Q-Music: Country 'tis of thee

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday June 21, 2022
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new albums from Eliza Gilkyson, The Whitmore Sisters and James McMurtry<br>
new albums from Eliza Gilkyson, The Whitmore Sisters and James McMurtry

If you've been listening to the amazing Eliza Gilkyson since the mid-1980s when she released her first album, you may recall that early on she was what some might call a "new age" artist. Even back then she had a progressive political bent to her songs, but they were set in synthesized arrangements.

Since that time, she has continued to be a singer/songwriter of note, performing in an increasingly Americana style, exemplified by her new album "Songs From the River Wind" (Howling Dog). Maintaining her musical activist stance, which was used to great effect on albums including "Paradise Hotel," "Secularia" and "2020," Gilkyson (daughter of acclaimed "The Bare Necessities" songwriter Terry Gilkyson and sister of X's Tony Gilkyson) beautifully merges the traditional ("Wanderin'") with the original ("Charlie Moore," "The Hill Behind This Town," and the John Gorka co-write "At The Foot of the Mountain") for a wonderful listening experience.


James McMurtry, like Eliza Gilkyson, has an important family connection. He's the son of the late bestselling author Larry McMurtry ("The Last Picture Show," "Terms of Endearment," "Lonesome Dove," and the Oscar-winning "Brokeback Mountain" screenplay). Additionally, McMurtry first crossed our radar in the 1980s (as did Gilkyson), and his songs share a similar political awareness as you can hear on his latest, "The Horses and the Hounds" (New West).

It's his first studio album since 2015 and McMurty hasn't lost his ability to draw us in with his storytelling gift, something which comes through on "Jackie," "Operation Never Mind," "Canola Fields," "What's The Matter," and "Decent Man."


The Whitmore Sisters know a thing or two about sisterly generosity and harmony. Both sisters had already established music careers before teaming up for "Ghost Stories" (Red House), their debut album as a duo. Bonnie had released a handful of solo recordings, while Eleanor may be best known as one half of The Mastersons with her husband Chris Masterson. "Ghost Stories" is proof that Bonnie and Eleanor definitely needed to team up with each other.

They have excellent taste in cover tunes, like Aaron Lee Tasjan's "Big Heart Sick Mind" and Paul McCartney's "On the Wings of a Nightingale" (originally recorded by another sibling duo, The Everly Brothers). As for the original Whitmore compositions, prepared to be dazzled by "Superficial World of Love," "The Ballad of Sissy & Porter," "Ricky" and "Hurtin' For a Letdown."


British sister folk trio The Staves have been expanding their sound over the course of four albums, including their latest vinyl LP "Good Woman" (Atlantic/Nonesuch). The folk harmony influence is still palatable on "Sparks," "Nothing's Gonna Happen," "Waiting On Me To Change," and "Paralyzed," while they also deserve credit for their willingness to experiment on songs including "Devotion," "Best Friend," "Next Year, Next Time," and the title cut.


Corny album cover aside, Hayes Carll's "You Get It All" (Dualtone) is sensational, beginning with the exceptional album opener "Nice Things," which not only features a female God (yes!) but also a lesson as meaningful as any bible verse. Co-written by Carll and modern country duo Brothers Osborne (featuring out brother TJ!), the song is contemporary-country at its best.

Also notable are "In the Mean Time," a duet with lesbian country artist Brandy Clark (who co-wrote the song with Carll), the country blues of "Different Boats" (co-written with Allison Moorer), the country soul of "The Way I Love You," and the gorgeous "If It Was Up To Me" (also co-written with Moorer).

Led by Bria Salmena, Bria (also featuring Duncan Hay Jennings and Jaime McCuaig) have released the six-song EP "Cuntry Covers Vol. 1" (Sub Pop). For the record, the spelling is theirs, not this writer's. The songs covered, including Karen Dalton's "Green Rocky Road," Waylon Jennings' "Dreaming My Dreams With You," Lucinda Williams "Fruits of my Labor," and The Walker Brothers' "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore," are all treated with the utmost respect.

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