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Album Review: Mark Cooke ‘Living For The Weekend’

It took me a while to review this 6-track EP from Mark Cooke entitled ‘Living For The Weekend’.  Unfortunately, it fell under a big pile of things to do.

Well, I just have to say that I’m glad that it did not get lost in that pile for good! This album from new country artist, Mark Cooke, was well-written with great vocals that put me in mind of musical greats like Clint Black and George Strait.  In fact, I picked up a hint of Texas in this cd while listening.  Being originally from Texas myself, I couldn’t help but hear that, I suppose.  I just HAD to check his website to see where Mark is originally from.  Yes, Texas! haha  I just KNEW it! I guess you can take us out of Texas, but can’t take the Texas out of us, huh? 🙂  Anyway…see my track by track review below.

Track by track review:

“Any Way The Wind Blows”:  Uptempo, full of optimism, hope…really a great song!

“Living For The Weekend”:  Another uptempo, fun song.  Makes you want to get up and dance.

“Can’t Cheat In A Small Town”:  My favorite song of the album.  A mid-tempo song with a slightly dark feel to this song.

“Stay With Me Tonight”:  Beautiful, poignant ballad.  Even gave me chills a couple of times.

“I Love It”:  A great, uptempo song that would be just right for the summer.

“I’ll Take This Town”:  Mid-tempo, great vocals, well-written, and can easily visualize a video from this one.  Another great one for the summer.

I highly recommend this album from new artist, Mark Cooke.  If you like steel guitar, banjo, fiddles, well-written songs, excellent vocals with both a traditional/contemporary country fell, then this album is for you.  Check Mark Cooke out, he’s worth a listen!


Rated 5 out of 5 stars.


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Album Review: Tim McGraw’s ‘Emotional Traffic’

Tim McGrawImmediately, I was struck by the musical depth of this highly-anticipated album by Tim McGraw This new release entitled ‘Emotional Traffic’ has been described by Tim McGraw as his best ever and I have to say I would have to agree.  Slated for a release of January 24th, this 12-track album will surely appeal to country fans, as well as, the masses and be a huge crossover hit.

It’s not an album that will probably appeal to a real country traditionalist-type, but Tim McGraw fans, contemporary country, and simply fans of great music will appreciate this.   I believe Tim was spreading his musical wings and exploring creatively without constraints.  He’s reached that point in his career that he can do that.

Track by track review:

“Halo”:  The first track “Halo” gave me chills from the beginning to end.  It’s a dark, mid-tempo song about love going wrong.  This was a hauntingly-beautiful song and I would say this is my favorite song ever by Tim McGraw.  This is a crossover hit in the making that would appeal to the pop world.  Very contemporary feel to this song.

“Right Back Atcha Babe”:  I wasn’t quite as crazy about this one when I first listened to it.  It is my least favorite of the album.  It’s ok, just not my favorite.  It grew on me more the 2nd and 3rd time I listened to it.  I guess there are just some songs that you have to listen to a couple of times before you fully appreciate it.  Now, it puts me in mind of a song that might have been by the Little River Band, and I love them! So, I think I’ve now been converted to liking this song.Tim McGraw

“One Part, Two Part”:  I really enjoyed this mid-tempo song.  Kind of a soulful feel to it and just an all-around feelgood song about love.  This one makes you want to grab a loved one, dance, and sing along.  I like it especially when they break it down near the end.

“I Will Not Fall Down”:  This ballad brought me to tears and gave me chills.  Beautifully written with emotional depth…another crossover hit that many will enjoy.  Another favorite.

“The One”:  Enjoyed this one, too.  Simply a light, bluesy, feelgood, mid-tempo song about “the one” you love and how they make you feel.

“Better Than I Used To Be”:  This song would appeal those fans of traditional country.  Mid-tempo, reflective, and honest.

“Touchdown Jesus”:  Not my favorite on the album, but still a good one.  More in the traditional country vain.  A lot of religious references in this mid-tempo tune.  Many will appreciate the uplifting message in this tune.

“The One That Got Away”:  Powerful, radio-friendly ballad that country fans will love.  It’s slightly dark and melancholy, but filled with hope at the same time.  This song tells a story like many great country songs do.

“Felt Good On My Lips”:  Uptempo, playful, fun, and another favorite on the album.  A great summer song for those long roadtrips and very country radio-friendly.

“Hey Now”:  More of a pop, bluesy-feel.  Enjoyable.  Not the strongest on the album, but still enjoyable.

“Only Human”:  Powerful and thought-provoking ballad featuring pop/R&B star, Ne-Yo.  Sure to be a cross-over hit that will reach into the hearts of many.

“Die By My Own Hand”:  Another powerful ballad with thought-provoking, beautiful lyrics that will surely be a hit on country radio.

This whole album is my favorite release of Tim McGraw’s to date and I strongly recommend it when it hits stores January 24th.  Not just country fans will enjoy this album, but simply fans of great music.  Well-done, Tim! Well worth the wait.

Rated 5 out of 5 stars.


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Album Review: The Breedings’ ‘Laughing At Luck’

The BreedingsI have been meaning to write an album review for this project for a while now.  I held off because I was unsure if I would feature independent artists on this site or only signed/known artists like I started out with.  Well, I decided that I want this site to be inclusive of both and all genres because there is great music out there that can be discovered.  I don’t want to place any limits on myself or this site.

The Breedings are a brother and sister duo based out of Nashville, TN.

Originally hailing from Lexington, KY, the duo sings original material penned by singer/songwriter Willie Breeding, who released two solo albums while living in Brooklyn, NY and touring nationally.  Big sister Erin, who was living as an accountant in Boston and singing occasional back-up for her brother, stepped up to become the lead singer in 2008.  Brought together by their love of ‘70s country music, the pair emerged in 2011 with a surprisingly rock’n’roll album.

This 9 track, fully-produced album by The Breedings entitled ‘Laughing At Luck’ is a refreshing mix of classic rock and folk.  Just a cool vibe all the way through.  Think Fleetwood Mac meets Bob Dylan and you’ve got The Breedings in this project.

My favorites on the album are “When It All Comes Down” a slightly dark, melancholy, mid-tempo song about love , “I Know I Say” –another mid-tempo song about love lost, “Turn” was a powerful and touching ballad, and “Everything You Wanted” a mid-tempo, dark, and almost a dreamy feel to it–this one just flows and I liked it.  Great way to end the album.  The one song that I didn’t really enjoy was the title track of “Laughing At Luck”.  It was just a little too melancholy for me and I just didn’t like the arrangement.

Overall, I enjoyed this album.  I thought the production could’ve been a little better on it, but maybe that added a little to the charm of it.  It created this whole throwback vibe to the album for me where this might’ve been created in the 70s and printed on vinyl.  It’s a timeless creation that is cool and fresh with deep, thought-provoking lyrics.

Check them out at their website: to find out more about them and you can find their music on iTunes!

Rated 4 out of 5 stars.




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Song Review: Alyssa Bonagura’s “Come Back This Christmas”

Alyssa BonaguraAlyssa Bonagura is one of the most talented independent artists that I have run across lately and I want to share just a little bit of her music with you.

She just released a new song for Christmas called “Come Back This Christmas”.  It is beautifully sung and very well-written.  A beautiful song to warm up your holidays!

You can preview and buy “Come Back This Christmas” on iTunes.

Be sure check out more of Alyssa’s music at her website:

Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

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Album Review: Julie Ingram’s ‘Always Remember’

Well, when I first got this cd in the mail the first thing that struck me was the cd cover, but not in a good way.  It put me in mind of one of those ads that you see late at night for singles lines or something along those lines since Julie Ingrams pictured in a nightie across the cover.  The pictures inside the cd case or even on the back are much better and would have been a better choice, in my opinion.  I’m a very visual person and it just was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the cd, so I didn’t really even want to listen to it since the word that came to mind was “cheesy”.  But, I decided to be open-minded and look past the cover to see what’s inside.  I might really enjoy the music.  You can’t judge a book by its cover, but the cover should always be taken very seriously because it’s the first impression and often the deciding factor whether to purchase or not.

I did enjoy “Big Dog In Dallas”.  It was a fun, uptempo song.  It wasn’t great, though, but better than the others on the album.  It was the only song that I enjoyed on this cd.

I’m going to be honest and really not intentionally trying to be mean, but I just did not care for this album at all.  The vocals were moderate to weak, the production was fair to pretty good, the songs weren’t radio-friendly, catchy or emotional, and overall seemed very dated to me.   I just didn’t like it at all and can not recommend it.  I think the clincher for me was the bonus track, which was 6 seconds of a dog barking.  Not a great way to end an album…

Sorry, Julie, this is nothing personal, I just have to be completely honest for the sake of our readers.  I do wish you the best of luck with your career, but I’m just not a fan of this particular release.  Maybe someone who has a little more appreciation for traditional country would enjoy the album a little more than me, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

Rated 1 out of 5 stars.



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Album Review: TOY’s Self-Titled Debut Release

Hands down across all genres, my absolute favorite album of the year is this debut release from newly-formed pop/rock band,  TOY.  It has literally NOT left my car cd player since I got it Monday night until now when I have to look at it to make sure that I’ve got everything right from it for this review.

Rarely does an album come along that grabs you and takes hold of you like this one! How do I begin to describe it and do it the justice that it deserves? If you take the best parts of Evanescence, Lady Gaga, and Florence & The Machine, then created something new and original from those musical influences, you would then have TOY.  At least, what I think best describes them! They are high energy, dance, rock, pop, electronic with a dark, edgy sound.

TOY is comprised of 4 members: Alana Grace (lead vocals, guitar, keys), Spencer Bastian (guitar, bass, vocals), Christian Meadows (lead guitar), and Ryan Folden (drums).   For more in-depth information on TOY, please see this article:

All songs on the album are original and written by TOY.

Full Track List:

1) “Uh Oh”:  This one put me most in mind of Lady Gaga, but they aren’t trying to imitate.  Uptempo, dancy, edgy.

2) “Ghost”:  Dark, uptempo, and my favorite lyrically.  One of my favorites overall.  I can listen to this one over and over without tiring.

3) “Give It To Me”: Again, uptempo, high energy…another that I don’t tire of hearing.  Best listened to in the car where you can crank if WAY up and not disturb the neighbors!

4) “Music Box”:  Dark, melodic, and hard rock edginess at it’s best.

5) “Traffic Signs”:  This one starts with a lot of electronic adds and build-up to the actual song. Very dark and edgy.  Almost a tribal sound.  Enthralling–lyrically and musically.

6) “Flying High”:  My absolute favorite off this album! Uptempo, electronic, dance, rock…builds up to a frenzy.  Even better live! Watch the video of this below and listen to the crowd being built into a frenzy midway through as they scream with excitement.

7) “Night Hunters”:  This one makes me want to get up and dance.  Seriously, there’s not a weak one on the album.  Not one!

The only downside for me was I wanted MORE than 7 songs on this album.  It’s just that good! It left me wanting much more and I want to see them live again soon.  They are riveting, charismatic, high energy, and a breath of fresh air.  If you like pure and powerful vocals mixed with excellent musicianship, deep & thought-provoking writing, then TOY is for you! THIS is a band that is better experienced live.  The album is GREAT, the live show will blow you away! It is like a tidal wave of energy flowing over the room when they take the stage.  Your attention will be captured and held until they leave the stage, which you don’t want to happen.  This band is going places!

Anyway, my point is GET THE ALBUM! Request it from their site and if they come to a town near you, GO! You won’t be disappointed! Enough said.

For more information and to connect with TOY, please go to their website at: www.toymusicbox.comYou can also find them on Facebook at:

Rated 5 out of 5 stars.  An absolute must-have!

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Album Review: Ricky Skaggs, The Whites, & Family — ‘A Skaggs Family Christmas: Volume 2’

A Skaggs Family ChristmasWell, I guess you can tell that I have a broad love of music, huh? I think if you are a TRUE music lover, like I would consider myself, then you have an appreciation for all different styles.  Sharing this love for all kinds of music is what I’m setting out to do right here on Focus on the 615–a site devoted to truly great music and entertainment coming out of Nashville aka the 615!

This new Christmas album from Ricky Skaggs, The Whites, & Family entitled ‘A Skaggs Family Christmas: Volume 2’  would be a poignant and beautiful addition to anyone’s holiday collection.  Have I mentioned that my favorite instrument is the mandolin and who plays that instrument better than Ricky Skaggs himself?

The album starts with a fun, playful bluegrass tune “Christmas Time’s A Coming”.  I have to admit my foot was a-tapping (yes, I said it!) and there was a time that I would’ve complained it was a little too twangy for my taste, but I loved it! It puts me right in mind of being at the Grand Ole Opry when the cloggers come on stage–always my favorite part at the Opry! Followed by “Light Of The Stable”, a beautiful, light and airy tribute of praise to the reason for the season.  (Let’s not forget what Christmas is all about and it DOES bother me that it seems that more & more the word “Christmas” is taken out and replaced by “holidays” as to not offend people.  Ummm…no.  For me, it will always be Christmas, that’s how I was raised, and I will always remember why I celebrate this holiday.  So, wish me a “merry Christmas”, please, or you’ll offend me! :))

Then, there’s the Christmas classic “The First Noel” — a beautiful, a cappella version recorded live that gave me chills.  “What Songs Were Sung” is a hauntingly-poignant, piano-driven ballad.  I, also, thoroughly enjoyed the instrumental version of “Flight To Egypt”.  Such musicianship! I was reminded of some other masterfully-skilled musicians listening to this–Bering Strait.  If you haven’t heard of them, they are the classically-trained country group out of Russia that hit the music scene a few years back.  Sadly, they never really took off despite being nominated for a Grammy for their instrumental song.  I wasn’t that crazy about “Reunion Song”.  I guess by this point, I just didn’t want to hear more religious songs.  A little goes a long way with me.  “Children Go” was definitely a tune that would appeal to your Bluegrass-traditionalist.  It started to get a little too twangy for me at this point, though.  Just being honest.   I can only take so much twang! haha  Not a knock against this album or Ricky Skaggs and The Whites, that’s just me! I respect them for the mastery of their craft.  I’m just not a full convert to bluegrass, but I do appreciate it and good music.  Next on the album was “Joy To The World”, which I believe had to have been done with a symphony because of the big sound created with all the extra strings added that ONLY a full symphony accompaniment would provide.  It was beautiful, instrumental only, and a holiday classic that I would not expect to find on a Christmas album by bluegrass artists.  The final song on the album is “Oh Come, Oh come, Emmanuel”, which as a melancholy ballad that was a beautiful ending to the album.

If you want a well-crafted album with wonderful musicianship, then look no further than this album filled with beautiful music to make your holidays just that much sweeter to your ears! This is an album filled with traditional bluegrass and Christmas classics done in a classical style that will sooth the mind & touch the heart.

Rated 4 stars out of 5.



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Album Review: Joe Nichols ‘It’s All Good’–Indeed, Yes, It Is

Joe NicholsTraditionalist Joe Nichols has got to have one of the most pure country voices out there in the country genre today.  I could sit here and listen to him sing all day.  He’s definitely one of the best male vocalists out there.  Love that deep baritone voice of his!

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Album Review: Julie Roberts ‘Who Needs Mistletoe’

Julie RobertsI think I’m starting the Christmas holidays a little early this year, but who cares! This new Christmas album from Julie Roberts ‘Who Needs Mistletoe’ is sure to put anyone in the Christmas spirit, especially those who enjoy traditional country music.  Roberts has that distinctive voice and style that sets her apart that few really have and when I listened to this new album, I was reminded of musical legends like Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette. Continue Reading →

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Album Review: Toby Keith ‘Clancy’s Tavern’, Contest

Toby KeithI’ve always enjoyed Toby Keith‘s music.  He’s always been able to make great country music that appeals to the masses and never seems to take himself too seriously–two attributes that I like about both music and people alike! He always likes to incorporate a little humor into his music like one of his biggest hits “Let’s Talk About Me” that made me an instant Toby Keith fan from the moment I saw the video.

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