Hal has been a professional music journalist since 1994, writing predominately about country, blues, Americana, roots rock and singer/songwriter genres for a variety of publications.
Similar to the best documentaries, you don’t need to be a Tom Petty fan to appreciate how this film captures the creation of Wildflowers, and illuminates his character, determination and perfectionism.
The debut solo album from The Deslondes member is bluesy and characteristically laid-back, coalescing different sounds into a soulful, lowdown whole. Once you’re on board with Downing's elusive, often entrancing vibe, you’ll wonder why it took a pandemic for him to hit center stage.
The Future effectively combines provocative lyrics married to the Sweats’ trademarked attack; one that’s successful, even triumphant, and paves the way for more of the same in forthcoming endeavors.
It’s a classy, frequently moving, always provocative collaboration and one of Hiatt’s finest efforts which, considering his extensive catalog, is saying plenty.
A performance that captures a historically significant, ragged but right moment from one of country music’s most renowned figures.
It’s tricky to pick one singular track to return to after the 50-minute album is complete. It’s once again an all-killer-no-filler album, Crockett keeping up his extraordinary run of matching quantity with quality, all garnished with an endearing, “aw-shucks” vibe.
The delightful Gone, Long Gone should finally put Dawson on the popular radar, establishing him as the major talent he is. But if not, he will keep plugging away, juggling a variety of hats and contributing to music with his subtle, understated touch.
There is never a moment throughout this saga when the playing, singing and vocals feel anything less than earthy, honest and pure. That’s quite an accomplishment for this expansive hour and a half listen, particularly one where lyrics are so crucial to its enjoyment.
It takes a brave artist to admit “If I’d known what I know a long time ago /I might have made of my life something more”. When it comes to Rodney Crowell, many would disagree; the intimate and often hypnotic Triage shows that he still has lots more to give.
There aren’t many artists talented enough to pull off a concept this uniquely creative and idiosyncratic without a hint of pretension. But Israel Nash has honed this territory for a while. The result is an immaculately constructed, filmic album that’s both expansive yet personal.
Rhiannon Giddens doesn’t need much time or supporting instrumentation to create fervently moving art. Even though the stripped-down qualities of They’re Calling Me Home are the result of the pandemic, they yield some of the most stirring music you’re likely to hear, this year or any other.
The Marfa Tapes is the rawest – and some might say most real - recording you’ll get from this trio - and it's all the better for it. Its unembellished sound and scruffy methodology is a quality we don’t have enough of in today’s often excessively tweaked and overly polished fare.
Between his earnest rumble of a voice, lyrics so genuine they can’t be fiction and the no frills production, these musical sketches bring us closer to connecting with Sean Rowe from a place total vulnerability.
While it may not be The Flatlanders at the top of their game, any fan of pure Texas country will find lots to relish on this collection. The tunes are terrific and it remains a treat to hear these troupers clearly having fun working at this late stage in their lives.
Many believe that the best art emerges from times of psychological struggle and/or philosophical unrest. That was the case in late 1970, when David Crosby recorded his first solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name.
Even though this live record might sell tickets, it’s hard to recommend these readings over the classic versions that retain their modest yet earnest emotional punch.
Even if this leans to pop more than the country or bluegrass she is best known for, Watkins’ affection for this collection of children's songs is obvious. She successfully crafts an album adults can enjoy, just as much as their little ones; maybe even more so.
Anyone expecting a sophomore slump will be encouraged to learn that even with one member down, the group has solidified - and even amplified - the wonderful harmonies and memorable melodies that worked so effectively the first time out.
Dance Songs for Hard Times is high-spirited, rambunctious roots music and a soundtrack to help dance away the blues - pandemic or otherwise.
There's a depth of honesty, sensitivity and integrity to Introducing... The Pink Stones that few debut releases have the capacity or courage to display. The Pink Stones aren’t trying to reinvent the cosmic American music wheel, just get behind it and drive for a while. Come along and enjoy the ride.
While the laid-back nature of it could use more of the energy exhibited on much of his other work, it demonstrates that slowing down to reevaluate your life, whether you planned to or not, is time well spent.
Hopefully, we don’t have to wait for another pandemic to hear a follow-up - Haggard’s rich catalog is ripe for such interesting reinterpretation.
This is a sweat-soaked gig that will make even the most skeptical observer surely appreciative of Springsteen’s talents as a potent writer, player, singer, bandleader and especially performer.
This is classy and complete. It’s likely the last word on how the disparate musical and personal threads of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were woven, creating the uneven yet tremendously successful and often musically spellbinding tapestry of Déjà Vu.
The 19-track, hour playing time zips along with so much enthusiasm that it feels half as long. Even though it’s a bit of a mish-mash of re-recorded Asleep material with new songs, Half a Hundred Years is a constantly delightful recording that never takes itself too seriously.
Some singer-songwriters hide their emotions behind the characters in their songs; Nashville resident Michaela Anne is not one of them. This set digs deeper into the almost wincingly intimate issues she comes to terms with on these eleven shimmering folk pop pieces.
How great were The Band? Great enough to craft ten remarkable songs that remain moving and often exhilarating, even under trying and some might say demanding circumstances.
This record captures Cash in a transitory stretch - not yet lauded as the spokesperson for the downtrodden and a progenitor of the “outlaw” sound, but rather a talented country musician plying his trade on the road.
Joined by a handful of like-minded musicians, 'Georgia Blue' sees Isbell cover a selection of songs by Georgia-hailing artists. It's a delightfully loose, expertly played and above all sincere 13-track set that checks every box for a project of this kind.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this debut. Not only did it introduce Yoakam as a fledgling yet seasoned talent with a voice that comes along once in a generation, but it presented pure country, amplified and energized, to a new, younger audience.
In the Blossom of Their Shade will make you forget about the frustrations of the last year and a half - at least for 40 minutes - and is a wonderful way to get acquainted with LaFarge’s unique, diverse and delightfully idiosyncratic musical personality.
The theory is enticing, but Greenfields is frustratingly a missed opportunity to breathe fresh life into Gibb’s music.
These interpretations replicate the timeless qualities all great work exudes. The artists breathe new life and fresh inspiration into material whose words and melodies haven’t lost an ounce of their powerful intensity, regardless of the style they are replicated in.
Since releasing two stripped-down solo efforts in 2008 and 2010, then returning to his band for 2012’s Glad All Over, it’s been radio silence in Jakob Dylan’s career. That puts this new Wallflowers set, arriving nearly a decade later, squarely into comeback territory.
The purity and spirited personality Brennen Leigh projects, her obvious adulation of the genre’s history and of course stellar support from Asleep at the Wheel on Obsessed with the West creates a set that is a consistent delight.
The key to the album’s success is not just the wonderful, beautifully crafted songwriting or even the Whitmore Sisters’ stunning vocals. Rather, it’s the years the duo spent honing their craft alone before realising that together, they shared the final piece of the wonderful puzzle.
A stunning live recording that helps solidify the importance of the three-year stint of the Nash Ramblers, adding another notch to Harris’ impressive belt that every Emmylou enthusiast - and even those that aren’t - will treasure.