DIERKS BENTLEY, Up On The RidgeYou read it here first, folks, back in February of 2009, an unflinching prediction that mainstream country superstar Dierks Bentley was headed exactly where he has landed on Up On the Ridge, his new bluegrass-influenced album.

THE EARL BROTHERS, The Earl BrothersThese Earl Brothers—not really brothers, you see—come from some place so dark and so mysterious and so ancient it cannot possibly exist in our day and age. They do what countless blues, bluegrass and country artists have done for so long in appropriating and building on lyrics and musical foundations that came before them, and Robert Earl can certainly affect a husky, nasally Ralph Stanley vocal style as if to the manor born. It’s probably to their credit that some reviewers have reviled the Earls as bluegrass frauds, or at least plagiarists. Truly, theirs is Twilight Zone bluegrass, a style with one foot in the music’s deepest traditions, the other in a forbidding world only the Earls know. If you’re looking for something that sounds familiar but isn’t quite like anything else either in roots music, The Earl Brothers await and welcome you.

MARK CHESNUTT, OutlawUnadulterated and unvarnished from first cut to last, Outlaw is a high-water mark in Mark Chesnutt’s career resurgence, and in Pete Anderson he’s found a producer who respects the music, respects the artist, and gets the best out of both. This is country as it ought to be, and one of the most pleasing records of the year to boot.

STONE RIVER BOYS, Love On The DialWhen the legendary Dan Penn was putting his producer’s touch on those great Hacienda Brothers albums awhile back, he came up with a succinct phrase to describe the band’s cross-genre musical blend: “Western soul.” Following the death of the Hacienda’s gifted Chris Gaffney, the Hacienda Brothers ceased to exist, but Gaffney’s compadre and bandmate Dave Gonzalez is carrying on the Hacienda ethos in grand style in a new collaboration with “The Tyrant of Texas Funk,” Mike Barfield. In short, western soul is alive and well in the form of the Stone River Boys, another fine Austin export to the world beyond the Lone Star State borders.

THE TWANGTOWN PARAMOURS, The Twangtown Paramours/SWEET SUNNY SOUTH, Carried Off By A Twister Love and music are always in the air, not only in spring, and the past couple of months have provided more proof that roots music is increasingly becoming a destination of choice for couples bound by the heart and by the music they make together.

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