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Don Williams

And So It Goes

(Sugar Hill)

Review [18.Sep.2012]

5


Don Williams
And So It Goes


How refreshing for a 73-year-old country singer, who began his solo career over 40 years ago, to release a new LP that doesn’t try too hard to reach a younger audience or revitalize his sound. Instead, Don Williams is doing what he’s always done, carrying on his stature as the Gentle Giant of Country Music, with humble, relatively hopeful songs about love and mortality. The album’s soft spirit and strolling style reinforce his focus on eternal things—time, memories, the universe, heartbreak, and the feelings that live in our “heart of hearts”. He still sounds at awe with the world; “Imagine That”, he exclaims. That puts him at odds with the cynicism and stepping-in-line that seems to dominate the genre today. He’s walking in a line, but it feels like his own. Dave Heaton


 

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Taylor Swift

Red

(Big Machine)

Review [30.Oct.2012]

4


Taylor Swift
Red


Yes yes, Swift filled this album with a “dubstep” song, a U2-style stadium thing, teen-pop for 22-year-olds, and lots of modern rock. But she also wrote ace story songs about troublesome men, grace, partying, home, and fame’s perils—and they’re the same songs. The skills that brought her country fans she applies to new styles with a master’s ease. Her fanbase still loves her, and why not? She sets the intense break-up ache “All Too Well” beside the euphoric “22”, packs an entire world into each, and instantly beats whole genres at their own games. Her singing has never sounded better or more powerful. Her mopey British duet partners don’t take up too much space, and great songs quickly come along to wash them away. Whether Swift’s nü-countrypolitan remains her m.o., or whether Red ends up a Milsap-gone-disco blip, few musicians are packing this much color, craft, and sheer pleasure into their music. Josh Langhoff


 

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Iris DeMent

Sing the Delta

(Flariella)

Review [4.Oct.2012]

3


Iris DeMent
Sing the Delta


After an eight-year absence from recorded music and a 16-year one from albums of original music, there’s something soul-stirring about hearing Iris DeMent singing songs so redolent of Southern music traditions and her own family traditions. The songs are populated by homes—of this world and the next—and people who feel like the time has come to turn in their directions. There’s memory and history in both the stories she tells and the songforms she chooses—the old-time gospel music that has informed both her work and the entirety of country music. Her voice still has the ability to stand us still, while she sings of landscapes and experiences in a way that lays them out for us like still-lifes. It all ends with a spellbinding time/spirit-transforming finale that slowly evaporates and rises up before our ears. Dave Heaton


 

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Justin Townes Earle

Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now

(Bloodshot)

2


Justin Townes Earle
Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now


Without a duff record in his still-growing oeuvre, Justin Townes Earle hit hard with an album with early country and soul inflections running throughout. The ghosts that have rambled around on earlier albums remain–—the father he just can’t seem to get along with, the saintly mother, the idea of a perfect love in an imperfect world. These archetypes serve him well throughout and, despite their familiarity, they remain new in his capable hands. “Am I That Lonely That Tonight”, “Memphis in the Rain”, and the title track are great places to start, but “Maria” and “Unfortunately Ana” are just as good. But it’s “Movin’ On” that shows not only the full depth of his songwriting, but that Earle also wields a wicked sense of humor. Jedd Beaudoin


 

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Dwight Yoakam

3 Pears

(Warner Bros.)

1


Dwight Yoakam
3 Pears


The fact that Dwight Yoakam came roaring back in peak form on his first album of originals since 2005 is enough to make 3 Pears one of the year’s most exciting country albums. But Yoakam gets the top spot this year because, quite simply, he turned in one of the most compositionally satisfying and sonically fresh country records of the year and his best album in two decades. Yoakam accomplishes this feat by nailing a range of his favorite musical obsessions—British Invasion, honky tonk, Motown, garage pop, Beck. There isn’t a dog in the bunch, but highlights include the Jungle Room groove of “Take Hold of My Hand”, the delightful giraffe-fetish quirk of “Waterfall”, and the gorgeous ballad “It’s Never Alright”. Moreover, 3 Pears finds Dwight delivering some of his best-ever vocal performances; that famous hiccup is still here, but sometime during his exile, he discovered additional power and range in his voice to enhance 3 Pears’ pile of first-rate melodies. Once upon a time, Dwight saved country radio with a shot in the arm of Bakersfield twang and hillbilly music. A thousand miles from nowhere, Dwight is back, still refusing to compromise, finding new ways to authenticate his craft, and recommitting to the country scene just when we need him most. Steve Leftridge


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