Grammy-winning 21st century country diva Kacey Musgraves has forever changed the sound of country music. Before Musgraves, it was Rosanne Cash (yes, daughter of Johnny) who was putting in the hours of hard work to do so. Forty years into her recording career, Cash continues to dazzle us with her 13th album She Remembers Everything (Blue Note). The remarkable thing about the record is the way that she succeeds in offering something for everyone. Songs such as “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For,” “Not Many Miles To Go,” and “The Undiscovered Country” are classic Cash, certain to bring smiles of recognition to the faces of longtime fans. “Eight Gods of Harlem,” co-written by Cash, Elvis Costello, and Kris Kristofferson, and featuring the collaborators on vocals, is a thrilling delight. “Rabbit Hole,” dedicated to Joe Henry and Billy Bragg, is a perfect example of Cash’s literary skills. The exquisite and subtly dramatic “Everyone But Me” has instant cabaret classic written all over it.
Patty Griffin is situated somewhere in between Cash and Musgraves on the country spectrum. On her first couple of albums, Maine-native Griffin was pure New England singer / songwriter. The combination of writing songs that became massive hits for the Dixie Chicks and a relocation to Austin, Texas, put more twang in her folky songs. On her new, eponymous album, released by Thirty Tigers / The Orchard, Griffin strikes a perfect balance between her New England roots and Austin hometown. Songs such as “Had a Good Reason,” “Where I Come From,” “River,” “Bluebeard,” and “What Now”; to mention a few, are reflections of the former, while “Hourglass,” “The Wheel,” “Mama’s Worried,” and “Coins,” represent the latter. Additionally, breathtaking numbers such as “Luminous Places” and “Just the Same” are not to be missed.
One spin through young modern country singer Faye Webster’s Atlanta Millionaires Club (Secretly Canadian), and it’s clear that she has a knack for the genre. The ten songs deserve to be in rotation on country radio if only there was a DJ daring enough to play “What Used to be Mine,” “Hurts Me Too,” and “Room Temperature.” Webster also adds a dab of Nashville by way of Stax on “Pigeon,” “Jonny,” and “Come To Atlanta.” If there’s one complaint, it’s that the repetition in song such as “Right Side of My Neck” and “Room Temperature” wears thin quickly.
Singular Americana storyteller Anna Tivel gives us the answers we never knew we needed on her new album The Question (Fluff & Gravy). A well-timed slice of country (dis)comfort, the songs include the marvelous title cut, a respectful portrait of observation about a transitioning fellow citizen’s dual identities; “Fenceline,” which addresses the crisis at the border; “Anthony,” a song about loss and renewal; the relocation theme of “Minneapolis”; and the heartbreaking “Homeless Child.”
Liz Brasher sure can wail as she goes full-on Memphis country / soul / gospel on Painted Image (Fat Possum). She wastes no time taking us to church on “Blood of the Lamb,” singing about leaving her “burdens in the hands of son,” and having “been brought/to glory glory” on “Living Water.” “Air” is a breath of secular heartbreak and the steel guitar and mellotron on “Moon Baby” shine through.
Dawn Landes had something of a breakthrough on her 2018 album Meet Me at the River. The birth of her daughter Callan is said to have inspired her new six-song EP My Tiny Twilight (Yep Roc). As with much of contemporary children’s music made by singer/songwriters throughout the 21st century, the music on My Tiny Twilight can be enjoyed by listeners young and old alike.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).
He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.