Brad Cunningham Band,
Every Inch of Texas
(independent, 2016)

Libby Koch,
Just Move On
(Berkalin, 2016)

I haven't heard Libby Koch's earlier work, though a publicity sheet provides the intelligence that her previous album, Tennessee Colony, "focuses on the seventh-generation Texan's rich family history." So perhaps its musical setting is different from the one that surrounds Just Move On, which amounts to an updated take on 1970s country-pop. Koch -- she pronounces her last name the way the Koch Brothers do -- is not taking on big themes this time, instead reveling in meat-and-potatoes songs about lovin', leavin' and startin' over.

In the old days I heard a lot of comparable material on my car radio, back when public radio -- what I hear when I'm in motion these days -- was less ubiquitous than it is now. I listened to it because it was generally pleasant and mainstream pop stations had lost their appeal. Much later, after Nashville music got a whole lot worse, it dawned on me that '70s country, if not immortal in the hard-core fashion of Hank Williams, George Jones and Merle Haggard, wasn't bad. If mostly formulaic, the songs were professionally put together, tuneful, eminently listenable and sometimes even moving.

So there you have my assessment of Just Move On. I don't know Libby Koch, and little of her, but I suspect that's the kind of album she set out to cut, choosing studio veteran Bill VornDick to produce and employing experienced studio players to create a slick sound that is yet, unlike most contemporary Nashville product, not programmed to within an inch of its life. The performances and the arrangements feel human-sized. Weighing in at 11 cuts, all originals or co-writes, the album accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is not to set the world on fire but to serve up the pleasures of accessible, melodic pop, rock and country like they used to when the car radio felt like a genial companion.

I hear only one discordant note, and that's on the second cut, "You Don't Live Here Anymore," where here and there Koch's phrasing seems to go awry. Aside from these stray moments, she's in firm command. She reminds me in some ways of the once-popular, otherwise-forgotten, curiously underrated country-pop master Janie Fricke, minus the lustful sentiments. (See my observations on Fricke's career in this space on 21 July 2012.)

While claiming as its territory Every Inch of Texas, the Brad Cunningham Band in reality hails from Missouri. The Lone Star state of mind is a consequence of Cunningham's affection for Texas singer-songwriters such as Pat Green and Robert Earl Keen, who may or may not fit your definition of country music, at least if your tastes aren't attuned to how they do it in Texas. I think most listeners would agree, though, that the genre being practiced here is country-rock with a harder edge.

The songs are all Cunningham's work with the exception of a single co-write with the band's electric guitarist T.J. Klein. Cunningham is a solid craftsman, and the songs are vividly produced by Wes Sharon. This isn't honkytonk particularly; its antecedents are the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco and other 1970s outfits, influenced by country, bluegrass, folk and rock. Frankly, I have always experienced ambivalent feelings about this style, but if it appeals to you, Cunningham and companions do it better than most.

music review by
Jerome Clark

25 June 2016

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