My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Junior Sisk

Occasional Hope’s favorite albums of 2018

It seems harder and harder to find great new music as the mainstream gets more pop oriemnted. However, some good music is still out there, and here are my favorite full-length albums this year.

10. Junior Sisk – ‘Brand New Shade Of Blue

My favorite bluegrass album this year. Sometimes witty, sometimes lonesome, but a great listen.

Download now: ‘By Now I Would Be Dead’, ‘Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That’, ‘The Whiskey & The Guitar

9. Josh TurnerI Serve A Savior

The best religious album of the year.

Download now: ‘I Saw The Light’, ‘Great Is Your Faithfulness’, ‘I Pray My Way Out Of Trouble’, ‘Me And God

8. Jason Eady – ‘I Travel On

The troubadour takes a bluegrass twist with this year’s fine set.

Download now: ‘She Had To Run’, ‘Below The Waterline’, ‘I Travel On’, ‘I Lost My Mind In Carolina

7. Randall King – ‘Randall King

I’m afraid I didn’t get around to reviewing this promising debut album, but it’s a strong introduction with a 90s neotraditional country vibe.

Download now: ‘Reason To Quit’, ‘Mirror, Mirror’, ‘Dent In It

6. Dillon Carmichael Hell On An Angel

Sometimes sublime, sometimes a bit too heavy on the Southern Rock, this remains the debut of the year.

Download now: ‘That’s What Hank Would Do’, ‘Dixie Again’, ‘Hard On A Hangover’, ‘Natural Disaster’

5. Courtney Patton What It’s Like To Fly Alone

Courtney Patton produced my favorite album of 2015. This year’s follow up was not quite as good, but still extremely rewarding.

Download now: ‘Devil’s Hand’, ‘Round Mountain’, ‘Words to My Favorite Memory’, ‘Red Bandana Blue’, ‘Open Flame

4. Josh Ward – ‘More Than I Deserve

Solid traditional country from Texas.

Download now: ‘One More Shot Of Whiskey’, ‘Say Hello To Goodbye’, ‘The Devil Don’t Scare Me’, ‘More Than I Deserved

3. Adam HarveyThe Nashville Tapes

Great neotraditional country from the deep voiced Australian who was our last Spotlight Artist.

Download now: ‘What A Song Can Do’, ‘When Willie’s Gone’, ‘We’ll Have To Drink Our Way Out Of This’, ‘I’d Rather Be A Highwayman’, ‘Three Rivers Hotel’

2. Loretta Lynn – ‘Wouldn’t It Be Great’

The legend returns with a fabulous mix of sassy growing old disgracefully and emotional ballads.

Download now: ‘Ruby’s Stool’, ‘Lulie Vars’, ‘Another Bridge To Burn’, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Great?

1. Kayla RayYesterday & Me

The Jason Eady-helmed project allos an excellent singer songwriter to shine.

Download now: ‘Once A Week Cheaters’, ‘Things Only Years Can Teach A Woman’, ‘Fair Warning’, ‘Rockport’.

Bonus selection: Tim CulpepperDUI

I omitted this fabulous traditional honky tonk projct as it has only eight tracks. But what there is is outstanding.

Download now: ‘Under The Influence’, ‘Another Way To Try’, ‘She Only Loves Me’, ‘Sad Ole Country Song

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Album Review: Mac Wiseman and Friends – ‘I Sang The Song: Life Of The Voice With A Heart’

If you consider Bill Monroe and those who recorded with his early bands to be Generation 1A in Bluegrass, with those immediately followed in his wake to be Generation 1B (Reno & Smiley, Flatt & Scruggs (Lester & Earl personally were 1A), Carter & Ralph Stanley, Bobby & Sunny Osborne, Jim & Jesse McReynolds, Jimmy Martin), then the last surviving member of generation 1A is Mac Wiseman.

Born in 1925, Mac Wiseman is the great survivor: he survived polio, the Great Depression, Molly O’Day, Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, Dot Records (as an executive) Rock ‘n Roll, The Hootenanny Era, The WWVA Jamboree, the WSM Grand Ole Opry and The Nashville Sound. Along the way he forged a stellar career as a solo artist recording pop, country and bluegrass music. He was friends with Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard and Gordon Lightfoot, helped organize the CMA and has been inducted into both the Country and Bluegrass Music Halls of Fame.

This album arises from a series of interviews (or perhaps visits) Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz had with Wiseman in which they discussed his life, listened to his stories and realized that many of the stories would make good songs. All songs are credited to Wiseman, Cooper & Jutz with the exception of the last track on the album.

Mac was past ninety years old when this album was recorded, no longer is very mobile and his voice isn’t quite what it was even a few years ago. Consequently Mac does very little singing on this album, his contributions mostly limited to the beginning or the end of some of the tracks.

Instead a phalanx of his admirers and colleagues do most of the singing with Shawn Camp, Buddy Melton, Junior Sisk, and Ronnie Bowman, among the featured vocalists. Needless to say these vocal performances are terrific. From outside the field of bluegrass, several other vocalists were enlisted.

The album opens up with “The Guitar” a song about Mac’s first guitar, a mail order guitar from Sears, and his experiences in leaning the guitar. Sierra Hull and Justin Moses do the singing on this song (Mac takes a refrain at the end). Sierra (mandolin) and Justin (banjo.fiddle, dobro) team with Mark Fain (bass) and Thom Jutz (guitar) to serve as the backing band for the entire project, with Jutz and Cooper providing harmony vocals on some of the tracks.

“Somewhere Bound” is next up, a song about Mac’s childhood dreams of seeing the world, Buddy Melton, Milan Miller and Andrea Zonn provide the vocals.

“The Wheat Crop” opens and closes with Mac singing a chorus of “Bringing In the Sheaves”, followed by this song about the responsibilities and problems of managing the wheat crop. Junior Sisk, Sonya Isaacs Yeary and Becky Isaacs Bowman provide the remaining vocals.

Jim Lauderdale has always been one of my favorite singers and I firmly believe that if he had come along in the 1950s or 1960s he would have been a huge country music star. “Barefoot ‘Til After the Frost” recounts Mac’s childhood as a school boy. I can’t personally identify with the song, but my father and anyone who grew up in rural America during the Great Depression certainly could – I can remember Dad speaking of this very thing.

“Manganese Mine” is the tale of a property owner taken advantage of and conned nto selling his mineral rights too cheaply. A sad story too often repeated, especially in Kentucky and West Virginia.
The trio of Melton, Miller and Zonn return for “Three Cows and Two Horses” are Mac’s homespun story of the fortunes of many rural families.

“Simple Math,” sung by Jim Lauderdale, is one of my two favorite songs on the album. The song follows Mac’s experiences breaking in as a professional musician including his big break playing with the great Molly O’Day. Lauderdale, who can sing anything and everything is the perfect vocalist to relate the pithy truths of Mac’s observations (“You Can’t Spend The Money You Don’t Have, That’s How It Works – It’s Simple Math”.

Junior Sisk and Ronnie Bowman join up to sing the sing the religiously-themed “Crimora Church of The Brethren”. The song is about going to church during the Great Depression.

“Going Back To Bristol” is my other favorite from the album, and the song currently getting the most airplay. Sung by Shawn Camp, the song is an excellent summary or snapshot of Mac’s career. Shawn Camp was originally pushed as a country artist by Reprise around 2000, but it didn’t take (too much bluegrass in his soul) so he returned to his first love and has had great success as a bluegrass artist, In addition to his solo endeavors (song writer, Grammy winning record producer, etc.), Shawn is the vocalist for the Earls of Leicester.

I’m not really a John Prine fan, but there is no questioning that he has a great appreciation for the music of Mac Wiseman and he and Mac are friends (in 2007 they cut a terrific album together of mostly classic country songs titled Standard Songs for Average People). John was a perfect choice to sing the title cut, the gentle ballad “I Sang The Song”. Prine has the weathered voice necessary to convey the optimistic but weary lyrics.

“I Sang The Song” was originally planned as the last cut on the album, but the decision was made to reprise Mac’s first hit from 1951 (and the only song on the album written entirely by Mac himself) “”Tis Sweet To Be Remembered”. Mac is joined by Alison Krauss on the choruses, a fitting end to the album.

Although these songs fit together to tell Mac’s life story, the fact is that each of the songs works as a stand-alone song, a remarkable achievement indeed, I picked out two of the songs above as my favorites, but the truth is that I love all of these songs and all of the performances. Modern day country music fans may not be too familiar with bluegrass artists but the pickers and singers on this album are an elite group paying proper homage to a truly legendary performer.

Grade: A++

Album Review: Junior Sisk & Ramblers’ Choice – ‘Trouble Follows Me’

trouble follows meOver the past few years Virginia’s Junior Sisk and Ramblers’ Choice have been making quite a name for themselves in bluegrass. Sisk was named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year last year. His latest album is an excellent example of his work, and has great appeal for bluegrass fans who like songs with substance alongside sparkling musicianship.

The vibrant opener ‘Honky Tonked To Death’ is a great mixture of uptempo bluegrass vocals and arrangement and a honky tonk country song, written by Bill Castle. The unrepentant protagonist blames the break up of his marriage on his drinking habits:

I guess our love began to die when I found swinging doors
And every night I stayed out late it died a little more

The rhythmic ‘Don’t Think About it Too Long’ celebrates making music. It is co-written by Ronnie Bowman, who also wrote the high lonesome ballad ‘A Cold Empty Bottle, a story song about a man whose broken heart (and love of sad country songs) only feed his alcoholism.

‘I’d Rather Be Lonesome’ is a plaintive up-tempo disclaimer of love for an unfaithful woman. ‘Gonna Make Her Mine’ is perkier, about a shy man’s determination to declare his unrequited love for a neighbour’s daughter.

The title track, written by Sisk, is a fast-paced story song about a hard-pressed farmer who turns to crime after losing his farm. He ends up in a new prison built on his former home.

The slower ‘Walk Slow’, written by Tom T Hall and his wife Dixie, takes a more contemplative, philosophical approach, advising living like a small child to appreciate life fully.

‘Frost On The Bluegrass’ is about the enduring pull of home. ‘Jesus Walked Upon The Water’ is a briskly delivered acappella gospel quartet.

An eclectic selection of covers wounds out the set. The perfectly-constructed country classic ‘All I Have To Offer You Is Me’ works well, while the band also takes on a Carter Stanley tune, the mournful yet up-tempo ‘Our Darling’s Gone’. Most unexpected is a version of Michael Martin Murphey’s ‘What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round’, which also suits a bluegrass interpretation. The band’s Jason Tomlin takes lead vocals on this one.

Grade: A

Album Review: Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice – ‘The Story Of The Day That I Died’

the story of the day that i diedOne of my favorite current bluegrass acts is Virginia-based Junior Sisk & Rambler’s Choice. Excellent musicianship sparkles throughout the set, and they have a knack for picking interesting material. On their fourth album, everything comes together perfectly.

The outstanding title track is a witty story song written by Ashby Frank about a man who fakes his own suicide in order to make a new life in Mexico (paid for with his cheating wife’s IRA investments and credit cards):

I guess that sorry girl will never cheat again
After the way I did me in

I hope that you never learn the truth
You’re dead to me and now I’m dead to you

This is a sheer delight.

There is more misery on offer in the classically high lonesome ‘A House Where A Home Used To Be’, another fine song, written by Daniel Salyer. ‘Another Lonely Day’ is another Salyer-penned hurting song, with the band’s bass player Jason Tomlin given the chance to sing lead. While his vocals are a little uncertain, the song itself is pretty good. Another faithless wife leaving her man for a lover causes the moonshining protagonist to flee ‘High In The Mountains’, a fast paced number allowing the band to show off their instrumental chops.

‘Lover’s Quarrel’ is a sad traditional third-person story song once recorded by the Stanley Brothers, and with that pure mountain music style, about a couple who argue and separate for petty reasons. The young man begs his sweetheart to make things up, but she refuses, and after a while he dies.

The protagonist of the presumably tongue-in-cheek ‘Old Bicycle Chain’ complains about his wife’s (mostly rather minor) bad behaviour and threatens her with violence:

You trashed my trailer last Sunday
While I was at church singing hymns
I’ve had enough of your bad ways
So hold this anchor and take a swim

It’s never too late to change your ways, dear
Face your mistakes and take the blame
And don’t come back messing round here
Or I’ll whoop you with an old bicycle chain

On a more serious note, the excellent ‘If The Bottle Was A Bible’ takes a thoughtful look at a man taking refuge from the misery of bereavement in “the haze of neon lights and tortured souls” rather than God. The song was written by Ronnie Bowman, Clint Daniels and Billy Ryan. Sisk, whose vocals are at their best here, plays the part of a sympathetic bartender watching the man staring at the labels from his bottle of gin:

Imagine what he’d know
If the bottle was a Bible

I bet he’s drank the River Jordan
The flesh is weaker than what they’re pourin’
And right there in that bar we’d have revival
If that bottle was a bible

‘Walking In Good Company’, written by Sisk with his father, offers up some traditional bluegrass gospel. ‘Prayers Go Up’ is sung by mandolin player Chris Davis, and he has a warm voice well-showcased on a pleasant song celebrating homespun philosophy, written by three country songwriters, Ben Hayslip, Patrick Matthews and Bryan Simpson. The lyric is a little cliche’d, but the sincere spirit of the vocal sells the song. The title of the cheerfully pacy ‘Good To See The Home Place Once Again’ tells you all you need know about the song.

The record closes out with a cheerful Larry Sparks song praising the comradeship found at a local bar, ‘Drinking At the Water Hole’.

This album is an example of bluegrass at its best.

Grade: A

Buy the album at amazon.

Album Review: Musicians Against Childhood Cancer – ‘Life Goes On’

Musicians Against Childhood Cancer is the umbrella name for an annual charity concert by some of the best current bluegrass musicians. In 2006 a compilation of tracks recorded at the concert over the years was released in aid of St Jude’s Hospital, and this sequel contains performances from more recent years. The music was all recorded live but the excellent mixing would not be out of place in a studio set. The musicianship is without exception superb, as one might expect, and this is a fine bluegrass sampler in its own right, with a range of subject matter. The two CD-set includes a generous 39 tracks.

The outstanding track as far as I’m concerned is Bradley Walker’s cover of ‘Revelation’, a somber Bobby Braddock vision of the Second Coming which was originally recorded by Waylon Jennings and more recently served as the title track of an album by Joe Nichols. Walker’s superb 2006 debut album Highway Of Dreams has been far too long waiting for a follow up and it is good to hear him again. He is accompanied by a simple acoustic guitar backing allowing the bleakness of the song to take center stage.

I’m a fan of the compelling sibling harmony of the Gibson Brothers, and they contribute the fascinating ‘Ragged Man’, a tale of bitter sibling rivalry. The brother who is reduced to homeless poverty while the brother once preferred by their mother now rolls in riches, rails against “that golden boy” and warns him to “watch his back”. I’m also a big fan of Brandon Rickman’s soulful voice, and he teams up with bandmates from the Lonesome River band for a beautifully judged reading of the traditional ‘Rain And Snow’. Later the Lonesome River Band provide one of the best instrumentals on offer, the lively ‘Struttin’ To Ferrum’, which holds the attention all the way through.

Rhonda Vincent sings a simple but lovely, plaintive version of the traditional ‘The Water Is Wide’. She also sings harmony on Kenny and Amanda Smith’s take on gospel classic ‘Shouting Time In Heaven’. Marty Raybon is excellent on the gloomy Harlan Howard song ‘The Water So Cold’ (once recorded by country star Stonewall Jackson), which sounds made for bluegrass. Read more of this post

Album Review: Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice – ‘Heartaches And Dreams’

Virginia’s Junior Sisk and his band Rambler’s Choice have just released what I understand is their second album together, on respected bluegrass label Rebel. This is pretty much straight bluegrass, with exemplary picking from a five piece band with three-part harmonies. Frontman and guitarist Junior Sisk sings lead on most of the tracks, with his cousin and bass player Tim Massey usually singing tenor, and mandolin player Jason Tomlin on baritone harmonies. Fiddle player Billy Hawks adds another harmony voice on just one song, and banjoist Darrell Wilkerson restricts himself to his instrument.

The material consists mostly of broadly similar mid to up tempo songs, and this brings up the principal flaw of the record as far as I’m concerned; too often, particularly with the uptempo material, the sad songs simply don’t sound sad and lonesome. Maybe I’m just not enough of a bluegrass purist, but I want more than virtuoso playing.

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