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Four country-tinged albums for late fall

Haylair Music
"Poets & Prisoners" by Granger Smith
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Four country-tinged albums for late fall afternoons …

Eli Young Band –  Life At Best  (Republic Nashville)  2011

Continuing with the same successful formula that we heard on Jet Black & Jealous and Level before that, Denton, Texas-based Eli Young Band, led by singer Mike Eli, shows their uncanny ability to offer up catchy, appealing Texas country music with a poppy sheen on Life At Best. The mega-hit on country radio, “Crazy Girl,” really hits the spot, as does the engaging title track.

“Every Other Memory,” with a breezy, ringing guitar line from guitarist James Young and snappy snare from drummer Chris Thompson, is enhanced by some nice pedal steel and should be a hit if released on radio.

The Will Hoge/Eric Paslay-penned track “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” stands out, as does the ear candy of “Skeletons,” co-written by Sean McConnell, and “The Fight,” a melodic, twangy ballad that highlights Eli’s sultry voice.

Each band member had a hand in writing or co-writing a number of the songs on this 14-track album, which I see as an improvement over 2008’s so-so Jet Black & Jealous. This is really Eli Young Best at their best.

For more information go to www.eliyoungband.com.

Pistol Annies – Hell on Heels  (Columbia Nashville) 2011

Like the Traveling Wilburys before them, country music bad girls, the Pistol Annies – Lone Star Annie (Miranda Lambert), Holler Annie (Angaleena Presley) and Hippie Annie (Ashley Monroe) – have taken on stage names that unite them as a group and a great group at that.

Hell on Heels rolls right by, with 10 top-notch country tunes, but you feel like you are definitely getting your money’s worth with songs like Hippie Annie’s (Monroe) “Beige” and the old-styled, humorous country of “Bad Example.”

The lyrics are pure country, as we hear on “Housewife’s Prayer,” a song about wifely desparation: “God, I’m getting tired / Gonna set this house on fire / I’ve been thinking about going off the deep end.”

“Takin’ Pills” is a bit of a country/rockabilly mashup that features the Annies in great form as their voices meld as they unashamedly admit to lovin’ “fast men and cheap guitars.” And for you Southern men, be it from Little Rock or Montgomery, these rootin’, tootin’, Pistol Annies love their “Boys from the South.” And Lambert’s “Lone Star Annie” sounds great on “Trailer for Rent.” That Blake Shelton is a lucky man!

For more information go to www.pistolannies.com.

Granger Smith –  Poets & Prisoners  (Haylair Music) 2011

We at Red Dirt Report are big fan of Texas singer-songwriter Granger Smith having tagged his 2009 release Don’t Listen to the Radio as the best album released that year. So, of course we’re excited to see one of the tracks on his latest disc, Poets & Prisoners, is called “Red Dirt.”

Sings Smith: “Red dirt, you’ve been slippin’ through my fingers / I may be crazy now to leave her / but I need something more to make me stay that won’t wash away, like me and her and red dirt.”

But that’s just one of the great songs on Smith’s new record. Check out “Sleeping On the Interstate,” with its sleepy groove and lyrics about traveling with a band and being out on the road, following the white lines “like a yellow brick road.”

“Element #10,” with a frantic rhythm and the bar’s neon lights acting like a drug, keeping them there at the bar to hear the band. Interesting song concept.

Smith’s vocals really shine on “The Old Rock Church.” The highlight, though, would have to be the Irish folk/Dropkick Murphys-esque “I’m Wearing Black,” with a fiddle sound straight off The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack, and a punchy rock, pub element that makes it a true standout for Smith and his band.

Smith’s style is a crisp, adult-contemporary style that would sound good in Nashville or L.A. He doesn’t lay on a thick accent or play up rural-life clichés (and he’s a Texas A&M grad, y’all!) And while he’s not a run-of-the-mill Texas country artist, he has worked that circuit quite effectively and his live shows are terrific. Poets & Prisoners is yet another offering by Granger Smith that you are going to want to add to your country-music collection.

Matt Stell – Vestibule Blues  (124 Records) 2011

Out of central Arkansas comes alt-country singer-songwriter Matt Stell, who heads up a quartet called Matt Stell & The Crashers.

Stell is an artist to watch. We really liked 2009’s The Sound and The Story, but we love Vestibule Blues. From the soulful roots-rock of “Memphis On the River” to the confident balladry of “Piney Woods,” Stell’s songwriting prowess is a testament to his immense talents. The single “Robert Tatum” is a story/song standout, while "Sherry" has a folk-rock approach and a vocal style which reminds me of Son Volt's Jay Farrar.

This Arkansan can get soulful with "Speak Once More" immediately reminding me a bit of Guy Clark's "Texas Cookin'." The production work by Jeff Dayton really helps bring out Stell's strengths, and they are many.

Stell, I need to reiterate, has a great voice and he should be heard beyond his Mid-South stompin' grounds.

Check out the interview I conducted with Stell back in August for The Current magazine.

For more information go to www.mattstell.com.

Copyright 2011 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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