- - Monday, July 13, 2015


Don’t get so caught up in all the great country-centric music shows that are coming through the region that you forget about some of the impressive albums that are poised for release. Here are three of the best we’ve heard lately that you just don’t want to miss:

Alan Jackson

“Angels and Alcohol”

Sounds like: Classic Alan Jackson

Release date: July 17

Think of Alan Jackson’s music much like a meal at your favorite fine restaurant. You know what to expect, but the experience invariably surpasses the memory.

Listening to “Angels and Alcohol,” the country legend’s latest album, is an audio feast that reminds you why you keep coming back for more.

Sure, urban sounds and rap and auto-tune and constant references to pickup trucks and bare feet are yummy fun — sort of like candy — but Mr. Jackson’s music is a substantive meal that’s elegant in its simplicity. In other words, Mr. Jackson creates music for grown-ups.

You know that right away as the steel guitar whines behind Mr. Jackson’s plaintive vocals on “I’ll Leave a Light On,” a song about the memory of the “good days that slipped away,” or the title track that cautions “you can’t chase lonely with a bottle of wine.” Those tracks are among those that conjure images of midnight reflections on the highs and lows of life.

But don’t think this is a tear-in-your-beer kind of album except in the fun way Hank Williams Jr. used that term on his song with a similar title.

Mr. Jackson’s “Jim and Jack and Hank” is one of the album’s fun frolics with all kinds of name checks — besides Jim Beam bourbon, Jack Daniels whiskey and Hank Williams Sr. — including “Old George and Tammy, Loretta, Merle, Willie Nelson, Big John Cash and how about Old Jimmy Buffet George Strait an old friend. Can’t forget Hank Jr. and all his rowdy friends.”

True country fans need no excuse to constantly revisit Mr. Jackson’s music. For 25 years, the multiplatinum, multi-Grammy Award-winning artist has been making music that puts fans’ thoughts into words and music. And that satisfying experience continues on “Angels and Alcohol.”

Well Worn Soles

“Well Worn Soles”

Sounds like: Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, James Taylor and Carly Simon

Release date: August 4

Even if Emerson Wells-Barrett and Chelsea Dix-Kessler hadn’t met in a bluegrass program at East Tennessee State University, it’s easy to believe that fate would have brought them together. The vocals of the two musical prodigies — who accompany themselves on a host of instrumentation, including fiddle, guitar and mandolin — combine to create an audio tapestry that readily puts one in mind of some of country’s most beloved duos, including Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty or even James Taylor and Carly Simon.

Let’s put it this way: If Hank Williams Sr. or Woody Guthrie had female duo partners, they likely would have sounded like Well Worn Soles.

That’s especially evident on the evocative “White Paper Lines,” a universal story of love lost with lyrics like “The hole that you left/makes me feel less than half of the person/that I was before/And I wonder if memories are holding me back/From feeling whole once more.”

Michael Rank and Stag


Sounds like: Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris

Release date: September 22

Everyone pegged Michael Rank as a pure rock ‘n’ roll guy — and why not? He led the critically acclaimed North Carolina-based Snatched of Pink for two decades, sharing stages and musical sensibilities with The Ramones, The Cramps, Iggy Pop and other beloved rock punks.

Now Mr. Rank has changed direction, teamed with vocalist Heather McEntire (Mount Moriah) and a supporting cast of pickers and players, including members of the critically acclaimed Chatham County Line, and created some of the most beguiling Americana-country-bluegrass this side of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.

Listening to “Mexico,” a midtempo rumination on love filled with vivid images such as “keeping me in a glass jar” and a heart “skipping like a stone” — or the love song “Husk,” which perfectly blends Miss McEntire’s country vocals with Mr. Ranks’ rumble — proves Mr. Rank is at the top of his game.

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