Arista, 18818-2 (34 mins)
Dial-a-track code: 1201
First, a public service announcement. Allow me to mark your cards. If you find yourself in Dublin tonight, in the neighbourhood of Wexford Street, then make your way to Whelan's public house and music emporium for, unless I am dismally awry in my judgment, the oddly named BR5-49 will be taking patrons on a rollicking ride to hillbilly heaven. Regular readers may remember that BR5-49's Live At Robert's - a live mini album of rib and hip tickling country exotica - received an enthusiastic thumbs up in a recent column. Their eponymous debut album is an understandably more circumspect affair and the band's defects, notably their rather undistinguished vocals, are more obvious in the sterile studio atmosphere. Yet the music, taking its cue from the likes of Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen and other maverick outfits of yore, is a tonic for ears dulled by the Nashville assembly line.
Gillian Welch: "Revival"
MCD, 80055 (42 mins)
Dial-a-track code: 1311
Most of the songs on this remarkable album carry a 1996 copyright, but in truth they could have been written any time in the last 50 or 60 years. They are timeless reflections on a grim life made just about bearable by faith and the occasional turn of the dice. Gillian Welch's pure bittersweet delivery and T Bone Burnett's superbly understated production evoke an atmosphere of sepia-toned desolation, dust bowl ballads for the cold hearted Nineties. The musicianship is fireside warm, gently picked acoustic guitars, shimmering dobros occasionally fortified by moody bass and ragged electric bottleneck guitar. All 10 tracks deserve mention but I'll leave you with the opening lines of Barroom Girls to whet your appetite: "Oh the night came undone like a party dress/And fell at her feet in a beautiful mess/The smoke and the whiskey came home in her curls/And they crept through the dreams of the barroom girls".
Lynn Miles: "Slightly Haunted" Philo, CDPH 1190 (47 mins)
Dial-a-track code: 1421
Miles is a fine singer/songwriter, crafting her songs for the Mary Chap in Carpenter world but infusing them with sharp observant touches. Certainly she deserves a wider audience than her native Canada, where she is apparently quite successful.
Travis Tritt: "The Restless Kind"
Warner Bros, 9362-46304-2 (41 mins) Dial-a-track code: 1531
Renowned musicologist and producer Don Was was enlisted for this project, but apart from a crisper production, his distinctive touch is not very evident, despite his embarrassingly effusive endorsement of the album in the sleeve notes. Tritt's big, hairy chest voice motors through the material with all the care of a practised driver; he's been here before and he knows exactly where he's going. So those expecting surprising and entertaining side roads will be disappointed but not his fans, I'm sure.
Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys: "La Toussaint"
Rounder CD, 6068 (46 mins) Dial-a-track code: 1641
Various Artists: "The Very Best of Cajun"
Dino, DINCD127 (117 mins)
Dial-a-track code: 1751
And so to the real dance music. Anybody who has had the pleasure, of shaking a leg or two to the native music of Louisiana knows that there is no rival when it comes to inciting bones rattling, beer swilling behaviour. Steve Riley is one of the new breed, attempting to stretch the appeal of the music beyond its traditional constituency - the French speaking inhabitants of Louisiana. This album manages to convey both the sadness and joy of Cajun in a modern setting. Riley's heaving, breathless accordion is particularly effective as it pumps up the atmosphere, while David Greely's violin captures that mournful sound at the heart of the music.
Any cajun fan worth his gumbo will have many of the 40 tracks included on the double CD repackage, The Very Best of Cajun. However, as introductions go this could hardly be bettered, offering a broad social and musical history and the tracks to match it.