The commercial country world and namely country radio is a whole different beast here in the 2020s than it was back in the 1990s when Alan Jackson was knocking out hit after hit of songs well-deep on the traditional side of the genre. Songs like “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” “Livin’ on Love,” “Gone Country” and “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Jackson and number one country hits. Now a father figure in the world of country, not to mention a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, you have to hand it to Jackson for never veering from his traditional approach and love of the honky tonk sound. It put him on the map and made him oodles of money and whereas albums from him are not released at the frequency of two and three decades ago, when they do come they are consistently good with Jackson’s newest called Where Have You Gone no exception. His new one is in the Ear Bliss spotlight this week along with a terrific album from Rhode Island-based country singer/songwriter Charlie Marie called Ramble On. It is her first nationally distributed album and frankly speaking, it is as good a record of traditional-leaning country music as these ears have heard so far this year. Let’s get to it.
Where Have You Gone
EMI Records Nashville
Country Music Hall of Fame member Alan Jackson is back with her first album in five years (and first since his 2017 induction into the hall by none other than Loretta Lynn) and at 20 tracks in length, he sure makes up for lost time! It is called Where Have You Gone and the quick and dirty is it deviates little from his past formula of success when it comes to country music, that being blending straight-up honky tonk chock full of fiddle, twang and steel guitar along with heartful balladry. Oh yeah, in classic country style the bottle also seems to seep its way into many of the song storylines. Stick Alan Jackson in a dancehall and he could get a crowd on the floor twirling and spinning in a heartbeat. That formula is in motion on Where Have You Gone via songs likes “Where the Cottonwood Grows,’ the boot-scootin’ “Livin’ On Empty,” “Back,” and the working man beaut called “Beer:10.” On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Jackson also has that innate ability to tug at the heartstrings as he does on the title track which doubles as the lead single from the album and others like the crafty “Wishful Drinkin’,” “I Can Be That Something,” “Way Down in My Whiskey,” the tear-tugging “Things That Matter,” and “You’ll Always Be My Baby” which he wrote for his daughter’s wedding. As Alan Jackson so ably proves on Where Have You Gone, country music in the classic style never grows old and here’s thinking iconic cats like the late George Jones and Merle Haggard must be looking down with satisfied smiles from honky tonk heaven. (Speaking of Haggard, Jackson pays tribute to him with a cover “That’s the Way Love Goes” which is included as a bonus track on the album.) If you dig traditional-leaning country, you’ll be smiling, too.
Rhode Island has really never been somewhere that’s necessarily associated with country music, but the new release from Charlie Marie called Ramble On is certainly ready to put us on the map. Her first nationally distributed album, the songs and music of Ramble On places it firmly in the Patsy Cline and Dwight Yoakam camps when it comes to country. As Charlie Marie herself explains, “I wanted the record to sound like if Patsy Cline and Dwight Yoakam had a child,” she explains. “It doesn’t just symbolize everything I’m working toward; it symbolizes where I come from, too.” Where she comes from is Northwest Rhode Island. She has been singing since a youth at 4H fairs, family affairs, and karaoke’s and whereas she did take her fortunes to Nashville, it wasn’t to pursue a career in country music but rather to go to college where she studied the business of music. In fact, other than some open mics she never really pursued a music career in Music City preferring instead to return home and do it from here. She did, however, establish some connections in Nashville and those play into the making of Ramble On. For the album, she, her guitarist Brian McKinnon and her producer Tyler James Kelly of Providence’s The Silks fame headed to Nashville to make the record. Along with her Nashville-based engineering team and some ace studio musicians including the pedal steel guitar great Eddie Lange, Ramble On was made. It features 12 songs, all Charlie Marie originals, and all of on which she shines with a voice with the range and old school style of her hero Ms. Cline to that of the feistiness of a Loretta Lynn. For all that talent on the vocal end, you still need good songs and Charlie Marie has plenty on Ramble On from the clever “I Heard It Through the Red Wine” to the roadhouse soul of “40 Miles From Memphis” to the rough and tough “Kiss My Boots” to the heartfelt “Daddy” to “El Paso” with its different twist on love gone bad. As debuts go, Ramble On is impressive. Highly recommended.
Charlie Marie performs at the Newport Playhouse & Cabaret on Friday evening. She will also be at the Galactic Theatre in Warren on August 6, Huck’s Filling Station in East Greenwich on August 19, and the Rhythm & Roots Festival on September 4.
The Newport Folk Festival’s “Folk On” spinoff event runs from Friday through next Wednesday with what is two three-day sessions. Whereas tickets are sold out, you can try the festival’s fan-to-fan ticket exchange on Lyte to find tix. A number of independent evening events will be occurring in and around Newport. One such event happens Saturday evening and that is Oldjack’s Newport Night taking place at The Newport Playhouse and Cabaret Restaurant and featuring OldJack, Will Dailey, Lonely Leesa & the Lost Cowboys, Charlie Marie, Mary-Elaine Jenkins, Senseless Optimism and more. There will also be food trucks and beverages. Start time is 7 pm. Maggie Rose & friends are at the Playhouse on Friday evening. On Monday evening, the Playhouse hosts the Rhode Island Folk Showcase with Allysen Callery Jodie Treloar Sampson, John Fuzek, Avi Jacob, Cardboard Ox, Beth Barron & more. In Woonsocket, the Levitt AMP Woonsocket Summer Music Series held downtown at the River Island Art Park located at 40 Main Street continues this Friday evening rising Americana talent Carsie Blanton headlining and indie rock act Beardogz in the opening slot. Music runs from 6-9 pm. Zydeco ace Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience with reggae act Natural Element perform on July 30. Chan’s Restaurant in Woonsocket features the Fat City Band on Saturday night at 8 pm. The Jesse Liam Band is there next Thursday night. The Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket gets back to live music on July 30 when it presents the Rolling Stones Tribute band Satisfaction for a single show at 8 pm.
In South County, the Eric Clapton tribute band Bell Bottom Blues will be at the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston on Saturday evening at 8 pm. Guitarist Steve Katz of Blood, Sweat & Tears fame along with Kala Farnham will be at the Courthouse on August 7. It is the usual full weekend of music is in store at Pump House Music Works on Kingstown Road in Peace Dale on their outdoor stage. A twin bill featuring Rhode to Bali and The Vagabonds leads things off on Friday evening. Saturday features The Duke Robillard Band with the Chris Flory Trio kicking the evening off at 6 pm. The weekend closes out on Sunday afternoon with an open mic session at 3 pm. The Charlestown Rathskeller also has its usual full weekend of music on tap with favorites Into the Mystic on Friday evening, The Pogs on Saturday night, and an afternoon show featuring Skull & Roses on Sunday at 4 pm. Ticket information is at The Rat’s web site. The Knickerbocker Music Center in Westerly (35 Railroad) presents The Chris Leigh Band on Saturday evening for an 8 pm show. Finally, acclaimed singer/songwriter Aoife O’Donovan is at the United Theatre in Westerly on Friday night.
Elsewhere, the next event from the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA is Friday evening with Jimmy Ryan’s Wooden Leg at 8 pm. Askew in Providence (150 Chestnut Street) takes advantage of Newport “Folk On” happenings by scoring some artists for evening shows. Acclaimed singer/songwriter Sunny War will be at Askew on Sunday night with openers Ali McGuirk and May-Elaine Jenkins and Jimbo Mathus & The Dial Back Sound at the club on Tuesday night. Finally,
Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.