Yoakam might seem like a footnote now, but at the time he was the equal of Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, and Clint Black in terms of kicking country in its pants and returning it to a more rootsy sound. Anderson's Telecaster work was a key part of Yoakam's sound, giving it an authenticity that made the music jump ahead of the competition.
Anderson's been on his own now for about eight years, knocking out solo albums and exploring his own muse, which is decidedly more bluesy than his previous work. It's also exceptionally good, a blend of styles that morph into something that is distinctly his own.
Perhaps it's his country background, but lurking in the subtext of Anderson's blues is a finger-picking vibe that hints -- just barely -- at his previous incarnation. "Even Things Up" is a fun travelogue of styles, ranging from Steve Cropper-style picking on "Booker Twine" to big boy blues guys like Albert Collins or B.B. King to jazzy stylings of Wes Montgomery.
Anderson, a Detroit native who hasn't lived there since his youth, plays with taste, never letting two notes get in the way when just one will do. The result is a showcase for an artist that deserves the attention.
-- ROD LOCKWOOD
After five successful studio albums, it's only natural to expect a country singer to release a package of what he and the music buyers consider his best stuff. With this impressive collection of 18 contemporary dandies over 67 1/2 minutes, Fowler doesn't disappoint even a little.
While he's not on the same popularity level as some of the better-known country artists, chances are mighty good that you've heard him if you listen to any country radio. Some of his most memorable numbers, such as "Beer Season," "Pound Sign," and "Beer, Bait and Ammo" will likely jar your memory as soon as they start. Of course, they're here along with a fine assortment of mostly up-tempo, roadhouse rockers.
Fowler's smooth baritone does a fine job on uncomplicated lyrics about good times and hard drinking, perfect fodder for the barroom jukeboxes where the audiences appreciate him. The vocals go down easy, the melodies are straight up, the backup musicians talented but unremarkable, and it all blends together like a mixed drink with top-shelf booze.
-- KEN ROSENBAUM
Some discs are just gloriously unpolished; better in their raw form than if a sound engineer had gone over them and smoothed 'em over. This is one example.
Oscher's latest is a limited edition of 15 rough, unedited takes (the title track, which includes a great anecdote about his first encounter with Little Walter, is sprinkled with explicit language). The disc is an infectious collection of live and studio-recorded roadhouse blues, jazz, and gospel numbers.
Oscher might not be a household name, in part because of a large gap in his career, but he's a multiple award-winning blues artist who played harmonica in the incomparable Muddy Waters' band from 1967 to 1972, one of the first white musicians to cross over the color barrier to become a featured bandmate of such a high-profile African-American blues artist of that era.
"Bet on the Blues" is low-down and gritty, with Oscher featured on harmonica, guitar, and piano in trio and quartet settings. Even his tight, two-minute gospel ditties have more soul in them than a lot of today's long and overly produced music.
-- TOM HENRY