley Monroe Dixie – a ragtime tempo and a sweet country voice. Could be from the Fifties! But why not? Not the only female with a hint of Dolly in the voice

Rosanne Cash Etta’s Tune – still maybe the queen on the country rock scene, who can resist the Cash daughter’s creative output? Certainly not me. This particular song is listenable rather than spectacular. Here with John Leventhal the guitar maestro and I do believe I saw this couple’s tour at the Union Chapel, a magical evening

Zac Brown Band Sweet Annie – yet another great live act, as aware of Led Zep as they are of Charlie Daniels. Here we get a mellow love song with expert backing. His voice remains excellent whatever he does. He has been fiery than this, but the arrangement here is exquisite

S0…well done Bob and team for a top-notch collection that does ring the changes

Bob Harris

Pete Sargeant

Bob Harris Country Sessions is out now on CD and is released by Hump Head Records.

(On the May festival that Bob Harris is readying, just visit – it’s near Silverstone, he told me at Country 2 Country.)

* Thanks to Glenn Sargeant for input to this piece