John Lilly – Cold Comfort
"Pleasant" sounding albums such as this often run the risk of being accused of having a lack of soul, but this man has such a huge talent it's impossible to not be drawn into these incredibly creative and atmospheric stories. It shows the level of esteem in which John Lilly is held by the quality of the support players on this always pleasant, at times edgy album. Amongst others he is helped out by Sonny Landreth and Bill Kirchen on guitars, Tim O' Brien on fiddle and guitar, Johnny Staats on mandolin, the gorgeous vocals of Brennen Leigh, and so the list goes on. All of the songs are written by John Lilly and cover an extraordinary range of subjects and tempos, but always with his pleasantly expressive vocals at the root, although credit must be given to Tom Lewis's drumming and Ric Ramirez bass playing for underpinning everything brilliantly, thus allowing the other featured musicians free rein.
His vocals are at times a little reminiscent of singers such as Bobby Vee or Buddy Holly and the music stylistically and quality wise has a lot in common with the upper echelons of 1940s and 50s "Country & Western," but fortunately steers clear of the formulaic "Nashville sound" that dominated latterly. The playing as you would expect, is of the highest quality and whilst there is a little sugariness at times in the overall sound the album oozes quality and has an almost indefinable edginess that is probably due to the fact that this is the music Lilly grew up with and comes to naturally, rather than through any commercial contrivances.
The scope and range of his songs is difficult to describe in a few words but the tempos are varied and cover unsurpassable two part harmonies on the gorgeous ballads "I Thought You'd Never Call" and "I Don't Know Where To Start", with Brennen Leigh's beautiful voice being as perfect a blend with his as it is possible to get. Anyone but you is a sad slow, moody cheating ballad with gorgeous steel and fiddle that could and should be the benchmark for "cheating songs" whilst the following track, "Step by Step", is a mid tempo role reversal with him being the person left in the lurch, but again the instrumentation is just about perfect. "Short and Sweet" is a mid tempo "western swing" novelty song that works well and there is even a comedic element in the used car song "As Is". "Done Done It" is a slightly unusual blend of 1950s rock 'n' roll and country that can't really be classed as "rockabilly" but does work incredibly well. The album closer "Somewhere In Texas" is a beautiful sad "leaving song" on which there is just Lilly and an acoustic guitar and with no other instrumentation to distract the attention, really epitomizes the soulfulness that he puts into his work.
The album is co-produced by Lilly and Tommy Detamore and is pretty much faultless in that regard. A recording such as this just goes to show that country music can have a little sprinkling of sugar on it and hopefully have mass appeal, without the need to layer everything with a thick coat of saccharine! I must confess to not usually considering albums that sit in this, what I've always considered, populist strand of country music, but I'm now going to investigate his previous work, thanks to this tremendous "real country" album!
John Lilly: Cold Comfort
John Lilly has been lauded on Flyinshoes Review many times because in his own low-key, unassuming way he has seemed to be the truest modern embodiment of the music of Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. Over several albums he has developed a knack of writing songs that sound half a century old, and has performed them with an impeccable guitar style and a relaxed, homely vocal style. For all his success in winning songwriting competitions and in winning over audiences with the sheer quality of his work, I never really expected to hear him in any other context than as a solo performer. To hear him front an all-star band, as he does on this new album, is a revelation.
Cold Comfort has sprung from his Texas connections; John himself is from West Virginia and is very much identified with the musical culture of that state. However, friends and connections in the Texan music scene led to this album being recorded in Floresville, Texas. With Tommy Detamore at the controls and playing steel guitar, the roll call of supporting players is something to behold: Bill Kirchen and Sonny Landreth on guitars, Bobby Flores and Tim O’Brien on fiddle, Floyd Domino on piano, Ric Ramirez on bass…all in all it’s a big step from one guy and one mic stand. There’s also supporting vocals from Brennen Leigh; for all John Lilly’s many talents he’s not really a natural front man for a full band (his voice being essentially built for understatement and intimate performance), so I reckon it’s a good move to give him a little support on that front whilst keeping his distinctive style.
The songwriting is as wonderful as ever; just one song, Tore Up From The Floor Up is familiar from a previous incarnation. All the new material seems to have moved on in time a little. There are still some touches of Hank, especially on Done Done It which features some great retro guitar and piano from Bill Kirchen and Floyd Domino. On other songs, though, we seem to be moving into the 1960s and some classic country of that era. Both the title song and the one that follows it, I Thought You’d Never Call (and there are others) are loving recreations of the great country heartbreakers. It’s always been true with John Lilly’s songs that you feel you already know them from somewhere, and these songs could be lifted from a George Jones album. On first hearing my ear was caught by all these fantastic players adding some beautiful embellishments to John Lilly’s songs but on closer acquaintance it’s the quieter arrangements where the charm of John’s songwriting has room to shine through that really stick with me. As Is, for instance, the story of a first car, bought “As Is” from a second-hand dealer, is just a great example of his style – straightforward, homely and affectionate, without getting too sentimental.
If the launch concert with the full band makes it to youtube (and why wouldn’t it) then I expect Done Done It should be really worth searching out because this is a great ensemble piece - Hank Williams done in the style of the Texas Playboys with ample room for all the instrumentalists to chuck in their party pieces and for John to close the song on a cheerful yodel. The other stand out track is Tore Up From The Floor Up, the synchopated rhythm sounding as cool as could be whilst John Lilly and Bill Kirchen trade lead lines on their guitars with some gorgeously fluid playing. Somehow I don’t see this album setting John Lilly off on a tour of huge venues with six guys on stage; I think it will remain true that his work is best appreciated in an intimate setting. However, it’s a lovely album and if it helps make this very fine writer better known, then that’s all to the good.
* coincidentally this video was posted on YouTube the day Cherry Ridge Studio was destroyed by a fire (October 26, 2011)
John Lilly 'Cold Comfort' Self-Release
This is John Lilly's finest album to date, for a variety of reasons. They are, from the top, the production by Lilly and the renowned Tommy Detamore, the use of a full band - Lilly's last two albums were more stripped down in terms of instrumentation - a band that includes some very fine players and at this point I want to single out the playing of Tom Lewis (former and current Wagoneer) who's name can be found on many an Austin recorded album as well as on stage with a wide range of players. He's never less than committed to the song and his varied but unobtrusive style is part of what drives any song he plays. It doesn't stop there on this album the talents of Kayton Roberts, Bill Kirchen, Sonny Landreth, Skip Edwards, Floyd Domino, Tim O'Brien and Mike Bub and others bring much to make the album special. But that, in itself, would not make a great album, without having the selection of great songs and Lilly's top-notch vocals it could have fallen flat on it's face. The songs are often heartbreak country and are delivered with conviction and honesty. That's a key word here, honesty as this is music not made for radio, for affectation, for mass sales but rather music made with heart, it is therefore music that will find its own level among discerning listeners. Tracks like I Don't Know Where To Start - a duet with Brennen Leigh (one of two), I Thought You'd Never Call, Anyone But You and the title track all speak of loss, sorry and regret - key elements of real country music. In some ways this is an album of two parts as from track 9 to track 11 the music takes on a different but equally effective tone as Lilly delivers a set of acoustic songs with Tim O'Brien, Mike Bub and Tommy Detamore musically accompanying him. Short and Sweet and As Is are both repeat listen songs. Then O'Brien joins the full band for Done Done It. The album closed with the song Somewhere In Texas which is equally compelling with John Lilly accompanied just by his guitar and shows that whatever the setting these songs and this singer stands tall. Undoubtably one of the albums of the year.
Given that he’s normally a solo performer, as showcased on Live On Red Barn Radio (self, 2010), I’m not sure that the musicians Lilly enlisted for this album should properly be called “Guests,” but I have no argument with “Special.” Whether at Tommy Detamore’s studio in Floresville, TX, for nine of the 13 tracks, or Tim O’Brien’s in Nashville for three, Detamore and O’Brien, Mike Bub, Floyd Domino, Skip Edwards, Bobby Flores, Bill Kirchen, Sonny Landreth, Brennen Leigh, Tom Lewis, Ric Ramirez, Kayton Roberts and Johnny Staats are all pretty handy people to have around.
After opening with the catchy but cryptic Come And Go, Flores’ magisterial fiddle—nothing says "country" quite like a Bobby Flores intro—and Detamore’s pedal steel launch a string of eight originals, seven lovelorn, including a truckdriver song, one celebrating the T wo Miracles of love that actually pans out, that are among Lilly’s best work. I have a limited taste for novelty songs, so even an off-beat ode to along-ago Yugo or lines like “We had no electricity so every night/we watched TV by candlelight” don’t warm me much to the next three tracks, but the album closes strong with the solo Somewhere In Texas, though those of us who live in Texas might cynically inquire where exactly “it’s raining tonight.” While the unassuming singer and songwriter is a strong performer, Lilly is, as one writer put it, “way too nice to be in show business,” but there was a time when he could have had a great career writing hits for country stars. Unfortunately, that time was 40 years ago, but fortunately, Lilly makes Old School records, this is his fifth, not including one he made with legendary old-time fiddler Ralph Blizard, and, if nothing else, from 2002’s Broken Moon on, he’s been a consistent favorite with the Freeform American Roots DJs and predicting he’ll be #1 in the November chart is a real safe bet.
— John Conquest
She's not your average country singer, and that's good
Sunny Sweeney: Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame
Big Machine Records
I was thinking for a while there that the contemporary country album was dead. Here's an instance where I'm glad to admit that I was wrong. Much of what Music Row puts out these days cannot rightly be called an "album," in that the collections of songs aren't intended as complete musical thoughts. Many country singers are faux-rapping or badonka-donking one minute, and the next minute they're crooning a heartfelt ballad about God, family, country or all of the above.
Variety is at least one of life's spices, so that can be all well and good. But too often, a something-for-everyone approach comes off as disjointed. Sometimes, if you throw too much against the wall, nothing sticks at all, and the wall ends up crumbling down. Depends on what you're tossing around, I suppose. In any case, the quasi-new year looks to be holding some good counter-balances to this trend. Martina McBride's album will be released in April, and it's a cohesive piece of work. Ditto for Miranda Lambert's next effort, due out in May. And Big Machine Records - of "No, Toby Keith isn't involved in this anymore" fame - has just released a sweetly swinging little country album from Sunny Sweeney.
"Cohesive" doesn't mean "concept album," and Swee-ney's themes and characters vary. But the music is squarely country, dusted in Texas soil and presented without the compression and computer-driven hoo-ha that often makes it hard to tell one country radio artist's stuff from the next. Sweeney wrote many of these songs and chose the others wisely. Bucking another Music Row trend, she picked several cover songs that had already been out on others' albums. Thus, Tim Carroll's rollicking honkytonk gem "If I Could," Jim Lauderdale's "Please Be San Antone" (co-written with one of those infamous Dixie Chicks), Keith Sykes' gorgeous "Lavender Blue" (presented here as a duet with Lauderdale), Iris DeMent's "Mama's Opry" and the Thom Schuyler-penned "16th Avenue" all get fresh airings. Sweeney's own songs sit nicely in the mix, with some superb musicians (guitar man Casper Rawls, electric guitarist/steel player Tommy Detamore and others) playing with grace and spunk. Sweeney originally put this album out herself, and Big Machine has picked it up and re-released it in its entirety. No effort has been made to make it more "mainstream," more mass-appeal or more like a Ford truck commercial. Good thing, as it's fine the way it is: good songs from an effective honkytonk singer. It sounds like real, handmade country music, from some world-class hand-makers.
- PETER COOPER, STAFF WRITER
From the DISClaimer column by Robert K. Oermann, Music Row Magazine:
SUNNY SWEENEY/Refresh My Memory Writer: J. Lauderdale/J. Sherrill; Producer: Tommy Detamore/Tom Lewis; Publisher: Mighty Nice/Laudersongs/Bluewater/Sony-ATV Tree/City Wolf/Big Yellow Dog, BMI; Sunny Sweeney (track) (www.sunnysweeney.com)
-Sweeney's Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame CD kicks off with this startlingly rootsy performance. If you love real country music, you'll be instantly hooked. Every track reminds you of why you fell in love with Jean Shepard, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells, Tammy Wynette and the rest of our honky-tonk angels. Sunny is a star in Austin, Texas, but deserves to be a national sensation.
From the DISClaimer column by Robert K. Oermann, Music Row Magazine:
The DisCovery Award goes to Sunny Sweeney. I previously encountered her when judging in Texas for the inaugural season of Nashville Star. I liked her then, and I like her now.
-The title tune to Sunny's CD presents a Texas thrush with a delightfully personable delivery that's country to the core. Extra points for the excellent harmonica and steel-guitar work, as well as for the pointed lyric.
From a review in the Austin American Statesman:
Sunny Sweeney: Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame *** (Three Stars)
The local honky-tonk scene has been a little gray lately, but here comes a burst of light from Longview named Sunny Sweeney. This debut is downright irresistible, with Sweeney's hankering for hooks not disturbing the hayseed charm. Produced by Heybale drummer Tommy Detamore, "Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame" is a sweet, drawling mix of wistful, melodic sway and dancefloor precision.and steel guitar wiz
The queen of the Poodle Dog Lounge, where she plays most Sundays (next: Oct. 15), Sweeney has been playing live for only two years and yet her music struts with the confidence a shot of tequila will give to the prettiest girl in the room. Easy comparisons would be to Patty Loveless and Kasey Chambers, plus there are traces of Dolly Parton, though as a songwriter, Sweeney's got to orbit the globe a few times to be in Queen Dolly's ZIP code. Wisely, she gets most of her material here from seasoned writers such as Jim Lauderdale -- the LP's spiritual adviser -- Iris Dement and Keith Sykes.
This is local music that doesn't sound local. Catch her while you can; Nashville's holding on line two.
-- Michael Corcoran
From a review in Driftwood Magazine:
Review: Gary P. Nunn, Taking Texas to the Country
By now, it would be hard to argue that Gary P. Nunn isn’t a Texas institution. His five-decade tenure includes a stint in the Lost Gonzo Band, which served as Jerry Jeff Walker’s supporting squadron. Since then he’s established himself as a venerable songsmith and bandleader who rarely plays beyond Texas or his native Oklahoma, where he operates a cattle ranch.
As far as quality songcraft goes, his fourteenth disc, Taking Texas to the Country, is no exception. It emphasizes the breadth of his songwriting prowess. He cranks out infectious five-star dancehall numbers such as “A Two-Step Away” and “The Likes of Me” and rocks it up sideways on the anthemic title track. But Nunn doesn’t play the straight-up dancehall card every hand as so many Texan aggregations do. Instead he prefers songs that bask in beauty (“The Girl Just Loves To Dance,” “Lonesome Lone Star Blues”), conveyed with tenderness and sincerity. There are also touches of Cajun, calypso and Latin music for a little ethnic diversity.
Producer Tommy Detamore is a big factor in everything working so well. Not only is his production flawless, but his glorious steel rides as a member of the studio band.
On this quality recording, Nunn remains an ambassador of Texas music.
From a review at the9153.com:
Album Review: Brennen Leigh – The Box
Texas singer Brennen Leigh’s newest release,The Box, ranges from traditional country to traditional bluegrass, but the important word to note there is “traditional.” There’s nothing that’s bombastic or puts attitude ahead of ability. Thelyrics don’t pander or boast. Most importantly, it manages to be both traditional and contemporary, using time-tested country and bluegrass sounds but without feeling like a relic from a long-gone era.
Leigh, an Austin-based singer/songwriter who’s recorded several albums on her own as well as one with guitarist Jesse Dayton, has a clear, lovely voice that convincingly fits both the country and bluegrass selections. The songs on The Box–touching on heartbreak, restlessness and wanting–don’t require powerhouse vocals, and Leigh manages to do a lot with a little. In “Green Rolling Hills,” the opening track, she sings “I used to love these rolling green hills up here, didn’t think I could get any higher/These fields used to make my eyes well up, now all I wanna do is set them on fire.” Leigh expresses her new-found frustration with her old life without belting out the chorus. Elsewhere, the title track has Leigh wistfully singing about a box of mementos from a past relationship that she can’t throw away, while “Backsliding Blues” and “Distracted” are more playful. If radio wasn’t so focused on uptempo songs, the latter tune would be Lee Ann Womack’s next #1 single.
With the wrong production choices, Leigh’s voice could have gotten lost in the shuffle. Fortunately, the arrangements are all very tastefully done and nicely complement her vocals. Producers Leigh and Tommy Detamore keep it pretty simple and straightforward–easy on the electric guitar, heavy on the steel, why use one fiddle when twin fiddles are available.
The problem that simple arrangements and subdued vocals can create is that no one song stands out. The distracted listener may find him or herself halfway through thealbum, thinking that only two or three tracks have played. Little touches like the accordion on “Sleeping With The Devil” or the always-welcome Jim Lauderdale’s harmony vocals on the title track help add variety to the mix.
Don’t try listening to The Box in a car stereo roaring down a highway or as background noise during household chores. It requires a little more attention than that, but in the end, it’s time well spent.
From a review at countrystandardtime.com:
The Box – 2010 (Self-released)
Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge
There's a mix of traditional country, modern bluegrass and even a touch of blues on singer/songwriter Brennen Leigh's latest independent release. The Austin-based Leigh, who wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 13 tracks, is particularly impressive vocally on country weepers such as the Louvin Brothers influenced Are You Stringing Me Along and You Made A Fool Out Of Me.
Other effective country ballads include the title track (which features Jim Lauderdale on harmony vocals), Distracted, on which Leigh delivers one of her stronger vocals and the hauntingSleeping With The Devil.
Leigh is equally adept at bluegrass including the uptempoSomething Borrowed and Traveling On, as well as the sentimental ballad >Just To Hear My Little Bluebird Sing. A pair of well chosen covers by other independent artists also display the bluegrass influence with Wendell Adkins' What'll I Do and Tom Vandenavond's In The Bighorn Mountains
The blues-tinged Backsliding Blues features a nice acoustic guitar solo from Leigh's brother Seth Hulbert. The musicianship is solid throughout with Hulbert also lending harmony vocals and contributions from Lisa Pankratz (drums), Bobby Flores (fiddle), Tommy Detamore (steel guitar), Justin Kolb (bass) and Leigh on mandolin. With strong vocals, thoughtful tunes and stellar musicianship, this is an entertaining collection.
From a review at countrycalifornia.com:
Brennen Leigh is a young honky tonk songbird who has released a small handful of albums since migrating from Minnesota to Austin in 2002. Like (Marty) Stuart, she doesn’t have the most distinctive of voices – she sounds very much like Miss Leslie and Melonie Cannon, for example – but she uses what she’s got to tremendous effect. While (Marty Stuart's) Ghost Train seems somewhat curatorial in its approach, The Box is wholly in the moment. It’s just that Brennen’s moment happens to be deeply informed by Emmylou Harris, George Jones, Melba Montgomery, and an unapologetic Louvin Brothers obsession.
Leigh’s grasp of tradition is deceptively organic. The first time through, I was sure I’d been beaten at the game of digging up obscure, heretofore unheard classics. “Big Horn Mountains” was obviously a bluegrass standard I’d somehow missed. “Hear My Little Bluebird Sing” was probably a dressed-up Carter Family track – why, why hadn’t I paid more attention to that Carter Family set? Then there was “Distracted,” first sung by… Patsy? Ella Fitzgerald? I even searched Google for the original Louvin Brothers version of “Are You Stringing Me Along,” which Leigh sings in beautiful close harmony with brother Seth Hulbert. Come to find out, there is no original Louvin Brothers version. That album highlight, like every other track here, is a modern composition. All but two of them were written or cowritten by the artist herself.
Judging from the ledger of live performances that is Youtube, this album has been years in the making: videos of these songs date back to at least 2008. That explains some of the ‘lived in’ quality of the performances, but not all of it. The rest, I suspect, can only be chalked up to talent and taste. Jim Lauderdale’s supporting appearance on the title track seems a ringing, and well-deserved, endorsement of both. (Lauderdale also appeared on the indie, and later Big Machine, debut of Leigh’s close friend Sunny Sweeney.)
An album that sounds this good musically, with songs of such uniformly high quality, is an impressive accomplishment by any standard – even more so for a relatively little-known act operating on what I can only imagine to be a relatively shoestring budget. Big labels and big money can polish (almost) anything to a likable sheen, but there’s a magic emanating from the heart of The Box that can’t be faked or easily replicated. Is it too early to call this one a classic? Pick up a copy for yourself and let me know. Here’s hoping some enterprising label sees fit to give it the wider release it deserves.
from a review at My Kind Of Country
Minnesota born but now Austin based, Brennen Leigh was once a semi-finalist on Nashville Star, but her music is a long way removed from the commercial impetus of modern country media. She has released a string of interesting, low-key albums in the past decade, most recently a set of retro cover duets with Jesse Dayton in 2007. This most recent album consists of mostly melodic mid-paced folky country material with a melancholy tinge, almost all self-penned. She has a real gift for writing attractive melodies allied to thoughtful lyrics, deeply rooted in the traditions of country music. She plays mandolin and/or acoustic guitar throughout the record, with her brother Seth Hulbert on guitar and Tommy Detamore, with whom she produced the record, contributing lovely steel guitar and occasional dobro. Her voice is plaintive and delicately emotional if not very forceful.
She opens with a pensive look at her attitude to the ‘Rolling Green Hills’ of her home, which has turned to restlessness and the need to break away. A happier domestic and pastoral image comes in the Carolina-set ‘Just To Hear My Little Bluebird Sing’.
The love song ‘Distracted’ is an almost loungy ballad with a pretty tune and the steel high in the mix. But the emotions tend more often to the sad and betrayed. ‘You Made A Fool Out Of Me’ is a traditional honky tonk country song about drinking away a heartache with a memorable (and somewhat familiar) tune which I really like, and some tasteful fiddle from Bobby Flores. Addressing the heartbreaker, she declares through the wine,
Well I hope you despise me if you cannot love
Hate is better than nothing at all…
My old childhood friend Depression
Made plans to come and visit today
And I’ll have a new darling companion
There’s no telling how long he might stay
Cause you made a fool out of me
And you can’t even tell me goodbye
You left me here crying and walking the floor
I won’t bother you anymore
My favorite track is the plaintive Louvin Brothers styled ballad ‘Are You Stringing Me Along’, with Seth providing close harmony, as Brennen questions the sincerity of the lover who may have abandoned her, and admits,
I could wait forever if you asked me to
But I’ll never let you know for fear I’d really have to
Brennen’s publishing company Footprints In The Snow takes its name from a line in this song.
From a review at countrycalifornia.com:
Review: Dallas Wayne "I'll Take The Fifth"
Produced by Dallas Wayne and Tommy Detamore
Dallas Wayne is probably best known as the radio powerhouse heard seven days a week on Sirius-XM Radio's Outlaw Country and Willie's Place channels. What some people don't know is that Dallas Wayne is a brilliant country singer and songwriter. Well, that's about to change, because the Springfield, Missouri native's first album in four years, "I'll Take The Fifth" from Smith Entertainment is a classic honky-tonk country treasure that cannot be ignored by any fan of traditional country music.
The album "I'll Take The Fifth" starts out strong with the catchy "All Dressed Up (With No Place To Go)" This tune, like all the others on the album, was written (or co-written) Dallas Wayne. This country outlaw is a seriously talented songwriter with well-executed lyrics and catchy melodies.
"I'm Gonna Break Some Promises Tonight" is a honky-tonk lover's dream that blends the best elements of country music to create an infectious, toe-tapping masterpiece. This is followed by one of the best songs on the album, "Not A Dry Eye In The House," which is a traditional country love song with a great melody. "Fixin' To Fall" is up next with a rockin' beat and great instrumentation.
But the best song on the album is "Invisible Man." This track blends traditional country with Texas country and shows Dallas Wayne's great sense of humor and wickedly funny lyrics. Later, Dallas Wayne gets a little help from Sunny Sweeney on the cut "Straighten Up (And Lie Right), and this song is a must for any country fan's MP3 player. "Straighten Up" is country perfection and shows both Sunny Sweeney and Dallas Wayne in top form.
"I'll Take The Fifth" is a major achievement for Dallas Wayne, and the wide array of styles, vocal skill and songwriting talent displayed on the album will be a revelation to Dallas Wayne's thousands of Sirius-XM radio fans who might be unfamiliar with his music. "I'll Take The Fifth" deserves a prime position in the CD collection of any true country music fan who loves traditional country songs and thought provoking country lyrics.Although Dallas Wayne is currently a major radio personality, there's no way he'll be an "Invisible Man" to country record buyers after creating an album that is this darn good.
From a review in the Houston Chronicle:
Miss Leslie finds her voice on new album
By JOEY GUERRA
Houston Chronicle 2008
Between the Whiskey and the Wine isn't just the name of a standout tune on Miss Leslie's new studio disc. It's where several of the heartfelt odes -- to faded love, losing your identity and ultimately finding yourself -- comfortably reside.
Drinking away sorrows figures into several other songs, including I Can Still Feel, Hold Back the Tears, To Get Through This Day and Honky Tonk Hangover. Expect to find a few tears in your beers, whiskey or wine.
But this is more than just a collection of nighttime downers. Houston's pre-eminent honky-tonk female has crafted a collection that bristles with emotion, a look into the musical soul of a real, live woman.
"This album is about a journey I started several years ago -- a journey towards finding myself and living that person without apologies," Leslie (whose last name is Sloan) says in the liner notes.
She's come a long way. Just a few years ago, Miss Leslie's rollicking sets consisted of obscure honky-tonk tunes from the '50s and '60s and a smattering of originals. But experience has since translated into real artistry. She wrote every song on Between the Whiskey and the Wine, and they flow seamlessly with her live catalog of covers.
Leslie still echoes Connie Smith throughout the disc, one of her primary influences. But more than ever, the new record captures the dynamic quality of her live performances. Thank producers Ricky Davis and Tommy Detamore, who keep things unfussy and put the focus on Leslie's big, bold vocals.
I'll Stand in Line is a hopeful, hopping ode to unrequited love, and there's a joyful sense of satisfaction in kiss-off tune I'm Done With Leaving. Each moment crackles with immediacy.
Honky Tonk Hangover is the disc's most playful moment, buoyed by Leslie's feisty vocal performance. She even manages a few yodels. Try and not smile at least once.
There's real sadness here, too. Pretty Girl laments a woman whose seemingly perfect image masks real, untapped heartache. And during I Can Get Over You, Leslie repeats the title in hopes of convincing herself, more than a former flame, that she's doing OK.
It's sad, really, that commercial radio favors the watered-down likes of Sara Evans and Taylor Swift over real country grit. But In the Matter of Me and You could, with just the smallest chance, be a huge hit. It's sentimental but not syrupy, slick but never obvious, artfully capturing the pain of divorce.
Leslie's band is astonishingly good, every part perfectly complementing the next. Sloan's fiddle flows effectively alongside Dave Biller's guitar, Ric Ramirez's upright bass and Timmy Campbell's drums. And Ricky Davis' sublime steel guitar is like another vocalist. It gives the entire thing an added layer of emotion.
Love Will Find You closes things on a hopeful note, Leslie vowing that, despite so much pain, her honky-tonk heart will heal again. It's a soaring, soulful sound.
From a review in Third Coast Music:
Beween The Whiskey And The Wine **** (Four Stars)
Ken Irwin the music lover is a big fan of Leslie Sloan, and, indeed, what's not to love? Already an outstanding real country singer, much admired by FAR DJs and the like, and with a growing regional following, her third album is not only a major leap forward in confidence and style - shaping each individual word to maximum effect, she really sounds like a star - it's entirely original material, and if someone told you some of her songs were actually covers of early 60s hits, you'd have to be supremely confident in your knowledge of the period to argue the toss. More likely, you'd think I'm Done With Leaving, I Can Get Over You, In The Matter Of Me And You and the sensational You Left Me A Long Time Ago, somehow slipped by you. For all these reasons, Ken Irwin the record label exec had to pass on signing Sloan to Rounder. Her appeal is also her problem, the star she sounds like is from some 50 years ago. Though she sails under the flag of convenience of honky tonk, she really sings and writes Hard Country, a subgenre, neatly summarized by the title of Barbara Ching's book Wrong's What I Do Best, that has all but fallen off the musical map, perhaps because it was so quickly coopted by countrypolitan. Splitting her time between bars, divorce courts and packing her bags, Sloan celebrates, if that's the word I want, the messy emotional lives of exactly the kind of people country music used to be for and about.
-John Conquest, June 2008
From a review in SPIN Magazine:
Houston isn't exactly honky-tonk heaven, but the sorrowful lyrics and steely solos of fiddle-playing frontwoman Miss Leslie and her band will have you thinking otherwise. Leslie's gift for turning pain (she's a recent divorcee) into country gold marks her as a kindred spirit to fellow heartbroken Southeast Texan George Jones. For proof, check out the recent Between the Whiskey and the Wine.
From the DISClaimer column by Robert K. Oermann, Music Row Magazine:
MISS LESLIE/Between The Whiskey And The Wine
Writer: Leslie Anne Sloan; Producer: Ricky Davis and Tommy Detamore; Publisher: Zero Label, no performance rights listed; Zero Label (track) (www.missleslie.com)
--Holy mackerel! Miss Leslie is a barroom chanteuse from the old school. The title tune to her CD finds her bluesy ballad belting in a smoky atmosphere swirling with steel guitar. The album is a revelation. This gal is walking in the high heels of Dottie West and Patsy Cline.
From the DISClaimer column by Robert K. Oermann, Music Row Magazine:
CLINT MARTIN/I Love Being Me
Writer: none listed; Producer: Tommy Detamore & Clint Martin; Publisher: none listed; CM (www.clintmartinband.com)
—This is a textbook example of what country rock is supposed to sound like. He sings with a down-to-earth drawl, and the band kicks butt behind him. Stinging guitar work, crisp percussion and righteous energy.
From a review by Jerry Renshaw , Austin Chronicle:
The Return of Wayne Douglas, The Ever-Expanding Musical Legacy of Doug Sahm
Doug Sahm raved to all his friends about Ed Burleson. The young, Dallas-area singer's country chops struck a nerve with the legendary Texas Tornado. As the two grew closer, Sahm offered Burleson a guiding hand, putting his weight behind the youngster's debut, My Perfect World, and assembling talent such as Commander Cody's Bill Kirchen on lead Telecaster, New Braunfels singer-songwriter Clay Blaker, Tommy Detamore on steel guitar, Alvin Crow on fiddle, and of course, Sahm himself contributing a guitar solo or two. The result is a heartfelt country effort by a young songwriter whose vision comes with its share of reflection and uncertainty, especially on the striking title track.
Sahm had long discussed starting his own label, calling it Tornado Records, naturally, and cutting his own pure honky-tonk album. Since he had already put together a great lineup for the Burleson sessions, Sahm booked more time at Floresville's Cherry Ridge Studios and simply went to work on his own project. Abetted by Augie Meyers, pianist Ron Huckaby, and son Shawn, he knuckled down with Detamore co-producing and cut 12 tracks over two weeks in July and August of 1999. Overdubs were still in progress when Sahm passed away unexpectedly three months later.
Left unpolished is a beautifully rich and mature-sounding disc, The Return of Wayne Douglas, an album tinged with melancholy and regret. It sounds eerily like a last album, like a hindsight summation of a career and a life. The playing is all first-rate (a disc-for-disc comparison to My Perfect World makes it clear it's the same band), with a clean production sound that stops short of being overly sanitary and slick....
Detamore's steel work throughout the album is an elegant filigree around the edges of each song, and Kirchen refrains from any Telecaster hot-dogging, instead emerging to accentuate key parts of songs. Sahm's acoustic solos have an expressive tack that fits beautifully with the album's thoughtful mood -- he nearly turns Bob Dylan's ageless "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" into a pure Sir Douglas song. It all adds up to 12 songs that couldn't be a more appropriate, touching postscript to a life spent in music....Do yourself a favor and check out ..... the new Return of Wayne Douglas. Roll down the windows, go for a drive through South Austin or the Hill Country, and let ‘em blast.
From a review by David Fricke, Rolling Stone Magazine:
Doug Sahm, The Return Of Wayne Douglas **** (Four Stars)
"This may be the last song I'll ever write for you": That line in "You Was for Real," a slice of fine country anguish on The Return of Wayne Douglas, comes with an extra chill. Recorded last summer in Floresville, Texas, near Doug Sahm's hometown of San Antonio, the album became his final bow when he died on November 18th at fifty-eight. But together these posthumous issues perfectly bookend Sahm's life in music, one as big and vivid as Texas itself.....Wayne Douglas (a reversal of Sahm's first and middle names) is not a return so much as a reaffirmation of the country swing and sentiment ever present in Sahm's music. He covers Dylan's "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" with cowpuncher pathos and takes the hippie groove of his '69 SDQ hit, "Mendocino," out to open prairie in "Beautiful Texas Sunshine." "Oh No! Not Another One" is Sahm's honky-tonk potshot at plastic country stars: "There's a young dude walking across the stage like a gazelle/Hell, I'll bet he never even heard of Lefty Frizzell." But Sahm doesn't sound bitter. He loved taking Texas music to the world; he sings like a man with plenty of work to do.......There is a return of sorts on Wayne Douglas: to "Texas Me," a song of Lone Star homesickness that Sahm first cut in '69 with the SDQ. Here, he turns the tune into a stone-country carol with a reflective choke in his throat: "I wonder what happened to that man inside/The real old Texas me."
From a review by Rob Patterson, San Antonio Current:
Doug Sahm’s Past-Perfect Country Album
....The disk is a genuine return for Sahm, not just to his hometown of San Antonio, but to the music he first made growing up there....by recording The Return of Wayne Douglas at Tommy Detamore’s Cherry Ridge Studio in Floresville-perhaps the best country music recording spot in Texas right now, Sir Doug truly brought it all back home again....Douglas Wayne Sahm left us with a picture-perfect example of Texas country as it always should be.
From a review by Michael Toland, Texas Music magazine:
Doug Sahm, The Return of Wayne Douglas
.....Produced by Sahm with pedal steel maestro Tommy Detamore, Wayne Douglas is Sahm’s final two-step into the realm of pure Texas honky-tonk. Steel, twin fiddles and special guest Bill Kirchen’s tasteful lead guitar accent the ten originals and two covers, but focus is on the rough voice of the star, leading these traditional-minded tracks down the kind of gravel road you never find in Nashville......Sahm’s mastery of the style and heartfelt songwriting and delivery make Wayne Douglas....a landmark in both his own catalog and that of Texas country music.
From “Critic’s Choice-The favourite albums of 2002”, wriiten by Duncan Warwick, Country Music People:
Doug Sahm, The Return of Wayne Douglas
The late Texas legend’s final bow is sheer perfection and a reminder of how sorely he is missed. Everything the Texas Tornado loved about texas music in one great album....
From Newsweek Magazine’s “Critical Moment” column of July 31, 2000:
Doug Sahm, The Return of Wayne Douglas **** (four stars)
The Texas blues-rock-country icon’s posthumous CD: straight country, with a version of “They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me” almost up there with Hank Sr.’s
From a review by John Goodspeed, San Antonio Express News:
Jason Allen slammed a home run with his debut album,Something I Dreamed, which spawned a trio of Texas radio hits, including "Lucky Arms," the No. 3 song for 2003 on the Texas Music Chart. He's back at the plate, and the bases are loaded. Wouldn't It Be Nice is even better, beginning with Allen's choice of songs from top writers, including Jim Lauderdale,Clay Blaker, and his own catalog. Add Allen's growing vocal prowess, and it's a memorable album. Racing up the chart is the first single,"Your Heart Turned Left (and I Was on the Right)", a 1960s George Jones album cut written by Harlan Howard that Allen gives a bouncy Buck Owens spin....Allen also cuts loose with hard-core country romps. A standout is "Chicken Pluckin'," a red-hot vocal/instrumental ode to a picker with stellar guitar work from Redd Volkaert of Merle Haggard's band and Randy Cornor along with some smoking steel guitar from Tommy Detamore of Cherry Ridge Studio, who produced most of the songs. Allen co-wrote the title track, a bouncy tune about yearning for the good old days, which, judging by his second CD, are here to stay.
From a review by Greg Roberts, Country Line Magazine:
Well, the boy has done it again. I remember raving over his last CD and wondering if he could do it again. The answer is a resounding yes. The thing about Jason Allen is that not only is he one of the purest voices to come along in a long time, but he also surrounds himself with some magnificent musicians who absolutely smoke. On top of all that, what impresses me is his choice of material, with a mix of story songs like “John Boat Blues,” love songs like ‘My Favorite Song” or fun honky-tonk rousers like “Hold “ Em’ Up.” One of my favorites was “Chicken Pluckin’," featuring Redd Volkaert, Tommy Detamore and Randy Cornor absolutely ripping up some guitar solos. Twelve songs, 12 hits as far as I’m concerned, and any radio station that doesn’t play this are just a bunch of idiots. Country is alive and well with Allen taking the reins, and I’ll make a prediction for you: he’ll be one of the next big stars to come out of Texas and go national, just watch.
From a review by John Philibert of Country Music People:
Jason Allen, Wouldn’t It Be Nice *** (Three Stars)
More unashamed honky tonk from our friends in Texas, this time from one Jason Allen whose Wouldn’t It Be Nice appears on the revived historic D Records. This new incarnation is run by Wes Daily, grandson of Pappy Daily who, for new readers, owned the original D Records and managed and produced George Jones in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s....Allen is the owner of pleasant, light, youthful vocals, the band is top notch.....It’s reassuring to know that this kind of album is still being made-and appreciated.
From a review at Austin Music City:
Jason Allen - The Twilight Zone
AMC's Second Nominee For Album Of The Year!
As I was listening to the long awaited album "Twilight Zone" from Jason Allen, it was hard to keep from smiling. Ah, there it is, actual singing; dynamic, across the board pitch perfect, individual, and true to the emotions of a real Texas Country Music artist. He is one of the few singers working today that has the vocal ability to go where a well written song can take you. It's a very narrow field of people that have that distinction, and Allen has raised the bar to a new level on this album. Recorded at Cherry Ridge Studios in Floresville and produced by both Allen and Tommy Detamore, the production on the album and the overall sound are phenomenal. Allen also has the backing of some of the finest musicians in the entire state and my personal favorites. On just about any record that has come out of Texas in the last ten years that has any kind of staying power, you will find these musicians on it. Detamore, Bobby Flores, Ronnie Huckaby, Al Quaid, Brian Dunn, this is the kind of talent that will keep people talking about their work for a lifetime. Twilight Zone is a very personal album for Allen who wrote all but two of the songs included on it and there are even some unexpected twists and turns on the songs he didn't write. Have you ever considered Stevie Wonder's song "I Just Called To Say I Love You" a country song? You will when you hear Allen's version. I have several picks from the album, "I Can't Hide This Heartache" was one of my favorites, powerful vocal, soaring harmonies, dead on steel guitar work, great stuff. "Elvis Tonight" is a fun song, warping back to the fifties sound and forcing you to have a shaky right leg. "Jenny Lee", a duet featuring Deryl Dodd is a driving song with a just a hint of Bakersfield in the mix."I Can't Let You Go", "He's Still Dancin' With Her", "Lost", all great songs that contribute to the whole album. And last but not least, the album is capped off by a fantastic gospel song, "When I See God" that is certainly a perfect finish for an album that I consider one of the best albums released this year. Check it out and you'll see why it was nominated as Album Of The Year from Austin Music City, a designation given only to five albums all year.
From a review on countryreview.com:
Jamie Richards: Between These Lines
by George Peden
His story plays like a well-worn country song. It’s got all the ingredients of home, wished-for-dreams, and pursued possibilities. He’s Jamie Richards. This Oklahoma-raised and Nashville-based singer songwriter grew up toiling the farm by day and playing the honky tonks by night. But tip jar hoot and holler gigs weren’t offering any dream fulfillment, so he did what any enterprising wannabe would do. He waved goodbye to the cows – and headed for Nashville. He arrived, according to his publicity flier, with little more than a bed, a black and white TV and a couple of hundred dollars.
To survive, while treading miles and pounding Music Row doors, he worked the hard slog of construction. It took 10 determined years, but luck and persistence finally met. He traded his hammer for a pen and grabbed a writer’s job at Curb. Then, in 2002, he released his debut on the Houston, Texas-based label D Records. Not long after, the buzz started. Many in Nashville raved about the newcomer. The industry heavies said he was holding a mirror up to anything on the Row. It was heady praise. But, and importantly, Richards backed it up. He charged the Texas Music Chart and struck with several tracks claiming their target.
It’s probably an ideal place to leave the good luck story, right? Wrong! The good just got better. Richards is back. He has a new album. And what a killer! The traditionally influenced and sounding singer is a strong contender in the "must have" category with his drawl-soaked 15-tracker, Between These Lines.
The album has enjoyed early chart placement for his first single, "Wasted," and if that’s not enough, music critics and fans have embraced the mostly co-written album with positive enthusiasm. Add to the mix a CountryReview.com favorite in Walt Wilkins as album co-producer along with Tommy Detamore, and it’s not hard to hear why. Sprinkle in plenty of fiddle, steel, piano, mandolin, tales of drinking, warm lovin' and cold leavin', some memory-etched ballads and some rockier moments, flavor a little Tex-Mex, and you’ve got one heck of an album.
From the DISClaimer column by Robert K. Oermann, Music Row Magazine:JAMIE RICHARDS/They’ve Never Been To Texas Writer: Roger Springer/Mark Chesnutt/Slugger Morrissette; Producer: Walt Wilkins/Tommy Detamore; Publisher: EMI Blackwood/Songs of Jasper/EMI April, BMI/ASCAP; D (track) (www.jamierichardsband.com)
I quite agree with this anti- Music Row sentiment. While Nashville is busy making Sunday school lessons for Prozac housewives, there’s a whole world of barrooms, dancefloors, drinking, cheating, steel guitars and Saturday nights out there. Go to Texas and get real, people. That’s your audience.
From the DISClaimer column by Robert K. Oermann, Music Row Magazine:
Texans had the goods for this listening session.
Jamie Richards remains one of the finest young country stylists making records today. I have loved everything he's ever issued, but "Last Call" really takes the cake. Hardly anything from the major labels this week even comes close, the exception being the brilliant "Wake Up Older" by Julie Roberts.
Elsewhere in the Lone Star State, we find ......... Bobby Flores also.... turning in fine performances.
Texans like to brag. This week, they're justified.
-I've said it before, and I'll say it again. This guy makes records that are as good or better than anything the majors on Music Row can concoct. If there's a finer heartache performance than this on disc right now, I have yet to hear it. If the radio airplay investigators really want blood, have them ask why a great single on D Records like this can't get spins while a mediocre one on an international conglomerate can.
From the DISClaimer column by Robert K. Oermann, Music Row Magazine:
-This guy is no stranger to DisClaimer. In the past, I’ve hailed him as a major honky- tonk stylist. His latest, an uptempo barroom bopper, only confirms my belief in him.
From Jim West, Program Director, KAYD, Beaumont, Texas, written to Wes Daily, President, D Records:
"You really have a great CD with Jamie (Richards).....The songs are strong, Jamie is singing better than I've ever heard and just the "feel" of the CD going song to song is better than some "Nashville" CD's. The producer, Tommy Detamore, is really one of the best producers in the business. Tommy also plays on the CD, but he plays as if he really loves the music and you know he does. Tommy's not just playing "licks" but has "feeling" dripping from every note that adds to the total recipe. Jamie and Tommy have put together not only one of the best "Texas" CD's but also one of the best "country" CD's period. In doing so they have,in my opinion, just raised the bar for Texas music production and song crafting."
From a review by Gene Triplett, Daily Oklahoman:
Talley Collection Worth the Wait
Oklahoma-born James Talley had his name emblazoned across the covers of four critically acclaimed Capitol Records albums back in the late '70s. Talley's songs .... have stood up to the years with their timeless scenarios of blue-collar toil and troubled love. His latest of three recent self-released albums, Touchstones, is clear evidence of that......It's a collection of the best tunes from his long-out-of-print Capitol recordings, re-recorded with producer-guitarist Tommy Detamore and several of the musicians who worked with the late alternative-country genius Doug Sahm on his final album, The Return of Wayne Douglas. Talley loved the sound of Sahm's record, and instead of re-releasing his old studio work, he opted to buff a new sheen on his compositions with the help of Sahm's compadres.
"You don't have the continuity of performance, the continuity of style, when you've got one old master that was recorded at this time in this studio with these players, and another one over here with this studio and these players," he explained."By going in with a whole team of really crack musicians and doing it as a concept, I just think we wound up with a much stronger album."....... Touchstones, is sitting at No. 10 on the Americana charts. Click here for Billboard Magazine article.
From a review by Gary P. Nunn:
Kina Lankford's maiden voyage CD, titled "COPENHAGEN KISSES", arrived in my mailbox today so I immediately ran upstairs to give it a listen. I have had the pleasure to meet Miss Lankford when she opened a show for me at one of West Texas's prime eateries and watering holes, Perrini's Steakhouse at Buffalo Gap. I was impressed with her solo performance that evening and I am even more impressed with her CD debut.
Kina had the wisdom to tap the talented Tommy Detamore who, in my opinion is producing the best country recordings being done in Texas these days. Together they have put together a lineup of first quality original material, including several co-writes and a sexy duet with Aaron Watson who also hails from the Abilene area. I can sense Aaron's guidance and direction in bringing this project to fruition which also speaks to her ability to make wise decisions.
Kina has a near-classic country voice reminiscent of Loretta Lynn with just enough edge on it to identify it as coming from Texas. In fact, she covers nicely Loretta Lynn's classic "Fist City" without being patronizing. The opener, "Gun-shy" blasts out of the chute with a strong, energetic rhythm track, with lyrics that are earthy and real and straight out life in a small Texas town. Her duet with Aaron Watson, "Love Me And Then" is a sensual love ballad that has top 40 country radio written all over it. My favorite is the title track, "Copenhagen Kisses", that defines the territory with which she seems to be so familiar and displays the honesty of expression of a gifted creative artist. She seems perfectly comfortable telling the listener exactly where she's coming from. Last, but certainly not least, her country girl natural beauty, easy going presence, and understated sensuality are bound to attract an audience as she moves forward with her fledgling career. I like Kina Lankford and I like "Copenhagen Kisses".