Hank Williams- MacKenzie Grant- Dan Ashley- Jimmy Carter

Our spotlight on Americana music includes a listen to a long awaited release from MacKenzie Grant along with gospel artist Jimmy Carter, country music legend Hank Williams and Bay Area journeyman Dan Ashley.

MacKenzie Grant - Wonder World

Was she trying to avoid the sophomore slump? Actually the reason that it's been 15-years since Grant released new music is because she was working for Metro Nashville Public Schools as a preschool counselor in a high-poverty and high-trauma district in North Nashville. The seven-song effort starts with "All of This," a cut that stylistically recalls acts like Allison Moorer, where her dulcet tones ride a slow and melancholy melody where extra emotion comes through in the pedal steel parts. "Memo to My Sister" is a reflection on how a woman was left to fend for herself in time of need; "Coffee and Wine" is more upbeat even though the titular wine is not consumed in celebration but as self-medication. Grant chooses Joni Mitchell's "Borderline" as the effort's one cover, a sad cut that fits right in with Grant's self-penned material and that MacKenzie interprets perfectly (the song's lyric is also where the album title Wonder World comes from.) Grant is not shooting for mass radio play here but the jaunty "Putting Down Some Things" proves she can be right there when she wants to.

Hank Williams - I'm Gonna Sing: The Mother's Best Gospel Radio Recordings

In 1951 Hank Williams had his own 15-minute radio show on WSM in Nashville. Williams often performed gospel songs on the show, which was sponsored by Mothers Best Flour. And that's where the 40 cuts assembled for this 2-CD compilation set came from. Because this is live radio, Williams introduces the songs, many of which will be familiar to fans, like "I'll Fly Away," the traditional "When the Saints Go Marching In" and Hank's own "I Saw the Light." Others penned by Williams include "Dear Brother," "Jesus Remembered Me," "Jesus Died for Me" and "How Can You Refuse Him;" also performed is "I Heard My Mother Praying for Me" which was written by Hank's wife Audrey who also sings on the cut. Williams' vocal style was often forlorn and it is here too although also steeped in wonderment and hopefulness.

Dan Ashley - Out There

Based in the San Francisco Bay area, Ashley is a veteran player with an extensive resume but Out There is his debut solo album. The singer is also an accomplished songwriter, having co-written the majority of songs here with band member Bill Bentley. The pair tune to a decidedly Springsteen bent on opening cut "River City" and similar sounds abound throughout; fans will likely hear notes of John Mellencamp, Tom Petty and others of the ilk here. The tender ballad "Lucky Stars" comes mid-album but Ashley's back to rocking real quick with "Da Na Na Na Na," an ode to the power chord (without power chords) that has an irresistible chorus that demands a sing along. Title cut "Out There" finds Ashley looking to the Jersey sound again but not Springsteen; the cut shows how vocal comparisons to Southside Johnny are not far off. Out There will be a real pleaser for long time fans while also offering a great gateway for newbies.

Jimmy Carter - Blind Faith

No, the 39th president of the United States has not added 'recording artist' to his resume. This Jimmy Carter is a singer with the famed Blind Boys of Alabama, a group that he co-founded. Here on his first solo album his band works up a jazz groove on "After the Storm," hits a jaunty walking rhythm on the uplifting "Blind Faith" and moves to a sublime classic country sound on "Crossing the Threshold." Carter just turned 90-years-old but his voice here is strong and expressive and perfect for the storytelling of cuts like "Lord Take Me." Harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite guests on the bluesy "Why Me;" other guest players include the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburg and the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind Choir. Like any other genre of music, gospel comes in lots of styles, and those who think they 'don't like gospel' should definitely hear this gem.

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