Articles

If UK Country Music Acts Were the Stars of the Nashville TV Show

This started out as a much more serious topic, of trying to figure where the Nashville equivalent would be in the UK, and what would be our Opry and Ryman? Don’t ask me how, but my mind took a tangent to thinking who from the UK country music scene would I have in place of the stars of the Nashville show. This is a very lighthearted article and some of these links are very tenuous, so please don’t take offense as an artist or fan, absolutely none is intended.

Raintown as Rayna Jaymes and Luke Wheeler

Raintown as Rayna Jaymes and Luke Wheeler

Raintown as Rayna Jaymes and Luke Wheeler

As the veterans of UK country music this was an obvious pick, and as a recently married couple, could Paul and Claire have done what Rayna and Luke are on the same track to do?

Hannah Jane Lewis as Juliette Barnes

Hannah Jane Lewis as Juliette Barnes

Hannah Jane Lewis as Juliette Barnes

Both are young, blonde and hitting the country pop market, but with traditional influences. Juliette could probably do with some of Hannah’s work with schools to improve her public image and from what I’ve seen Hannah isn’t as big a diva as Juliette…but who knows what goes on behind closed doors 😉

Gary Quinn as Deacon Claybourne

Gary Quinn as Deacon Claybourne

Gary Quinn as Deacon Claybourne

Another veteran journeyman of the UK country scene and often seen gigging with Raintown, much like Deacon is with Luke in the show. I don’t think the love triangle exists between these guys as does on the show though…

Jess Roberts as Scarlett O’Connor

Jess Roberts as Scarlett O'Connor

Jess Roberts as Scarlett O’Connor

Brilliant new singer songwriter who is quieter than her contemporaries and infinitely more talented than she realises. Jess or Scarlett? It could well be either, and we await new music from both with baited breath.

Richard Clarke as Avery Barkley

Richard Clarke as Avery Barkley

Richard Clarke as Avery Barkley

An artist in his own right and guitarist on Hannah Jane Lewis’ band. if you’ve watched Nashville you’ll be thinking how eerily similar this is, except for the tempestuous relationship part. Both Richard and Avery have a wild side though 😉

The Shires as Gunnar Scott and Zoey Dalton

The Shires as Gunnar Scott and Zoey Dalton

The Shires as Gunnar Scott and Zoey Dalton

Ben and Gunnar are both singer songwriters from the UK, not that you’d know from Sam Palladio’s accent on Nashville. Add in the gorgeous, almost angelic voices of Crissie and Zoe and I think this comparison works pretty well, relationship status aside.

Ward Thomas as Maddie and Daphne

Ward Thomas as Maddie and Daphne

Ward Thomas as Maddie and Daphne

The ages might be a little off, but other than that this a perfect match – sisters with gorgeous voices and fantastic harmonies. The question is – who is who?

Gareth Thomas and Deeanne Dexeter as Will Lexington and Layla Grant

Gareth Thomas and Deeanne Dexeter as Will Lexington and Layla Grant

Gareth Thomas and Deeanne Dexeter as Will Lexington and Layla Grant

This is where it gets a bit tenuous, but bear with me! Both came from relative obscurity and have made a name from themselves in the last 12 months. Will and Layla have a sham marriage while Gareth and Deeanne have a band marriage! Gareth and Deeanne have better voices though and Gareth prefers his wife to his personal trainer!

That’s as far as I got, and I stopped at casting Jeff Fordham for fear of ruffling feathers! So, what do you think – agree or disagree, I’d love for you to leave a comment and if you have any of your own suggestions, go for it!

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Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky to be invited to the filming of the new Dexeter music video for Slow It Down, and so up the M1 I drove, next stop Leicester. This was actually my first time in Leicester, but I wasn’t there to site see, but to watch Metal Wasp at work as owner Dan turned Cafe Bruxelles into a film location for the evening…and into the night.

The aforementioned Cafe Bruxelles was perfect, being every bit as classy looking with it’s magnificent chandelier and Sistine Chapel like domed ceiling, as the new single deserved. As always seems be the case whenever I catch up with Dexeter, it was baking hot, and as we waited for the sun to go down, Dan made sure we didn’t lose any heat by setting up lights from all corners of the room. With no audience aside from the two members of staff, Dan and myself, there were some nerves from some members of the band. That’s to be expected, given how important this was and also very different it was to simply playing songs to a crowd of fans.

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

The way it worked was lead singer Dee was to sing as normal, but nobody else was plugged in. The studio version of the song was piped in over the PA, but I’m not sure of that is the sound we would hear on the video, or whether it would be laid over in the post production part of the project. In my naivety I thought I’d be there to see them play through a couple of times, job done, go home. That is not how it works, at all. Instead the whole band would be shot 4 times, and then each member of the band would be shot individually twice.

At the times when the camera was focusing just on an individual member, the other members of Dexeter wouldn’t be in shot, and therefore could do what they wanted. So what did they do? They all played along, each and every time. Well, that’s what I witnessed, until I had to leave at 11pm, so as to drive back home to Hertfordshire and not be too tired for work the next morning. It’s this kind of band togetherness that shines through in their music, and even more so as a live act, and tonight it meant each and every take was as natural as possible.

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

For the takes I was there for, I was the one who pressed play on the music, so I would be well within my rights to expect some kind of mention in the credits, right? Kidding aside, it was fascinating to see Dan working his magic, using rigs for his camera that they use on film sets, and tickled the fancy of this technology geek. He also took the time to explain each stage of the process to me, which he didn’t to do, but was very much appreciated. As for Dexeter – they put full effort into every take, even those that they weren’t in shot for, and it’s a credit to Slow It Down that I enjoyed listening to it each and every time it was played.

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

When I was in Cafe Bruxelles I couldn’t quite envisage how the video would turn out. I mean sure, I could visualise the setting, but Dan seemed pretty close to the band members at times, I mean really close! That’s why he’s paid to make music videos and I just observe from the sidelines, because the result is fantastic. The venue looks twice the size it actually is and those lights that keep the ambient temperature at blazing hot, have added so much more than just brightening the venue.

I was lucky to see the first cut of the video after Dan had worked on it for a week, and combined with a brilliant song and hard working and talented band, it looked quite quite fantastic. It looks like one live performance, but from being there I know how much time and work went it, from all sides. It was both an honour and a pleasure to watch these guys all work so hard, and even more of a delight to see the great final video for Slow It Down that has been produced.

You can download Slow It Down from iTunes here.

More photos from the video shoot:

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

Behind The Scenes: Dexeter – Slow It Down Music Video

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Country 2 Country 2014 – One Week On and it’s Pop Up Mania

This time last week I was is enjoying the second day of Country 2 Country, just getting ready to watch Striking Matches, to be precise at the time of writing this. So here I am 7 days later, and what effect, if any, has attending Country 2 Country had on me?

While it was the main stage acts that I paid to see, given that the pop up stage acts were free to all, it may be somewhat surprising that it’s those pop up stage acts that have left thew biggest impact on me. There’s no denying I was blown away by the likes Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley and the Dixie Chicks, but it’s not these juggernauts of country music that have occupied my mind this past week. Over the course of the two days I saw quite a few acts on the pop up stages, and it brought to my attention just how much talent there is, right here in the UK.

Of the 28 acts that were on offer, I saw just 8, and 6 of those ply their trade in the UK and you can read about the ones I did see here. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube I’ve caught up with a lot more of the acts that performed last weekend, and without fail have been bowled over by just how good they are. The homegrown country music scene is bursting full of great signers, songwriters and musicians – they just need more exposure. I’ve found myself listening to and watching a ton of performances, both new and old, from acts I saw and those who I missed out on too.

It’s one thing to watch videos on YouTube, after all, that seems to be how the new generation consume music these days anyway, but what next? It hasn’t stopped there for me though, as I’ve also been looking at live dates, to see if I can watch as many of these acts in person as I can. I met the band Dexeter last weekend and have been listening to their EP this week, with a view of going up to the Midlands to see them perform. Being in North Hertfordshire it won’t be the longest drive know to man, but would I have considered it had Country 2 Country not crossed out paths – probably not.

Closer to home Lisa Redford is performing at the music shop I frequent for Record Store Day, just 3 miles from my house. How could I not to go to that? Thing is, had I not seen her at Country 2 Country last Sunday I wouldn’t have known who she was, and probably wouldn’t have gone, no matter how close it is to me. Ward Thomas are a band that played last weekend, and though I didn’t see them, I became more aware of them, and just this morning listened to them on Radio 2. Now I am keen to buy their EP when it comes out in April and see them live at the next opportunity.

Gary Quinn is someone I knew of before Country 2 Country, and since seeing him live, where I really enjoyed his set, we have chatted on Twitter and I have bought a ticket to see him perform a StageIt show. I’d never even signed up to StageIt before he announced his gig, but what a great way for fans to see live music without travelling to locations that are too far away. It has cost me just $5 which equates to £3.03 for a 30 minute set – a veritable bargain I’m sure you’ll agree.

Hannah Jane Lewis is someone whose music I knew the best before Country 2 Country, and I reviewed her self titled EP here. It was however Country 2 Country that gave me the opportunity to see her perform, twice, and now know she’s every bit as good live as she is on her EP. As such I’m considering going to see her play this coming Wednesday at The Water Rats Theatre. This is a venue that just happens to be near Kings Cross, which is the station the train from my town goes to, and at £5 it’s almost too tempting to resist. If I get over my cough, yeah poor me, then I will do just that. She has another gig in London the month after, so either way I’ll get the chance to see her perform again, and maybe grab an interview too if I’m lucky.

If we are talking non UK talent then Jill and Kate have a mini UK tour in June and will be playing The Bordereline in London – another gig from a Country 2 Country artist that I am strongly considering going to. Just a few hours after I wrote this it was announced that the aforementioned Hannah Jane Lewis would be supporting Jill & Kate – 2 pop up stage acts appearing on the same night! Tickets are available here. Of course there are also Striking Matches who I hadn’t even heard of before last weekend, wowed me, have just signed a record deal and will release an album later this year. I’ve since bought their EP and single on iTunes and will be first in the queue to get the album, along with everyone else who saw them.

So struck with the quality of the pop up stage acts, I have even been having thoughts of organising a festival to showcase all this talent as I want as many people as possible to experience the great music I have discovered. I’m not sure how that will happen and I think it might be better on the hands of the guys at UKCountryMusic.net, whose promotions guy Andy I have been pestering with the idea of a UKCMFest relentlessly!

These are just a few, there is a thriving country music scene in the UK, and that’s something that I only recently had my eyes opened to thanks to the Country 2 Country pop up stages. Imagine if every other country music fan in the UK knew about all these great acts too – how long before we’d hear more of them on the radio, see more of them on tour, and see more of their albums in shops? I’ve taken it upon myself to spread the word as much as possible about the great talent on offer – so expect more posts, more tweets and more Facebook updates about these acts in the coming weeks and months. It’s pretty exciting that I can see so much great country music in my own country, all year round.

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Six of the Best Pop Up Artists to Check Out at Country 2 Country 2014

Unless you have been living under a rock you’ll know that Country 2 Country is the big weekend of country music in the UK, held annually at the O2 in London for the second time this coming weekend. But what is a pop up artist? As well as the big 4 acts from America playing in the arena each day, there are what they call pop up stages for smaller, lesser known acts to play on. These 4 stages are named to coincide with what they are near, which makes sense, be daft to name them after something in a completely different area! The fabulous 2Country.net have created these great graphics that show who is playing on each of the stages on both days. Before you look at those, do head over to 2Country.net and check out the amazing selection of country music being played 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!

Pop Up Artists at Country 2 Country 2014 - Saturday

Pop Up Artists at Country 2 Country 2014 – Saturday

Pop Up Artists at Country 2 Country 2014 - Sunday

Pop Up Artists at Country 2 Country 2014 – Sunday

So, without further a do, here are six of my recommendations of people to check out, and are ones that I’ll certainly be looking out for myself.

Hannah Jane Lewis
If you’ve visited this blog before then this will come as no surprise to you. I was blown away with how great Hannah’s EP sounds and I’ll actually be trying my best to see her twice. She’s with her full band on the Saturday, after which I’ll have to run like Usain Bolt to get to my seat in time for Martina McBride, and then on the Sunday she’s going it alone and performing a acoustic set. In my review of her EP, I said it would be good to hear Hannah play The Worst Way acoustically – consider this my formal request for Sunday.

Gary Quinn
Gary is someone who I have been aware of for a few months due to seeing him mentioned on Twitter but only in the last week or so have I been listening to his album, and actually have a review coming soon, so look out for that. Gary’s music brings a combination of modern and traditional, but most definitely country. You know I bang on about story telling in songs? Gary ticks that box, and is a great weapon to use against anyone who says people from the UK don’t get country music, as I have heard said. I’m particularly hoping to hear I Love To Watch You leave, which shows his cheeky side.

Jill and Kate
It was fellow country music blogger Kasey Stone over at Hitting All the Right Notes who recommended me this duo from Nashville, who actually used to be backing singers for Kelly Clarkson, just a few days ago. When I should have been getting ready for work I instead sat on the sofa listening to their songs on YouTube, as you do. I was struck by how well their voices complimented each other and the variety of songs that show off both their tender and fun spirits. They also get bonus marks for agreeing to sign stuff and I think I have an interview secured for some time in the future.

Raintown
It’s almost criminal that I’ve never listened to any Raintown – they are as synonymous with UK country music as, well, UKCountryMusic.net! Actually, I’m not sure that really works, but what the heck, a plug to a great website is always allowed. Anyway, Raintown are a duo who I have heard mentioned so many times, and even seen active myself on social media, but somehow not yet listened to. Well that’s going to change at Country 2 Country as I’m making sure I watch an act that has been recommended to me quite a few times over the last couple of weeks. So how can I include them if I’ve never heard them? I have a hunch, and I bet after you’ve heard them at the weekend we’ll both agree they deserve their place.

Jessica Clemmons
I’ve been meaning to talk about Jessica for a few weeks now, ever since I got her EP What if, but I wanted to wait until we were closer to Country 2 Country, which we well and truly are now. Jessica has just been over in the UK supporting Boyzone, so is already known by many thousands of fans on these shores. Jessica Clemmons has a voice that makes you sit up and take notice and I’m certain she’s going to wow anyone who goes to see her play. Don’t worry if you can’t get too close, she has power to spare, but not in a shouty way as some singers reply on. Single Tonight is the stand out song on her EP which boasts 5 great songs, and is beautifully presented.

Maria Byrne
I’m not just featuring Maria because she has song that includes the words I’ll be gone 4000 miles and alludes to going to Tennessee, though how incredibly apt is it that I’m talking about her on 4000 Miles to Nashville? Maria’s music is a delicious mix of country and folk, that makes me want to lie down in a field on a sunny evening and hear nothing but her songs. Just listening to songs like Keep On and My Sweet Burden and I feel a sense of calm and contentment. Maria’s music is a mood changer, and in a very positive way.

So that’s my 6, but that leaves 22 acts of the 28 I’ve not talked about. If you have any you want to recommend, or you are one of those artists and think I should come see you play, then please either leave a comment or email me and I’ll do my very best to see as many as humanly possible at the weekend.

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Country 2 Country 2014: The Highlight of the Year, and it’s Not Just About The Main Acts

Country 2 Country 2014

Last year I attended Country 2 Country just on the Sunday, but this year I am lucky enough to be going on both the Saturday and Sunday. Dixie Chicks on the Saturday, along with Brad Paisley and The Band Perry on the Sunday are what I am most looking forward to, as these are artists I am very familiar with and especially in the case of the Sunday duo, particularly like. Wheelhouse was one of my favourite albums of last year, in fact I ranked it 3rd in my Top 9 Country Music Albums of 2013, and the thought of seeing Brad play songs like Southern Comfort Zone live is pretty damn exciting. Likewise, seeing The Band Perry perform Better Dig Two is one of the things I am most looking forward to. With Natalie Maines there’s always the prospect she might rant about a world leader, with David Cameron being a prime candidate to receive a few home truths!

Of the other main acts, I recently bought the latest albums from Zac Brown Band and Chris Young and like those, more so Zac Brown Band. That being said, I’ll be hoping they don’t play Overnight, a song that seemed ill fitting for the album both in style and content. Rascal Flatts I know from the Cars soundtrack, but little else! I have heard very little from Martina McBride, and have only heard one song from Dierks Bentley. With Dierks I can’t tell you what the song is, but it was played a few times on Chris Country recently and I remember thinking I really liked it. I don’t think I’ll be invited to join the Dierks Bentley street team any time soon, but I still have more than 5 weeks to get my act together!

That’s the 8 main acts, made up of artists I know and love, some I have dabbled in, and a few for which Country 2 Country will be an education. 8 bands in one weekend is a pretty good tally, especially when they are country music acts and this is the UK, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Just this morning Country 2 Country announced the 27 acts that will be appearing on the pop up stages across the weekend. That means there will be a massive 35 country music acts performing at one point or another on March 15th and 16th – wow. I don’t know the vast majority of these, but I have heard of a few, and have even chatted to some on Twitter, like Hannah Jane Lewis, Raintown and Jessica Clemmons. In fact I have Jessica’s EP to review, so I’d better get on that!

These pop up stage artists are especially exciting, because for the most part they won’t have big music companies behind them, yet, to promote them and bring them to the consciousness of the average country music fans in the UK. I could, and intend to, come away from Country 2 Country having discovered a whole bunch of great new music that I didn’t even know was out there. It’s win win for both artists and fans. Such is the open nature of these pop up stages that I may also get the opportunity to chat to some of them, which is not something you can easily do in the more formal setting of a standard gig venue.

Add in the country market, which last year had some great food and merchandise stalls, as well as representatives from mighty organisations such as The CMA, and this weekend has the potential to be quite awesome. There’s one other thing though…that’s the country music community, many of whom I have the opportunity to chat to on Twitter, and that could be you, yes you who is reading this right now! I know of quite a few that will be in attendance and will get the chance to meet, chat and have a drink with. As someone who is still in the infancy of their country music journey, it’s these people, you, that have recommended artists and songs, and have been the biggest part of my country music learning curve. It will be great to finally meet and put faces to names, some of whom I’d even consider friends, as much as you can be over Twitter anyway!

The country music community, bar none, has been the most accepting and friendly of any I have encountered, and it’s one of the reasons I have plunged head first into a genre of music that was left undiscovered for so much of my life. I can’t wait to be back in The O2, with link minded fans, to see some of the best music in the world today. Country 2 Country is looking like the highlight of the year, and how lucky am I to even have such an event to attend? There are many people out there in the UK who have passionately followed country music for years, and not had anything like Country 2 Country – thankfully they do now.

See you there – I’ll be the one in the chequered shirt and cowboy boots!

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Top 9 Country Music Albums of 2013

So why top 9 and not top 10? Well, still being relatively new to the country music scene I spent a lot of 2013 listening to albums that didn’t actually come out last year. So as much as I might have played Eric Church and Brantley Gilbert a lot, neither of their albums came out last year and are thus not valid. But Eric did have an album out last year I hear you cry! Yes, but I don’t have Caught In The Act, yet (that may change by the end of this article), it was Chief I was referring to.

There were then albums such as Annie Up by The Pistol Annies which I just didn’t find worthy a place in a top list. It was okay, but not a patch on their Hell On Heels album, and nowhere near the quality of the albums I have placed. So, now we have that sorted, let the countdown commence!

9) Pioneer – The Band Perry

The first time I heard the second album from this Perry family trio I wasn’t impressed, and that disappointed me. I loved their debut album and Better Dig Two was one of my absolute favourite songs of the year. I was all ready to throw my toys out of the pram, and CD out the window, when I had a change of heart and decided to give it another chance. Do you know what? It grew on me. Better Dig Two is by far the stand out track, but the title track Pioneer is a cracking song, with Don’t Let Me Be Lonely not far behind. Mother Like Mine still irritates me, in that Kimberley isn’t the only one in the band whose Mother that is. A great pop country album with tons of cross over appeal.

8) Woman On The Wheel – Gretchen Peters

I love live music albums, and after seeing Gretchen Peters live in June, getting her live CD/DVD combination was a given. Woman On The Wheel contains live versions of the songs on her latest album Hello Cruel World, with 3 bonus tracks. One of those extra tracks is Wild Horses, which was originally by The Rolling Stones, and not The Sundays as Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans might think! If you’ve never heard Gretchen before then please check her out as there are few people in music that put as much passion into their music as she does. The album comes presented in a hardback book format with a stack of photos, and a DVD with it. For shame I’ve not yet watched the DVD, but as well as an hour long look back at the tour, it also includes music videos for several of the songs.

7) The Other Life – Shooter Jennings

If Vickye from For The Country Record needs a partner in her crusade against Bro-Country then she need look no further than the son of country legend Waylon Jennings, Shooter Jennings. There are a few tracks on this album that are used as a vehicle for Shooter to vent his frustrations, but none more obviously than Outlaw You, which declares “Hey pretty boy in the baseball hat, You couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat, Country ain’t just about where you’re at, It’s about bein’ true to what’s inside”. Now I’m not against Bro-Country, and that’s something I’ll discuss at a later date, but Outlaw You is easily one of the best country songs of 2013. The album is a showcase for what a fantastic song writer and musician Shooter Jennings is, and proves that not every male country singer of a certain age is shying away from the more traditional roots and only thinking about beer and trucks…not that there is anything wrong with that, not in my eyes (and ears) anyway.

6) Like A Rose – Ashley Monroe

If it wasn’t for Twitter I wouldn’t have even known that a) Ashley Monroe was a member of The Pistol Annies, and b) she had a solo career and an album out last year. Along with a certain Kacey Musgraves, I heard a lot of buzz about her album and so decided to check it out, and thank goodness I did. Here was a young lady who knew what kind of record she wanted to make and didn’t feel the need to compromise in any way. A traditional country album in essence, but with modern influences and a good dose of beguiling attitude. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of the sassy attitude shown by Ashley on her album, on Annie Up, where I was expecting it. Weed Instead of Roses was one of the songs of 2013, without a doubt. We just need her to tour in the UK, please.

5) Spitfire – LeAnn Rimes

I feel like this should be higher, and if this was based on live performances she most certainly would be, but for now a top 5 spot is pretty damn good. In 2013 I went from not knowing much about LeAnn to seeing her live at Country 2 Country, getting this album, and then seeing her live again in October. It was her performances of songs from her new album at C2C, especially Borrowed, that made me a fan, and I was particularly delighted when I won tickets in a ukCOUNTRYmusic.NET competition to see her for a second time. Spitfire is an eclectic mix of songs showing all sides of LeAnn’s personality, from the aforementioned tear inducing Borrowed to the foot tapping Gasoline And Matches. That last song featured none other Ron Thomas and Jeff Beck – how about that for a superstar lineup! Spitfire is one of those albums that I always chastise myself for not listening to again sooner whenever I do play it.

4) The Music of Nashville Season 1: Volumes 1 and 2

You can’t have compilation albums in this list! Says who? This is my list, on my website – I say what goes, and these get included, together as one entry no less! As a show Nashville is fun, but a little too soap opera for my liking, but the music is tremendous. Like many I became a huge fan of Scarlett played by Clare Bowen, and her duet with Sam Palladio’s Gunnar of If I Didn’t Know Better was the highlight of the album. We also got the absolutely enchanting Telescope from sisters Lennon Stella and Maisy Stella, which was also done by Hayden Panettiere. It was Volume 2 that I actually preferred, and a lot of that was to do with Panettiere and especially her rendition of Nothing in This World Will Ever Break My Heart Again, which at one time I couldn’t stop playing. We don’t have a start date for season 2 yet here in the UK, but I for one can’t wait for some more CDs of great songs from an interesting mix of actor come singers.

3) Wheelhouse – Brad Paisley

Mr Paisley was one of my discoveries of 2013, and I actually became a fan of his before Wheelhouse came out. That meant I could actually look forward to the new album and even had it pre-ordered. You can read my full review of it here , but like the two albums that make up the number 1 and 2 spots, this is one that I listened to repeatedly and still listen to regularly now. Brad is the act at the upcoming Country 2 Country that I am most looking forward to seeing play live. Aside from Accidental Racist with LL Cool J, it’s an almost flawless album which combines humour, with a good does of emotion, memories, and the all important guitars.

2) Two Lanes of Freedom – Tim McGraw

When I started writing this article last weekend I didn’t even own a Tim McGraw album and couldn’t have named you one his songs if my life depended on it – thankfully it didn’t! Then I played Two Lanes of Freedom, again and again, to the point where I must have listened to it more than 10 times in the last 7 days. Every time I listen I get something new out of it and gain a new appreciation for the songs included in this masterpiece of an album. It really does have everything, and I’m still not sure whether I prefer the very touching and beautiful Annie I Owe You A Dance and Friend of a Friend, or the pulsating Truck Yeah, or maybe even the star studded Highway Don’t Care. You can read the full review I wrote of Two Lanes of Freedeom here, and just know that this album from Tim McGraw came within a whisker of getting the top spot in this countdown.

1) Same Trailer Different Park – Kacey Musgraves

The first time I listened to Kaceys Musgraves’ debut album I was blown away. Such an incredible mix of great song writing, beautiful vocals and all bundled up with that charming attitude that only she can pull off. There’s a dose of traditional, a handful of modern, but quintessentially, it’s Kacey Musgraves, a name and voice you will hear for many years to come. Filler is something quite alien to this album, as every song is pure gold, and Follow Your Arrow was my song of 2013, and like the album, is in my top ten of all time. The fact that in the same year I discovered her, I saw Kacey Musgraves play live twice (April and August), is just the icing on a very special cake. For a debut album it’s a very bold one, as she doesn’t shy away from singing about exactly what she wants, no matter how controversial that may seem. However, she’s been received as well as by the critics as by us fans, and is undoubtedly the breakout star of 2013. There’s only one thing that can come to close to Same Trailer Different Park, and that’s the prospect of a second album.

So there we have it, my top 9 country music albums of 2013, and having just received Drinks After Work by Toby Keith and Caught In the Act by Eric Church, I could well be adding a 10th album to this list very soon. I have only listened to the Brandy Clark and Holly Williams albums once, and have releases from Lindy Ortega, Darius Rucker and Keith Urban still to get, to name but a few. 2013 for me was a year in which I discovered more great music, new and old, than any other in over a decade, and 2014 promises to be every bit as good, and maybe even better.

12 months ago I said Getting into country is like opening the wardrobe to Narnia – an amazing world of music and people that I never knew existed, and wow, is that ever an under-statement. I love how varied the genre of country music is and how it includes so many great artists and styles. There really is something for everyone, and I’m trying to consume as much as I can – it’s a buffet of excellent music I can’t and don’t want to stop going back for more.

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The Blog Is Back!

Who knows what happened 12 months ago – I had a great response form the few weeks of blogging I did on 4000 Miles to Nashville, and then decided to start writing country music articles elsewhere on my personal blog – crazy! Well 2014 is a new year, and part of that new year is a renewed dedication to blogging about what has fast become my favourite genre of music.

When I last updated this blog I hadn’t even seen any country music live, but since then I’ve had the great pleasure to see Gretchen Peters, LeAnn Rimes, Logan Mize, Ben Glover and of course LeAnn Rimes again at Country 2 Country, along with Carrie Underwood, Brantley Gilbert and Darius Rucker. I also saw a young lady called Kacey Musgraves, twice, the second time being when I was invited to a special secret gig of hers in London. I’m still not sure how that happened – maybe down to the review I did of her first gig in April 2013? Who knows!

Speaking of Kacey Musgraves, she was my biggest music love of 2013, and her album Same Trailer, Different Park was by far the most played CD I bought last year. In fact I liked it so much I even bought it on vinyl too – yes, I still buy and play records! Seeing her live and meeting her twice were definitely among the highlights of the previous 12 months, though LeAnn Rimes may have something to say about that. It was quite surreal seeing someone who I previously knew from little more than the Coyote Ugly soundtrack, belting her heart out in such a personal and passionate way in London, twice.

I think one of my first new articles for this blog should be my top 10 albums of 2013, though I think you already know what number 1 will be. Hey, there’s still 9 more places to get excited about, so stick with it. I will also post my country music articles from elsewhere to this blog – it’s mostly gig and album reviews, but damn good ones 😉

So, I’m back, to stay this time, and as always if you have any recommendations then please send them my way.

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Twitter Has Become My #1 Resource For Discovering Country Music

Getting into country is like opening the wardrobe to Narnia – an amazing world of music and people that I never knew existed!

The above is something I posted on Twitter last night that got quite a few retweets, and it’s absolutely true, in my experience at least. I started this blog and accompanying Twitter account just 6 days ago, and in that time I’ve met a whole bunch of great people and been introduced to more great country music than I’ve had time to check out. What I am about to write is not an exhaustive list of every interaction I’ve had over the last week, but it’s a good indication of how useful my Twitter activity has been.

If you read my article The Marketing Genius of Country Music’s Ashton Lane you’ll see one of my first discoveries and how that came about. After writing this article I’ve had comments from lead singer Esther and Graeme Duffin, the producer. When writing the article it was just something I wanted to share; both the way they marketed themselves and the music – I never expected it to elicit responses from those involved. The country music scene does seem to be a very appreciative community of artists and fans alike.

I’m going to fast forward to just a few days ago when I saw someone retweet a tweet from Jana Kramer and on seeing her profile picture I was sure I recognised her. A few clicks later and I realised that I knew her from One Tree Hill where she played Alex Dupre; a film star turned country singer. It seems that life imitated art, as much like her character, Jana went from acting to country music and has released an album. I remember her singing on One Tree Hill being very good so I thought I’d check her real life music out. Her self titled album is only £6.99 on Amazon MP3 so in my new state of embracing downloads and music videos I got it, and have played it almost non-stop since. While it is definitely a country/pop record, it’s not as mainstream pop as I was expecting. She has a cracking country voice and shows this off on an album of great songs. Her current single is Whiskey, one of the highlights of the album both vocally and lyrically. So a fleeting glance at a photo on Twitter led me to a great country singer and a new favourite album currently doing overtime on my iPod.

One of the biggest proponents of new country music I’ve met so far is Kasey Stone with her blog hitting all the right notes. Kasey not only finds new country artists, champions them (if they are good) on her blog, but on many an occasion she manages to interview them too. Not only do we get great recommendations but we get to know a little more about the artists involved too. Kasey has given me a whole day’s worth of artists to check out, and just this morning she wrote about a young American singer by the name of Raihanna Estrada who has an absolutely beautiful voice. You can check out her videos on her YouTube channel where she has a selection of her own songs and covers.

This next discovery happened when I followed @CountryMusNews and I got a tweet back thanking me for the follow and also telling me to check out a song by their new favourite country artist @SBSwags, so I did just that. That’s how I found SaraBeth’s song Kicikn’ and Screamin’ – a great tune sung really well and with some nice lyrics. The accompanying lyric video is particularly funny when it comes to the doot doo – for some reason seeing that written down tickles me. This song would make for a perfect summer tune, or maybe one to give us a lift in cold gloomy winters. I haven’t yet listened to any more of her songs but the whole Kickin’ and Screamin’ EP, featuring 5 songs, is available to buy – links on her website. Before the night is done I’ll have bought it from iTunes ready for my drive to work tomorrow. Definitely one I’d recommend.

One of the best people on Twitter to follow is @NewCountryUK. To say he is a prolofic tweetter would be an understatement, but he tweets so many facts and figures about country music that it’s like following a country music encyclopedia. He was also the one, who by his tweeting, reminded me that the Lady Antebellum Own The Night World Tour DVD & Blu-ray was out this past Monday. That sent me straight off to Amazon, and a few days later I’d bought, watched and reviewed it. Tour news, release news, birthdays and history – if you are not already following you are missing out.

If you are in the UK and like country music then it’s pretty likely you know about ukCOUNTRYmusic.net – a site run by a team of dedicated country fans updated multiple times daily with news, reviews, competitions and even a regular live streaming radio show. On a Thursday night from 8pm the team all hold a country music chat on Twitter. Just use the hashtag #UKCMchat and you’ll connect with a whole bunch of country music fans, all ready to chat and help with any questions. It was this past Thursday that I joined in and got recommendations for Rascal Flats albums to look out for ahead of a probable UK tour.

I wasn’t the only one who started a country music blog in 2013, and @Em_Tx got there a week or so before me with her 52 Weeks of Country blog. Every week she features a song and writes about why she likes it – great idea right? This week’s entry introduced me to Edens Edge, a band who I’d seen mentioned but never heard any music from. The song in the spotlight is Who Am I Drinking Tonight and I urge you to head over to Em-T’s blog and read all about her thoughts here. Great band, great song and featured on a great blog.

I also have to give a mention to both @Erica2country and her website 2country.net. It was while I was chatting to her, at the same time as streaming radio from her website, that I made the comment at the beginning of this article. We had a good chat about country music and it was from seeing her Twitter account a few days ago that also discovered 2Country.net which plays some great music. Last night I heard The Band Perry, Miranda Lambert, Florida Georgia Line, Tim McGraw and Randy Travis, all within the space of 25 minutes. Perfect.

There are so many other great people on Twitter and I could go on all night, but I’d get sore fingers and you’d get bored! It’s great having @SonyNashvilleUK on Twitter, esecially with their signed CD giveaways, and I even got a follow from the CMA. In the space of just one week I’ve met so many great people and found so much new music. This is just the beginning. If you have any recommendations or just want to to say hello, then you can find me on Twitter here: @4000ToNashville.

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Brad Paisley Gets a Yes, The Mavericks a No

The title of this post should have The Mavericks mentioned first, but I wanted to lead with the positive, in the title at least. So the friend who I mentioned in this post, aside from trying to get me to a country gig, is also a big fan of The Mavericks. As such I decided to check them out and got The Definitive Collection; a best of collection from 2005 with 20 of their greatest hits.

Going into this CD the only song I knew of theirs was Dance The Night Away. Before we get carried away, it’s not with fondness that I remember this song, but with memories of it being overplayed on the radio and becoming one of those songs that ends up grating on you. At least that’s burning impression it left on me after all these years. I’m sorry to say that listening to this album did nothing to change my opinion of The Mavericks and I never actually got past the 5th song. What I heard was 5 songs that sounded very much like a wedding band and not what I expected to hear from a band that seem to get talked up to legendary status. I’d hoped it was just the first song but as each one came at me sounding similar I knew The Mavericks were not for me. Should I have given them more of a chance? Possibly, but when the first 25% of what is supposed to be their best has me grasping for the eject button, well it’s never going to end well. Life’s too short and there’s so much more music out there for me to discover and appreciate. So it’s adios to The Mavericks, sorry John.

Now moving on to another legend of the country music scene, the man we call Brad Paisley. To add a little background, I’ve owned two Brad Paisely albums for a while and not even listened to them more than once before this week – in fact one still remains in need of a updated listen. I got Who Needs Pictures for a whole pound at a car boot sale sometime last year. I got This Is Country Music later on the same year and have tragically only listened to it once.

Fast forward back to late last week and I watched a performance from Brad on the Jimmy Kimmel show where he played his latest single: Southern Comfort Zone. I loved the lyrics, loved the sound and was impressed by Brad’s guitar prowess. At this point I wondered why, in my 11 month journey into country music so far, I hadn’t listened to more from this axe wielding cowboy?

In a quest to listen to more from Brad I didn’t go to one of the two albums of his I own, something that will strike you as even more bizarre when you factor in that I had been talking about This Is Country Music with the same friend who likes The Mavericks, just one week previous. No, instead I went out and got Hits Alive. Yes, I know I should be listening to whole albums and not best ofs, but this a 2 CD set where the 2nd disc is live tracks, and I’m a huge fan of live music recordings. Factor in that it was less than £7 from a seller on Amazon and it was hard to resist.

From the moment I started playing that CD I knew I’d spent almost a whole year listening to all kinds of country music and had not in that time been listening to someone who in all probability will quickly rise to become one of my absolute favourites. The same skilled musician and great vocalist that I saw performing Southern Comfort Zone was present for every song, but even more so the songs resonated with me, maybe almost as much as Rodney Atkins Watching You. In complete contrast to The Mavericks album, I found myself loving song after song. Anything Like Me and Little Moments became instant favourites and listening to this collection of hits left me wanting to hear each and every one of his albums.

Since first listening to Hits Alive I have actually gone back and listened to This Is Country Music again, and yes, it’s absolutely brilliant. I haven’t yet played Who Needs pictures yet but it will be on the list for some time this weekend. I’m now looking forward to his new album Wheelhouse which comes out in April and have had American Saturday Nights recommended to me by @TommyCarter14 on Twitter. I caused a mini stir on Twitter yesterday when I announced that I’d voted for Carrie Underwood over Brad in the Taste of Country Bowl 2013. Just now writing about how much I liked Hits Alive, This Is Country Music and Southern Comfort Zone, I may have voted for the wrong person after all.

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The Marketing Genius of Country Music’s Ashton Lane

This was originally posted on my personal blog here before 4000 Miles to Nashville existed.

A few days ago I was followed on Twitter by @ashtonlane, whose bio reads: If you like LADY ANTEBELLUM, THE CIVIL WARS AND THE BAND PERRY you may enjoy our 7 FREE SONGS!!!: CLICK HERE! ashtonlaneinnercircle.com/7freesongst. Now in spite of the excessive use of capitals I did read it, and I do like Lady Antebellum and The Band Perry, and even The Civil Wars to a lesser extent. So it was only natural for me to click the link on the promise of 7 free songs – who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?

Ashton Lane on Twitter

Ashton Lane on Twitter

Once on the website I was met with a video of the band, two guys and a girl, thanking me for clicking through and welcoming me. Now at this point the video stopped playing thanks to a less than reliable connection at work, but I was intrigued enough to fill in my name and email address on the accompanying form, after all, they were giving me free songs. The lure of free music must have been pretty strong as this part of the website does look a little too much like those websites offering free trials for all manner of irrelevant products and services we’ve grown used to enduring on the world wide web.

Once I’d gained access to the next stage I was greeted with another video, this time telling me a bit more about the band, who by this point I know are Scottish. Also on the same page as the second video and as part of the video was an offer for me to buy their latest album, 2 EPs, 2 videos, be added to their VIP list and more extras I don’t even remember. Now this whole bundle of Ashton Lane bounty was being sold at the bargain price of $7. I say bargain because the price is stated as $25, but if I act right then and buy, I’d get it for just $7. What you have to understand is there is also a message telling me that I can only accept this offer at this point, and if I decline and continue to get my 7 free originally promised songs, then I won’t be able to get this package at $7 again.

Ashton Lane Welcome Video

Ashton Lane Welcome Video

Before I go any further there’s one thing you have to understand about me; I don’t download music. I have to own the CD or in some cases, and where available, the vinyl copy of albums I like. I’ve not joined the digital revolution for music yet, though I do of course rip all my CDs to put on my iPod, but you know what I mean. Consider that as I tell you that I didn’t download my 7 free songs, but instead paid $7 to get the aforementioned digital bundle of Ashton Lane music. The reasons for that are as follows:

  1. Lady Antebellum and The Band Perry are among my favourite modern country bands, so any comparison to them gets my attention
  2. I like the way the videos were very informal and humble, and they felt very personal and honest. I felt Ashton Lane were talking to me, not just anyone who stumbled upon their website
  3. $7 is £4.34 for us Brits, and that’s a ridiculously low price for all that was on offer
  4. The samplers that I eventually played after reading all the sales notes were very good
  5. In spite of me working in marketing, I’m a sucker for a well marketed product, especially one that appeals to me many levels already

I did it, I paid for and subsequently downloaded my very first digital album: Magic in the Air by Ashton Lane. It’s worth noting that at this point I’d forgotten all about the 7 free songs and it hasn’t crossed my mind until I started writing this article. The album itself is really good, no, I’ll go further than that and say it’s brilliant. The album is very well produced containing songs that are well written, catchy melodies and lead vocals by Esther that you’d expect to hear from a native of Nashville, not Scotland. I’ve listened to it twice in the last few days and look forward to really taking it in with more listens over the coming weeks. They are bang on with likening themselves to Lady Antebellum and The Band Perry and are not just name dropping them for the sake of getting’s people’s attention, which did work in my case.

Ashton Lane - Magic in the Air  album

Ashton Lane – Magic in the Air album

My $7 payment gives me access into the inner sanctum of the Ashton Lane website, but that’s something I’m yet to explore. Since I paid I’ve had a few more emails with links to more songs that are mine to download for free, so it could turn out to be the best $7 I’ve ever spent. From following me on Twitter based on my country music tweets and who I follow, to their very well presented message, and finishing with a superb album; Ashton Lane are to be commended both for their music and their marketing guile. It’s a different world in the music business these days and Ashton Lane are an example of how to do it right. I urge any fan of country music and music in general to check them out now, you won’t be disappointed.

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