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Country - Released August 19, 2014 | Show Dog Universal Music

Joel Crouse's debut album, Even the River Runs, produced by Jamie Houston for Show Dog-Universal Music, features Crouse's fresh, sometimes John Mayer-like (if Mayer were country) take on country pop, led by the radio singles "If You Want Some" and "Don't Tell Me." Crouse, working with veteran Nashville songwriters like James Dean Hicks, Luke Laird, Craig Wiseman, and others, had a hand in writing all ten of the songs on the album. © Steve Leggett /TiVo
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Country - Released May 21, 2013 | Show Dog Universal Music

This is a romantic album, as the title Love Will... suggests: sweet, soulful, and slow, almost entirely ignoring the honky tonk that was once Trace Adkins' stock in trade. In its stead comes a duet with Colbie Caillat, a singer who has nothing to do with country, and a cover of Exile's disco-country classic "Kiss You All Over" cut with the group itself, two indications that Adkins is mining a distinctly smooth and seductive territory, one that sonically could cross over into the pop mainstream if it weren't for his burly baritone, a signature that keeps him planted in country. This is country music but it's rooted in the masculine slickness of the heyday of urban cowboy. The occasional slight Auto-Tune placed on Adkins' voice strongly signals this album was cut in the present day but, otherwise, Love Will... plays a bit like a throwback to the glory days of soft country, crossed with a little bit of new millennial production flair (chiefly achieved in the echo, ringing, single-note riffs that are there for texture, not hooks). Perhaps Love Will... doesn't make itself known the way earlier Adkins records did, but this is charmingly low-key and suggests a nice mature second act as a crooner for the singer. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2012 | Show Dog Universal Music

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Country - Released January 1, 2012 | Show Dog Universal Music

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Rock - Released January 1, 2011 | Show Dog Universal Music

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Country - Released November 8, 2011 | Show Dog Universal Music

Strangely, it’s possible to take Joe Nichols’ unassuming album titles to heart. He celebrated Real Things in 2007, found Old Things New in 2009, and now, two years later and after his first greatest-hits collection, he’s decided that It’s All Good and this, his sixth major-label effort, certainly does roll along on his casual charm. Nichols never pushes hard and that easy touch is winning, particularly when the guitars are cranked, pushing the album close to rocking country. His roots may run a little deeper than modern country -- he effectively channels George Jones on the title track, never once seeming forced -- but the key to Nichols' appeal is that he’s a thoroughly modern guy who has an old-school attitude, and that swagger keeps his ballads from being too saccharine, his poppier numbers from being too sweet. Perhaps he could stand to have some knockout singles and perhaps he’s a little too comfortable giving the people what they want, but Nichols is always reliable, always likable, and this album is definitely all good. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2011 | Show Dog Universal Music

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Country - Released April 13, 2009 | Show Dog Universal Music

Bad Magick is comprised of two unreleased cover songs and 13 "hits," only one of which -- the pleasantly jangling "4th of July" -- experienced any degree of chart success. As a result, this compilation may be a bit premature, as it takes its material from three scant studio albums and one live release. Bad Magick does give a good overview of Shooter Jennings' short career, however, touching upon his country roots, his flirtation with Southern rock & roll, and his respect for those who came before him (best displayed by a faithful rendition of Dire Straits' "Walk of Life"). The two unreleased cuts -- a live version of "Lonesome Blues," originally written by Jennings' former guitarist Leroy Powell, and a cover of Hank Williams, Jr.'s "Living Proof" -- are both fine additions, the latter track only adding to Jennings' status as a torchbearer of outlaw country. None of this can change the fact that Bad Magick is most likely the result of a contractual obligation, but those looking for a quick introduction to Shooter Jennings' confident twang should be pleased with such a release. © Andrew Leahey /TiVo
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Country - Released October 12, 2009 | Show Dog Universal Music

Turning old things into something new is a key part of the job description of a country singer like Joe Nichols, and he does a slick job of it on Old Things New, his fifth major-label album. Nichols has a fondness for all things classic country -- songs both sad and funny about drinking, songs about love won and lost, songs about small-town girls and hometowns, all fueled by sawing fiddles, steel guitars, and twanging Telecasters. There's a big difference between a traditionalist and someone who follows tradition, and Nichols belongs in the latter camp, less concerned with the past than the present, admitting that booze is cheaper than a shrink, happily sliding into power-ballad mode on the slower songs. Those rock influences -- not just on bombastic ballads, but on the sweet, swaying soft rock of "Man, Woman" -- are more prominent here than before, but the music is always grounded in Nichols' warm, supple voice, the thing that keeps Old Things New in a country tradition even when the production strays off course. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2008 | Show Dog Universal Music

Like many professional Nashville songwriters, Randy Houser -- a co-author of Trace Adkins' career-defining smash "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" -- was given a crack at a career as a performer based on the strength of his songs and, like many other songsmiths turned singers, he has to sing other people's tunes on his 2008 debut, Anything Goes. One of those professionally written songs is the title track, a clear ploy to ease Houser onto the tight playlists of commercial radio, and it's as fine as far as the formula goes: melodic and tightly constructed, but not quite memorable. The same could be said for Houser's soft, everyman voice, which is pleasing enough but not quite memorable, at least when he's paired with these written-to-order songs -- and that can include songs that Houser penned himself, especially his melodramatic ballads, which veer toward the maudlin no matter if he's singing about god or lovers. Apart from the irritating Big & Rich-aping affectations of "Strange," Houser is better when the tempo either kicks up or lays back -- when things get looser, he shows some personality. He gets funny on the sly "Lie," grinds out a workingman's blues on "Paycheck Man," and strikes a terrific mellow jazzy groove on "How Many Times," the only one of these three written by another author (in this case, the great Al Anderson). These songs show Hauser's range and his easygoing appeal, and it's just a shame that there aren't a few more of them on this too professional debut. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2008 | Show Dog Universal Music

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Country - Released March 11, 2008 | Show Dog Universal Music

It's hard to call Phil Vassar's Prayer of a Common Man a concept album, as it contains no narrative, but it sure is conceptual, built upon the trials and travails of the common man in 2008, which naturally means there are plenty of passing references to Republicans and Democrats and the high price of gas. Vassar pumps Prayer full of everyman melodrama and easy nostalgia, supporting his conversational clichés with music that is country in marketing only, as he chooses to support his tales of the common man with songs that deliberately evoke John Mellencamp and Bob Seger -- quite literally so with the latter, as Vassar builds in allusions to "Night Moves" and "Roll Me Away" on "My Chevrolet," which plays as if penned for a year-long television ad campaign. He may aspire to Mellencamp and Seger, but his reliance on grandiose piano runs makes large sections of Prayer of a Common Man feel like the work of a Midwestern Billy Joel, especially as the first half of the album is heavy on overheated songs, designed to fill arenas but almost feeling better suited for a theatrical production. Things get a little looser as the album rolls on, as Vassar eases into a great little zydeco rocker called "Why Don't Ya" and indulges in some surprisingly effective psychedelia lite on the chorus of "It's Only Love," which recalls the better moments of Big Kenny. These tunes prove that Vassar is at his best when he doesn't try quite so hard. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2007 | Show Dog Universal Music

While some critics seem to have fun playing the "name that genre" game with Cross Canadian Ragweed's music (is it country? alt-country? arena rock?), on Mission California, their fourth studio album for Universal South, the Oklahoma foursome make it clear that, the Drive-By Truckers notwithstanding, they may be the last great Southern rock band still stomping the boards. What makes Cross Canadian Ragweed noble inheritors of the great Southern rock tradition is their clear belief in the Boogie; it's hardly the only thing they can do, but the rollicking clatter of the opener, "Record Exec," has a swagger few bands could conjure these days, and the litany of good and bad ideas "I Believe You," the edgy road story "Walls to Climb," and the fourth-gear celebration of excess "Smoke Another" capture a head-bobbing groove that would have sounded just fine in a packed arena in the mid-'70s (and for this sort of stuff, that's a compliment). It's enough to make you wish that the band had kicked out a few more jams of this caliber on Mission California; while most of the songs here are fine indeed, Cross Canadian Ragweed ease back on the rock more often than is good for them, and though the high-attitude "Dead Man," the homage to one great waitress "Soul Agent," and the backhanded celebration of their home state "In Oklahoma" are good enough that you don't mind the lower impact, the best rockers are good enough that you miss the big beat while it takes a break. Still, Cross Canadian Ragweed still write 'em and play 'em like heroes on Mission California, and folks who dig big rock and big twang will like this just fine. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released August 21, 2007 | Show Dog Universal Music

Joe Nichols finally had a big hit with his 2005 album III, released nearly a decade after his first independent records. III found Nichols loosening up a bit, delivering the very funny "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" which was also a strong song outside its quips, strong enough to become a genuine pop Top 40 hit after it topped the country charts. Such success can be hard to follow, and for his 2007 follow-up Real Things, Nichols does beat a bit of retreat, deciding not to expand upon that slyly rowdy hit but instead returning to the ballads that served him well for his first two records. He still kicks up the tempo on occasion -- most notably on "Let's Get Drunk and Fight," a sequel to "Tequila" that's nearly as laugh-out-loud funny, but also on the speedy "Comin' Back in a Cadillac," a tune that's more traditionally country-rockin' yet also on the anthemic "It Ain't No Crime" -- but by and large Real Things is a gentler affair, reminiscent of his second album, Revelation. However, there is a difference here: that record often seemed to cruise by on Music City gloss where Real Things digs deep, sounding deeply felt no matter how smooth it gets. Or no matter how sappy it gets, either, since there are several songs that flirt with being just a bit too emotional, whether it's the nostalgia of the title track or the autobiography of "Ain't Nobody Gonna Take That from Me." What saves these songs is the warmth of the production and, above all, the richness of Nichols' singing. He can find the truth in a cliché and is compelling even in the quietest moments, of which there are many here. Real Things is an album designed for contemplation or relaxation, and it works as both, sliding into the background or rewarding close listening. Some may wish that Nichols partied a little harder in the wake of "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off," but even those naysayers will likely find this to be his most consistent album to date -- and those who prefer his smooth, comforting voice to his taste in traditional country may indeed find this to be his best album as well. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2007 | Show Dog Universal Music

Lacking both the songwriting skills of his superstar dad and the platinum-selling croon of his Nashville superiors, Shooter Jennings has struggled to carve his own niche. The Wolf finds him twanging his way through traditional (almost stereotypical) country music, despite his past forays into rock & roll territory. Jennings' previous studio effort, Electric Rodeo, was a far edgier affair, and the subsequent Live at Irving Plaza 4.18.06 showed him at his best, leading a raucous bar band -- the .357s -- through electrified romps about Southern living and drug busts. Traces of that energy are evident in The Wolf's kick-off track, "This Ol' Wheel," where Jennings name-checks Johnny Cash and dismisses his critics with a kinetic country-rap delivery. His voice is confident, almost swaggering, and the track blazes with kick-stomp percussion and fiddle riffs courtesy of Doug Kershaw. Perhaps it's no coincidence that The Wolf's other standout track, "Slow Train," also features a lively cameo, this time by the Oak Ridge Boys. Jennings grew up among the heavyweights of outlaw country, a genre his father helped invent, and he sounds solid when paired with stars of that caliber. Even so, Jennings sounds his best on country-rock numbers that combine his pedigree with a splash of loud, distorted guitars, and there's not enough of that material here. Instead, listeneres are saddled with a smattering of soft country, some rootsy numbers, and several horn-laden tracks, none of which deliver the punch of "This Ol' Wheel." The tunes aren't necessarily bad; they simply lack a proper person to sing them, since Jennings' mediocre vocals are better suited to a genre in which a singer's limitations can be masked by vigor and volume. The Wolf pushes those shortcomings to the forefront, and the strength with which Jennings begins the album can't sustain him through the end. © Andrew Leahey /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2006 | Show Dog Universal Music

In a recent interview, Shooter Jennings claimed that Electric Rodeo was actually recorded before Put the "O" Back in Country, which was released first. Sonically, Electric Rodeo is louder, rawer, more upfront rock & roll than its predecessor, though there are solid, old-school country tunes here as well: the wild fiddle stomp of "Manifesto No. 2," and the broken love song "Aviators," with its spoken word intro and whinnying pedal steel. But as the title suggests, for the most part, Electric Rodeo is a hardcore, roaring country-rock record. Jennings' band -- Leroy Powell on guitar, Brian Keeling on drums, and Ted Kamp on bass with Robby Turner on steel, and backing vocals by no less than Bonnie Bramlett -- are a crack crew. They swagger and slither and stomp, but they know how to whisper, too. On tracks such as the title, "Little White Lines," "Bad Magick," and the jet-propelled swamp funk of "Alligator Chomp" -- with a guest vocal by Tony Joe White -- Jennings uses angular Texas blues, hard rock/arena rock dynamics -- complete with Mac Truck volume guitars -- tight, big whomp drums, and the almighty riff to get his hell-raising message across. There are also some more outlaw country-styled cuts such as "It Ain't Easy," "Goin' to Carolina," "Some Rowdy Women," "The Song Is Still Slipping Away," and "Hair of the Dog." They recall the brand of historic country music Jennings' father helped to pioneer in the 1970s. The term "outlaw" is simply a musically descriptive word now; it's not meant to be a millstone around Shooter's neck -- even though he directly references Waylon often (and let's face it, if anyone has a right to do that, it's him). Electric Rodeo is solid; it's full of ragged road poetry, defiant rowdyism, and restless, rust-stained, country-soul, with plenty of its own charisma. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2006 | Show Dog Universal Music

After two killer, groundbreaking studio recordings in 2005 -- Souls' Chapel and Badlands -- about the last thing one would expect from Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives was a live bluegrass LP recorded at the historic Ryman Auditorium. To be accurate, Live at the Ryman was recorded in July of 2003. In addition to his regular band -- which includes guitarist Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson on snare drum, and Brian Glenn on bass (all of whom sing) -- guests that night are in the stratospheric category: fiddler Stuart Duncan, banjo master Charlie Cushman, and pioneering dobro boss Uncle Josh Graves. According to Stuart's liner notes, there was a 20-minute rehearsal before the gig to agree on tunes to play. That was it.. If he's not jiving, this is an even more astonishing record than its sound and contents give up. The set opens with a rollicking "Orange Blossom Special," with Duncan literally tearing up the middle, improvising on the theme with reckless abandon. Stuart then throws a curveball, letting his mandolin dig deep into the blues and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" riff on "No Hard Times." It slows down a bit for the wonderful old hillbilly blues tune "Homesick," with killer vocal harmonies. "Shuckin' the Corn" is a vehicle for Charlie Cushman, who tears it up from the inside and quotes "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" as Duncan kicks into high gear with a solo and Cushman comes back right at him turning the mode inside out. There is no stopping this band, who follow the twists and turns of the tune like jazzmen. Honky Tonk gets a nod here as well with "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' Anymore," though done in proper bluegrass fashion -- Jimmy Martin would be proud of the treatment of this tune. The read of "Train 45" has Josh Graves' signature technique all over it, and his sense of humor, as well. When it all comes to a romping close with Stuart's own "Hillbilly Rock, done in hardcore bluegrass fashion that unearths the true roots of the savage rockabilly played by Johnny Burnette, Gene Vincent, and Elvis in his earliest incarnation. Something special has happened in that these musicians have brought everything from the Mississippi Delta to the Carter Family to the Monroe Brothers and the Stanley Brothers to rock and roll out in rough-and-tumble display from the heart of mountain music. This one smokes. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2006 | Show Dog Universal Music

Cross Canadian Ragweed have always made the live stage their stock in trade as evidenced by their glut of recently released live albums -- Back to Tulsa: Live and Loud at Cain's Ballroom being their third in five years. The title holds true as the band knocks out blisteringly loud Lone Star alt-country throughout the two-disc set with brief pauses for breath, such as a faithful rendition of Neil Young's "Needle and the Damage Done." Much of the material comes from their previous studio efforts Soul Gravy and Garage, and fans of these outings will not be disappointed by their live readings. © TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2006 | Show Dog Universal Music

Eight years after he parted ways with Arista Records, Lee Roy Parnell returns to the "big leagues" with Back to the Well, his first album for Universal South, but if anyone was afraid that he might water down his songs or his delivery to score a new major-label deal, the good news is that's not at all the case. Back to the Well leans strongly to the blues-influenced side of Parnell's music rather than the more country-styled and radio-friendly sound of his biggest hits, and Parnell has laid plenty of tough guitar solos over these tunes. Parnell co-wrote all 12 songs on Back to the Well, which range from the hard-won sentimentality of "Daddies and Daughters" to the roadhouse-ready "You Can't Lose 'Em All," with the deep-groove title cut and the Booker T.-meets-Jimmy Smith instrumental "Cool Breeze" bookending the set. Parnell cuts a solid but laid-back figure on this album, which is more about mood and meaning than playing to the grandstands. This album has plenty of energy, but Parnell's focus is on the intensity of the song and the performance rather than bombast, and the results suggest a late-night mood without enough vigor to make it play in the daylight hours. (The production by Parnell and John Kunz suits the tunes perfectly, adding just enough gloss to show off the highlights without losing the grit along the edges.) Back to the Well is certainly one of Parnell's stronger efforts, and anyone who's been wanting to hear him groove on guitar and sing with soul will get a kick out of this. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2006 | Show Dog Universal Music

Shooter Jennings may not be a household name yet, the way his late daddy Waylon is, but he can rock the house and turn it inside out just as well. This 11-cut set was recorded for a Sirius Radio broadcast in the Outlaw Country series -- hosted by Jennings -- at Irving Plaza in New York City. It offers ample evidence that Jennings is a rocker who loves country music; not the other way around. Hell, Kid Rock loves country too so what's the big deal? Jennings adheres to no system, no trend, no set of rules; his .357's make the competition -- from Kenny Chesney's to Steve Earle's Dukes -- sound like pretenders. Jennings rubs people the wrong way, and given this over the top set -- introduced by none other than Little Steven -- it's easy to understand why. This is outlaw music with a capital "O." It may end up taking off, and if it does, it will be because he toured with rock & roll acts, not more subdued country artists -- Drive-By Truckers and Tim McGraw's Dancehall Doctors excepted -- although the latter might grant him the Nash Vegas introduction and acceptance he actually needs to succeed in that stilted music biz town. Rock audiences will completely get Jennings and his no BS approach to making music. Take the perfect fusion of country and balls-out rock on "Gone to Carolina," a ballad that just erupts into a guitar blast. "Busted in Baylor County" is a rollicking account of a drug bust in Texas after the band played its third gig, and digs into Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf," in the bridge. Yet all the hard rock careening doesn't detract from the fact that Jennings and the .357's can play country. Just check out "Lonesome Blues" and the honky tonk "Manifesto No. 2," or the garage rock-meets-honky tonk "Manifesto No. 1" and the acoustically announced "It Ain't Easy," and you'll hear not only a pedigree but an artist. Add the burning "Steady at the Wheel," and the slow tempo but over-the-top rock of "Daddy's Farm," and the show seems surreal but exhilarating, a trip into some zone that Waylon & Willie or Hank Jr. never even envisaged, but it's there. Jennings and his band may be raw, ramshackle, and garagey, but they know how to do it right. This baby smokes, offering live evidence of what the studio albums only hint at. © Thom Jurek /TiVo