More Joe Ross Reviews
More Joe Ross Reviews
More Joe Ross Reviews
Earliest Joe Ross Reviews

Upated: June 16, 2005

Homegrown Music: Discovering Bluegrass

ALL4HYM - I've Come to Take You Home
THE BADLY BENT - High Energy Traditional Bluegrass
BALL SISTERS BAND - Rivers and Roads
DIERKS BENTLEY - Modern Day Drifter
BIG BLUE HEARTS - Here Come Those Dreams Again
THE BISCUIT BURNERS - Fiery Mountain Music
THE BLINKY MOON BOYS - Moonlite Theatre
RUSTIE BLUE - "Chip Chip"
BLUEGRASS BROTHERS - The Old Crooked Trail
BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL - Back Home in the Country
ALISON BROWN - Stolen Moments
HAYES CARLL - Little Rock
HANNEKE CASSEL - Some Melodious Sonnet
CEDAR HILL - Stories
CLAY COUNTY - Love is the Source
CHARLIE DANIELS - A Gospel Bluegrass Collection "Songs from the Longleaf Pines"
DEAD MEN'S HOLLOW - Forever True
DESSERT - Sings and plays bluegrass music
CRAIG DILLINGHAM - Almost Yesterday
JERRY DOUGLAS - Dobro Techniques (DVD)
DRY BRANCH FIRE SQUAD - Live at the Newburyport Firehouse
FORTY FIVE SOUTH - We're Country So We Can
THE GILLIS BROTHERS - Best of the Gillis Brothers: The Hay Holler Years
PETE GOBLE - When I'm Knee Deep in Bluegrass
JOETTA GRANT - Jesus Washed Away My Sins in The Color of Red
THE GRASCALS - The Grascals
GRASS STREET - Better Times
THE GREERS BLUEGRASS BAND - Scorched Heart & Ashes
K.C. GROVES - Something Familiar
TREY HENSLEY & Drivin' Force - Backin' to Birmingham
RAY WYLIE HUBBARD - Delirium Tremolos
JIM KANAS - Take the El
JAMES KING - The Bluegrass Storyteller
LEAH LARSON - Long Journey
DOYLE LAWSON - You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper
JULIE LEE - Stillhouse Road
CONNIE LEIGH - Hillbilly Girl
LOST IN THE FOG - Not Far From the Tree
MIKE McCOLLUM - Just a Workin' Fool
LIZ MEYER - The Storm
SAM MILTICH & The Clearwater Hot Club - May Rain
NEWFOUND ROAD - Somewhere Between
JEFF PARKER - Two Roads to Travel
ELLIS PAUL - American Jukebox Fables
CHARLIE POOLE and the Roots of Country Music - You Ain't Talkin' To Me
JOHN PRINE - Fair & Square
HANK RAY - Ballads from the Badlands of Hearts
JAMES REAMS & The BARNSTORMERS (plus double-feature DVD)
RIFT - Push On Thru
DANNY ROBERTS - Mandolin Orchard
ROOTBOUND - Self-Titled
CHRYSTAL SAWYER - self- titled
MARK SGANGA - Sganga Nova
SPECIAL CONSENSUS - Everything's Alright
THE STANLEY BROTHERS: Earliest Recordings: The Complete Rich-R-Tone 78s (1947-1952)
REDD STEWART - Golden West Cowboy
TRUE NORTH - Cobalt Miles of Sky
UNCLE EARL - Raise a Ruckus (EP)
VARIOUS ARTISTS - All Star Bluegrass Celebration
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Classic Southern Gospel
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Come to the Mountain: Old-Time Music for Modern Times
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Fresh Faces at Merlefest 2005
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Moody Bluegrass: A Nashville Tribute to the Moody Blues
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Mountain Journey: Stars of Old Time Music
PATRICIA VONNE - Guitars & Castanets
LOU WAMP - Resolution
WATERTOWN - Mando Saenz
DARRELL WEBB - Behind the Scenes
WELL SEASONED - Up this road and down
CHERYL WHEELER - Defying Gravity
LARE WILLIAMS - A Name of My Own
MASON WILLIAMS - EP 2003: Music for the Epicurean Harkener (EP)
YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND - Mountain Tracks: Volume 3 (2 CDs)
ADRIENNE YOUNG & Little Sadie: The Art of Virtue


Acoustic Disc ACD-61
Box 4143, SanRafael, CA. 94913
Tel. (800)221-3472
Playing Time - 55:04
           Hailing from Charlottesville, Va., Old School Freight Train is a quintet that chooses bluegrass instruments for their largely original material that incorporates blues, jazz, Latin, swing and rock grooves. Why, they even take on a Celtic motif with an original "Mr. Parshif's Jig" that eventually evolves into the lightning speed of a reel. Their only covers on this project are Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927," both tastefully rendered in fine new acoustic fashion. David Grisman, who guests with his mandolin on "Euridice," offers that the band caught his attention, and they now have a place on the Acoustic Disc label. Joe Craven plays percussion on two tracks.
           OSFT's contemporary acoustic music is arranged and built around evocative lyrics which should've been included in the CD jacket. Guitarist Jesse Harper sings with exhilarating electricity, more characteristic of a jazz vocalist. The dynamics in the band's music call for rhythmic and tempo variations that impart power and intensity. Instrumental breaks are shared among all the band members, and their song's appealing melodies are lyrical and fluid.
           Besides Harper, Old School Freight Train includes Pete Frostic (mandolin), Ben Krakauer (banjo), Nate Leath (fiddle), and Darrell Muller (bass). The title track and some of the other offerings ("Drama Queen" or "Broken Pieces") have commercial leanings which clearly open up the door for significant airplay. The closer, "Dance" is explosive and distinctive. The band's eclectic nature covers a great deal of ground from bluegrass ("Henry Brown" and "Lookee Here") to R&B ("Superstition") to adventures south of the border ("Tango Chutney" and "Euridice"). Pete Frostic's "Trick Dog" is also a zealous stringed exploration featuring mandocello.
           The band has been together since 2000 and won awards at Telluride and Rockygrass. Their first self-titled album came out in 2002. With sound and energy that get an audience to sit up and take notice, OSFT is steaming up the hill of success. Don't let "Run" fool you into thinking that they are suffering from an identity crisis. These boys clearly have the musical acumen to journey into whatever territory their adventurous tastes take them. Their music exudes originality, tact and innovation. (Joe Ross)


EXP Records LKNB2K05-01
PO Box 3301, Asheville, NC 28802
Playing Time - 39:48
           Songs - 1. Border Ride, 2. Weary Heart, 3. Lets Go To The Fair, 4. Farewell Blues, 5. I Know You're Married, 6. Poor Monroe, 7. Gatherin Flowers, 8. Heavy Traffic, 9. Georgia Mail, 10. Next Sunday Darlin, 11. Dear Ole Pal, 12. I Haven't Seen Mary, 13. Groundhog, 14. Durhams Bull
           Larry Keel's old Gibson guitar looks like it's been around, rode hard and put up wet. But it sure can put out some sound when he races through a flatpicking classic like "Farewell Blues." Fronting a quartet that plays "American Mountain Music," Keel is dedicated to preserving a traditional bluegrass sound with its rough vocal edges that actually lend to the band's charm. Natural Bridge is Mark Schimick (mandolin), Andy Thorne (banjo) and Jenny Keel (bass). All four band members sing. Keel's vocalizes with growling gusto, and some of the other band members occasionally sing the lead vocals such as Keel on "Gatherin Flowers." The CD jacket is remiss in not clearly identifying the vocalists on each song. Songwriter credits are not included either with only a statement that "all songs [are] traditional." Of course, some stem from the repertoires of Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, and Grandpa Jones. Another suggestion that would've enhanced this material would have been to enlist the support of a guest fiddler.
           Larry Keel was born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains, grew up around music, played bluegrass at Tokyo's Disneyland, and won the Telluride guitar contest a couple times. Larry met his wife, Jenny, at a bluegrass show in Lexington, Va. She's been playing bass for nearly a decade. Like Larry, North Carolinian Mark Schimick was exposed to bluegrass early in life. He pursued formal musical training (choir singing and classical piano) and later was a drummer in various bands before taking up mandolin about ten years ago. Banjo-player Andy Thorn may be only in his 20s, but he shows a strong aptitude and skill with the 5-string. He's played with Big Fat Gap, the Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band, and took first place at the Rockygrass banjo contest in Lyons, CO. He's currently studying jazz guitar at UNC.
           Larry Keel and Natural Bridge's debut album shows that this band can pick with a vengeance. They draw from the well-established bluegrass canon that has plenty of support. Keel's vision is to nurture and preserve America's musical heritage while letting it inspire his own writing and playing. So, in that sense, this talented band is walking on a "natural bridge" that stretches from the old tradition to their own musical prologue today that builds on this heritage. (Joe Ross)


Kinfolk Explosion Records
104 Toynbee Place
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Phone: 919-824-1521
Playing Time - 55:16
           Formed in 2004, Run of the Mill is a progressive bluegrass band from Chapel Hill, NC. that shows jazz, rock, and blues influences in their invigorating music. Besides banjo, mandolin, guitar and bass, the mix on "Kudzu" includes sax, percussion, keys, and harmonica. Run of the Mill's stylistic footing covers many moods which may be partly attributable to the band members' expansive musical backgrounds. Ben Parker (mandolin, guitar, sax, lead vocals) cites such broad-ranging influences as Pink Floyd, Genesis, Tony Williamson, David Grisman, Sam Bush, Coldplay, and Miles Davis. The band's co-founder, Ben Walters (banjo, guitar, vocals) was born and raised in Alabama with a banjo on his knee. He learned from such banjo greats as Herb Trotman, James McKinney, Ryan Cavanaugh, and various 80s rock guitarists. Walter's currently studying piano at UNC-Chapel Hill. The self-professed "groove machine" of the quartet, Tim Shelburne (bass, vocals) acknowledges his influences are from the genres of rock, funk, jazz, and jam band music. Robbie DiMauro (percussion, vocals), originally from Montreal, has lived in Chapel Hill, NC since 1989. He's into Latin, blues, jazz, bluegrass, and rock n' roll.
           Run of the Mill enjoys challenging themselves as a bluegrass/jazz/jam fusion group. Opening with its leisurely and mellow rock rhythm over a standard bluegrass chord progression, "Country Home" sets a stage for the envelope that is going to be continually pushed for 55 minutes. Kevin Hopkins' dobro brings the down home country feel to life, something that would've embellished a few other pieces on "Kudzu." Funkgrass is the best way to describe "Thought of Lovin'," lyrically inspired by Parker's pursuit of his girlfriend. Ben Walters' instrumental "Heavy D," epitomizes what Run of the Mill is trying to do as a band -- create simple, nice sounding music that combines bluegrass technicality with complex musical theory, while not sounding overly complex. "Wooden Frame" is a love song which captures an emotion that the band's audiences enjoy at shows. Of all the cuts, "Rambler's Curse" has the most straightforward 4/4 bluegrass sensibility, and its definitely one of the cuts that would've been enhanced if the band had chosen to include some guest fiddling in the mix.
           "The Dawn Treader" is one of the band's epic pieces (nearly seven minutes) characterized again by musical complexity and tonal simplicity that successfully results in a pleasant aural experience as its time signature changes and minor 7th chords flow throughout the jam that the boys clearly have fun with. Certainly, this must be one of their crowd-pleasers in a live performance. "Carolina Girl" gives us a catchy melody in a poppy funk fashion. "Blackberry Devil" fuses "Blackberry Blossom" with "Friend of the Devil" and gives them plenty of room for personal improvisation and interpretation that even includes musical quotes (by pianist Sam Gingher) from "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Inspector Gadget." The album's eight-minute closer, "Temporary Cure" shows how Gingher tastefully incorporates the keys with the band's string instrumentation and jazzgrass style. Ben Walter's dissonant banjo provides an interesting twist as Parker sings of grabbing "one night's companion for a temporary cure."
           Run of the Mill's vision is to make music that is different and inspiring, from technical, emotional, and musical perspectives. "Kudzu" demonstrates this approach, and it serves as a welcome debut for this group. Musical diversity and having fun are their fortes, and one's got to appreciate this quest for musical treasure. Gotta laugh at this band's moniker - run of the mill. They're well on their way to leaving an outstanding legacy on the acoustic music field. (Joe Ross)

ADRIENNE YOUNG & Little Sadie:
The Art of Virtue

Addiebelle Records (Virtual Label/Ryko)
1101 17th Ave. S., Nashville, TN. 37212 OR
TEL. (615)321-1311
Playing Time - 58:15
           Adrienne Young has a unique flair in her music that is an enchanting mix of old-time and pop with 21st century musical keenness and business acumen. Young's astute approach involves association with consummate musicians, charged-up arrangements, thoughtful messages, and bright and breezy vocalizing. Like her debut "Plow to the End of the Row," Young's sophomore effort, "The Art of Virtue," is on her own Addiebelle Records. One has to appreciate this talented, young lady's self-confidence as she continues to build her resume in a very competitive field.
           "The Art of Virtue" was inspired in part by Ben Franklin's ‘virtues of man' writings and stories. Songs like "My Sin is Pride" and "My Love Will Keep" and "Wedding Rings" emphasize the themes of morality, goodness, and high levels of integrity. Her messages might have a nostalgic look back to yesteryear, but her music is very contemporary and soothing. There's certainly nothing wrong with a thematic album that appeals to us in a visceral way "down where the roots grow deep." Ballads like "Ella Arkansas" and "Rastus Russell" paint powerful pictures and tell engaging stories while incorporating country and acoustic blues riffs.
           Art of Virtue features Young's proficient songwriting, some reinvented old-time fiddle tunes, the gospel standard "Farther Along," and the Grateful Dead's classic "Brokedown Palace." A Zydeco-flavored "Wedding Rings" is a spirited performance that gets us up and cutting a bean, while "Don't Get Weary" is an old-timey offering with frailed banjo, guitar, bones, resonator guitar, and voices. Young's lyrics offer mature and solid advice, usually gained from a lifetime of experience. Her smarts and wisdom belie her age.
           A grad of Belmont University's music business program, Young's career took off after winning the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest. Her "Plow to the End of the Row" CD earned a Grammy nomination for album design. On "The Art of Virtue," Young's songwriting exhibits honesty and a natural inclination to create lyrical and melodic treasures. Her singing shines with its greatest lustre on the slower songs, while a few pieces (like "Don't Get Weary") portray a more arduous side to her voice. An uptempo "Farther Along" is an interesting bluegrass presentation that certainly works, but her greatest success is as a storyteller of original folk tales. Young's parables put to music are very likeable. (Joe Ross)


Palo Duro PDR-4001
PO Box 810, Ooltewah, TX. 37363 OR OR OR OR
Playing Time - 42:27
           SONGS - Vegas, Drive You Home Tonite, Your Kiss, Unglued, Can't Stay With You, Havana Moon, Secret Agent Man, Ice Cream Man, Baby You Got Me, I Wanna Be Sedated, Red Hot
           Chroniclers of "countrybilly" sounds, San Antonio-based Two Tons of Steel show influences of pioneer rock n' rollers who have gone before. Guitarist Kevin Geil is the primary singer/songwriter in the band, and his lyrics are worth listening to and seem to fit the tunes well. Most impressively in classic country fashion and with lyrical talent, Two Tons of Steel concurrently covers contemporary subject matter and popular culture. That built them a devoted following and landed them appearances in concert, film, and ads. The band plays the Grand Ole Opry, as well as Texas' famed Gruene Hall, where an annual Two Ton Tuesdays summer series draws 12,000 fans. Upcoming CD and DVD releases will document Two Ton Tuesdays.
           The group was called the Dead Crickets until 1996 when they became Two Tons of Steel in a tribute to Kevin Geil's restored '56 hardtop Cadillac. "Vegas" is their eighth album, but first on the Palo Duro Records label. Besides Geil, the rest of the weight is Dennis Fallon (electric guitar, harmonica), Ric Ramirez (upright bass), Chris Dodds (drums), and Denny Mathis (steel, dobro). Ramirez and Dodds sing harmonies. Guests include Riley Osbourn (organ, piano) and Fernando Castillo (trumpets on "Vegas").
           "Vegas" has plenty of fiesty rockin' original songs about travelling, rambling, loving and partying like "Unglued," "Can't Stay With You," and "Baby You Got Me." The only ballad is the fanciful "Havana Moon," written during the band's 1997 trip to Cuba. The band's rockabilly cover of The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" is one that their fans always dig. Another cover is Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man," and it gives Mathis, a member of the Texas Hall of Fame, plenty of leeway to shine. Two Tons of Steel is a superior band that specializes in the live honky-tonk music found at nightclubs and watering holes throughout the lone star state. The serve up some robust music that spells "t-e-x-a-s" in fine fashion. (Joe Ross)

A Tribute to Brother Duets

Pinecastle PRC-1145
PO Box 456, Orlando, FL. 32802 OR
Playing Time - 37:27
           SONGS - 1. Gone But Not Forgotten 2 Remember Me 3 Rose Of My Heart 4 Are You Missing Me 5 When I Stop Dreaming 6 Blues Stay Away From Me 7 The White Dove 8 Kentucky 9 Somebody Loves You Darling 10 That's All I Want From, You 11 Which One is to Blame 12 What Would You Give
           Two of the most notable brother acts in recent times have been Jim and Jesse McReynolds, and Charles and Robert Whitstein. Robert passed away on November 14, 2001, and Jim passed on in December 31, 2002. While both surviving brothers were greatly saddened by their losses, they endured and bounced back by forming their own duo. Their only new song in this set, "Gone But Not Forgotten," written by Jesse, opens the album with this tribute to their deceased brothers. Classic songs are drawn from the material of many other famous brothers acts - the Delmores, Wilburns, Morrises, Louvins, Monroes, Stanleys, Yorks, Bailes, and Bollicks (Blue Sky Boys). There are many old favorites like "When I Stop Dreaming," "What Would You Give (in Exchange For Your Soul)?," "Rose of my Heart," "The White Dove," "Blues Stay Away From Me," "Kentucky," "Remember Me (When the Candlelights are Gleaming) and "Are You Missing Me." McReynolds, 75, and Whitstein, 60, also cover a few less commonly heard duets such as "Somebody Loves You Darling," "That's All I Want From You," and "Which One Is To Blame."
           Besides Jesse (mandolin, mandolobro) and Charles (guitar), the rest of the band includes Dave Salyers (lead guitar), Charlie Cushman (guitar), Glen Duncan (fiddle), and Kent Blanton (bass). The artists don't overplay and provide just the right amount of tasty accompaniment to complement the vocalists. Jesse's cross-picking and tremolo are always a treat also. As they sing in "Gone but Not Forgotten," it's not quite the same since Jim and Robert went away. However, Jesse and Charles vow to "do their best," and they've proven that they can create strong and close harmony together that pays homage to their departed brothers. (Joe Ross)

We're Country So We Can

Tilo 45S05-CD
845 Jones Road, Henderson, TN. 38340
TEL. (615)777-6995 Ext. 23 OR OR
Playing Time - 42:44
           SONGS - 1. I'm Gonna Move On, 2. The Stuff I Grew Up On, 3. Heaven Only Knows, 4. I've Been There Too, 5. Li'l Red Riding Hood, 6. A Mile Away, 7. My Way, 8. Second Hand Life, 9. Taste Of Class, 10. Smoke If You Got 'Em, 11. Seems Like Yesterday, 12. We're Country So We Can
           Lead vocalist, acoustic guitarist and primary songwriter Ashley Bowers fronts Forty 5 South, a "100% pure country" band that hails from Jackson, TN. where Highway 45-S runs. Cutting their teeth in bars like "Jimmy D's," the band's original music and fresh sound landed them gigs playing for the armed forces throughout the Pacific and Asia during the fall of 2003. "We're Country So We Can" is the group's sophomore effort, and it's sure to continue the buzz and intrigue about them. The title cut's message is about working hard, trying one's best to make a living, and standing behind what you say. This might just be the inside story of this progressive country band that took the approach of building their name in Texas before branching out to national recognition. Bret Michaels (of the rock group Poison) contributes some vocals on the title cut, as well as producing this album.
           Besides Bowers, Forty5South includes Jonathan King (drums), Phillip Lemmings (rhythm guitar, mandolin), Justin Tapley (guitar), and Seth Gordon (bass). All these guys are just in their 20s, but they pick and sing like veterans. Fifteen additional musicians contribute to this recording, and it's nice to hear a tad more fiddle and mandolin (Larry Franklin, Glen Duncan), banjo (Jamie LaRitz), and steel (Mike Johnson, Daniel Dugmore).
           Bowers collaborates with friend Bryan Dinkins on four songs. The band is building themselves a legion of fans who enjoy raucous, rowdy and energetic country with rock influences. "We're Country So We Can" resonates with plenty of pulsating sound waves that are sure to thrill. Their combination of new material, high-geared instrumental prowess, high-octane vocals, and collective youthful energy will take them far. (Joe Ross)

Classic Southern Gospel

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings SFW-CD-40137
750 9th Street, NW, Suite 4100, Washington, DC 20560-0953 OR
TEL. (202)275-1579 or (202)275-1156 or (718)522-7171
Playing Time - 60:51
           SONGS - 1. I'm Working On A Building - Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys, 2. No Disappointment In Heaven - Dock Boggs, 3. Wondrous Love - Old Harp Singers , 4. Are You Washed In The Blood?, 5. What Are They Doing In Heaven Today? - Harry & Jeanie West, 6. Lost Soul, The - The Watson Family, 7. Hallelujah Side - Earnest Stoneman, 8. Walking In Jerusalem (Just Like John) - The Country Gentlemen, 9. Sinner, You'd Better Get Ready - The Lilly Brothers, 10. When He Reached Down His Hand For Me, 11. Away Over In The Promise Land - A.L. Phipps Family, 12. No Tears In Heaven - Kilby Snow, 13. Old Country Church - Tom Morgan , 14. Glory To The Lamb, 15. Amazing Grace - Clarence Ashley/Fred Price, 16. River Of Jordan - The Poplin Family, 17. Shake Hands With Mother Again - The Allen Brothers, 18. Gabriel's Call - Hazel & Alice, 19. What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul? - Bill Monroe/Doc Watson, 20. He Said, If You Love Me, Feed My Sheep - The Stencer Quartet, 21. I Am A Pilgrim - The Country Gentlemen, 22. I'm Going To A City - Indian Bottom Association
           These twenty-two tracks of classic southern gospel music present much variety from the Smithsonian Folkways vaults. Dating primarily from the late 1950s and early 1960s, these songs are country or bluegrass gospel as performed and listened to by white family groups. The earliest recorded offering is "Wondrous Love," recorded in 1951 by The Old Harp Singers of Eastern Tennessee. The latest recording dates to a 1993 special meeting of the Indian Bottom Assn. of Old Regular Baptists singing "I'm Going to a City." Extensive liner notes (25 pages total) provide an introduction to the music, the 19th Century roots of the music, publishing companies, quartets, pentecostalism, modern southern gospel, song notes, and suggestions for further listening and reading..
           This compilation includes songs from familiar artists such as Bill Monroe, Dock Boggs, Earnest Stoneman, Red Allen, The Lilly Brothers, Doc Watson, Country Gentlemen, and Hazel and Alice. Their work is well documented. Of special note are the many artists who are less familiar to us. It is a joy to hear such songs as "Away Over in the Promised Land" by The A.L. Phipps Family. Phipps had begun his career as a devoted fan of The Carter Family and that style of music before he starting his own record company called Pine Mountain. "No Tears in Heaven" features Kilby Snow on vocals and autoharp. "Old Country Church" is presented by Tom Morgan and others is from a 1983 Folkways recording. The DeBusk-Weaver Family's rendition of "Glory to the Lamb" also emphasizes autoharps, vocals, and guitar. From South Carolina, the Poplin Family's "River of Jordan" is sampled from a 1963 Folkways release. A 1967 cut ("He Said, If You Love Me, Feed My Sheep") attributed to the Stancer Quartet was recorded by Mike Seeger as part of a Virginia radio broadcast, but the four singers remain unidentified.
           This sampler is an enchanting collection that will reinvigorate an interest in classic southern gospel music. Smithsonian Folkways is to be commended for this release, and we can only hope that more offerings from their traditional music archives are forthcoming. (Joe Ross)

SAM MILTICH & The Clearwater Hot Club -
May Rain

No label, no number
28996 Clearwater Rd., Grand Rapids, MN. 55744
Tel. (218)327-1492 OR OR
Playing Time - 61:07
           SONGS - 1. I Found a New Baby 2. Je Suis Ceul Ce Soir 3. May Rain 4. Blythe Spirit Samba 5. Estate 6. Echoes of Spain 7. Indifference 8. J'attendrai 9. Recieta de Samba 10. Tears 11. Bossa Dorado 12. Douce Ambiance 13. La Tzigane Qui Danse 14. Inspiracao 15. Bossa du Grand Marais 16. Ask Me Now
           The Gypsy jazz music of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli was originally conceived with guitars, fiddle, and bass, and it's great to see bands like Sam Miltich & The Clearwater Hot Club (from Grand Rapids, Mn.) in the forefront of a burgeoning resurgence of this wonderful string music from the 30s and 40s. In the hands of adroit players, the music is a wonderful treat to hear again in such high fidelity as can be produced in today's studios. All tracks on this CD are impressive and memorable as the band supplements jazz standards with less oft-heard material and originals. Interestingly, music has been in the Miltich Family for generations and, they also love the Tamburitza music of their Croatian heritage.
           Guitarist Sam Miltich plays piano on his original "La Tzigane Qui Danse." The other players on this album include Sam's father Matthew Miltich (bass), Mark Kreitzer (rhythm guitar, violin on two tracks), Raphael Fraisse (violin), Patrick Harrison (accordion on two tracks), Tom Schaefer (violin on four tracks). The band on Paul Mehling's "Blythe Spirit Samba" includes Sam Miltich (lead guitar), Paul Mehling (rhythm guitar), Josh Workman (rhythm guitar), Ari Munkres (bass), and Evan Price (violin). Mehling regularly plays with The Hot Club of San Francisco, and he has taught and mentored Miltich over the years. Consummate players all, they showcase their singularly impressive improvisational skills while not grandstanding or detracting from a cohesive band sound.
           All of their songs on this generous hour-long album make for a very compelling set epitomized by dynamism, excitement, and emotional impact for the listener. The variety in their arrangements provides plenty of musical moods. Sam's solo guitar presents Reinhardt's "Echoes of Spain" and Garoto's "Inspiracao." Leaner renditions of Monk's "Ask Me Now," Miltich's "La Tzigane Qui Danse," and Schmitt's "Bossa Dorado" incorporate only two or three instruments, showing that the band appreciates the fact that sometimes less is more. Some personal favorites are the buoyant "Indifference," snappy "J'attendral," and fluid "Receita de Samba" with their toe-tapping and danceable beats.
           After cutting his young teeth on bluegrass and an eclectic variety of artists, Sam Miltich decided that Gypsy jazz was his music after seeing the film "Sweet and Lowdown." Sam just turned 20 in 2005, and he is already a convincing talent who clearly has many successful years of professional music performance ahead of him. Sam's goal is to try to make the world a better place by bringing music, peace, and harmony into it. This band's engaging jazz, Latin, swing and original music certainly made my own world a better place after hearing it. (Joe Ross)

"Chip Chip"

Playing Time - 49:53
           Rustie Blue's third album, "Chip Chip" continues to emphasize straightforward country with both traditional and progressive material. Her growing fanbase will be thrilled with this release that features the title duet with "Whisperin" Bill Anderson, who also co-authored the tracks, "Tomorrow Tonight" and Before I Fall" and "When I Remember You." In the 2005 European CMA Awards, Blue and Anderson were nominated for a Vocal Collaboration of the Year Award for "Chip Chip," with its catchy hook and drive. Anderson's lead vocal is in fine form as he energetically sings "chip, chip, chippin' away at our love" with Rustie. Throughout this album, the music bursts with pep and is full of steam. Rustie and band seem to have an affinity for spirited songs like "Cloud Of Dust," "The Same Old Who," "Oh Baby," "Two Left Feet," and "The Devil May Care," but they also give us very tasteful renditions of slower or moderate tempo songs like "Tomorrow Night" which Bill Anderson co-penned with Deborah Allen. Some of Blue's singing has rock influences, while a song like "Don't Come Cryin'" gives her a chance to incorporate a more bluesy and pop style into her vocalizing. Last I heard "The Devil May Care" was at #12 on the Indie World Country Chart.
           Some impressive talents serve as the accompanying musicians on "Chip, Chip." Music producer/engineer Mike Headrick is a superior instrumentalist on guitars, steel, mandolin, and dobro. Joe Caverlee's fiddle and Tim Atwood's piano also provide some emotionally-charged support. Kenny Berry's bass and Bob Courter's drums give the songs a foundation of rock solid and powerful rhythmic intensity. Background vocals from Jackie Harling and Jimmy Layne sit very nicely in the overall mix of this first-class production.
           Growing up around country music in southeast Ohio, Rustie also demonstrates her songwriting talent on "Honky Tonkin' Diva." She chooses material from a variety of songwriters, many out of Nashville, but a real treat is to hear her cover Martha Carson's big standard "Satisfied" to close this project. Martha Lou, of course, was one of country music's early queens and a big draw at state fairs, and on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance and Grand Ole Opry. It nice to see that young folks like Rustie Blue haven't forgotten Carson and her songs. Blue also sings "Smokey Mountain Queen" as an acoustic tribute to another country queen, Dolly Parton. With her exuberance, charisma and energy, it's clear that Rustie's live show would be very entertaining. As she continues to tour around the work, Rustie Blue's legion of fans is burgeoning. Rustie Blue could very well be one of this generation's next queens of country music. (Joe Ross)

Tin Lily

Dualtone 80302-01202-2
1614 17th Ave. South, Nashville, TN. 37212 OR
TEL. (615)298-1144
Playing Time - 47:09
           Jeff Black is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, keys, harmonica) whose Americana music incorporates influences of country, folk and rock stylings. His songs have been covered by Waylon Jennings, Sam Bush, Lisa Brokop, Jo-El Sonnier, Blackhawk and others. Although Arista Records put out his debut album, it is the Dualtone label that has now signed Black and released "Tin Lily." With all lyrics included in the CD's jacket, one should tune into his messages to see if they are memorable by providing inspiration, insight, or enlightenment. Or if his lyrics tell striking stories with some of his own interpretive twists and experiences along the way. Many of his songs give us his pensive considerations for homemade simplicity, the state of life and relationships. Others are quite uplifting as they encourage personal introspection and reflection. Black's audiences are listening, and they are paying rapt attention to his more exhilarating material.
           Black associates with some veteran musicians. Kenny Vaughn and Will Kimbrough play electric guitars. Dave Roe and Dave Jacques play the bass, while drums/percussion are ably played by Craig Wright. Piano or organ are laid into the mix for two songs by Jody Nardone . Sam Bush (mandolin, fiddle) appears on a few tracks, and backup vocals are tastefully rendered by Mathew Ryan and Kate Campbell.
           The Black stock is a hearty working-class one made up of industrious people who weren't afraid to get their hands dirty in the quest for success. Perseverance may be the key. Realizing that "the hard way out is hopeless," Black also isn't trying to prove anything to anyone. He's merely letting his unique spiritually-tinged music speak for itself as he sings his songs that largely address country values. Born in Kansas City, Jeff Black has been compared to the likes of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Harry Chapin and Steve Goodman.
           Sharing the same stage with Steve Earle, Shawn Colvin, John Hammond, Guy Clark and others will continue to build Black's fanbase among patrons of music that sits outside the mainstream. Black is creating a powerful body of work as he explores his concern for ordinary life. With a keen ability to be both laconic and passionate, Jeff Black sings organic songs that are meant to be personally interpreted for meaning in one's own life. Let's hope he can find great success without becoming an articulate anachronism. (Joe Ross)

Rivers and Roads

Project One Records C12005 OR
Playing Time - 40:02
           Songs - 1. There is a Time, 2. Road to Greenbriar, 3. Jesus, Daddy and You, 4. When an Angel Cries, 5. I'll Be Here in the Morning, 6. Holston River Waltz, 7. Where the Bluebird Goes, 8. Beaumont Rag, 9. Bluegrass Dies in the Winter, 10. Green Ivy Vine, 11. Love'll Live On, 12. Old Fashioned Love, 13. Lord Don't Forsake Me, 14. In the Garden
           Playing nearly a hundred shows each year on the eastern seaboard, The Ball Sisters make up for what they may lack in flashy licks by emphasizing solid, down-home family entertainment value. Given their age, they do a mighty fine job. They don't rush their music; they let it breathe to emphasize the passionate beauty of the acoustic tradition. There are no tricks or antics, and thus the arrangements are somewhat understated. Since 1998, The Ball Sisters Band has been showcasing Jessica Ball (fiddle, vocals) and her sister Cris (mandolin, guitar, vocals), accompanied by their father Randy Ball (guitar, vocals) and John Skelton (bass). Jessica and Cris have won awards at fiddle contests, and they have made eight recordings which are played around the world. A recipient of scholarships, Jessica now studies and plays bluegrass at East Tennessee State University. She gives lessons, does studio work, and also plays flute. Besides guitar and mandolin, Cris also plays clarinet, sings in her high school choir, and gives lessons. Give a listen to "Beaumont Rag" to see how she won the Beginners Flatpick Championship at Smitshville, TN.
           On "Rivers and Roads" the band chooses material from a diversity of sources ranging from the Dillards to Townes Van Zandt to Kim Williams who also provided some liner notes for this album. Additional liner notes were written by James Alan Shelton who calls these folks "good, down home people…who love what they do!" Six songs are originals that range from secular ("Road to Greenbriar") to Christian country ("When an Angel Cries") to instrumental ("Holston River Waltz"). The latter is a haunting piece that is a showcase for Jessica's bow work and Cris' tremolo. "Bluegrass Dies in the Winter" is an up-tempo piece that could've been enhanced with some guest 5-string banjo and a third part in the vocal harmony.
           The Ball Sisters Band deserves our support, as their dedication and perseverance will help keep the mountain music tradition alive. As they continue their musical growth and maturity, we can certainly expect some great things from these mountain songbirds in the future. (Joe Ross)

Stolen Moments

Compass Records
916 19th Ave. South, Nashville, TN. 37212
Tel. (615)320-7672
Playing Time - 50:35
           SONGS - 1. The Sound of Summer Running 2. The Magnificent Seven 3. Homeward Bound 4. The Pirate Queen 5. Carrowkeel 6. Angel 7. McIntyre Heads South 8. One Morning in May 9. (I'm Naked and I'm) Going to Glasgow 10. Prayer Wheel 11. Musette for a Palindrome
           Individualism in music is a goal for many musicians who enjoy the challenge of pushing their technical skills into realms of innovation and adventure. The impressively virtuosic Alison Brown has a broad base of experience to draw upon. Her travels have taken her from Connecticut to California to Tennessee. From her earliest bands (The Stringbenders, Gold Rush), the 1991 IBMA Banjo Player of the Year went on to play, record or tour with the likes of Northern Lights, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Michelle Shocked, New Grange, and others. She owns her own record company (Compass Records), and in 1996 formed her Alison Brown Quartet. A bit of trivia is that her tune, "Girl's Breakdown" (from her Grammy-nominated "Fair Weather" album) was used in early 2000 as the official wake up music for the crew of the U.S. Space Shuttle Destiny on their mission to the International Space Station. So what next for someone whose music has reached the depths of outer space?
           "Stolen Moments" is an astounding display of melodic invention that continues to characterize this one-of-a-kind player. Her expressive musicality incorporates elements of many genres from Celtic (her own "Carrowkeel") to pop (Jimi Henrix's "Angel" or Paul Simon's "Homeward Bound" or Jim Rooney/Bill Keith's "One Morning in May"). These pop numbers include some superb vocals that make the album whole (courtesy of folks like Amy Ray, Emily Saliers, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Andrea Zonn). Mary Chapin Carpenter also appears. While credits aren't clear, I assume that she's one of the four singing "Boomchicks" (Thighdalia, Aureola, Ovaria, and Fallopia) who appear on "Prayer Wheel." Instrumental new acoustic jazz is well represented in cuts like "The Sound of Summer Running" and "The Magnificent Seven" (written with John Doyle) that has a seven-beat meter in the tune's head.
           With the exception of "One Morning in May," arranged without banjo, the 5-string finds itself laying just right into the greater ensemble mix while piano, bass, guitar, fiddle, drums, and even a little mandolin create the kaleidoscope of sound. Some of the luminaries picking along include Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Sam Bush and Mike Marshall (mandolin). Mike seems right in his element on Brown's playful "Musette for a Palindrome." Seamus Egan plays an emotive low whistle on one track, "Carrowkell," while the similarly Cletic-flavored "(I'm Naked and I'm) Going to Glasgow" includes Solas guitarist John Doyle. John R. Burr's gives us some superior, jaw-dropping piano accompaniment that evokes a more smooth jazz sound. As much as I dislike drums in acoustic music, Kenny Malone's percussion is downright tasty in this particular context. Alison's husband, Garry West, plays bass.
           Alison Brown is a confident musician who continues to make creative and courageous statements with her music. She's a daring stalwart whose proficient and aqueous banjo playing leaves us with pleasurable aural experiences that know few borders. (Joe Ross)

Mini-Review of Advance Promotional Copy (five song sampler):
Modern Day Drifter

Capitol Records 7243-8-73615-2-2V
3322 West End Ave., Nashville, TN. 37203
TEL. (800)927-9848
           Dierks Bentley's self-titled debut in 2003 yielded hits in "What Was I Thinkin'" and "How Am I Doin'." Now, his sophomore effort with "Modern Day Drifter" on Capitol has already created quite a buzz, and the opening cut "Lot of Leavin' Left to Do" has really taken off. A driving and rolling 5-string banjo in the mix gives this song a bit of a bluegrass flavoring, and it sets the stage for a savory and delightful presentation that also includes one cut ("Good Man Like Me") with The Del McCoury Band. The rockin' "Cab of my Truck" is a boogying song with energy and velocity, along with some hot fiddle and dobro licks between the drivin' electric guitars and drums. A reflective "Settle for a Slowdown" gives Bentley's emotionally-charged vocals a chance to take center stage. "Domestic, Light and Cold" is, well you guessed it, a drinkin' song with a cute hook. Hey, that's country! (Joe Ross)

Shine On

Rebel REB-CD-1810
PO Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA. 22906
TEL. (434)973-5151 or (615)952-9250
Playing Time - 40:04
           SONGS - King Of All Kings, The Roses Will Bloom, The Old Church Yard, This Little Light Of Mine, My Main Trial is Yet to Come, Sing Songs about Jesus, Palms of Victory, On a High, High Mountain, The Lowest Valley, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, I'll Fly Away, Shine On, Why Should We Start and Fear to Die, Let Your Light Shine Out
           After listening to a number of new acoustic and country releases, I always come back to queue up and appreciate some good old-time mountain music. Ralph Stanley's ‘Shine On" is a bluegrass gospel album that makes us not only treasure musical roots but also to revel in the glory of God. Of course, Ralph Stanley likes to sing gospel. He believes in it, and a lot of others do too. Ralph once said, "We were raised in the churches. We were raised to sing gospel and respect gospel music. I'm not necessarily trying to convert people with it, but it would tickle me if I knew I did. And which, I have got letters and so forth from people that said it had, you know, and I feel good that they do."
           Singing and playing in a lonesome style full of feeling, Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys (John Rigsby, Ralph Stanley II, Steve Sparkman, James Alan Shelton, Jack Cooke) choose material from the traditional canon as well as from contemporary songwriters like Dolly Parton who penned the title cut. Nathan Stanley picks the mandolin on two cuts, Albert Brumley's "I'll Fly Away" and Bill Crawford's "King of All Kings." The elder Stanley sings "The Old Church Yard" solo without any accompaniment. The Clinch Mountain Boys' a cappella quartet is featured on "Sing Songs About Jesus," while "Why Should We Start and Fear to Die" has John Rigsby along with Junior, Marsha and Amber Davis singing harmonies to Ralph's lead vocal. An a cappella trio with hand claps on the chorus is the rendition chosen for "Swing Low, Swing Chariot," a song that Ralph sung at Bill Monroe's funeral. The song, "On a High, High Mountain" is given a lean arrangement of only Rigsby's fiddles to Ralph's recitation. Only guitar and bass accompany Pearlie Mullin's "The Lowest Valley," lead vocals sung by John Rigsby on the verses.
           Many of the songs on "Shine On" have happy, upbeat and joyous themes. This gospel recording has been long awaited. On February 25, 2007, Ralph Stanley will be 80 years old. Although his voice is a bit gravelly or husky in spots on this album, some of that rustic character actually enhances his charm. There is no better message than the message of Jesus Christ. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys thank God for His guidance. The music on "Shine On" lifts us up, aligns our hearts with God, and will lead others to Him. (Joe Ross)

Here Come Those Dreams Again

Eagle Eye Records BBH-00593
TEL. (310)500-5712
Playing Time - 45:26
           Big Blue Hearts is a Los Angeles-based band whose blend of smooth country-pop gives us a popular danceband style of music. Tinges of rockabilly creep in, and it wouldn't hurt for them to get a little more raucous and take a few more risks which I can tell they're fully capable of. Strong vocal and instrumental work characterize this band comprised of David Fisher, Scott Minchk, J.B. Burton, and Greg Sobol. Big Blue Hearts' first album was released in June, 1997 on Geffen Records, and their sophomore effort in "Here Come Those Dreams Again" is long overdue. The production quality of this project is first-rate, and their dreamy and slightly mysterious music incorporates a fair amount of reverb and twangy guitar. Even their songs (such as "Dreamin' of a Woman" or "Here Come Those Dreams Again") have plenty of allegorical references to those mental images and emotions often encountered in various stages of consciousness. "Lovin' You" is the cut being heavily promoted to radio, and a June/July Texas radio tour will kick off the release of this project.
           David Fisher's prolific songwriting (or co-writing) is showcased on all ten songs, and his singing is full of heart, body and soul. With a few more honest tearjerkers and ballads, I could see this band really creating a sizeable and fanatical international following. They have fascinating appeal potential that's immediately likeable and very enticing. Big Blue Hearts have created a sense of intrique with enchanting songs and resplendent stories of evasive love. (Joe Ross)

Hopes and Dreams

Linville Mountain Music 4537
TEL. (828)438-9470
Playing Time - 33:44
           Together since 2002, The Linville Ridge Band takes their name from a significant geographic landmark near their western North Carolina home which is also known for a rich traditional and bluegrass music heritage. Preserving this heritage is one of the goals of band members Aaron Ramsey (guitar, dobro), David Wiseman (mandolin), Perry Woodie (banjo, dobro), Michael Ramsey (bass). Three of the musicians had previously performed for a decade in the band, Damascus Road Acoustic Gospel. Playing his Lebeda mandolin, Aaron won the 2002 Merlefest mandolin contest.
           All four are snazzy pickers who also share the lead vocal responsibilities on 2-3 songs apiece. While none of them have simply killing knockout voices, they capitalize on their individual vocal strengths to arrange each song for maximum benefit. Also, more emotion seems apparent when a songwriter sings his own compositions as Mike Ramsey does on "Life Him Up" and "When Uncle Came Home from the War." The latter, sung with his son Aaron, is a hard-hitting ballad which tells the story of Mike's great-uncle returning from World War II with some provocative questions about the sacrifices and value of war. Perry Woodie penned four originals for this project, and he sings lead on the opener "I've Lost the Will to Try" which is a good song with the potential to be covered by a national bluegrass act. Woodie's "Time is a Healer" is a contemporary bluegrass composition with some good insight and advice when loves goes wrong. Woodie also wrote the flashy instrumental "Spanish Oak," a high-test offering that allows the banjo, mandolin and guitar players plenty of room to demonstrate their adept, nimble-fingered skill. Some of the songs on "Hopes and Dreams" could've been embellished with a little hot fiddling, either by Wiseman or a guest artist. They take this approach on "Old Joe Clark" by featuring David's fiddling, as well as enlisting the support of their friend and octogenarian Herb Lambert on mandolin.
           The Linville Ridge Band performs primarily in North Carolina, but they also occasionally travel further afield to appear throughout adjacent southeastern states. With a variety of traditional, contemporary, and Gospel material in their repertoire, the group offers plenty to thrill audiences. The album also confirms that bluegrass is deep within their hearts. (Joe Ross)


Carnival Recording Co. 370002-2
24 Music Square West, Nashville, TN/ 37203 OR
TEL. (800)927-9848 OR 615-259-0841
Playing Time - 44:14
           The sonic alchemy of the Eli Young Band transforms an eclectic variety of folk, country, metal, grunge, and rock influences into their own high-grade gold. Based in Texas, the band is poised to build their legion of fans throughout the region, then nationally and internationally. The opener, "Small Town Kid," is a ballad about having a simple story, being driven by rock and honky-tonk music and needing nothing more than a good-looking lady, a truck and some occasional whiskey or tequilla. All twelve songs on "Level" are originals written by the band that is fronted by the guitarists and vocalists Mike Eli and James Young. The rest of the group is Chris Thompson (drums) and Jon Jones (bass). Like Young, Jones also contributes background vocals. Guest artists include Milo Deering (pedal steel), Erik Herbst (guitars), Vince Barnhart (vocals), and Tommy Young (Hammond B-3 organ).
           Hailing from Denton, Texas, the quartet has the potential to make some significant impact on the alt-country rock market. Their material addresses some common themes -- love, heartache, pain, loss and desperation. Circumspect, yet still deliberate, each song seems to take a life of its own. Many are full of sadness or despair, and I wouldn't mind hearing a few more happy, uplifting songs from them. "When It Rains" suggests that if you "start out depressed then everything comes as a pleasant surprise."
           The title cut, "Level," doesn't appear until track five, and has a catchy melodic guitar riff and snappy bass line as Eli sings "waiting on life to level, waiting on something stable, maybe soon I'll be able, to rest my head again." The improvisational jamming that takes place at the end of the song kicks butt. An acoustic flavor is a nice opening reprise on "Everything is You," with its nostalgic recollection of lasting memories of another. Thompson's drumming provides a technically impressive rhythmic intensity to "Girl in Red." The album ends on a particularly strong note with some of their most engaging and reflective songs, "Highways and Broken Hearts" and "Bottom Line."
           The Eli Young Band writes, arranges and presents music that will especially appeal widely to a younger demographic that is looking for thoughtful messages in their non-mainstream listening. Recent music I've heard from the Texas and Oklahoma region often has a rebellious, almost defiant, flavor. With some top notch production, label and touring support, The Eli Young Band will definitely turn some heads. Let's hope that their songs are distinctive and provocative enough to land them a few lasting hits. The support garnered from their devoted and enthusiastic fans will be the ultimate test and decide whether they make it to the big time. (Joe Ross)

By William Bay
Book/CD MB20876BCD
ISBN 0-7866-6053-8
$ 14.95
Mel Bay Publications, Inc., #4 Industrial Drive, Pacific, Mo. 63069
32 pages
           Aimed at beginning flatpickers, this collection of 15 gospel songs includes standard notation and easy-to-read guitar tablature. Included are such favorites such as Angel Band, Blessed be the Name, I Feel Like Traveling On, In the Garden, Just Over in the Gloryland, Life's Railway to Heaven, The Unclouded Day, and Where the Soul Never Dies. The companion CD has one track for tuning, then each piece is played twice. First, each song is presented with the flatpicked guitar solo and accompaniment. Then, a back-up track is given so that the guitarist can practice the piece. Because of their brevity, I doubt that the accompaniment tracks would have much utility for a church or other performance. All of the songs are short pieces of one page each, and lyrics are included for each but not sung on the CD. All of the 15 songs are in the same key (G), and some variation might have been nice for singers whose voices prefer other keys. (Joe Ross)

By Stacy Phillips
Book MB20581
ISBN 0-7866-6920-9
$ 12.95
Mel Bay Publications, Inc., #4 Industrial Drive, Pacific, Mo. 63069
72 pages
           Stacy Phillips' "Favorite American Rags & Blues for Fiddle" is a tune book aimed at helping one increase their repertoire. Drawing from a large variety of sources, there are over 100 mostly public domain tunes, in standard notation, that represent various geographic fiddling styles in the U.S. Phillips learned the tunes from recordings, at fiddle contests, jam sessions, dances and meeting with other fiddlers. A specific fiddler is identified with each tune. There are old-time, Texas, western swing, and bluegrass fiddlers listed. One would need to possess a very extensive collection of fiddle music to have these tunes on albums. Therefore, the book would be most useful to music readers who don't necessarily need recorded version to learn the tunes. A CD would've been nice to hear recorded versions of all the tunes. Bowings, fingerings, and guitar chords are provided. Thus, this book is a great reference guide to add some new tunes to a fiddler's repertoire. (Joe Ross)

By Dix Bruce
Book/CD MB20099BCD
ISBN 0-7866-6688-9
$ 17.95
Mel Bay Publications, Inc., #4 Industrial Drive, Pacific, Mo. 63069
96 pages
           Dix Bruce's easy-to-follow book/CD set will quickly get you playing bluegrass mandolin. After discussing the essentials of tuning and holding the instrument, Bruce delves into chords, rhythm, single note playing, double stops, fiddle tunes, playing in all keys, playing backup, transposing, kickoffs, turnarounds, and tremolo. Classic bluegrass songs and fiddle tunes are used to demonstrate the various techniques, and in the course of using the book you'll also increase your repertoire. Plenty of standard jamming fare is included such as Rolling in my Sweet Baby's Arms, John Hardy, East Virginia Blues, Nine Pound Hammer, Bank of the Ohio, In the Pines, Long Journey Home, and many others. It's a good format to present the song's basic version, followed by its solo at slow speed, then its solo up to speed. Fiddle tunes explored include Old Joe Clark, Ragtime Annie, and Liberty. When the fiddle tunes are introduced, Bruce also addresses eighth notes and the use of up and down strokes with the pick.
           An example of one helpful lesson presented is the "Moveable Blues" in closed position. After learning some bluesy bluegrass licks in the key of G, you'll learn how to move the melody to any key. Because all the notes are fretted and recommended fingerings are shown, the melody is easily moved. It is a good exercise for mobilizing your pinkie, learning to use triplets, and developing skill for improvisation. Bruce even suggests, but doesn't demonstrate, how playing the blues with down strokes will get a Monroesque feeling. This book presented a clear, concise, well organized approach for beginners to learn bluegrass mandolin basics. (Joe Ross)

Fresh Faces at Merlefest 2005

PO Box 120, Wilkesboro, NC 28697
Playing Time - 45:00
           Songs - Hayes Carll - Chickens, John Jorgenson - F.A.Swing, Caroline Herring - Trace, The Duhks - Dance Hall Girls, The Greencards - Love's A Word I Never Throw Around, The Wayfaring Strangers - Don't Put Off 'til Tomorrow, Knig Wilkie - Broke Down And Lonesome, Allison Moorer - I Ain't Giving Up On You, Gigi Dover - Back When We Were Young, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer - Hopelessly In Love, BR549 - Tangled In The Pines, Daybreak - Gone For Dreaming
           Music lovers with eclectic tastes will delight in Merlefest's sampler of its "quality diversified American roots based musical experience." The festival's third Fresh Faces album samples tracks from featured performers at the annual Bluegrass and Americana event in Wilkesboro, N.C. which is a tribute to Doc Watson's late son, Eddy Merle Watson, who died as the result of tractor accident in 1985. The first Merlefest took place as a benefit concert in 1988. Fresh Faces 2005 is a fine sampling of styles and acts who will either make their debut in 2005 or who haven't performed there for some years. While some have already established their reputations, others are emerging, high potential artists who are garnering considerable high acclaim.
           The challenge with any CD that presents such a variety is to organize the material so that the overall product provides a pleasing and entertaining aural journey. With such a disparate sampler, it can be a formidable task to produce a coherent flow from start to finish. That is my primary criticism. As an example, sandwiching Allison Moorer's and Gigi Dover's electric tracks between the acoustic King Wilkie and Cathy Fink/March Marxer songs can be problematic. Alternating these acoustic and electric offerings has the same effect as trying to mix oil and water.
           The strength of Merlefest's 2005 Fresh Faces release, however, is that it is an effective promotional tool for the festival, as well as an interesting souvenir for fans and attendees.
           A person's limited time can be maximized with this exploration and discovery of twelve artist's music. One certainly has to appreciate the diverse nature of this music festival which doesn't operate within confined sideboards. They support many up-and-coming groups and performers that push the envelope within multiple genres of music. Merlefest clearly has a strong commitment to diversity, a good thing in a multicultural society with disparate musical preferences. The 45 minutes on this sampler includes a mix of blues, gypsy jazz, singer/songwriter, old-time, Celtic, bluegrass, folk, rock, country, rockabilly and honky-tonk influences. That's a heck of a lot. Imagine what you'll experience live at the festival!
           Merlefest offers a little something for everyone. Focus on the unique character of each performer sampled, and try to broaden your own musical horizons. .If your musical preferences are very clearcut and confined, then you may only like a few tracks on this CD. If you're in the market for a jambalya of simmering music, check out Fresh Faces. There are other Fresh Faces and Live! albums on-line at the Merlefest website store (Joe Ross)

Little Rock

Highway 87 Music, No number
PO Box 23050, Nashville, TN 37202-3050
INFO: Kissy Black, Lotos Nile Media, (615)598-0229,
Playing Time - 40:11
           Hayes Carll is a Texas singer/songwriter who describes himself as a "twisted folk singer." I don't find him particularly perplexing because his songs reveal a fair amount about his life, friends, and wry wit. The places he's lived over the years are mentioned in the opener, "Wish I Hadn't Stayed So Long." He wonders about some of his closest high school buds in "Good Friends." And just about everything else is referred to in the tongue-twisting "Down the Road Tonight" from thrift store cowboys to panty droppers, and pill poppers to his grandmother. Little Rock is a followup to Carll's 2003 release "Flowers and Liquor," and his sophomore effort offers a nice mix of varied tempos and diverse messages to keep a listener rapt and attentive. The title cut, about Arkansas, is a rocking story about Carll's search for "a piece of this earth for my peace of mind." With emotive voice, the singer also ably handles the rawboned ballad, "Long Way Home," or quiet lullaby "Take Me Away." Of special note are the compositions written in collaboration with Ray Wylie Hubbard ("Chickens"), Guy Clark ("Rivertown") and John Evans ("Sit in with the Band" and "Take Me Away"). Some songs have a tender side, while others are raucous.
           While Carll chose to independently release Little Rock, his personalized sound and work eithic (over 200 appearances in 2004) have attracted the interest of major labels. Produced by R.S. Field, Little Rock features a bevy of good musicians. Alison Moorer and pedal steel player Bucky Baxter assist on vocals, and I wish that some of the songs had been arranged with a few more harmonies. Other musicians who lay down the Texas groove include Kenny Vaughn (guitar), Jared Reynolds (bass), Jimmy Lester (drums), R.S. Field (percussion, drums, guitar), Adam Landry (guitar), and George Bradfute (bass).
           Carll has been on the road with Joe Ely, Todd Snider, Slaid Cleaves and Ray Wylie Hubbard. He's also played Merlefest and the "Texas Revolution" at the Southfork Ranch in Dallas. Hayes Carll is a bit of a renegade who is strongly individualistic, confident and independent. As long as he succeeds in getting his music out there and heard, Carll's on a certain road to headline status in the Texas music scene. He's well on his way as I understand that Hayes went #1 on the Americana radio chart in April, 2005 - a feat never before accomplished by a self-released artist. (Joe Ross)

The Road West

Corvus 012
2030 Nootka Street, Vancouver, B.C. Canada V5M 3L9
TEL. (604)761-2754
Playing Time - 47:34
           Songs - 1 Roustabout 2 Hop High My Lulu Gal 3 Home Sweet Home 4 Sandy Boys 5 Travelin' the Road West 6 In the Fall 7 Deep Dark Sea 8 Blackberry Bramble 9 Liza Jane 10 Old Reuben No. 1 11 Allens Creek 12 You'll Find Her Name Written There 13 Troubles 14 The Homecoming 15 As Time Draws Near 16 Crowberry
           With a solid band that hasn't undergone any personnel changes for years, John Reischman and the Jaybirds demonstrate how a bunch of great pickers and singers can get even tighter and more cohesive as time goes on. Known for their well-chosen and arranged material, presented in expert fashion, this group continues to thrill us with musicality and verve. The 16 songs cover a great deal of territory, but they always stay true to bluegrass sensibilities despite a few side excursions into old-time and folk presentations such as "As Time Draws Near." If they cover a traditional number like "Sandy Boys" or "Liza Jane," the Jaybirds brand it with their own unique musical mark. And their repertoire has no dearth of original material that is characterized by upbeat instrumentals and evocative songs spotlighting their two lead vocalists, Trisha Gagnon (bass) and Jim Nunally (guitar). Nunally's title cut was inspired by Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and some of his own family's dust bowl history. Gagnon's "Blackberry Bramble" captures some favorite childhood memories. Mandolinist Reischman typically adds baritone or low tenor harmonies, but it's nice to hear him sing lead to Jim's tenor on "Old Reuben No. 1." Rounding out the band in fine form are Nick Hornbuckle (banjo) and Greg Spatz (fiddle) who both know how to provide just the right amount of winsome accompaniment.
           The third album from John Reischman and the Jaybirds is a very strong, tastefully-rendered project. It solidly reinforces this band's place as one of the most engaging and dynamic acts in the western bluegrass scene. Much of the fervor in their sound is a result of their charged-up instrumental support and adventurous escapades built from older music that has considerable roots. (Joe Ross)

Take the El

Common Place, 2. Take the El, 3. Uncle Pete's Sonic Tour, 4. Milledgeville Stomp
TEL. (815)562-4553 OR
Playing Time - 16:49
           From a small town in rural northern Illinois, Chicago-based jazz guitarist Jim Kanas called upon seven of his musical friends to record these four original compositions. Besides guitar, Kanas plays some Maurer harp guitar and synth guitar/organ. The others who add flugel horn, piano, percussion, drums, and bass include Scott Mertens, Doug Bratt, Doug Lofstrom, Dan Shapera, Henry Boehm, Terry Connel, and Rubén P. Alvarez. The smooth music is cohesive and played with plenty of gusto. Each piece has some enchanting moments, such as Connel's fluid playing in "Common Place," Merten's impressive piano in "Take the El," Kanas' lyrical harp guitar in "Uncle Pete's Sonic Tour," and toe-tapping melody and entire band's improvisational skills in "Milledgeville Stomp."
           Jim Kanas has a very strong resume, and I'm surprised that a major jazz label hasn't taken more notice of this hard-working musician. His bio indicates some very impressive collaborations and awards. His educational background even includes a unique interdisciplinary music performance degree from Northern Illinois University in contemporary guitar, commercial music and American folk instruments. "Take the El" foreshadows a longer project by the same title coming soon, and it also complements the acoustic-oriented "Jimmy & the Swingers" album that Kanas released in 2003. This 4-song EP stimulates our taste buds for the longer project, and it's definitely worth picking up to experience the singularly impressive guitar talents of Kanas. (Joe Ross)

You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper

Rounder 11661-0557-2
Lauren Calista at 617.218.4483, email or Kay Clary at Commotion PR, 615.467.6677, email
Playing Time - 39:19
           SONGS - 1)Heartbreak Number Nine, 2)Four Walls, 3)The Girl in the Valley, 4)You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper, 5)Saving Grace, 6)Rosine, 7)Girl from West Virginia, 8)Blues for My Darling, 9)Love Me as You'd Love the Rain, 10)What Ain't to Be, Just Might Happen, 11)Oak Valley Girl, 12)When I'm Knee Deep in Bluegrass
           "You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper" marks Doyle Lawson's new affiliation with the Rounder Records label, and this secular recording is full of truly zestful bluegrass. Let's recall the early history of Lawson's band. In 1979, Lawson put Quicksilver together with banjo player Terry Baucom, guitarist Jimmy Haley, and electric bass player Lou Reid. The band signed with the Sugar Hill Records label the following year, and they released the albums Quicksilver, Rock My Soul, Quicksilver Rides Again, Heavenly Treasures, and Once and for Always. After rededicating his life to Jesus Christ in 1985, Lawson recorded the all-gospel "Beyond the Shadows" with new players Scott Vestal (banjo), Curtis Vestal (electric bass), and Russell Moore (guitar). It was momentous occasion that indicated the band's ability to continue to set a high standard for bluegrass gospel music. The "Beyond the Shadows" reissue in 2004 marked an impressive and prolific long-term relationship that has resulted in 24 albums in as many years for this fine group that features well-blended vocal harmonies and arrangements.
           Lawson's gospel (and secular) albums are consistently best sellers because their recipe for success has always been to present an excellent variety of material that appeals to the young and the old. As an example of this approach, let's analyze the songs on his 25th album - the secular "You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper" release now on the reputable Rounder Records.
           With all his years in the business, Lawson clearly knows the successful recipe for a high-octane sound. Most impressive are the band's splendid choice of material, straightforward picking, and euphonious vocals. The latter is what really sets this band apart from the rest of the pack. Over the years, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver have won four Vocal Group of the Year awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association. I like to see liner notes clearly identify who is singing, and this is an unfortunate omission here. Yet, we know that the band includes Doyle Lawson (mandolin, guitbro, lead guitar, vocals), Jamie Dailey (guitar, vocals), Barry Scott (bass, vocals), Jesse Stockman (fiddle), and Terry Baucom (banjo, vocals). Truly, they're one of the strongest quintets in bluegrass today. Guest Glen Duncan fiddles on "Saving Grace," a slower song which (along with "Oak Valley Girl") best typify their cohesive well-blended trio. The latter incorporates some tasty fills played by Doyle Lawson on guitbro (an instrument which is a cross between guitar and dobro).
           Fans of Doyle Lawson know that he has 40 years experience in bluegrass. The title cut (by Carl Caldwell) is a strong reminder that perseverance and hard work will yield bountiful rewards in life. That cut is characteristic of a general theme throughout this album - the songs have plenty of meaningful messages. Quicksilver's guitarist (Jamie Dailey) and bass-player (Barry Scott) penned the opener, "Heartbreak Number Nine," that speaks to having to get out of town with a one-way ticket when true love doesn't materialize. Another Dailey composition, "The Girl in the Valley," is about a desire to rekindle a relationship with an old flame. If adroit picking is your cup of tea, you'll be very thrilled by Baucom's banjo work on "Girl from West Virginia," along with the Lawson's crisp, driving mandolin on his self-penned "Rosine," a tribute to Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe's birthplace. Lawson is a first-class mandolin stylist in the bluegrass genre, and his instrumental expertise has been highly highly regarded and imitated.
           Quicksilver's kaleidoscope of sound includes bang-up bluegrass, classic country, and gospel. Besides the originals, their diverse repertoire draws material from Jim Reeves ("Four Walls"), Porter Wagoner ("What Ain't to be, Just Might Happen"), Pete Goble and others. A band noted for vocal distinction also serves up quality instrumental work. In sum, it's a thoroughgood project that deserves a place in the top ten of bluegrass for 2005 releases. As they sing about in the closing number composed by Pete Goble, this band is clearly "knee deep in bluegrass." (Joe Ross)

High Energy Traditional Bluegrass

No label, no number
11796 County Road 250, Durango, CO. 81301
TEL. (970)259-6762 or 946-6345
Playing Time - 51:58
           Songs - 1. Cold Sheets of Rain, 2. Same Old Bluegrass Story, 3. Where's That Cold Wind Come From?, 4. Dusty Knob, 5. Rank Strangers, 6. Brown Mountain Light, 7. Spinning Wheel, 8. Love Me or Leave Me Alone, 9. If That's The Way You Feel,10. More Dollars Than Sense,11. Butcher Boy,12. Remington Ride,13. Coal Tattoo, 14. Grandfather's Clock
           Based in Durango, Colorado, The Badly Bent demonstrates that they are a very solid regional band with plenty to enthuse a far wider national bluegrass audience. They clearly have a bluegrass bent, along with plenty of inherent passion for the music. With a contemporary edge, The Badly Bent pushes the interpretive envelope, especially when they are presenting originals such as "Where's That Cold Wind Come From?," "Dusty Knob," and "More Dollars Than Sense." Special guest Cindi Trautmann sings the former. The second is an instrumental that accelerates when composer and banjo-player Mark Epstein brings it home. The latter song bursts with hustle, and their racing performance reaches a smoldering extreme for the band's capabilities. The band also draws material from the likes of Randall Hylton ("Cold Sheets of Rain"), Bill Bryson ("Love Me of Leave Me Alone"), The Wright Brothers ("Same Old Bluegrass Story"). While other songs are from Ralph Stanley and Albert Brumley, the band definitely branches into other territory further afield than their album's "traditional bluegrass" subtitle might suggest.
           Produced by Sally Van Meter, The Badly Bent's debut album is chock-full of zeal and velocity. Nimble-fingered Indiana native Mark Epstein is a masterful banjo-player, especially as he tears up a standard like "Remington Ride." Epstein has thirty years of experience as a musician and was a recent guest with the San Juan Symphony Orchestra. The rest of the band includes Bill Adams (resonator guitar), Rob Brophy (mandolin, vocals), Patrick Dressen (guitar, vocals), and Jeff Hibshman (bass). Adams is originally from South Carolina and took up resonator guitar in 1992. Brophy is a Colorado native who earned an associates degree in bluegrass music from South Plains College in Levelland, Tx. Dressen, originally from South Dakota, has lived in Colorado since 1967. He's the 1991 Colorado flatpick guitar champion and 1994 Rockygrass mandolin champion. Hibshman, a founding member of The Badly Bent, recently returned to the band as their rock solid, innovative bassist. Some of their most soulful renditions are those featuring guest Cindi Trautmann's fiddling and vocalizing ("Butcher Boy").
           This band has a bad case of bluegrass enthusiasm. Collectively, they give us some charged-up music on a generous 52-minute album that will turn some heads. It's gratifying to know that they are receiving considerable airplay around the world on both standard and internet-based radio. Stay tuned for more excitement from this Colorado band. (Joe Ross)

A Name of My Own

No label, no number
2143 Sandy Shore Dr. #104, Kentwood, MI 49508
TEL 616-690-0544 (cell) OR
Playing Time - 40:07
           Songs - 1. Please Take Me With You 2. Old Guitar 3. The Door Won't Be Open Anymore 4. It Doesn't Matter Anymore 5. River of Jordan 6. Changing Town 7. Back to the Bar Rooms 8. Your Hand Came Down 9. Just Like You 10. I Don't Care 11. The Longer You Wait 12. Gospel According to Luke 13. F.Y.O.B 14. Don't Pass Me By
           Lare Williams hails from the Wolverine State, and this young Michigander whose name rhymes with "flair" is building a strong bluegrass following in that region. His third album has a nice mix of originals and covers. Written in collaboration with Sara Lee Rehkopf, Lare's "Old Guitar" is getting some good national airplay as a result of being featured on Volume 74 of Prime Cuts of Bluegrass. Other originals on the CD include "The Door Won't Be Open Anymore," "Changing Town," and "F.Y.O.B." The two songs on the disc written by Bert Jones and Jeffrey Schuhmacher are also "originals" in the sense that they have never been released by any other artist before. Covers are drawn from the material of Paul Anka, Merle Haggard, Cindy Walker/Webb Pierce, Skip Ewing/Don Sampson, and Ringo Starkey.
           Lare Williams sings with a pleasant, relaxed vocal delivery that has unique and heartfelt flair. On this project, vocalist Patty Williams does an enchanting rendition of "It Doesn't Matter Anymore." Other vocalists assisting include Ronnie Bowman and Garnet Bowman. Instrumental support is provided by Randy Kohrs, Jesse Cobb, Scott Vestal, Stephen Mougin, Jeff Hall, Aaron Till, Kevin Gaugier, Tony Zapolnik, Steve Boling, and Peter Knupfer.
           Lare Williams once told me that he plays bluegrass music because it's in his blood. He appreciates the fans and the help he's received from others involved with the music. Williams is a fresh, new, young talent on the music scene who has the skills and business acumen to make a much bigger name for himself within bluegrass circles. He fronts a band called "Lare Williams and New Direction." With a little luck and a lot of hard work, the band could go places. Williams clearly shows a knack and aptitude for singing, playing and producing solid bluegrass music. Lare was only two years old when he began picking and singing with his family band.
           Still in his 20s, Lare has two previous albums out --"Play What?" (in 2000) and "Grandpa John" (in 2002). These previous releases have featured Patty's singing, as well as songs written by Bert Jones and Sara Lee Rehkopf. Lare's latest album, "A Name of My Own," elevates his music's professionalism by enlisting some consummate Nashville-based session players. Lare is dedicated to this music, and he continues to strongly support his family's bluegrass tradition. (Joe Ross)

I've Come to Take You Home

No label, no number
4496 Howellsville Road, Front Royal, VA. 22630
TEL. (540)636-6906
Playing Time - 39:54
           All4Hym is a 6-piece bluegrass gospel group based in Front Royal, Virginia (near Chester Gap). Their third album, I've Come to Take You Home, has a fresh, honest sound that lifts the spirit. Emphasizing passion and respect, their Christian messages don't proselytize, yet they are able to provide spiritual guidance and direction. Their leisurely approach conveys their music masterfully without any tricks or antics.
           All4Hym formed as a trio in 1997. The band now includes Chester Kreitzer (rhythm guitar, vocals), Terri Kreitzer (vocals), Cory Kreitzer (mandolin, vocals), Aaron Murphy (lead guitar, dobro), Dan Murphy (bass, vocals), Buddy Dunlap (banjo, fiddle, lead guitar). Husband and wife Chester and Terri Kreitzer host a weekly one-hour "Bluegrass Link" radio program on WTRM. Their son, Cory, is an accomplished mandolinist and tenor singer. Twin brothers Dan and Aaron Murphy are both talented multi-instrumentalists. The band plays schools, fairs, campgrounds, singing conventions, festivals, theme parks, markets, and community centers.
           To bring the word of God through their ministry of bluegrass gospel music, All4Hym chooses material from Charlie Monroe, Hank Williams, Jeff Weeks, Ronnie Bowman, Gretchen Peters, Ron Block, Irl Hees, and others. All4Hym has some exhilarating and heartfelt gospel messages, complemented by adept picking. Their repertoire would be well received at venues with various age groups represented. The rousing and spirited sound of All4Hym is sure to please and be inspirational. (Joe Ross)

When I'm Knee Deep in Bluegrass

Fireheart Records FHP7349
PO Box 1482, Goleta, CA. 93116
TEL. (805)687-7949
Playing Time - 44:50
           Born in Prestonsburg, Kentucky in 1932, Pete Goble left there at age sixteen for work in a Michigan steel mill. A natural songwriting talent, Pete has penned splendid songs for The Osborne Brothers, Country Gentlemen, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, McPeak Brothers, Shenandoah Cut-Ups, Bluegrass Cardinals, Bill Harrell, Lost and Found, IIIrd Tyme Out, Mountain Heart and many others. Goble's imagination and keen observation of people help him express feelings so precisely and clearly that we are touched and uplifted by his messages. The songs on this album are straightforward, easily understood, and simply make you feel good after hearing them. Goble once told me, "I just sing them straight. I try to tell a good story. I want to make it like you've just read a book."
           Pete Goble was first hooked on bluegrass when he heard Flatt and Scruggs' "Down The Road." He started writing songs in 1957 with his first few being "You'll Be a Lost Ball," "I'll Drink No More Wine," and "I'll Never Take No for an Answer." An early songwriting partnership with Bobby Osborne led to such hits as "Big Spike Hammer" and "Son of a Sawmill Man." In 1961, Pete met longtime friend and collaborator Leroy Drumm. Writing together since 1971, the team has penned such bluegrass favorites as "Georgia Girl," "Julie Ann," "I Won't Need Your Nine Pound Hammer," and "Blue Virginia Blues."
           In late 1986, Pete Goble and Bill Emerson released a highly-acclaimed album entitled "Tennessee 1949" (Webco WLPS-O123). They followed that with "Dixie In My Eye" (Webco WLPS-0128) in 1989. Now retired and with the four children out on their own, there's more time for songwriting, performing, and just "living on the farm." While loving Michigan, Pete's memories of Kentucky show up in his songs. As the album's title cut (inspired by Bill Monroe's 1958 Decca LP) exclaims, "Any part of ol' Kentucky is home sweet home to me. Knee deep in bluegrass is where I'm gonna be." Even Pete's publishing company, Brandykeg, is named after his "little place in Kentucky...just a mailing address, you might say."
           Pete Goble's songs are sincere, honest and unpretentious. "I guess we have to be dreamers to some extent, but I must say that it helps when you've lived the song, and believe me, I have lived some of the songs we've written about," offers Pete. "A successful songwriter can recognize another's hurt and write about it. You can take a common subject, love for example, and write about it a little differently than anyone else. There are many ways to explain love but no sure way."
           Songsmith Goble describes the pain, misery and hurt of lost love in "The Whole World Must be Knowin'," but he also gives us plenty of advice and words of wisdom in other songs. The opening track takes a leisurely approach to presenting a warm, fulfilling tale of how to beat a broken heart. Facing the realities of lost love and getting over heartache are central to "Janie's Really Gone," "Lesson in Love," "Roses Remind Me of You" and "What About Tomorrow."
           "Highlander's Farewell," "Call of the Whippoorwill," and "Too Close to the Flame" provide us with some insights about love whether they be a soldier's parting words, a forlorn ballad of scandal and murder, or a new lesson learned. For a funny take on that familiar subject, listen to "Lovin' Ain't Been Easy on my Mind."
           Over the years, Goble has shown an affinity for songs about hobos and rambling, and "Born to be a Drifter" is a wistful variation on the theme. "It's Too Late Now" is a nostalgic treatise about mistakes made in life. Even though a musician has to pay his dues on the road, Pete says "Thank God for the Highways" that lead back home.
           Emphasizing true feeling and emotion, the songs on this album present concepts and themes that people can relate to. In addition to his masterful songwriting, Pete Goble is a solid bluegrass guitarist and singer. A truly touching experience, his music conveys warmth, encouragement and optimism. His songs are subtle yet respectful. They offer a little something for everyone. Pete Goble has some ambitious future plans that call for recording additional albums and touring with his band, Jubilee Road. (Joe Ross)

Dobro Techniques (DVD)

Homespun Video DVD-DOU-DB21
Box 340, Woodstock, NY 12498
TEL (800)33-TAPES
90 minutes
           Jerry Douglas' name is synonymous with exceptional dobrology. His evocative resophonic guitar playing is characterized by influences of bluegrass, jazz, classical, Celtic and new acoustic music. His aqueous compositions give us a hint as to how Jerry Douglas earned his nickname "Flux." In large thanks to him, the dobro has grown in popularity, and we are seeing more kinds of music incorporate the instrument. Jerry's "Dobro Techniques" was originally released on videotape in 1989. Now on DVD, the lesson has been updated to include a new introduction and interview recorded in 2004. The master musician shares some effective techniques and unique sounds that have characterized his award-winning playing and have made him a legend among acousticians.
           After listening to Jerry play "Monkey Let the Hogs Out" and learning how to tune up, Douglas presents the basics of proper left and right hand positions, bar pull-offs and hammer-ons and a variety of right hand picking patterns. The lesson then addresses important techniques such as forward and reverse bar slants, banjo rolls, string pulls and how to combine rolls in complex picking sequences. The DVD could have had more on scales, but the rolls are great as are the slants and other techniques. All of the techniques are brought together in detailed, note-by-note breakdowns of three tunes: Fireball Mail, Cincinnati Rag and Banks of the Ohio. The tablature for these tunes could have included fingering to use (ie. thumb, middle, index) as well as accompaniment chords. Jerry's clear and concise teaching style, along with invaluable tips on musicianship, attitude, instruments and equipment, will help you become a better player. By developing bar control, fingerpicking skills, licks and song arrangements, you'll gain insights and abilities that will bring your playing to a new level of proficiency and expertise. The double views showing both hands simultaneously were very helpful.
           Jerry Douglas' playing has always been full of excitement and energy. With the basic techniques on this DVD under your belt, you'll be ready to spice up songs with your own artistic interpretations. I hope that he'll consider making a sequel to this lesson. (Joe Ross)

Oh Heart

SoLong Records, no number
938 St. George Barber Road, Davidsonville, MD. 21035
TEL. (410)212-2019
Playing Time - 50:56
           With the exception of three songs (Bluegrass on my Mind, Big Train, Bible Tells Me So), this album presents a large body of first class original material written and sung by Mitch Harrell, son of bluegrass legend Bill Harrell. Mitch grew up in Riverdale, MD. with Dale and Don Wayne Reno who both assist on this album. In high school, Mitch joined his father's group, Bill Harrell & the Virginians, in which he played guitar and sang tenor for a decade. Then he started his own band, Mitch Harrell and SouthRiver Express. Emphasizing original material, Mitch has succeeded in creating his own style and identity. In 1990, Mitch was the first artist signed by Pinecastle Record and is attributed by some as "the reason for Pinecastle's existence." Tom Riggs, a radio personality and promoter from Florida, was so impressed with Mitch's talent that he decided to start a record company. Mitch now lives in Annapolis, MD.
           A solid guitarist, Mitch Harrell also sings most vocal harmonies on this project. Dale Reno plays mandolin, guitar, and sings bass on "Bible Tells Me So." Don Wayne Reno plays banjo, lead guitar, and sings baritone on "Big Train" and "Flowers for Mamma." Some very fine bow work is provided throughout by fiddler Deanie Richardson. Ernie Sykes is a Grammy winning bass player who has worked with Bill Monroe, Osborne Brothers, Rhonda Vincent, Reno Brothers and many others. Randy Kohrs is a superlative resophonic guitarist, and Ronnie McCoury adds some exceptional mandolin and mandola licks.
           "Oh Heart" is a dazzling display of fine and lustrous bluegrass. This album glows with radiant bluegrass executed with great skill, charisma and intrigue. Mitch's personal magnetism draws us right in from the first note to the last. Simply, that is the charm of this generous 51-minute album. (Joe Ross)

Fair & Square

OhBoy Records OBR-034
INFO: Josh Swann, Oh Boy Records, 33 Music Sq. W., Nashville, TN 37203
Playing Time - 62:09
           I was wondering what John Prine had been up to when this project arrived in my mailbox for review. I knew that the well-known singer/songwriter took up guitar at age 14, spent some childhood years in Kentucky (where his grandparents came from), delivered mail, did a stint in the service, sang in Chicago and New York, and was promoted in the 1970s by Kris Kristofferson. Since the 70s, his many albums have exhibited Dylanesque, rock, folk, country and even rockabilly flavors. I hadn't heard much of Prine since his Grammy-nominated "Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings" album was released about a decade ago.
           "Fair & Square" was well worth the wait. All of the songs on it were written or co-written by Prine with the exception of Clay Pigeons (by Blaze Foley) and Bear Creek Blues (by A.P. Carter). Prine's new spellbinding songs are now ready to "go out to meet the world." Prine's gutsy vocals are accompanied by such instruments as accordion, guitar, mandolin, organ, pedal steel, drums, harmonica and Weissenborn guitar.
           "Glory of True Love" celebrates the happiness and splendor achieved when one finds their soul mate. "Crazy as a Loon" is a ballad that takes us to the crazy towns of Hollywood, Nashville, and New York. Seems that his message is to simplify your life to escape from life's zaniness. Mindy Smith does some nice harmonizing on "Long Monday." Prine's clever, perceptive wit shines through on "Some Humans Ain't Human" as he sings about certain people who are "frozen pizzas, ice cubes with hair, a broken popsicle, a pigeon that'll shit on your hood, or some cowboy from Texas [who] starts his own war in Iraq." Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, and Shawn Camp make appearances in "My Darlin' Hometown." One of the most raucous and rollicking offerings is the A.P. Carter cover, "Bear Creek Blues." Prine introduces "Other Side of Town" as "a song about a man who's developed a special ability over a number of years who's able to travel in his mind, especially when his wife goes on a little too long." The one song that comes off like it's not quite done is the closer, "Safety Joe."
           May/June/July, 2005 will find John Prine performing in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Reno, Portland (5/20), Seattle (5/21), Ann Arbor, Chicago, Manchester, TN, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Albuquerque. Prine is a genuine craftsman whose lyrical poetry interprets events, describes human character and emotion, and provides sage advice. Prine's keen eye sees meaning in even the most ordinary of life's events, observances or happenstances. A recent "Literary Evening with John Prine and Ted Kooser" at the Library of Congress discussed how and why lyrics in popular songs often mirror people's emotions and ideas of the world better than some contemporary poetry. Perhaps the answer partially lies in songsmith Prine's creativeness, innovation, imagination, nonconformity, piquancy, and innate ability to captivate audiences. Look no further than his new album, "Fair & Square" for examples of all these elements. (Joe Ross)

Push On Thru

Mandolin Central Publishing MCP0044
PO BOX 728, Siler City, NC 27344
TEL. (919)663-3551 EMAIL
Distributed by Redeye, 449-A Trollingwood Rd., Haw River, NC 27258 OR
Playing Time - 51:56
           Songs - 1. Ript, 2. Push on Through, 3. Movin' On, 4. River of Sorrow, 5. As I Have to Be, 6. Shangrula, 7. Time, 8. Travelin', 9. Atrophy, 10. Blasphemy, 11. Change, 12. Proclivity
           Rift is a new acoustic quartet that is built around the hot licks of Tony Williamson's mandolin and backup vocals, his son Hardy Williamson's guitar and lead vocals, Don Wright's banjo and guitar, and Robbie Link's bass. Their original material has strong blues, jazz and folk influences, but some of the songs could have been given more distinctive bluegrass treatment if the band had perhaps incorporated fiddle, resophonic guitar, additional banjo, and more vocal harmony.
           Based on the cover photo of some seedlings emerging from the ground, I concluded that Rift takes their name from their desire to break through or split open the music scene with their approach to acoustic music. In the title cut, Hardy Williamson asks "Am I the sacrifice or will I push on thru?" as he sings of self-doubt, changing feelings, and slipping out of touch with reality. A listener has to ask if this singer/songwriter fare is inspirational or insipid? Do the songs tell you something that hasn't been heard before? Unfortunately, some of the messages just aren't that memorable.
           The instrumental "Shangrula" is a high point of the project with some technically impressive mandolin picking from the elder Williamson who has considerable experience in many different musical genres and bands including the Bluegrass Gentlemen, Bluegrass Alliance, Duke University Symphony Orchestra, Champagne Charlie, and ASH&W. As a studio musician, he's appeared on many noteworthy releases. In 1990, Tony founded Mandolin Central, an international resource of mandolin lore, vintage instruments and accessories. Tony has a large collection of vintage and rare mandolin family instruments, and he performs an entertaining one-man show (called "The Sound of the American Mandolin") which is also available on video.
           I appreciate Rift's adventurous tastes, but this debut project is missing some additional stimulus and provocation to pull us in and hold our attention for nearly an hour. (Joe Ross)

Earliest Recordings: The Complete Rich-R-Tone 78s (1947-1952)

Rounder 11661-1110-2
Playing Time - 35:02
           SONGS - 1. Little Maggie, 2. The Jealous Lover, 3. The Little Glass of Wine, 4. Our Darling's Gone, 5. Molly and Tenbrook, 6. The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake, 7. Are You Waiting Just for Me?, 8. Death Is Only a Dream, 9. Little Birdie, 10. I Can Tell You the Time, 11. The Little Glass of Wine (alternate version), 12. Mother No Longer Awaits Me at Home, 13. The Rambler's Blues, 14. The Girl Behind the Bar
           The Stanley Brothers started recording just after going to Bristol, Va. in early 1947. Hobart [Jim] Stanton had a company in Johnson City, Tn., had heard them on the radio and contacted them about recording. Initially, the Stanleys recorded at WOPI radio station in Bristol, Va. The first session was Pee Wee Lambert (mandolin), Leslie Keith (fiddle), Carter (guitar) and Ralph (banjo). "Mother No Longer Awaits Me at Home," "The Girl Behind the Bar," "Death is Only a Dream," and "I Can Tell You the Time" were cut. Ray Lambert added bass vocal on the latter two songs. No bass players recorded with the band at the Rich-R-Tone sessions.
           And the band wasn't even paid … only promised royalties. The band was happy just to get records out. An early 1948 session with the same personnel captured Little Maggie, The Jealous Lover, The Little Glass of Wine, and Our Darling's Gone. "Little Glass of Wine" quickly became their most popular song and sold 100,000 copies. Around this time, the band was sponsored by a store in Honaker, Va. called Honaker Harness and Saddlery.
           A mid-1948 session saw Art Wooten on fiddle instead of Leslie Keith, and the band recorded The Rambler's Blues and Molly and Tenbrook. The band moved to the Columbia label for a few years but returned to Rich-R-Tone for a mid-1952 session recorded at WLSI at Pikeville, KY. Besides Carter and Ralph, this session included Jim Williams (mandolin) and Art Stamper (fiddle). Leslie Keith had left to form his own band, The Lonesome Valley Boys. The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake, Little Glass of Wine, Are You Waiting Just For Me, and Little Birdie were the four songs cut.
           Considered among their most scarce and exciting songs, this CD was made from the old 78s. Many old photos and extensive liner notes written by Gary Reid are well-researched and much appreciated. It's fun to hear some spontaneous hoots and hollers and pounding beats on songs like "Molly and Tenbrook" and "Little Birdie." Obviously, the Stanley Brothers weren't trying to produce the gentle, smooth sound more typical of brother duets from that period. The Stanleys' "old-time mountain music" is traced more to the influence of groups like Mainer's Mountaineers. While certainly not up to the standards of today's recording quality, these songs have significant historic value. These aren't just for collectors or musicologists. Rather, this CD captures an era in the seminal development of bluegrass music before it was even widely known as bluegrass. The Rich-R-Tone sessions allow us to experience this band's early enthusiasm and to delight in the success of their developing sound. (Joe Ross)


Triple L Music 0104
Lou Wamp, P.O. Box 339, Hixson, TN 37343-0339
TEL. (423)842-0025
Playing Time - 42:26
           SONGS - Spooky Pass, FireWoman Blues, Oldsmobile Brokedown, Panhandle Rag, Hymnal, ResOlution, Luigi's Revenge, Audrey's Last Dive, Wizard of Wicked, It's Not Too Late, While My Guitar Gently Weeps
           Lou Wamp's slide rules! Wamp is an exceptional resonator guitarist with his own unique new acoustic flair. Wamp's album starts with the sound of birds, an owl and Tom Roady's light percussion on an original "Spooky Pass" that allows all of his Nashville sidemen to shine (Byron House on bass, Butch Baldassari on mandolin, and Jim Hurst on guitar). Some of the other eight originals include Andy Leftwich (fiddle), Justin Moses (banjo, bass, guitar, fiddle), Jessica Lovell (violin), Lynn Wamp (arco bass), or Mark Howard (percussion). Talented multi-instrumentalist Moses played with Wamp in the band, Blue Moon Rising.
           In addition to the originals are two covers - Leon McAuliffe's "Pandhandle Rag" and George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." The comfortable familiarity of these two pieces are relaxing and refreshing in the overall set of largely original music. Readily admitting that his music is not all traditional bluegrass, Wamp prefers to call it "artgrass," a moniker originated by Byron House to describe their jazzy, new acoustic, bluesy sound. The best example of their firework fingers is on "Oldsmobile Brokedown," a technically impressive piece written as a tribute to the late Gene Wooten. Featured on Volume 74 of "Prime Cuts of Bluegrass," this composition is getting good airplay, even as far from Nashville as The Netherlands.
           Wamp has over 20 years in the music business, but he's also an architect, painter, archaeologist, and father to six kids. Besides being a sought after slideman sideman, he certainly has the skill to be a solo artist in his own right. Born in Ft. Benning, Ga. in 1956, Lou had plenty of music (from Elvis to Travis, Bach to the Beatles) around home while growing up. After piano lessons and playing guitar in his high school jazz band, a broken wrist encouraged him to take up resonator guitar. Gene Wooten became a close friend and mentor. Lou played on "Sidemen" nights at the Station Inn and was in a band called Hiwassee Ridge that performed at the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville. Other bands he's worked with include James Monroe and the Midnight Ramblers, The Dismembered Tennesseans, Cowjazz, In Cahoots, The Cumberland Trio, Blue Moon Rising, and others.
           With the release of ResOlution, Wamp's artistic and expressive playing and outstanding songwriting will take center stage and earn him even greater fame.
           Wamp dobro playing showcases his expert mastery of hand positions, pull-offs, hammer-ons, picking patterns, bar slants, rolls, and picking sequences. Produced by Butch Baldassari, "ResOlution" is an album that slides in an engaging musical groove. (Joe Ross)

Guitars & Castanets

CoraZong USA CUSA-2000 OR OR
Playing Time - 40:58
           Songs - Joe's Gone Ridin', Texas Burning, La Gitana de Triana, Rebel Bride, Lonesome Rider, Guitarras & Castanuetas, Long Season, Fiesta Sangria, Blood On The Tracks, Sax Maniac, Bonus tracks -- CoraZong Edition / La Cigarra / Traeme Paz (video) / Sax Maniac live at Antones (video)
           Guitars & Castanets is Austin-based Patricia Vonne's second album. With contemporary Mexican and traditional rock influences, Vonne's music has been called "Texas border rock." A pounding beat and tastefully rendered electric guitar impart rhythmic force to Vonne's original music which always keeps her engaging voice front and center whether singing in English or Spanish. Following the ten tracks is a bonus video "Traeme Paz" from the motion picture "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," directed by her older brother Robert Rodriguez. Her songs are inspired by Joe Ely, Johnny Reno, homesickness for Texas, passion for flamenco, a motorcycle club, relationships, friendship, and survival. The title cut (co-written with her brother) is dedicated to Alejandro Escovedo, another hero of hers, with whom she occasionally joined on stage for Al's song "Castanets."
           Produced by Carl Thiel, the album features some exceptional accompaniment from Joe Reyes (electric guitar), Scott Garber (bass), Rafael Gayol (drums), Vonne's husband Robert LaRoche (guitars, backing vocals), and others. Additional noteworthy Austin musicians include Charlie Sexton, Jon Dee Graham, Rick Del Castillo, Michael Ramos, Mark Andes, and Johnny Reno.
           The two cuts featuring Vonne's castanets are those with a more acoustic feel ("La Gitana de Triana" and "Guitarras y Castanuelas"). With contemporary and commercial flavorings, this album displays impressive musicianship and emotionally-charged vocalizing. The result is a stirring journey that yields bountiful rewards with numbers like "Rebel Bride," which she calls a "sexy, rockin' wedding song."
           Growing up in San Antonio family with ten kids, Patricia's mother would sing to them in Spanish and the children would harmonize. Her dad had been a drummer, and they often had mariachis visit their house. Now, her music has taken her on world tours numerous times, and she'd like to see more of her songs used in movies and on television. With Guitars & Castanets, Vonne's defining voice and music are exhilarating. (Joe Ross)

Back Home

CGS Records 0001
PO Box 882, Portland, TN. 37148
Tel. (615)337-8166
Playing Time - 40:58
           George Clark wrote or co-wrote five of the songs on "Back Home," the first release on the newly formed CGS Records label in Portland, Tn. "Going Home" tells a lively story of a prisoner being released and looking forward to his trip back to Virginia. "Going Home" is being aired as a featured track on Volume 74 of "Prime Cuts of Bluegrass." The original songs "All That She Said" and "Burnin'" are both well-written additions to the bluegrass canon that have traditional-sounding cornerstones. "Bacon Holler Breakdown" is a snappy instrumental dedicated to George's family, the Shiffletts. Clark also covers some traditional gospel, as well as songs previously recorded by Larry Sparks, The Louvin Brothers, Vern Gosdin and Jimmy Martin. Clark's vocals resonate with conviction, and he has assembled a host of first class musicians.
           In 2001, George and his family moved to Nashville, Tn. to pursue his singing and songwriting career. According to Clark's website, Dixie Flyer's current members include Ferrell Stowe (dobro), Mitchell Drew (mandolin), Rick Otts (banjo), Alan Sparkman (bass), and Charles Duffey (fiddle, mandolin). Dobro-player Stowe appears on all tracks on "Back Home," and he is no newcomer to the bluegrass scene with over 30 years of experience. I particularly like the sound of dobro in the bluegrass context and wish that more releases incorporated that instrument as tastefully played as Stowe does. Drew appears as a vocalist on "A Face in the Crowd" and "Are You Washed in the Blood," and Otts only appears as a vocalist on the opening song, "A Face in the Crowd." Sparkman and Duffey don't appear. Rather, the CD includes Stephen Mougin (mandolin), Shadd Cobb (fiddle), Beth Lawrence (bass), Patton Wages (banjo), Jesse Cobb (mandolin), and Carl Franklin (fiddle). So it's a little confusing as to who exactly Clark's band "Dixie Flyer" currently consists of, or whether this album was primarily meant as a solo project to showcase Clark's singing and songwriting. In the former category, it's quite impressive that many of the vocal harmonies are ably handled by Clark.
           George Clark has a very engaging voice that is well suited to bluegrass music. It's immediately appealing, and his songs are arranged in satisfying form. I expect to be hearing much more from George Clark and Dixie Flyer as they get more established and get their name out there. This successful project should land them a number of festival and club gigs. (Joe Ross)

Everything's Alright

Pinecastle Records PRC-1142
PO Box 456, Orlando, FL. 32802
Playing Time - 37:02
           Songs - 1 What Will Become Of Me 2 Can't Go Back 3 How Many Times 4 Two Minus One 5 The Lights Are On 6 Beginners Luck 7 Lord Show Me The Righteous Pathway 8 Everythings Alright 9 She's Walking Through My Memory 10 Old Town Ceili 11 Carolina Smokey Mountain Home 12 Today Has Been A Lonesome Day
           Chicago-based Special Consensus' fifth album on the Pinecastle label has all of the ingredients for a "best of 2005" nomination. Many bands nowadays have masterful musicianship and emotionally-charged vocalizing, but few can steal the show the way that Special Consensus does with its engaging arrangements of superior originals that capture classic bluegrass ideas and themes in new material.
           After opening with Johnny Williams' "What Will Become of Me," the set progresses through four of mandolinist Ron Spears' songs, three of guitarist Justin Carbone's, and one of banjoplayer Greg Cahill's. Also included are a traditional offering (Today Has Been A Lonesome Day), a Pete Goble/Leroy Drumm piece (She's Walking Through My Memory), and a Carl Jackson/Alan Jackson song (Two Minus One). The latter has a particularly nice hook. The band is rounded out by bassist Tres Nugent, and special guests Randy Kohrs (dobro), Andy Leftwich (fiddles), Josh Williams (mandolin one cut), Tim Dishman (bass one cut).
           The ever resourceful band takes its name from the writings of Carlos Casteneda, an anthropologist who wrote about the mystical and spiritual beliefs of a Mexican Indian tribe. "Special consensus" was a Yaqui Indian state of mind where "all the good things in life connect with the good things of the spirit." The band was formed in 1975 by Greg Cahill whose early influences ranged from accordion-driven polka music to Flatt and Scruggs. And having a master's degree in social work no doubt helps one become a bluegrass star too. The band's versatility comes through strongly in the material chosen, mostly with a crisp banjo-centric traditional sound but also well-rounded with some country, Celtic and western swing treats. Ron does most of the lead singing, but Justin sings lead on two of his three self-penned cuts. His third, an instrumental "Beginner's Luck," is a 3-minute pyrotechnical guitar, banjo and mandolin romp. Had it been included, Leftwich's fiddle would've really enhanced that piece like it does with Cahill's dynamic instrumental reel, "Old Town Ceili." Special Consensus' vocal quartet is in the spotlight on Spears' "Lord Show Me the Righteous Pathway," nicely arranged with just guitar and mandolin accompaniment.
           Discriminating bluegrass lovers will find plenty to enjoy on "Everything's Alright." This is one artistic and mellifluous album from a very seasoned band with abundant experience, exuberance, energy, and integrity. (Joe Ross)

First Crop

c/o Peyton Ray, 3308 Breaux Dr. , Louisville, KY 40220
Peyton Ray 502-451-6799, 502-451-6456 OR John Laswell 502-493-7285
Playing Time - 45:19
           "First Crop" came to me with a note saying "we're all local business men who love bluegrass. " Based in Louisville, Kentucky, the Corn Island Band's music exudes an honest sound that reveals a natural inclination for varied material that they and audiences can enjoy and have fun with. Their repertoire ranges from Bill Monroe (On My Way Back to the Old Home), Jimmie Rodgers (He's in the Jailhouse Now), and an old-time fiddle tune (Soldier's Joy), to Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles" and Charles Johnston's "Listen to the Music." Even a couple originals are included with Dan Scullin's "Cherokee After Dark," and John Laswell's "Pain and Misery."
           Formed in 1999, the band's name is based on the original settlement at the Ohio River falls established by General George Rogers Clark during the Revolutionary War. Collectively, the members have over 200 years of experience involved with bluegrass music, and they include Joe Brooks (rhythm guitar), John Imes (bass), John Laswell (banjo, guitar), Peyton Ray (rhythm mandolin), and Dan Scullin (lead mandolin). Guests include Glenn Gibson (dobro) and Michael Cleveland (fiddle on 4 tracks), the latter who really helps bring the album home with a big splash.
           Released in May, 2004, "First Crop" serves as a solid debut from The Corn Island Band. The band shares the lead singing responsibilities with Joe Brooks and Glenn Gibson being the most illustrious standouts vocally. They should consider getting John Imes to sing a little more. Apparently influenced by the Bluegrass Alliance and Seldom Scene, the Corn Island Band gives us a vivacious album that also shows their eclectic tastes. The result is not high-lonesome bluegrass, nor is it contemporary folk. But the band's musical mixture feels comfortably just about right for a regional band that clearly understands their strengths, boundaries and elements of both genres. (Joe Ross)

Raise a Ruckus (EP)

PO Box 452, Lyons, CO. 80540
4676 Ingram, Boulder, CO. 80305 OR
Playing Time - 17:08
           Yes Virginia, the EP (extended play) recording format is still around today despite the virtual disappearance of vinyl. Although CD technology provides greater capacity for music, some groups artistically decide to release a shorter set. This might be to preserve a theme in their music or to not mix apples and oranges. Uncle Earl's 17-minute EP gives us a prelude to a full-length album due out in spring 2005. As a type of demo CD, they chose seven mostly traditional songs to showcase the group's five lead singers and harmony backup. They provide a Sharon Gilchrist original ("Walker"), one minute of original lyrics for a traditional melody ("The Izze Jungle"), and they showcase their old-time instrumental support throughout. Their instrumental "Julianne Johnson" is a high-geared fiddle tune that keeps the rosin a-flyin' from the fiddler's bow.
           Uncle Earl is Kristin Andreassen (guitar), Rayna Gellert (fiddle), Sharon Gilchrist (bass, octave mandolin), KC Groves (mandolin, guitar), Abigail Washburn (banjo). Apparently, singer/songwriter Jo Serrapere has moved on to other endeavors. Kristen is the lead vocalist on "Stacker Lee," the story of a murder over a Stetson hat. K.C. sings an old Carter Family (and now Uncle Earl) favorite, "Little Annie." Sharon wrote and sings "Walker" for her grandfather, Ernest Walker, who was apparently an orphan who kept his feet to the ground. A very lean a capella arrangement with only minimal rhythm supports lead singer Abby on "Keys to the Kingdom," a song of optimism and faith learned from a 1937 field recording of Lillie Knox of South Carolina. The title cut, "Raise a Ruckus," is a perfect way to make merry with these gals. That one puts Rayna's vocals in the spotlight as she wails "oh, come on children, come along, while the moon is shining bright, get on the boat, down the river float, gonna raise a ruckus tonight." I get a distinct feeling that the g'Earls like to party. The project closes with everyone singing a jingle for a Boulder, Colorado soft drink company. Special guest Lance Gentry (from the Izze Co.) plays bottle opener, and the jingle is being featured on the company's website at
           Just like a fizzy Izze, the music of Uncle Earl is a refreshing, natural treat. Their old-time music is a little blackberry, grapefruit, clementine, and pear. Unlike an Izze, Uncle Earl's music is something to be widely shared because it's simply got down-home charm and far-reaching appeal. (Joe Ross)

Something Familiar

No label, No number
PO Box 452, Lyons, CO. 80540
Playing Time - 37:01
           Songs - 1. Snapshots of a Life, 2. Thinking in Terms, 3. Denver To Telluride,4. Heidi, 5. The Soft Complaint,6. Something That Happens, 7. Keep On Lookin', 8. Just Like the Snow, 9. Song in My Heart, 10. What Went Wrong, 11. St. Vrain Waltz
           Original hailing from Northville, Michigan (near Ann Arbor), K.C. Groves began playing guitar, writing songs, and learning mandolin in the early 1990s. In 1999, she released "Can You Hear It" (produced by Charles Sawtelle), and which won a Detroit Music Award. With her pensive songs of yearning, K.C. was a finalist in the Troubadour Contest at the 2000 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. In 2001, K.C. formed an all-female old-timey band, Uncle Earl, with singer/songwriter Jo Serrapere and which is now a hardworking and touring quintet based in Colorado.
           "Something Familiar" is subtitled "original songs for bluegrass instruments and singing." With the exception of "Heidi" and "St. Vrain Waltz" (written in collaboration with Erin Thorin), the other nine offerings were solely penned by K.C. Her life-affirming tales are told with an unhurried and deliberate approach accompanied by such instruments as guitar, mandolin, dobro, fiddle, mandola, bass, banjo, lap steel, cello, Weissenborn guitar, and even a very slight bit of bass harmonica and drums. K.C. delivers her pure voice in an old-timey style characterized by warm, welcome familiarity without antics.
           K.C.'s recipe emphasizes harmony! Assisting vocalists include Helen Forster, Jefferson Hamer, Eric Thorin, Jim Hurst, Nick Forster, Bradford Lee Folk, Caleb Roberts, Sally Van Meter, Mollie O'Brien. Perhaps K.C.'s central treatise is best summed up in the song, "Something That Happens," in which she sings "Life is a puzzle, it's a mystery, it's a tangle of beautiful things, it's not a neat package with ribbons and bows, some things we're never to know."
           Her personal and clever lyrics are based on "little snippets of heartwarming and poignant scenes from life." Groves' universal themes resonate for her listeners, especially young women who are dealing with the pain of love for the first time. She refers to her music as "young women's bluegrass," and the 30-something singer clearly has heartfelt lessons to share. A favorite melancholy song of lost love, "Just Like the Snow," features Jim Hurst's lead vocals. "Keep on Lookin'" presents some advice to one who's hung up on the wrong person. Other catchy lyrics are found in "Denver to Telluride: For Eric," "Heidi,," and "What Went Wrong." The latter piece, with its drums, lap steel and more raucous feeling, is appropriately located near the end of the album before a graceful and lyrically sinuous "St Vrain Waltz" brings it all home.
           Aficionados of intimate and imaginative acoustic music to personally connect with will appreciate "Something Familiar." K.C. Groves' music is not exclusive. Rather, it's an inviting project with a dichotomy of the capricious and fanciful, the sentimental and reflective. Get chummy with K.C. and her music. You'll find that it fits amicably into a place where old-time, bluegrass, folk and original acoustic music meet. (Joe Ross)

Stillhouse Road

Compadre Records 6-16892-60242-2
The Great Jones Bldg, 708 Main Street, Suite 720, Houston, TX. 77002
Lance Cowan Media, PO Box 965, Antioch, TN. 37011
Playing Time - 50:48
           Julie Lee sings with a vengeance. Her pure sweet tone makes for an unmistakable sound. Her enticing vocals and high fidelity acoustic country instrumentation with drums (on over half of the tracks) are very warm, partially as a result of live recording to analog tape. As a poet, Julie's messages relate her faith and life's experiences on this album dedicated to her family. The title cut mentions rumors of her moonshine-brewing great -grandfather. And the family's recipe for cornmeal bread is disclosed in "Made from Scratch," the only cut with a little banjo in the mix. Her more serious and impressionistic songs are some of the best singer/songwriter I've heard in some time. "Beautiful Night" speaks to friendship and the joys of singing, laughing on the porch. "Many Waters" ardently states that love is priceless and as "strong as death." Julie arranged that song directly from scripture (the Song of Solomon, Chapter 8). A tale of abandonment and a failure to admit an inevitable truth is the theme of "Til the Cows Come Home." A spiritually-tinged gospel message is found "He's my Man." "James" references the story of Cain and Abel to convey her sadness after James Byrd, Jr. was brutally killed in Texas by white racists. "Sojourner Truth"was inspired by a photo of a 19th century abolitionist and the Underground Railroad which carried slaves to freedom. The CD jacket includes all lyrics, as well as family photos dating back to the 1930s.
           Certainly not bluegrass, Julie Lee's format is a fusion of contemporary folk, country and Americana sounds that always keep her personal and reflective thoughts out front. Her previous self-produced demo recordings have helped her land the support of Nashville's Compadre Records. Produced by Andy West and Mike Porter, the supporting cast includes thirteen excellent artists such as Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Rob Ickes, Colin Linden, Larry Franklin, Tammy Rodgers, Jonathan Yudkin and others.
           Originally from Maryland, Julie Lee has opened for Alison Krauss on numerous occasions. Of Irish and German descent, she grew up developing a personal appreciation for a simple rural lifestyle, history, old family memories, convictions and Christian values. While neither of her parents were musicians, her mother had an impressive record collection. Her influences range from Ella Fitzgerald and Carole King to Gillian Welch and Dolly Parton. At age 20, she took up guitar. With a fine arts degree, she ended up in Budapest, Hungary teaching English for two years. After returning to Maryland and working in a youth ministry, her muse took her to Nashville. Despite working at various jobs, she always stayed focused on her music. Befriending and opening for Alison Krauss were major turning points in Julie Lee's career. Her creative songs, pleasant vocals and professionally-produced presentation will build her a multitude of fans among those who simply appreciate roots music. Her feelings and beliefs are sung from the heart with character and soul. (Joe Ross)

(plus double-feature DVD)

565 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Tina Aridas - Mountain Redbird Music
Playing Time - 39:41 (disc 1), 100:20 (disc 2)
           What an interesting product and marketing approach this is! A combo CD and DVD. The CD gives us some lively bluegrass with a nice mix of traditional numbers, covers and originals. James Reams found "Cool Down on the Banks of Jordan" on a 1939 recording of Rev. John R. Gipson (aka Blind Gipson). "Winsboro Cotton Mill Blues" was written by a North Carolina mill worker. The covers are from Melvin Goins, Bill Caswell, Roy & Don Hogsed, Fiddlin' Arthur Smith, Jim Eanes, Gerald Evans/Patty Cooper, and Robbie Fulks.
           Their originals reflect issues that resonate with personal experience. A James Reams/Tina Aridas original, "The Hills of my County," speaks to mountaintop removal coal mining and its environmental impact. Based on the song, we know where they stand on this complex issue that pits jobs against the environment. "Eye of the Storm" is a tale of gambler's misery. Although it was the first song they ever collaborated on, it was put aside for quite some time until being dusted off for this CD and arranged with a more rocking sound than originally written. "Troubled Times" is a sad story of the family farm's foreclosure, an event that James observed a lot during his earlier days in Kentucky. Banjo-player Mickey Maguire penned two hustling instrumentals, "Erin's Flight" and "Lost Forest."
           Originally from SE Kentucky, James Reams ("The Kentucky Songbird") has lived in New York City for about 20 years. He has more recently been called "The Father of Brooklyn Bluegrass." Reams began playing guitar at age 12. From 1992-1998, he recorded with a group called "The Mysterious Redbirds," followed by a number of albums with The Barnstormers. His band includes Mark Farrell (fiddle, mandolin), Carl Hayano (bass), and Mickey Maguire (banjo). Kenny Kosek (fiddle) and Barry Mitterhoff (mandolin) appear as guests on 10 and 4 tracks, respectively. Reams has a no-frills-added, old-time, traditional edge in his lead vocals. They serve up their exciting bluegrass in a classic style of yesteryear.
           The included DVD (totaling 100 minutes) provides some valuable documentation of bluegrass in New York City. In the 80-minute "Rollin' On," the roots of the music are traced back to Kentucky, and many personal experiences are shared. A look to the future is optimistic. Of particular interest is the 20-minute preview of "Pioneers of Bluegrass," with humorous and enlightening interviews with Charles Bailey, Sonny Osborne, Bobby Osborne, McCormick Brothers, Del McCoury, Jimmy Martin, Curly Seckler, Art Stamper, and others. (Joe Ross)

Golden West Cowboy

Ambridge Music, no number
PO Box 10708, Norfolk, VA. 23513
TEL. (757)536-5851
Email OR
Playing Time - 27:31
           Songs - I Remember, Bimbo, Having Second Thoughts, Sunshine Over the Hill, My Home is the Dust of the Road, Tennessee Waltz, Banjo, Dreaming Again, Cold Cold Heart, Talk to the Angels, Bonaparte's Retreat
           Dedicated to keeping the music of Redd Stewart alive, this album offers eleven songs recorded by the famous western swing musician between 1947-1974. Most famous as a vocalist with the well-known and popular Golden West Cowboys, Redd co-wrote (with fiddler/accordionist Pee Wee King) the hits "Tennessee Waltz," "Bonaparte's Retreat," and "Slow Poke." Of course, the former was also a big hit for Patti Page in 1950. The second hit launched Kay Starr to stardom. It might've been nice if the last of the three would've also been included on this compilation. The Golden West Cowboys appeared regularly on the Grand Ole Opry and on a regular Knoxville radio show. Their electric instrumentation and fancy outfits were a big hit at the Opry. Steel guitarist Roy Ayres once referred to Redd Stewart as "the glue that held the Golden West Cowboys together into a tight musical unit." Other band hits were in 1952 with "Silver and Gold" (not included here) and in 1954 with Rod Morris' "Bimbo"(included on this CD).
           One must remember that post-war country music was striving to reach the pop market, and many of these Acuff-Rose songs are now considered as appealing "crossover" hits that sold well. Thanks to publisher Fred Rose, many of Hank Williams' hits were polished and popularized. On this sampler, Redd sings Hank's "Cold, Cold Heart."
           Besides being a singer and songwriter, I didn't realize that Redd was also a pianist, guitarist, and fiddler. And he's the sole writer of "I Remember," "Sunshine Over the Hill," and "Dreaming Again" on this CD.
           Henry Ellis Stewart was born on May 27, 1923 in Tennessee, and then the family moved to Louisville, Kentucky. Learning numerous instruments and dropping out of junior high, Redd had his own band (The Prairie Riders) by the time he was about 14. He joined the Golden West Cowboys in 1937 (when Eddy Arnold was vocalist). Drafted into the Army, Redd wrote "A Soldier's Last Letter," which Ernest Tubb recorded in 1944. When Redd returned to the Golden West Cowboys at the end of WW II, he became the band's vocalist, as Arnold had gone solo. Redd married and started a family in 1946. In 1947, the band moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and they had a show on WAVE-TV until 1957. Redd continued touring with Pee Wee, and he also appeared in various movies. On August 2, 2003, Redd Stewart died at the age of 80.
           I would've liked this CD to be about twice as long with such other hits as "A Soldier's Last Letter," "Tennessee Tears," "Tennessee Polka," "Slow Poke," "Silver and Gold," "You Belong to Me," "Busybody," "Changing Partners," and "Backward, Turn Backward." At only 27.5 minutes, it's over much too quickly and leaves us wanting more. Yet, it's still a nice introduction to Redd Stewart, and the CD jacket includes lyrics and some splendid historic photos. I'm told that Redd's youngest son, Bill, took over his music business, and has plans for future releases including many of the songs mentioned above. In 1972, Redd Stewart was inducted as a charter member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Bandleader Pee Wee King was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974, and a movement is currently in place to urge Redd Stewart's inclusion also. See for details. (Joe Ross)

The Storm

Strictly Country Records SCR-59
PO Box 628, 2130 AP Hoofddorp, The Netherlands OR
Playing Time - 46:25
           Songs - Blue Lonesome Wind, The Only Wind That Blows, The Storm, Pulled in Two Directions, Someday You Will, My Favorite Time of the Year, Trust Me, Keep Your Heart Away From Me, Save Me From Myself, Untamed, Katy Hill, Running Out of Time
           Guitarist and singer Liz Meyer's fifth solo album includes the stellar cast of superior musicians Bela Fleck, Ron Block, Mark Johnson, Jerry Douglas, Rob Ickes, Emmylou Harris, Mark Cosgrove, Sam Bush, Glen Duncan, Stuart Duncan, Shad Cobb, Byron House, Kenny Malone and Chris Brown. Meyer wrote all songs except the traditional "Katy Hill." Born in Germany, Meyer is an American who is married to Dutch mandolinist Pieter Groenveld and who has lived in Holland since 1985. She's been very involved with the European bluegrass scene, and months before its release, this album was in the Top Ten of the Euro Americana Radio Chart. All lyrics are included in the CD jacket.
           Liz's songs have been recorded by such artists as Del McCoury, Mike Auldridge, Emmylou Harris, and Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum. Liz's association with Emmylou goes back to the early 1970s when they roomed together in the D.C. area. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, Liz kept touring, underwent alternative treatments, and managed to beat the cancer. Liz attributes music with giving her the motivation and determination to keep going. "The Storm" is dedicated to the people who saved her life when the Storm was at its darkest. In her poignant closer, "Running Out of Time," she says she wants kindness, love and to feel alive. Movies where they tell someone they have a few months to live had made a big impression on Liz as a child. Rather than write a song like "My Favorite Things" with a list of all the things you want to do while you still have time, she tried to find the most painfully poignant way to express these feelings--wanting to have a lover and feel passion one last time.
           On the surface, simple companionship is her desire in "Save Me From Myself," but this personal song is also intensely about passion. Happily married for many years, she doesn't always write autobiographical songs. Those would probably be rather boring, and Meyer recognizes that a good song requires good drama, and any good drama requires conflict. Her intent is now to fulfill her purpose on the planet, writing and singing her songs in the self-described fashion of "bluegrass and folk that rocks!"
           "Blue Lonesome Wind" sets a plaintive stage for this album's intriguing soundscape of reflection. A favorite cut is an up-tempo "The Only Wind That Blows" which has a certain comforting warmth despite its chilly message rendered in 3-part harmony. Rising winds, raging skiies, and trembling winds continue the theme in "The Storm," with its exploration of a tempestuous relationship. Liz Meyer's songs illustrate recurring self-examination of inner conflict and desire for unrequited love, trust and faithfulness. A common bluegrass theme of a nostalgic longing for home is captured in the joyous "My Favorite Time of the Year." Most of Liz's choruses are arranged for duets, with guitarist Mark Cosgrove also providing the harmony. A few of the songs ("Trust Me," "Untamed," and "Keep Your Heart Away From Me" for example) could have been enhanced with a soaring third vocal harmony in the mix. Other songs, like "Save Me From Myself," are remarkably powerful as duets. High-octane guitar, fiddle and mandolin are front and center on the album's one breathtaking and fun instrumental, "Katy Hill."
           Liz Meyer's artistry demonstrates impressive talent and imagination. Balancing subtlety and tact, "The Storm" is an unequivocal success. Executed with great skill, Liz Meyer's "The Storm" allows her to open up to us and convey a personal side full of optimistic meditations. There's no commiseration, suffering or dark despair in her music. The power of Meyer's songs lies in their strength and resilience. I've heard that her cancer is back, and we can only hope that her music brings her more solace and success. Purchasing this CD will help her cover treatment costs. You can also read more about Liz and "The Storm" in the July, 2005 issue of Bluegrass Now magazine. (Joe Ross)

Mr. Norman

Jivin Jones Records,No Number
209 14th Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030
Playing Time - 19:52
           Songs - Norm (radio edit), Trinity, Liza Was Rejected, Shameless Exhibitionist, Norm
           "Mr. Norman" is a 5-track "extended play" CD that the band hopes will be a stepping stone to a full-length release later in 2005. The project started with an introspective look at their large body of new material, then they chose songs representing their current musical direction. Band members go by the names Beast, Slides, Gobshite, Fisheye, Tom and Absolutely. Respectively, they are Martin Bristow (guitar), George L. Smith III (bodhran, vibraphone, Fender Rhoads piano), Kevin Adkins (whistles, banjo), Timmy Murray (mandolin), Christopher Speich (percussion), and Tony Steele (bass). Vocals are handled by Slides and Gobshite.
           The band's entire musical identity draws from a multitude of inspirational sources to incorporate and create sounds representing the melting pot of true "American-style" music. The Hoboken, NJ. band doesn't constrain itself to any one genre, but they do favor an eccentric, electric, and danceable groove. Their unconventional songs mix rock, Irish, country, R&B, and rap. Idiosyncratic in a sense, "Norm" tells a sad story of a high school "dweeb" who dreams of the future and eventually accomplishes his goals. "Trinity" calls for the various world religions to be "united all together like the blessed Trinity." "Liza Was Rejected" uncovers a unique love triangle between two female friends who compete over a young man's attention. "Shameless Exhibitionist" takes a humorous look at seemingly paradoxical tendencies in ourselves and others.
           With outstanding instrumentalists and unique songwriters, the Flu's unique tunes are perfect party music. Their original material and witty messages will take them far. (Joe Ross)

5/10/05 release
CHARLIE POOLE and the Roots of Country Music -
You Ain't Talkin' To Me

Columbia/Legacy AC3K-92780 OR
           Comprised of three generous CDs with a total 72 tracks, this is the first box set ever compiled of Charlie Poole's music. In his book "Classic Country," Charles K. Wolfe relates an anecdote about a group of musicians pulling up to country store in Virginia in the late 1920s. Examining the watermelons, a jug-eared man asked the shopkeeper, "How much are those cucumbers? I'm down from North Carolina, and we have cucumbers bigger than these things." After introducing himself, Charlie Poole introduced himself, grabbed his banjo, and played a few tunes. The shopkeeper went into the back and returned with a half-gallon of prime moonshine. Stories are still told about Charlie today, and his songs are still sung today. Born in a textile mill town in 1892, the rough, unsettled and temperamental hard-living man was a skilled banjo picker, songwriter, and arranger of the old folk songs. Some of his songs are "Take a Drink on Me," "Hungry Hash House," and "Husband and Wife were Angry One Night." Liking a good fight, in "Coon from Tennessee," he sings about wanting to run a cemetery of his own.
           Poole recorded 84 songs from 1925-31 for such companies as Columbia, Paramount and Brunswick. Joining him for his earliest New York sessions were fiddler Posey Rorer and guitarist Norman Woodlieff. "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" would become a bluegrass standard. I don't see his other hit, "Can I Sleep in your Barn Tonight, Mister?" included in this compilation. After selling over 100,000 copies of the first disc (about five times the normal sales for a 1925 hit), the band released "The Man That Rode the Mule Around Town" and "The Girl I Left in Sunny Tennessee." Both selections are included on this CD set. Fingerstyle guitarist Roy Harvey replaced Woodlieff, and various hits followed. Included in this collection are White House Blues, There'll Come a Time, Leavin' Home, Budded Rose, and Hungry Hash House. The Depression hurt record sales, but his legacy remained with songs like "Old and Only in the Way," "If the River was Whiskey," "It's Movin' Day," and "He Rambled" (a New Orleans funeral song).
           True to his band's name, North Carolina Ramblers, Charlie Poole would sometimes disappear for weeks. Columbia Records wanted him to stick to older musical styles, but Charlie wanted to explore new ones. He formed The Highlanders with piano and twin fiddles. In this box set, "Lynchburg Town" and "Flop Eared Mule" are two selections from this band. "A Trip to New York" is attributed to The Allegheny Highlanders, a name used when they recorded for Brunswick. Poole's drinking led to a heart attack and his ultimate demise in 1931 at age 39.
           Nearly thirty tracks on these CDs feature some other old-timey musicians from Poole's time. Some of the singers and groups he learned from are sampled from old 78s and cylinder recordings. Such artists featured are Floyd County Ramblers, Arthur Colins, Dock Walsh, Uncle Dave Macon, Cal Stewart,Blue Ridge Highballers, Branch & Coleman, Fred Van Eps, Red Fox Chasers, Peerless Quartet, Gid Tanner, Eddie Morton and many others. Transferred by sound engineer Christopher King, these digital transfers have an amazingly high fidelity. "You Ain't Talkin' To Me" was produced by Henry Sapoznik, an old-time (and klezmer) musician himself. He also wrote the definitive 6,000-word liner notes that accompany the package.
           About 1960 following the folk revival, there was a revival of Charlie Poole's old-timey sound. This 3-CD set will give his music another shot in the arm and ensure he and the North Carolina Ramblers aren't forgotten. The release precedes the annual "Charlie Poole Festival" in May in his hometown of Eden, North Carolina. There is also a documentary film about Poole in the works. (Joe Ross)

Love is the Source

Clay County CC-050
PO BOX 427, San Dimas, CA. 91773-0427
TEL. (909)599-5891
Playing Time - 41:56
           Songs - Orphan Train, One Good Song, Goodbye My Darling,More Pretty Girls Than One, Love Is The Source , Daisy's Song, Beautiful Baby, One Last Kiss, Granny, Been There, Done That, You're My Never Was, I'm Missing You Tonight, Sunrise, Moonrise, Love Is Running Out On Me
           With the exception of Utah Phillips' "Orphan Train" and the traditional "More Pretty Girls Than One," Clay County's mountain sound is built around guitarist Sue Nikas' originals. Formed in 1987 by Nikas, Frank Abrahams, and Jim Dawson, "Love is the Source" is their 5th CD. The regular band members are joined by Dennis Caplinger (fiddle, dobro, banjo, mandolin, bass), Les Johnson (guitar), Leslie Spitz (bass), and Doug Marshall (mandolin, bass). Full of personalized ingenuity and individuality, "Love is the Source" will delight the fans of this San Dimas, Ca. band that draws influences from the old-time, bluegrass and folk genres.
           Certainly, some of Nikas' songs are more memorable than others. The title cut has the most hit potential and should be recorded by a top country artist. "Beautiful Baby" has a bouncy Western Swing melody and humorous lyrics. I wonder if it's autobiographical.
           The arrangement of "One Last Kiss" suffers by not having some vocal harmony on the chorus. "Been There, Done That" has a cute little hook and some advice to avoid "buying that shirt" and feeling that same ol' hurt. From her early days as folksinger, Sue Nikas has continued her growth as a bluegrass guitarist and songwriter. While some of Sue's songs are slightly humdrum, her material deserves a wider listen. Clay County and friends deliver them with sincerity and earnestness that are strong indications of their own self-confidence, poise and maturity. (Joe Ross)

Just a Workin' Fool

Mitchikambo Music 002
PO BOX 9136, Aspen, CO. 81612-9136
TEL. (970)925-4658
Playing Time - 29:50
           Songs - 1)I'm So Happy to See You, 2)I'm Just a Workin' Fool, 3)One Last Sad Embrace, 4)Loving You Does Crazy Things to Me, 5)I'll Be Remembering You, 6)Pretty Little Weather Girl, 7)There's Just the Two of Us(me and my broken heart), 8)She's Tender That Way, 9)I Miss You More and More, 10)Lucky Dog
           Mike McCollum's "Just a Workin' Fool" has an upbeat character that's full of fun. The Aspen, Colorado songsmith and finger-style guitarist leaves us with some noteworthy lyrics and melodies. His affable baritone and relaxed phrasing give his songs a friendly charm, but it's hard to put your finger right on his genre of choice.
           While he primarily uses bluegrass instrumentation, Jeff Taylor's accordion and certain vocal arrangements are more markedly pop, country, or folk on songs like "One Last Sad Embrace," "I'll Be Remembering You," and "She's Tender That Way." Mike describes these three songs as "Bluegrass meets the Fleetwoods, the amazing vocal trio from the 50s and 60s musical era. "Loving You Does Crazy Things to Me" is Mike's self-declared, humble bluegrass swing tribute to the fabulous Jordanaires. A strong 4/4 beat brings Mike's "Pretty Little Weather Girl" closest to bluegrass, this song being based on one of his best friends getting a job as a local T.V. weather reporter.
           Thus, McCollum, along with his producer, Jeff White, has created a product that is distinctively himself and his own sound. He avoids any cookie-cutter formulaic approach to his bluegrass. Michael Cleveland's fiddling is exceptional, and the singers (Andrea Zonn, Dawn Sears, Terry Eldredge, and Jeff White) breathe life into the ten songs. Very smart and accomplished backup from guitarist Jeff White, mandolinist Troy Engle, and bassist Mike Bub round out the instrumental support. Based on his songs, I surmise that Mike McCollum has a very effervescent personality. The main reason that he now wants to share his songs is to simply help people feel good. I'll bet that Mike and his friends had lots of fun making this CD.
           Originally from southern California, Mike grew up with an inherent and deep love of music. His mom was a church singer, and Mike very proudly proclaims that still at the age of 82 she is an accomplished pianist and director of a chorus called the "Swingin' Singin' Seniors." His uncle is folksinger Sam Hinton, who introduced a 15-year-old Mike to bluegrass at the Topanga Canyon Fiddle Contest. Despite his earlier involvement with rock and R&B bands, Mike now seems to prefer the pure rustic clarity offered by acoustic country. For quite some time, music took a lower priority in his life while he worked in various day jobs from painter to paralegal. In the early 1990s, he decided to re-energize himself into songwriting with hopes of getting others to record his compositions. Eventually he decided to just do them himself. His first CD, "Simple and Clear," enlisted the assistance of Cheryl White, Jeff White, Charles Whitstein, Catherine Styron, Bobby Clark, Terry Eldredge, and Hoot Hester.
           Now, the sequel, "Just a Workin' Fool," builds on the first volume with an equally-impressive effort that continues to emphasize a "pure, unaffected country singing style." While more secular than his earlier release, "Just a Workin' Fool" continues to draw positive images on the aural canvas. "Pretty Little Weather Girl" and "I'm Just a Workin' Fool" are getting good national airplay as a result of being featured on "Prime Cuts of Bluegrass, Volume 73." Mike also performed two of his songs from "Just a Workin' Fool" at IBMA's World of Bluegrass Songwriter's Showcase in the fall of 2004. Mike very recently sponsored the "Workin' Fools Win-Win Songwriting Contest with the hope of encouraging and supporting fellow songwriters. (Joe Ross)

Ballads from the Badlands of Hearts

Rhythm Bomb Records RBR=5621
PO BOX 730922, D-22129 Hamburg, Germany
Ralph Braband, PO Box 130152, D-27466, Cuxhave, Germany OR OR
Playing Time - 41:48
           Songs - 1. Six More Miles to the Graveyard, 2. Lost on the River, 3. Somebody's Lonesome, 4. Men with Broken Hearts, 5. A Stranger in the Night, 6. Your Turn to Cry, 7. Alone and Forsaken, 8. The Pale Horse and His Rider, 9. I Told A Lie to My Heart, 10. Forever is a Long, Long time, 11.The Angel of Death, 12. Wedding Bells
           Hank Ray's "Ballads from the Badlands of Hearts" was produced to present some of Hank Williams' lesser-known songs and poems. A song of misery, sorrow, pain and living death is "Men with Broken Hearts," one that Hank, Sr. once called "the awfulest, morbidest song you ever heard in your life."
           While a few of Hank Williams' poems had been previously set to music and released by Hank, Jr. on his 1969 "Songs My Father Left Me," Hank Ray now interprets four of them for us with his deep and resonant, bass voice. Most were recorded on first take with just lead vocal, guitar, tremolo guitar, organ and upright bass. Hank Ray sang and played guitars and organ. Axel Praefcke played bass. Other songs from Johnny Bailes/Ervin Staggs ("The Pale Horse and His Rider") and Claude Boone ("Wedding Bells") are also covered.
           Because of the songs, their presentation, and the dark CD jacket with all lyrics, Hank Ray's project leaves us heavyhearted and somber. The shadows and gloom of Hank's music are problematic and painful. Meditating with Hank's music might just help a listener to erase countless accumulated sins. Rhythm Bomb Records of Hamburg, Germany specializes in classic country, honky-tonk, country boogie and rockabilly. Their products are distributed by Bear Family Records. (Joe Ross)

self- titled

Running Dog Records RDR-CD-2004
225 Kennedy Farm Road, Trinity, NC 27370
TEL. (336)685-9152
Playing Time - 35:22
           Songs - 1. Muleskinner Blues, 2. If I Could Be There, 3. Walls of Time, 4. I'll Be All Smiles Tonight, 5. When Someone Wants to Leave, 6. Pathway of Teardrops, 7. Smoke Along The Track, 8. Another Lonesome Morning, 9. John the Baptist "Get Up John," 10. Build My Mansion Next Door to Jesus, 11. Pardon Me
           Chrystal Sawyer is a regular Saturday night performer at Fiddler's Cove in Liberty, North Carolina, and her singing has been compared to that of a young Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Suzanne Cox or Alison Krauss. Wow, those are big shoes to fill! And she even resembles a young Loretta Lynn. She confidently and humbly steps right up to the plate with what could, with a little luck, become a defining voice of our era. Her eponymously-titled bluegrass album was recorded in Greenbriar,Tennessee in June, 2003 by Scott Vestal. Besides Vestal on banjo, the master musicians assembled to help out include many from the supergroup Mountain heart. How can you go wrong with these guys in the driver's seat and support of Adam Steffey (mandolin), Clay Jones (guitar), Steve Gulley (harmony vocal), Jim Van Cleve (fiddle), Ron Stewart (fiddle), Randy Kohrs (dobro), and Zak McLamb (bass)? Despite the all-star guests, there's no grandstanding…just good solid bluegrass. Chrystal sings both lead and harmony on three cuts arranged with trios on choruses (Pathway of Teardrops, Another Lonesome Morning, Build My Mansion Next Door to Jesus). Clay Jones even adds bass vocals to the "Get Up John" quartet.
           Raised in Julian, N.C., Chrystal took to music from a very early age. Cutting her teeth on the seminal artists of traditional bluegrass, she sang at fiddler's contests, in her high school choir, was a member of the U.S. chorus during her junior year. In the 1990s, Chrystal first became acquainted with and "struck" by the music of The Cox Family. "Another Lonesome Morning" and "Pardon Me" were both previously recorded by them. For her debut album, she chose songs that represent many of her influences, from Bill Monroe to A.P. Carter, Jimmie Rodgers to Dolly Parton, Webb Pierce to Jim & Jesse. Written by Alan Rose, "Smoke Along the Track" is getting some good national airplay from its inclusion of Prime Cuts of Bluegrass, Volume 73.
           Chrystal varies her tempos nicely, and the enchanting repertoire shows an affinity for both secular and sacred material that covers many musical moods. While many of her songs are familiar and previously recorded by Dolly or Emmylou, this mountain songbird and her bluegrass elite manage to put their own unique stamp on them. Take "Muleskinner Blues," for example. A crisp sound jumping right from the speakers and the song's expert execution offer plenty to enjoy. I never tire of the timeless "I'll Be All Smiles Tonight," especially when Ronnie Stewart is bowing and Randy Kohrs is sliding. We thank this up-and-comer for her evocative renditions of favorite songs. Remember the name "Chrystal Sawyer." We're guaranteed to be hearing more about her. (Joe Ross)

4/5/05 release
American Jukebox Fables

Philo 11671-1246-2A
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140
Playing Time - 55:06
           Songs - Blacktop Train, Kiss The Sun (A Song For Pat Tillman), Take All The Sky You Need, Time, Goodbye Hollywood, Marc Chagall, Jukebox On My Grave, Home, Alice's Champage Palace, She Was, Bad Bad Blood, Mystified, Clarity
           From the stock of Maine potato farmers, Ellis Paul moved to Boston, studied music, connected with the roots of the folk genre, then proceeded to develop a signature singer/songwriter sound that now incorporates pop, rock and contemporary sensibilities. Ellis Paul's wise perceptiveness and charisma have built him a strong fan base. He's also a hardworking, resilient touring artist who has garnered numerous awards for ten album releases and music, some of which has been featured in soundtracks for the films, Shallow Hal and Me, Myself, & Irene.
           "American Jukebox Fables" is Ellis' first solo CD since 2002's "The Speed of Trees." I immediately noticed that his voice has much character, and his songs understand the bond between land, life, heart and soul. The CD begins on an up-tempo note, but Ellis can also create an intimate and familiar feeling with songs like "Time" and "Goodbye Hollywood." Keyboards and percussion provide the primary instrumental excitement that serve to increase the emotional impact of his material. I did feel, however, that some selections could have included more vocal harmony. Produced in Boston by Flynn (see, "American Jukebox Fables" also had the able support of Rachael Davis.
           Ellis possesses all the fundamental elements for success as a singer/songwriter. His messages are profound, and they make us think. "Bad, Bad Blood" is a hard-hitting tale about a life of being addicted to money and love. "Home" is a lover's tribute with the "house being just an address, you're my home." "Jukebox on my Grave" leaves us with his simple wish to mark the music man's ultimate resting place. His jukebox songs also reference some of his influences - Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Rolling Stones, Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, and others. It takes a lot of imagination and skill to be both polished and fanciful all in one. Ellis Paul shows us how to do it in a distinctive, erudite and masterful fashion. (Joe Ross)

Ridin' Along

1715 Wilson Avenue, Bellingham, WA. 98225
121B Marlbrook Lane, Buena Vista, VA 24416
TEL. (540) 261-3966 OR (360)920-1132 or OR OR
Playing Time - 44:51
           Songs - 1) I Ain't Got Time, 2) The Fugitive's Lament, 3) I Want To Be With You Always, 4) Jealous Hearted Me, 5) Mountain Laurel, 6) Resurrection Day, 7) Stormy Waters, 8) Sit At Home, 9) I Heard The Bluebirds Sing, 10) It's Your Time To Be Blue, 11) The Cyclone Of Rye Cove, 12) Wasted, 13) By and By
           "Ridin' Along," the title of Carol Elizabeth Jones' and Laurel Bliss' CD on the Yodel-Ay-Hee label out of North Carolina, was inspired by a line in the Delmore Brothers' "Fugitive Lament." They clearly enjoy finding, arranging, and presenting old classic country songs with a 21st Century outlook. Therefore, I consider these gals to be songcarriers who are helping to preserve a strong American music tradition that was originally built by such songwriters and performers as A.P.Carter, the Bailey Brothers, James & Martha Carson, Jimmy Martin, Jim & Jesse, Lefty Frizell, and Wanda Jackson.
           Produced by John Miller (who also plays lead guitar on 2 tracks), the vocal duets also feature the solid instrumental support of John Reischman (mandolin), David Keenan (banjo, guitar, National Duolian guitar), Matt Weiner (bass), and Emily Keene (fiddle). Bliss plays resonator guitar, and Jones plays rhythm guitar. I noticed the accomplished mandolin picking in the mix and followed up to find out who it was. Due to an unintentional but enormous oversight, the album's liner notes had failed to credit Reischman.
           Despite a distance of about 3,500 miles between them, these two songbirds maintain a close music collaboration. Carol Elizabeth Jones and Laurel live on opposite coasts of the U.S., but they manage to get together for festivals, concerts, and workshops. They are always crowd-pleasers with their humor, showmanship, and musicianship. Their audiences have to appreciate their great love for traditional and bluegrass music that embodies deep respect, charm and plenty of personality. Also, their earthier presentation of a bluegrass numbers like "I Heard the Bluebirds Sing" are nice interpretations in a more feminine style.
           "Ridin' Along" gives us a sound that remains staunch to traditional roots. The duo's principled sound doesn't stray too far from sideboards established back in the 1930s-50s. Carol Elizabeth and Laurel simply remind us of the magic and power of that canon. During April 2005, the duo will play a series of concerts in the Northwest, and they will also offer vocal workshops for folks who want to expand their country, bluegrass, and old-time repertoires while they learn to sing harmony. (Joe Ross)

Not Far From the Tree

No label, no number
PO Box 43, Mercer Island, WA. 98040
TEL. (206)675-9151 or 930-2615 or 524-3740 Playing Time - 41:04
           Songs - 1. Home In My Heart, 2. Carry Me Home, 3. Favorite Son, 4. Mother Gold, 5. Juniper Berry, 6. I Haven't Started Missing You Yet, 7. I Feel Lucky Today, 8. Rude Dude In A Bad Mood, 9. Quarters And Pennies, 10. Home To Virginia, 11. Timber Town
           Lost in the Fog is a northwest band whose sophomore release, "Not Far From The Tree" shows an affinity for original music that is built on a foundation of bluegrass, blues, folk and gospel. Besides having a number of songwriters in the group, Lost in the Fog's strengths also revolve around some appealing vocalists and exhilarating instrumentalists. They are among today's groups with bluegrass instrumentation who also push the envelope a bit into more contemporary and eclectic directions. Yet, their repertoire still indicates that they've connected the dots to the past and understand what's gone before. I wonder if their versatility may be somewhat related to the members' varied upbringings in the states of Iowa, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Washington. Personal experiences and environment play a large part in one's attitudes about music and life in general. An album like this also shows that they are a cohesive unit that enjoys each other's company and makes the most of their strengths.
           Lost in the Fog is Michael Moore (banjo), Jake Weber (guitar), Mark Snyder (bass), Jason Parker (mandolin), and Brad Hull (fiddle). All the members sing. Some of their songs were written by one band-member, while others are collaborative efforts. After her mother-in-law passed away, Jake Weber found the lyrics to "Mother Gold" in her papers. Jake put them to music because she found them so compelling. Michael Moore played a substantial part in writing seven of the songs on this album. They clearly have fun writing and playing in various styles. Brad Hull's instrumental "Juniper Berry" has an old-timey flavor. Moore's "I Haven't Started Missing You Yet" has a country lilt and includes the guest fiddling of Paul Elliott. Another Moore original, "Timber Town," has the accordion of the project's engineer, David Lange.
           Another special guest on "Not Far From the Tree" is producer Orville Johnson who appears on all tracks playing dobro, Weissenborn guitar, guitar and/or percussion.
           Lost in the Fog hopes to get their music further afield despite the fact that some band-members work in day jobs such as architect or social services agency director.
           Stylistically, "Not Far From the Tree" is a very good reflection of this band which describes their sound as "some swingy, some country, some funky, and all basically bluegrass." (Joe Ross)


Krazy Vaders Records KV-CD-0001
4705 Treanna Ave., Suite A, Bakersfield, CA. 93309
Playing Time - 39:46
           If you're after an exceptional musicianship on a varied and accomplished bluegrass album, then look no further. The Brothers Barton (mandolinist Paul and guitarist Loren) have some technically impressive songs, all original, and they run with an impressive crowd - Ron Stewart (banjo, fiddle), Richard Greene (fiddle), and Mark Schatz (bass). Joseph Sampson adds low whistle on one cut, "Hot Club of Oildale," a self-penned gypsyjazz and Dawg tune inspired by Bela Fleck and the town of Oildale, Ca. on a Friday night. "The Good Old Times" is a song about good times the brothers had in the N. California town of Burney.
           The Brothers Barton may have been born in California, but their grandparents were Oklahomans who moved west during the 1930s, a story related in "California Rain." Paul's other fashionable songs honor his wife ("Sarah's Waltz"), relate a tale of lost love ("Worn Out Heart"), or merely show an appreciation for wanderlust and the loyalty of one's guitar ("There's a Road out there Waiting"). Vocal harmonies are minimal on this project, appearing as chorus duets by both brothers in only four tracks. A few more in the mix would've enhanced this album. They way they really spice up their set is with their four instrumentals. All are top-notch, and "Red Diamondville" is getting particularly good national airplay after being chosen for Prime Cuts of Bluegrass, Volume 73.
           This is the third release for the brothers. Previous projects include Acoustic Psalms (1996) and The Brothers Barton (1998). From Bakersfield, these guys are consummate new acousticians who are equally comfortable with hard-driving bluegrass or more unorthodox offerings. They practiced diligently as kids, played regularly, and won many instrument contests. They're close brothers, outstanding friends, who also just happen to pick with gusto. They've crafted a fine album that let's us discover a little more about them, their motivations, and their music based largely on personal experience.
           They currently play in a band called "Richard Greene & the Brothers Barton." The three of them, accompanied by Jeff Pekarek on bass, play strictly instrumental bluegrass, old-time and new acoustic music and will be releasing an album very soon. You can find them at or (Joe Ross)

4/12/05 release
Behind the Scenes

Lonesome Day Records LDR-0006
143 Deaton Road, Booneville, KY. 41314
TEL. (606)398-2369
Murray Music Group, PO Box 983, Goodlettsville, TN 37070 OR OR OR OR
Playing Time - 37:07
           Don't know about you but I like my bluegrass with plenty of vim and vigor. That's exactly the kind of tasty material that Darrell Webb serves up. However, I'm curious as to why he didn't lay in some vocal harmony on the opening cut, "I Beg You Little Darling Not to Cry," which was featured on Volume 73 of Prime Cuts of Bluegrass.
           Webb is an expert guitarist, accomplished mandolin-player and also a vocalist with a great range. His experience includes working with JD Crowe & the New South, and Lonesome River Band. He replaced Dan Tyminski the first time that Dan left LRB and has done a couple stints with J.D. Crowe. Webb also has appeared on a couple of Dolly Parton's albums. Now, Darrell is playing in the popular bluegrass band called Wildfire (with Phil Leadbetter, Robert Hale, Curt Chapman and Carry Crabtree).
           Darrell's reputation as a songwriter is also well-known as some of his songs appear on CDs by Lonesome River Band and Lou Reid & Carolina. His originals on this CD include "Mother's Hand," "Imagine That," "Behind the Scenes," and "Get on the Path."
           Back in 1998, Darrell's first solo album, "Webbsite," came out and was received with much critical acclaim. This West Virginian's latest endeavor, "Behind the Scenes" features a great cast -- Ron Stewart, Randy Kohrs, Beth Lawrence, Harold Nixon, Phil Leadbetter, Dolly Parton, Dwight McCall, Michael Cleveland, Richard Bennet, Shannon Slaughter, Megan Mccormick, Angela Oudean, Keisha Gillis and others. Dolly's lead vocals are featured on her composition, "Cold," and it's awesome to hear Stewart and Webb singing low harmonies with her.
           Personal favorite tracks are "Thank You Father For My Dad" and "Imagine That." I guess the only thing I didn't really care much for were the CD's front and back out-of-focus photographs. This album deserved better graphics to correlate with the music's professionalism. However, I'm sure that a market test indicated that a majority (as well as Darrell) liked that design for the cover of an album entitled "Behind the Scenes." It's definitely different than anything Lonesome Day Records has put out to date. Just take my advice and don't judge this book by its out-of-focus cover.
           Darrell Webb's zeal for bluegrass is indisputable. What's evident on this CD are the soaring vocals, nimble-fingered breaks, and perfectly piquant songs that convey plenty of good taste. I can see why Darrell has been called one of bluegrass music's favorite entertainers. This album really packs a punch. (Joe Ross)

Sganga Nova

No label, no number
Playing Time - 48:25
           Songs - 1. Sabino's Song 2. Rio Carnaval 3. Tokyo Rain 4. Avalon 5. There Is No Greater Love 6. Erev Shel Shoshanim 7. Afterglow 8. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) 9. Chusen Kala Mazeltov 10. The Sculptor's Hands 11. Lemon Merengue
           Mark Sganga is a composer and fingerstyle guitarist who creates a musical melting pot that simmers briskly with world, jazz, Brazilian, klezmer and rock infuences. Keeping the guitar in the forefront, seven of the eleven tracks are shining originals that allow radiant melodies to breathe and evolve with much creative improvisation. Mark also has an immediately appealing vocal style as he sings about such subjects as "Rio Carnaval," with a mention of a one-legged man dancing in the street (who also is pictured in the CD's jacket). His inspiration for that song came after seeing an amazing one-legged man leading a samba parade in Rio. Dancing with arms wide, his unbelievable energy and vibe are captured in the song. Many of Sganga's originals appear to be inspired by places he's been -- little musical capsules that evoke the moods of those times and places.
           As a touring, recording or performing musician, Sganga has appeared with Pete Belasco, Herbie Hancock, Maynard Ferguson, Klezmatics, Jeremy Wall, and L. Subramaniam. I can now see why he's been called "one of the top guitarists in New York." Three cuts feature the beautiful violin of Cenovia Cummins, although due to an oversight he's only credited in the liner notes for one.
           Sganga has assembled masterful rhythm sections. Drums are ably handled by Joel Rosenblatt, Don Gardner, or Warren Odze. The bass is tastefully rendered by Leo Traversa, Freddy Pastore, or Mike Hall. Traversa's powerfully-fluid bass playing on "Afterglow" is specially noteworthy. Charles Descarfino is credited with percussion on one track.
           Sganga plays inspiring music without it ever getting too lofty or esoteric. His musical astuteness makes this album a very engaging and glittering entry in the acoustic jazz field. For some well-developed, celestial guitar music that really shines with luster, "Sganga Nova" is a glistening album. (Joe Ross)

Carrying On

MasterShield Records
6683 Vista Heights Road, Bridgewater, VA. 22812
Playing Time - 34:54
           John and James Abrams were born in 1990 and 1993, respectively. They both sing, and they both play mandolin and fiddle too. Hailing from Ontario, Canada, The Abrams Brothers have produced a pleasant debut CD with the energy and spirit of a cohesive family band. It's a nice way to showcase and introduce us to their playful sound. Their album of standard bluegrass and gospel fare is entitled "Carrying On" for four reasons. Firstly, the Abrams were inspired by the perseverance of the townsfolk of Petersburg, Tn. during tough economic times. Secondly, they were heavily influenced by Jim and Jesse McReynolds, purchased a touring bus from Jesse in 2003, and hope to carry on their tradition. Thirdly, the brothers' family can trace their music ministry and interest back several generations, and they intend to continue that family tradition. Lastly, these two brothers are best friends who "carry on" as they share in fun, frolic and faith.
           The boys are accompanied by their father Brian Abrams (rhythm guitar), grandfather Wayne Abrams (bass), Bob Burtch (mandolin, guitar), and guest Will Parsons (banjo). A lawyer by trade, Brian and Wayne also perform as part of "The Abrams Family and Clarendon Station." Brian sings lead on most of the songs, but John is featured on "Gospel Plough" and "Old Home Place." Wayne sings lead on "I'm on my Way Back to the Old Home." The twin fiddles featured on "I Heard My Mother Call My Name in Prayer," "Drifting Too Far," and "Scotland" indicate that the boys are getting excellent instruction to develop the licks and techniques of bluegrass. Both boys have studied fiddle under Shawn Kellett, a respected Canadian musician. I expect them to progress and advance quickly with their musical progress and growth.
           The Abrams have all the main ingredients of solid bluegrass music, and they love what they do. I also sense that they would be very entertaining in a live performance. Given some additional time, maturity and experience, they will certainly rise to great musical heights in the bluegrass community. Stay tuned - you'll be hearing much more about The Abrams. (Joe Ross)

A Gospel Bluegrass Collection "Songs from the Longleaf Pines"

Blue Hat Records/Koch Records KOC-CD-9823
17060 Central Pike, Lebanon, TN. 37090 OR
Playing Time - 32:14
           At one time, the name Charlie Daniels conveyed images of southern boogie music, and his hit "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" immediately comes to mind. The fact is that Daniels has bluegrass roots and has even done session work with Flatt and Scruggs (as well as the likes of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Marty Robbins and Ringo Starr) during his long successful music career. With this bluegrass gospel project, Charlie admits that he now has the "freedom to do some things I've been wanting to do for a while and to come full circle and get back to the music I started out making."
           At 68 years old now, the son of a North Carolina lumberjack has chosen to use top bluegrass artists to accompany him on a collection of gospel songs. Charlie plays guitar, fiddle and sings lead on all but "Keep on the Sunny Side" (sung by Mac Wiseman), the one cut which comes off a little loose like a jam among friends. Nine of the 13 tracks feature the GrooveGrass Boyz (Ronnie McCoury, Rob McCoury, Jason Carter, Mike Bub, Andy Hall, Tim May and Scott Rouse).
           Other guest musicians include Earl Scruggs (3 cuts) and Chris Thile (2 cuts). Earl's fingerpicked guitar on "Preachin', Prayin', Singin'" is a treat. Thile is the sole accompanying musician on two recitations, "The 91st Psalm" and "The 23rd Psalm." The arranged instrumental grooves on "I Found a Hiding Place" and "I'm Working on a Building" really cook. Besides Daniels, the other vocalists include Mac Wiseman, Ricky Skaggs, The Whites, Cyndi Wheeler, and Scott Rouse. Vocal standouts include "Softly and Tenderly" (a duet with Cyndi Wheeler) and "Walking in Jerusalem (with The Whites).
           Daniels picks standard fare for this collection, written by Bill Monroe, A.P. Carter, Albert E. Brumley, Chris Thile and others. A noted songwriter himself, I was left wondering if Daniels has penned many gospel songs. If so, some of those along with some less commonly heard material would have enhanced this album. At only 32 minutes, the CD concludes rather quickly. (Joe Ross)

Hard Road
TEL. (505)525-0559
Playing Time - 43:16
           On Steve Smith's fourth solo CD, he takes an interesting approach to his traditional and original tunes. Smith spent six years capturing live takes with solo, duo, trio or quartet arrangements. A self-penned "Trumbull School" has a gutsy presentation of only vocal and mandolin. I'd like to hear that one covered by a full bluegrass band. "Norwegian Wood" was recorded with just Steve's singing to his own mandocello accompaniment. Similarly, Steve closes the CD with only his guitar and vocal on "Went for a Ride" (written by Radney Foster and Alice Randall). His duo tracks feature such eclectic treats a "Jig Set" with his mandolin and George Rhee's guitar, or songs like the traditional "Dig a Hole" and Phil Rosenthal's "Muddy Water" with guitar and vocals. The former is sung with Jane Horton; the latter with Robin Russell. "The Four Points" pairs Smith up with Wayne Shrubsall on banjo.
           The trio and quartet settings bring in some additional musicians like Jim Hurst, Missy Raines, Bob Hull, Fred Bugbee, Eli Copeland and Bruce Johnson. Songs like "I'll Remember You Love," "Sugar Baby," and "Me and My Uncle" seem especially appropriate for airplay. The former is getting some good radio coverage from its inclusion on the Oasis Acoustic Sampler.
           Steve Smith is a consummate multi-instrumentalist whose axes of choice include mandola, mandocello, and guitar. He has a unique and appealing flair in his emotionally-charged vocalizing. Originally from Virginia, Smith now lives in New Mexico. He has toured widely during his 20+ years of professional music experience. Some of his music has appeared in commercials, jingles and PBS broadcasts. He also hosts a weekly radio show that includes bluegrass, old-time, Celtic, blues, and folk music….apparently many of his own diverse tastes in music. A former member of the groups Cloud Valley and Nothin' Doin' Band, Steve Smith now performs with a multitude of bands (duos with Tom Espinola or Dan Crow, Steve Smith & Hard Road, Steve Smith Quintet, Ballyheigue Trio, and Junior Hot Cell).
           Smith has some strong Americana leanings due to his eclectic tastes. "Hard Road" is a well-wrought entry to the contemporary acoustic body of music. I'd like to hear his next album in a full ensemble setting, with more of his impressive original material, and also with some fiddle and dobro into the mix. In the meantime, "Hard Road" will give us a much greater appreciation for a superior instrumentalist in various idioms who also sings with unrivaled verve. (Joe Ross)

Simple Man

Pinecastle PRC-1144
PO Box 456, Orlando, Florida 32802 OR OR
Playing Time - 38:59
           Bill Chapman discovered bluegrass after moving to Colorado in 1976. He went to Woolworth's and put a banjo on layaway. When I wrote about them for Bluegrass Unlimited in 1999, they had already relocated to Missouri, toured Europe, showcased for the IBMA, and won the SPBGMA Best Bluegrass Band Award. They also won the IBMA Emerging Artist Award. Now, about thirty years from that humble beginning in Colorado, Bill Chapman's band has come to represent some of the most polished bluegrass around. Their lustrous sound is built around well-arranged and novel songs that are balanced with impeccable vocals and sizzling instrumental prowess.
           "Simple Man" continues the band's association with the Pinecastle Records label, and we've had to wait four years for this latest (their third on that label) from The Chapmans. Opening with Bob Amos' "Fire in the Canyon" is a good stroke to get us into the esoteric nature of this recording which demands our attention to the intellectual messages that range from Mother Nature's fury to being a "Runaway Kind," "Simple Man" or "Lost Ball."
           It's a treat to hear them present songs from a variety of excellent songwriters and musicians in their own right in bluegrass circles - the likes of Becky Buller, Art Stevenson, Chris Jones, Kim Fox. The title cut comes from Fox, one of their favorite songwriters, and tells of hard-working and easy-going people who don't make a big deal out of life. Covering Rick Bradstreet's "Cold and Lonely" is a lovely tribute to the now-deceased former Bluegrass Patriots dobroist. I was also pleased to see "Runaway Kind," from Svata Kotas and Jana Dolakova (from the band "Fragment" of the Slovak Republic). A ballad like Beth and April Stevens' "Jeanie and Tommy" is a tearjerker that will surely make you sad. Impressive virtuosity with a little humor are the trademarks of the licks in Jeremy Chapman's own "Pickle Flavored Ice Cream." "The Photograph," a lost-love ballad with a lyrical twist, is nothing short of haunting. Finishing strong with a respect for the traditional canon is their feisty and powerful rendition of Jimmy Martin's "You'll be a Lost Ball."
           Besides Bill Chapman on banjo, The Chapmans are his three sons - Jeremy (mandolin), Jason (bass), and John (guitar). Guests include Stuart Duncan, Aubrey Haynie, Andy Leftwich, Rob Ickes, Sonya Isaacs and Darrin Vincent. Back in 1999, Bill Chapman told me that The Chapmans were focused on presenting professional, entertaining music and a wholesome family image. His advice was to "start from scratch and keep scratching," and their hard work has paid off to meet their goal to be taken seriously for their unique, identifiable sound. I would say that they have wonderfully succeeded and have achieved their place in the national bluegrass spotlight. "Simple Man" is the album that will dispel any lingering doubts about their national prominence. (Joe Ross)

Some Melodious Sonnet

Cassel Records HJC2004
PO Box 231080, Boston, MA. 02123
Playing Time - 54:57
           A superior instrumentalist, fiddler Hanneke Cassel shows expert attention to violin technique as she plays with a sweetness of tone that is also charged with much emotional electricity. That has become her unique flair. Her seven accompanists very ably embellish her enchanting repertoire and arrangements. They include Rushad Eggleston (cello), Christopher Lewis (guitar), Jake Armerding (mandolin, two cuts), Corey DiMario (bass), Casey Driessen (5-string fiddle, one cut), Dave Wiesler (piano, two cuts), and Aoife O-Donovan (vocals, one cut).
           Cassel is a lyrical player who chooses a haunting tone for her fiddle in this album's mix. Rather than overbearing "in-your-face" audio quality, Hanneke's overall sound has the leanings of new world chamber music with a Scottish twist. Her enchanting repertoire draws from some of her favorite lady fiddlers, some Swedish friends, and the traditional canon ("Pigeon on the Gate"). Especially noteworthy, a majority of her jigs, strathspeys, airs and reels are original compositions. She's equally adept at a quick-paced romp through the opening set as she is with a more leisurely and reflective "Pieces of Us." A tune like "Fønix" has some powerful rhythmic intensity. Exceeding six minutes, one might wonder if the set of "Mothers of the Disappeared" and "The Evenstar" could become tedious. Hanneke demonstrates how dynamics and lyrical variation can be used to allow such a piece to musically breathe for smooth, flowing presentation.
           Hailing from Port Orford, Oregon, Hanneke began studying violin at age 8 and really only has two years of classical training. She then moved to Texas-style and Scottish fiddling with plenty of awards, championships and albums along the way. She's the 1997 U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion. Some of her teachers have included Carol Ann Wheeler, Alasdair Fraser, Buddy MacMaster, Mark O'Connor and Matt Glaser. Graduating in 2000, she also now holds a Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance from Berklee College of Music in Boston where she currently resides.
           All of the pieces on "Some Melodious Sonnet" display virtuoso musicianship. A smooth, silky touch of Hanneke's bow on the strings, along with such masterful techniques as the Scottish snap and plenty of triplets, intimately convey her music. A superior instrumentalist, she has a repertoire that both respects tradition and allows her to build a personalized signature sound. Closing the project on a contemplative and inspirational note, Hanneke sings "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." Only in her twenties, Hanneke Cassel is a truly gifted and charismatic artist whose youthful exuberance and optimism shine through and will take her far. I'd like to see her continue to write and really push the envelope into some truly uncharted territory. She's well on her way. (Joe Ross)

Almost Yesterday

Carnival Recording Co.
24 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203
INFO: Courtney Clay TEL. (615) 259-0841 OR
Playing Time - 38:32
           Songs - She'll Be Breaking Someone's Heart In San Antonio, Just One More, My Heart Is In The Highway, Thirty Years And A Thousand Miles Away, Magic In The Band, Not Exactly What I Had In Mind, I Wonder Who's Missing You Now, Call Me Sometime When You've Been Drinking, Somewhere Between My Heart And Guitar Strings, Second Time Sun
           An older style of classic country grooves permeates this well-produced analog project that is a great introduction to Texan Craig Dillingham. He's a solid vocalist, a defining voice of his time who also has a nostalgic yearning for yesteryear. The twin fiddles of Joe Spivey and Hank Singer, as well as Steve Henson's pedal steel, establish a powerful musical mood for Craig's expressive messages. The rest of his elite country band include Joe Manuel (guitar, vocals), Glenn Worf (bass), and Chad Cromwell (drums).
           As a child, Craig sang in a band with his two older sisters. As a teenager, he was mentored and supported by Ray Price, and one can hear the influence of The Cherokee Cowboy's pure, honky-tonk country in this music. After playing Texas clubs and the Louisiana Hayride, Craig found his way to Nashville where he's certianly demonstrated the talent to keep the stylistic music of Hank Williams and Ray Price alive. Dillingham also has an individualistic side that is influenced by western swing, pop and blues music. He sings from his heart, and the music is very moving and enjoyable.
           With the exception of George Jones' 1956 hit "Just One More" and Jack Clement's "Not Exactly What I Had in Mind," Dillingham's songs are self-penned, some in collaboration with excellent songwriters like Sony Throckmorton or Hank Cochran. With varying tempos from waltzes to shuffles, he hits on common themes of rambling, heartache, drinking, and a longing for home. Listen to the song, "Magic in the Band," to discover their secrets to their succcess .... they clearly love what they do, and they always put their music first. They've got the country groove, especially of the variety that I like. (Joe Ross)

Release 1/25/05
Mando Saenz

Carnival Recording Co.
24 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203
TEL. (800)927-9848 OR
Playing Time - 38:34
           The key to a successful album of all-original singer/songwriter music is simply to have something worthwhile to say and to present it with fervent emotion and quality musicianship. Mando Saenz is building quite a following for his unique flair of poetic storytelling. Born in Mexico, this Army doctor's son moved a great deal as a child. The title cut, "Watertown," is a nostalgic story of going back to a place that the family lived with its seagulls and humid air. His dad's plan was to get to Texas when he figured out how, and they eventually did make it to Corpus Christi, TX. Despite earning an MBA at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Mando Saenz decided to follow his muse and to sing about such things as the "insolence of man" (Egg Song) and a heavy heart that "bleeds the soul" and "frees the mind" (Noble Kings). Fortunately, the CD's jacket includes lyrics so we can further ponder Mando's evocative messages and music that largely avoids typical antics and stereotypes.
           Despite his eccentricity, Saenz's songs are very engaging and tastefully rendered. Guitars, bass, drums, fiddle, accordion, mandolin, steel, dobro and harmonica complement his emotional vocal delivery. Some songs are arranged with minimal instrumentation while others have a fuller sound provided by Tommy Detamore, Bobby Flores, Dan Dreeben, David Carroll, and Joel Guzman.
           For the most part, Mando Saenz's songs are leisurely, soulful and spiritually-tinged. Upon first listen, my favorites were the more up-tempo tunes with more of a bluegrass beat like "Egg Song" and "Engine Roll." With subsequent listens, I found myself focusing even closer on the lyrics of Mando's slower songs like "Julia" and "Rusty Steeple." "Watertown" has a distinctive folksy feeling, and this helps it to build a good rapport with its audience. It's delightfully new Texas music that is exhilarating and authentic. I commend Mando Saenz for trading his MBA for a guitar, harmonica and music career. I wish him luck in a tough business, and I hope to see him on Austin City Limits soon. (Joe Ross)

Release 3/1/05

Rebel REB-CD-1806
PO Box 7405
Charlottesville, VA 22906
TEL. (434)973-5151 or (615)952-9250
Playing Time - 51:44
           Larry Sparks celebrates forty years of expert playing and singing with a generous 16-track album that immediately makes one sit up and take notice. Just inside the 28-page CD jacket full of photos and liner notes is the statement that "When the roll is called up yonder, Larry Sparks will stand among the greatest country singers in history." Robert Oermann's notes explain that by choosing the bluegrass music field, Larry Sparks has not achieved the fame, recognition and airplay of big-time country singers. However, some used to affectionately refer to him as "The Elvis of Bluegrass." From southern Ohio, Sparks who now lives in Indiana began singing and playing bluegrass when he was only five years old. His sister Bernice taught him to play guitar. In 1965, Sparks' first professional job (at age 18) was as guitarist with The Stanley Brothers, replacing George Shuffler. After Carter Stanley died in late 1966, Larry Sparks took over as the lead singer with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys until 1969 when he formed his own band, The Lonesome Ramblers.
           Released in March 2005 and produced by Don Rigsby, this album features an all-star cast of Andy Griggs, Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent, Kevin Denney, Stuart Duncan, Ralph Stanley, David Harvey, Randy Kohrs, Chris Jones, Josh McMurray and many others. Each track features some interesting and delightful guest appearances from Larry's friends and supporters. For example, Krauss sings with Sparks on "John Deere Tractor," and Vince Gill joins him on an up-tempo rendition of "Blues Stay Away From Me." The Isaacs provide some exceptional vocal harmonies of "Where the Sweet Water Flows," a song written by Larry and his sister. Halfway through the project, an a cappella version of "I Need Jesus" with The Marshall Family is very tastefully rendered. Following that is the up-tempo "Sharecropper's Son" which is rendered with an arrangement faithfully close to the first song that Larry recorded with Ralph Stanley on May 7, 1967, complete with harmonica provided by Kirk "Jellyroll" Johnson.
           In October 2004, Larry Sparks won the International Bluegrass Music Association's Male Vocalist of the Year Award. He closes "40" with a rawboned version of Homer Jackson's "New Highway," with guitar, bass, mandolin and with Larry singing all three vocal parts. This album is a must-have to fully understand and appreciate the talent and depth of one of bluegrass music's most respected and cherished stylists. But if one were just to think he's a vocalist, don't be mistaken. Check out the instrumental "Carter's Blues" with top guitarists Kenny Smith, Vince Gill, Tim Stafford, and Jim Hurst sharing the breaks with Sparks. (Joe Ross)

Route 23

Yep Roc Records
PO Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515
TEL. (877)733-3931 Ext. 209
Playing Time - 41:48
           With their youthful exuberance and joyful spirit, Chatham County Line's second album, "Route 23" continues where their June, 2003 debut left off. The Raleigh, N.C. bluegrass quartet continues to feature guitarist Dave Wilson's lead vocals and prolific songwriting, along with. John Teer (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), Chandler Holt (banjo, vocals), and Greg Readling (bass, pedal steel, vocals) who has apparently replaced bassist Ned DuRant. Readling, a very capable multi-instrumentalist known to friends simply as "G," appeared on CCL's debut album playing accordion and piano. Wilson's singer/songwriter and folk rock sensibilities are easily translated into strong contemporary folk-inspired bluegrass. On the title cut, Wilson paints a picture of a small town bypassed and left to languish after a new highway is routed around town. In some songs like "Nowhere to Sleep" and and "Make Some Pay," Wilson can be rather wry-witted. In another like "Louisiana Freight Train," he can tell a grievous story of abandonment. "Ruination" speaks to effects of outside influences, particularly evil forces. Holt's "Sun Up" and Teer's "Gunfight in Durango" demonstrate the band's prowess with original feisty banjo (with Scruggs tuners) and fiddle instrumentals. Guest Caitlin Cary provides harmony vocals on two cuts.
           Despite the band's modernistic interpretation of bluegrass, they consider themselves "new traditionalists" because they have great admiration for the seminal tradgrass players, sounds and themes. With a vibrant signature sound, Chatham County Line's music is breaking down barriers between folk, country and bluegrass genres. Exuding confidence, the band has been seen with Arlo Guthrie at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Oklahoma. In their short time together, they also picked up the "Best New Bluegrass Band" award at RockyGrass in Lyons, Colorado. Obviously not wanting to be confined or restrained, this quartet takes bluegrass to an intriguing region of Americana. (Joe Ross)

Cobalt Miles of Sky

No Label, No Number
215 Riviera Drive NE, Salem, OR. 97303
TEL. (503)559-7998 OR (503)391-1009
Playing Time - 56:15
           True North's folk-tinged bluegrass runs parallel to the Earth's axis. Their well-aligned and cohesive signature sound on their first CD, "Cobalt Miles of Sky," features 14 songs on it, eight of which are originals. While not exactly clear from the songs or liner notes, the album's title is apparently inspired by a poem about Paris written in 1923 by poet/painter E. E. Cummings. Like the painter who was moving towards a fusion of "naturalistic representation and expressionism" in the thirties, True North also captures an eclectic mixture of realism and abstraction in their art.
           Based in Salem, Oregon, True North features Tim Darby (dobro), Kristen Grainger (lead vocals), Matt Gray (banjo), Sam Samuels (bass), Jeff Shippy (guitar, fiddle, vocals) and Dan Wetzel (mandolin, guitar, vocals). This CD was co-produced by Dale Adkins and Dan Wetzel. Despite their use of bluegrass instruments, True North's modernistic acoustic music is invigorated with original instrumental interplay and a palate of colors built around Kristen Grainger's enchanting lead vocals enriched with mellifluous harmonies. Their instrumental standout, "Redeye," is but one of many demonstrations their first-rate and astute approach to song arrangement. Wetzel and Gray co-wrote "Redeye" while killing time during a photo shoot, named for the red glare in the eyes that sometimes show up in amateur photos.
           The band's covers are drawn from Bobby Troup, Jimmy Page/RobertPlant, Patti Griffin, Randy Weeks, Bob Dylan, and Rodney Crowell. These are given some interpretive twists and emotional electricity that make them their own. The nearly hour-long set of music has a number of impressive original numbers.
           The album opens with "Twilight Years," written for everyone who has ever witnessed the slow deterioration of a loved, elderly person. The lyrics were inspired by the long-lasting and never-ending love of Grainger's grandparents, despite their separation by death. "Heart-Shaped Rock" is an up-tempo and joyful song that Grainger wrote about longing and the role that luck plays in fate and romance. "Long, Tearful Goodbye" is about making the best of a situation in which two lovers must leave each other, knowing in their hearts that it is the right thing to do, but neither wants to part. It is particularly directed at the many Americans who left their loved ones to go to war in Iraq. "Roadside Cross," the lead sung by Dan Wetzel, is a ballad inspired by a white cross that Grainger saw along Highway 22 to the Oregon Coast. She made up her own version of the story behind that cross, who it represents and how it got there. "Sweetie Pie Boogie" is a swingy song dedicated to Kristen's daughter, Sammie Sue, who's "sweet as a jar of huckleberry jam" and who delights in providing all sorts of home-baked treats for the members of True North from chocolate chip cookies to biscuits and pancakes.
           Besides Kristen Grainger, the band features some other good songwriters. Jeff Shippy wrote and sings "Train Man" as a tribute to his grandfather who was killed by a train when the engineer failed to blow the whistle that warned people of the oncoming train. He died when Jeff's mother was only a teenager. Dan Wetzel wrote "Fool Myself" in about fifteen minutes on a cold, wet Oregon winter day when the gloomy weather brought back the sting of a broken heart. Dan does a nice emotional job vocalizing his feelings.
           "Cobalt Miles of Sky" is a fusion of opposite ends of the traditional and contemporary musical spectrum that allows True North to ideally calibrate with the Universe. Of course, their impressive musicianship, material, and arrangements help a lot too. (Joe Ross)


No Label, No Number
5609 River Road, 1st Floor, Harrisburg, PN 17110
TEL. (717)599-7408 or (717)948-6563
Playing Time - 44:12
           Songs - 1. Oh, My Little Darling/Mason's Apron, 2. Dark End of the Street, 3. Are You Lonesome Tonight, 4. There's a Mailbox on the Dark Side of the Moon, 5. I'll Never Grow Tired of You, 6. Fistful of Rain, 7. How Much He Cares, 8. Willie's Last Night, 9. Brazos River Song, 10. Memories That Bless and Burn, 11. Mining Camp Blues, 12. I Wonder Where You Are Tonight, 13. Thousands of Ladies Are Crying, 14. If I Should Fall Behind, 15. Banjo Pickin' Girl
           Rootbound is a duo that emphasizes straightforward rhythm guitar and mandolin picking, good harmony, and solid song selection from the old-time, bluegrass, cowboy, and early country music canon. Deb Kauffmann (guitar, vocals) and Henry Koretzky (mandolin, guitar, vocals) hail from Pennsylvania. Deb has studied under singers Ginny Hawker and Dede Wyland, and she has performed with the Back Burner String Band, Ladies in the Parlor, Late for Supper, and with singer/guitarist Jamie O'Brien. Henry has performed in both bluegrass and klezmer bands such as Cornerstone, Sweetwater Reunion, High Strung, and The Old World Folk Band. He's also accompanied singer-songwriters and plays contradance, Celtic and swing music with such groups as Contra Rebels, Gnu Tones, Sink or Swing, Sweet Nothings, Late for Supper, and with fiddler Ryck Kaiser.
           Rootbound's CD recalls a classic sound of yesteryear when brother duos or husband/wife duos were commonplace. While Rootbound draws repertoire from A.P. Carter, The Stanley Brothers, The Coon Creek Girls, and other traditional sources, they also offer more contemporary songs that stylistically fit their presentation. One example is "Fistful of Rain," that has been described as "a Buddhist gospel song" with the advice to "grab ahold of that fistful of rain." They also give a raw-boned interpretation of Bruce Springsteen's "If I Should Fall Behind" that seems to work for the duo, perhaps due to the song's Carter Family influences. "There's a Mailbox on the Dark Side of the Moon" was written by brilliant Long Island songwriter Martha Trachtenberg. And "Dark End of the Street" is a Dan Penn classic which Rootbound creatively arranged as if it were a Louvin Brothers duet. "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight" undergoes radical tempo and melodic revision to a minor key.
           Both Kauffmann and Koretzky offer some originals. Deb's "How Much He Cares," the first song she wrote, provides us with good advice for dealing with life's trials and travails. Henry's "Willie's Last Night" is a murder ballad as told by "sisters-in-blood" who have no mercy for their murderer's fate. "Thousands of Ladies are Crying" is a ¾-time song written by Deb and her husband about a Civil War battle known as Pickett's Charge.
           Many albums today are over-produced ("slickened") to the point that songs become formulaic and too sanitized. Rootbound, on the other hand, strives for a rustic purity that preserves the very essence of traditional duos. Their set is visceral, with a profound impact on our gut. Delivered with earnest effort and considerable personality, I was surprised that Rootbound's fiddle-less rendition of "Mason's Apron" and banjo-less version of "Banjo Pickin' Girl" actually work. The reason is that they are simply free of frills and wanting to preserve a musical heritage. The duo's moniker and their music tell us that they are making a conscious effort to capture traditional sounds that have stirred and excited us for generations, while simultaneously expanding the repertoire to keep it from becoming literally "rootbound." (Joe Ross)

Uncle Pig

Voyager Recordings VRCD 363
424 35thAve., Seattle, WA 98122
Playing Time - 63:53
           Fourth generation Oklahoma fiddler Gary Lee Moore began playing as a boy and is a consistent contest winner. Among the 300+ contestants from nearly 40 states at the National Fiddlers Contest in Weiser, Idaho, Gary Lee is a regular among the adult division winners. I began my assessment of Gary Lee Moore's "Uncle Pig" album by listening to 4 different versions of "Soppin' the Gravy" (not only Gary Lee's but also Vernon Solomon's, 5-time national champ Herman Johnson's, and John Francis'). Each has a unique rendition with their own vitality, drive and innovation. Johnson's smoothness is hard to beat, Solomon's tempo is more high-energy, and Francis' contest version is clean and absorbing. Gary Lee Moore's personal expression is right in there too with excellent tone, pitch and rhythm. Throughout this album, Gary Lee's precise long-bow technique is flawless, smooth and pleasing. He has a style with tonal beauty, and his melodic accuracy is combined with creativity and rhythmic steadiness. It's this very consistency that helps a champion fiddler like Gary Lee take home his fair share of prize money and trophies.
           In Texas and Oklahoma, fiddle music is heard at contests, dances and other occasions where townsfolk just get together to entertain one another. I've always enjoyed the ornate and decorative nature of Texas fiddling, with the fiddler putting plenty of turns into the tunes, while also playing the same lines in a variety of ways. Gary Lee's imagination introduces us to new, concise and tasteful themes, chords and melodic variations in his more familiar tunes like "Hell Among the Yearlin's." Of particular interest are the many less familiar tunes (like "49 Cats in a Rain Barrel" or "Kill ‘'Em") among the 27 tracks.
           Gary Lee's nice set offers not only hoedowns, but also some beautifully-rendered waltzes ("Rose of Sharon" and "Too Old to Dream") and rags (like "Steeley's Rag," "Redskin Rag," and "Birdy" which he calls a parlor tune meaning it wasn't fit for much else). I would've enjoyed hearing some of Gary Lee's trick fiddling too, but then again in a contest just a little plucking or similar antics will get a contestant disqualified. And perhaps even a hornpipe, schottische or march on "Uncle Pig" might've given us even more variety in the hour-long set.
           Gary Lee's real forte is the hoedown. Besides tunes learned his own father ("Bill Cheatum"), grandfather ("The Little Forked Deer"), and great grandfather ("Birdy"), he credits some fantastic fiddlers for his inspiration, among them Clark Kessinger, Orville Burns, Benny Thomasson, Howdy Forrester, Major Franklin, Louis [sic] Franklin, Norman Soloman, and Dick Barrett. All very well-known among the ranks of famous and smooth Texas fiddlers. Major Franklin competed against the likes of Eck Robertson, Oscar Harper, Red Steeley (of the Red Headed Fiddlers), and Ervin Solomon. Lewis Franklin, Major's nephew, began playing about age 8 when his grandfather started teaching him tunes. As a youngster, Norman Solomon started going to contests to accompany his father, Ervin, and then began entering the junior divisions.
           Like many fiddlers, Gary Lee Moore is also a skilled guitarist and tenor banjo-player. On this album, he is backed up by Pete Martin and Rich Levine (guitars), LeeRoy Jackson (tenor guitar), and Chester Butterworth (tenor banjo). These guys are expert Texas fiddle accompanists, and their "sock" guitar style offers notes and chords that closely follow the tunes, always complementing and not competing with the fiddle. For a fuller sound, Gary Lee could've added piano and/or bass to a few tracks. But it's very clear that these musicians know each other well and have jammed and played together considerably. They have fun adding some coloring of their own to an old tune like "Bill Cheatum." The CD also captures a few laughs along the way, such as after a favorite Clark Kessinger tune called "Rat Cheeze." As Gary says in his self-penned liner notes, "Wish someone would've had a camera the day these knotheads showed up. Those 3 in one place, scared all the bugs from the garden."
           Gary Lee Moore is a formidable fiddler, and it's truly a pleasure to hear a full set of his tunes with his creative variations. Any fan of solid Texas fiddling will really enjoy these melodies, along with their tone coloring, phrasing, bowing and rhythmic variations. One of these days, I'd like to hear Gary Lee Moore in the context of a full dance band like Herman Johnson's Oklahoma Ragtimers, Harmony Boys, or Melodiers. (Joe Ross)

Forever True

Acoustic Americana AA 1001
5746 Union Mill Road, PMB 155, Clifton, VA. 20124
TEL. (703)988-0396
Amy mike or caryn
Mike Clayberg OR
Playing Time - 48:21
           Dead Men's Hollow, a band that hails from N. Virginia, Maryland and D.C., opens their debut album with six-part a capella harmonies on "Angel Band." They call their music Acoustic Americana, roughly defined as old-time, bluegrass, southern gospel and country blues fronted by three-part female harmony vocals and backed by acoustic stringed instruments. To their mostly traditional mix with tunes like "Groundhog," they add some nice originals emphasizing traditional country themes like "Join Me in Drinking" and "Blue and Lonesome".
           The band was founded in Arlington, Va., and they take their name from an area near there that was dominated by saloons, pawn shops and houses of ill repute in the aftermath of the Civil War. Today, that area is known as Rosslyn, but back then it was called "Dead Men's Hollow." To pass safely through safely, law-abiding citizens traveled in well-armed groups.
           On a hot, humid summer day in 2001, Dead Men's Hollow began as an impromptu backyard jam session. Upon hearing some real potential with their three-part harmonies, the friends decided to form a band. Original members Belinda Hardesty, Caryn Fox and Mike Clayberg enlisted bass-player Bob Peirce in the fall of 2003. Amy Nazarov (vocals) and Marcy Cochran (fiddle) joined in late-2003 and the band then began seriously gigging. Amy Nazarov (vocals) grew up singing madrigals at home with her folks, on stage and in church choirs, and supplying backup vocals for friends. Bob Peirce (bass, mandolin, bass vocals) has played for 25 years, including stints in classic rock and blues bands. Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Belinda Hardesty holds a music degree and teaches school. Marcy Cochran (fiddle) is a longtime fan of folk music. From New York, Caryn Fox is a classically-trained soprano who writes and sings country heartbreakers. Mike Clayberg (guitar, dobro, mandolin, tenor banjo) played punk rock for 20 years before returning his Virginia old-time country roots.
           Dead Men's Hollow has spirited acoustic instrumentation and a harmony-laden signature sound that is building them a legion of fans. Their instrumentation is free of frills and flashiness, so they emphasize their charm, effort and playfulness. The band's vocal harmonies are of special note -- warm, friendly, and a perfect showcase for their earthier side. No doubt influenced by the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" phenomenon, their six-part a capella rendition of "Down in the Valley" is a passionate demonstration of the beauty of acoustic folk tradition. With a joyful attitude, they close this project with the lively "Rolling in my Sweet Baby's Arms." (Joe Ross)

EP 2003: Music for the Epicurean Harkener (EP)

Skookum Records SKCD-1006
PO Box 5105, Eugene, OR. 97405
TEL. (541)345-1418
Playing Time - 21:51
           Songs - 1. Largo DeLuxe 2. Flamenco Lingo 3. Trade Winds 4. McCall 5. Santa Fe Souvenir 6. Destinations of the Sun
           Classical guitarist and composer Mason Williams has an impressive musical resume that includes 24 albums and 250 original songs. His best-known hit is "Classical Gas," a triple winner at the 1968 Grammy Awards. He's also an accomplished poet, author and artist. On this album, he's hoping for another big hit, and he chose the "EP" format so as to not mix "apples and oranges." His six musical compositions are crafted works as opposed to spontaneous expression forms. As Williams says, "I continue to work on and improve them. They evolve over the years and become what they are." Some of the six on this album have been in the works for quite some time, not recorded and release until they're just right. So if you are an epicure, one with refined tastes, listen attentively to these songs. You'll understand that there are tints of the sixties popular music in them, but you'll also grasp their potential in today's music market. Each of the six pieces has a catchy melody that is memorable and impressionistic. None meanders too far from center, and the soothing result is a pleasurable aural experience.
           Highly arranged with a mix of instruments, synthesized sounds, and orchestral accompaniment, Mason Williams' supporting cast includes about thirty artists. This is no small chore, and featured guests of special note include Art Maddox (arranger), Jerry Mills (mandolin), Larry Steelman (synthesizer), Greg Leisz (steel guitar), Eric Hamilton (classical guitar), Mark Schneider (upright electric bass), Frank Marocco (accordion),Rick Cunha (guitar), Hal Blaine (drums, percussion), Byron Berline (fiddle), and Art Ellis (flute).
           Although released on his own Skookum label, Williams would like these songs to receive wide distribution. His vision is inspirational while evoking a certain sense of tranquility. Some of these licks we've heard decades before, but others have great potential to strike gold as hits of this century and soothe the soul as we harken back to a less hectic day of yesteryear. At first, Frank Marocco's accordion in "Large DeLuxe" and "Santa Fe Souvenir" reminded me of a film soundtrack from the 60s or 70s, but the instrument's appealing voice actually grows on you. Mason even whistles the melody in "Trade Winds," a bouncy tune that is full of zest and excitement, in a leisurely sort of way. Very relaxing indeed as I daydream of white sandy beaches, palm trees, luaus and pina coladas. Mason Williams' music has a certain magnetism, and EP2003 presents the essence of a masterful composer and guitarist. (Joe Ross)

The Bluegrass Storyteller

Rounder 11661-0551-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140 OR
Playing Time - 45:51
           Songs - 1 Coldest Day of Winter 2 Echo Mountain 3 She Took His Breath Away 4 Stumbling in My Father's Footsteps 5 Jerusalem Tomorrow 6 Flowers in the 7 Second Handed Flowers 8 Saginaw, Michigan 9 The Garage Sale 10 Carroll County Accident 11 Cold Hard Facts of Lies 12 Whatever Happened to Julie? 13 Just as the Sun Went Down
           James King's robust vocals are known for being raw, pure and full of emotion. King also has a clear affinity for sad songs. He plays no guitar on this project, and instead just concentrates on telling his stories. And a sad song like "Echo Mountain" (written by Billy Smith and Mac Elliott) might bring tears to your eyes. There are no rollicking and smoldering extremes on "The Bluegrass Storyteller," but rather messages and musicianship that hold your attention in a different sort of way emphasizing a more subtle bluegrass framework. James renders a ballad, "Jerusalem Tomorrow," with only his vocals, some mournful fiddle and rhythm accompaniment. Two other numbers ("Second Handed Flowers" and "Carroll County Accident") are sung solo; five songs are arranged for duets. This leaner approach to the vocals allows us to stay focused on James King's emotive messages and personal intensity. James delivers each lyric with very convincing emotion.
           King's consummate bandmates add a lot to this project. Guitarist/mandolinist Kevin Prater's high baritone on "Echo Mountain" is spine-tingling. Ben Greene's banjo drives "Flowers in the Dell" and "Carroll County Accident." Adam Haynes is blessed with a silky touch on his fiddle bow that allows him to move effortlessly from note to note. Jerry McNeely's bass provides a rock solid foundation, especially on more up-tempo selections like "Saginaw, Michigan." That piece builds to a soaring 3-part chorus with Prater and Greene assisting.
           James King has won great acclaim from the bluegrass community for his heartfelt and soulful singing. A vocalist also knows that he must interpret songs with poignancy and character. He draws material from Tom T. Hall, Lefty Frizzell, David Olney, Bob Ferguson, Fred Eaglesmith, Buddy Miller, Carl Jackson and others. With a distinctive country feeling, James Kings' "The Bluegrass Storyteller" tells a baker's dozen of beautiful, life-affirming tales. Lilting melodies and tender sentiments characterize this album which closes with a stirring gospel quartet on "Just as the Sun Went Down." (Joe Ross)

Live at the Newburyport Firehouse

Rounder 11661-0527-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140
Playing Time - 43:17 (disc 1), 43:59 (disc 2)
           Songs - DISC 1 - 1. Rollin' on Rubber Wheels 2. Cas Wallin 3. Orphan Child 4. Banjo Picking 5. Roanoke 6. Coming to Us 7. Coming to Us Dead 8. Metaphor 9. Miner 10. Carter Family 11. Fifty Miles of Elbow Room 12.The Politics of Folk Music 13. The Orphan Train 14. Grandma's Stove 15. Standing by the River DISC 2 - 1. Hot Corn, Cold Corn 2. The Baptism of Little Roy 3. By the Mark 4. Bill Monroe Through the Crack in the Curtains 5. Shine, Hallelujah, Shine 6. Mel Bay 7. Lonesome Fugitive 8. Hippies, Beatniks and Power 9. Jesus on the Mainline 10. Green Pastures and Equine Dignity 11. Going Up Home to Line in Green Pastures 12. Guaranteed Forever 13. Shenandoah Breakdown
           Way back in the ol' days (1971 to be exact), mandolinist Ron Thomason played with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys (Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley were also bandmates at that time). The Dry Branch Fire Squad, from Springfield, Ohio, was formed in 1976 by Thomason, and the band's longevity and success have been attributed to their raw, mountain-style vocals and Thomason's dry humor as an emcee. For 30 years (until his retirement in 1999), Thomason also taught English, math and was a junior high assistant principal. The Dry Branch Fire Squad now celebrates their eighth album on the Rounder Records label. Like their best-selling fourth release ("Live at Last"), their eighth is also a live project, this one with 2 discs and 87 minutes of music, stories, and anecdotes.
           Their "Live at the Newburyport Firehouse" has about an equal number of songs and stories. There are many of the band's favorites such as "The Orphan Train," "Coming to Us Dead," "Shine, Hallelujah, Shine," and "Hot Corn, Cold Corn." We can tell that the crowd is held in rapt attention, and they also laugh and applaud for the tales told by wry-witted Thomason like "Mel Bay" and six-minute "Hippies, Beatniks and Power Easements" which is the prelude to an up-tempo "Jesus on the Mainline."
           In this live show recorded in November, 2002, one thing becomes very apparent. This band focuses on entertainment, puts their audience first, and their show is presented much like an old-time radio show. Their boundless energy is well-balanced so the sets flow well with appropriate peaks and valleys, always alternating songs with stories. While audience applause can be slightly annoying in a live recording, that is a tradeoff we must accept in return for the spirit and enthusiasm of a live show. There is actually more dialogue on these discs than there is music, and that might discourage some from multiple listens. Rounder Records might want to consider a future project from Ron Thomason that is solely a disc of storytelling.
           Besides Thomason, the lineup for this 2002 DBFS show features Charles Leet (bass), Mary Jo Leet (guitar), Adam McIntosh (guitar, mandolin), and Dan Russell (banjo, mandolin, bass). All sing in the band. I was particularly impressed with McIntosh's guitar work and Russell's banjo picking. Adam McIntosh sings the lead vocals only on a cover of Merle Haggard's "Lonesome Fugitive," and his lead vocal quality is a strength that the band should further capitalize on in the future. Dan Russell really tears up bluegrass instrumentals like "Roanoke" and "Shenandoah Breakdown." Also adept at country music, Russell has professional experience with the likes of John Anderson.
           In sum, this splendid 2-CD album highlights a band with amazing staying power and entertainment quotient. It seems that they now enjoy music-making, storytelling and entertaining more than ever. (Joe Ross)

Delirium Tremolos

Philo 11671-1244-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140
Playing Time - 45:35
           Ray Wylie Hubbard may be best known as the composer of "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother," and he also wrote "Wanna Rock ‘n Roll," Cross Canadian Ragweed's party anthem. On his "Delirium Tremolos" album, the Texas singer/songwriter with the strong, growling baritone primarily interprets songs of Eliza Gilkyson, Roger Tillison, James McMurty, Slaid Cleaves and others. Three originals from his own pen are also offered. "Dallas After Midnight," originally recorded about 20 years ago with the Lost Gonzo Band, is a hard-hitting tale of a liquor store robbery gone wrong with all its social commentary. Jack Ingram sings with Ray Wylie on this number. Another Hubbard ballad, "Dust of the Chase" relates the story of a scripture-reading gambling man who is "lost in the dust of the chase" that his life brings. Written with Cody Canada, "Cooler-n-Hell" is straight-ahead blues that speaks to those things under heaven which are cooler-n-hell.
           When choosing covers, Hubbard shows an affinity for meaningful songs that are both funny and serious. His socially conscious messages have built him plenty of fans in the alt-country crowd. Back in 70s, Hubbard and his Cowboy Twinkies band had a very short fling with Warner Brothers. Some additional albums followed during the 80s. The decade of the 90s found him cleaned up after 25 years of drugs and alcohol and with some top Americana releases such as "Eternal and Lowdown" and "Growl." At age 43, Hubbard also took his first guitar lesson, learned to fingerpick and actually began to study songwriting. On the road, he carries an inspirational book entitled "Letters to a Young Poet" by Rainier Maria Rilke.
           "Delirium Tremolos" features some material which is a very good fit for Ray Wylie, chosen with the help of producer Gurf Morlix. The project opens with "The Beauty Way," written by Eliza Gilkyson and Mark Andes about Gilkyson's father, Terry, who wrote a number of big hits. Gilkyson sings with Hubbard on this cut, as well as with four others on "This Mornin' I Am Born Again" presented a cappella with only percussion.
           The album closes with a personal interpretation of James McMurtry's "Choctaw Bingo," an 8-minute party trip to a family reunion in Oklahoma. The song paints impressionistic pictures of some characters like Uncle Slaton who makes moonshine and cooks crystal meth. We're gonna have us a time with Roscoe, Bob, Mae, Ruth-Anne, and Lynn. Especially the last two I reckon, as Ray Wylie sings, "And they're second cousins to me, Man I don't care I wanna get between ‘em, with a great big ol' hard-on, like a old bois d'arc fencepost…" Other guest singers on "Delirium Tremolos" include Jack Ingram, Patty Griffin, Kimmie Rhodes, Bob Schneider and Slaid Cleaves. Musicians include Ray Bonneville (harmonica), Rick Richards and Jon Hahn (drums), Cody Canada (electric guitar), Ian McLagan (Hammond B3 organ), and Gurf Morlix (bass, guitars, percussion, steel, mandolin).
           On a personal side, Hubbard leads a more conservative life than some of the eccentric people he sings about. He's married (Judy), has a son (Lucas), attends Lucas' baseball and basketball games, and hosts a Tuesday folk and blues radio show (KNBT in Gruene, Tx.). He also plans to tour, write songs, and re-release some of his earliest work in the near future. The music has a gruff side, but that is its ballsy charm. Ray Wylie Hubbard's expressive musicality continues to build a large following, albeit not with that many audiences of mainstream country music. (Joe Ross)

Moonlite Theatre

Hay Holler HH-CD-1372
PO BOX 868, Blacksburg, VA. 24063 OR
Playing Time - 52:31
           Songs - I've Lived A Lot, I Only Exist , Kitten And The Cat Next Sunday Darling Is My Birthday , Sweetest Love , Bud's Tune , Shut Up In The Mines At Coal Creek , Build Me A Cabin , Girl Behind The Bar , I'll Just Go Away , What A Way To Go , Go To Work On Monday , Don't Go Out Tonight , What About You , Trust Each Other , Sugar In The Gourd
           The Blinky Moon Boys… what a cool bluegrass band name! I understand that the moniker relates to some happenings at the "Blinky Moon Tourist Court" in Williamsburg, Kentucky in the 1950s. The five members of this traditional band hail from Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia where they also pick with local groups. Their music really twinkles when they all reunite for a show to feature music of Jim Reeves, The Stanley Brothers, Jim Eanes, Johnnie & Jack, Jimmy Martin, and others. They've been regular crowd-pleasers at the Galax Fiddlers' Convention since the late-1980s. This debut album has a cohesive, well-blended sound representative of band that plays much more regularly. The Blinkys' obvious respect and erudite understanding of traditional bluegrass comes through clearly in their arrangements, vocals and instrumental licks. Their heartfelt interpretation of the bluegrass idiom is full of soul and euphonious rewards.
           The seed was planted to form the band when Lynn Dugger, Darin Lawrence, David Lowe and Jeff Huss met in 1989 at the Winterhawk Bluegrass Festival in New York. Today, the band includes Lynn Dugger (banjo), Jeff Huss (guitar), Darin Lawrence (mandolin), Tom Brantely (fiddle), and Bill Ledbetter (bass). Jeff , Darin and Tom handle the vocals. Jeff plays one of his own Huss and Dalton guitars born in 2000.
           They open with a high-stepping cover of a bluegrass warhorse, Jim Reeves's 1960 hit "I've Lived A Lot." "I Only Exist," a classic heartbreak song written by Ralph Stanley's wife, Jimmie, is offered next. Being Stanleyphiles, the band does an excellent job with "Kitten and the Cat," a Carter Stanley song that has become one of the band's most requested numbers. The Blinkys also serve up tasty renditions of Carter's "Sweetest Love" and "Girl Behind the Bar" and "I'll Just Go Away." The band also goes back to cover a song, "Don't Go Out Tonight," from G.B. Grayson and Henry Whittier, a seminal influence of the Stanleys.
           Lynn Dugger's banjo drives the 1-4-5 progression in Jimmy Martin's up-tempo hit, "What a Way to Go," and Tom Brantley's nimble-fingered double-stops give it a unique flair. If you think the band sticks to just familiar traditional material, think again. From a 78RPM record, the band found "Shut Up in the Mines at Coal Creek," a sad tragedy song attributed to "Dick Bell" Green Bailey about a 1902 Tennessee mine disaster in which over 200 men died. The song was written based on notes and letters that had been left for the miners' families because they knew that death was always at hand. Si Kahn's "Go to Work on Monday" has a more leisurely approach with its message for textile mill workers with "brown lung." Covering many musical moods, the ¾-time "What About You" is a good choice for a different feeling. The band's fingers fly with fireworks on two instrumentals, "Bud's Tune" and "Sugar in the Gourd," the former from Tennessean Bud Rose, bandleader for the Country Tune Twisters.
           With plenty to enthuse traditional bluegrass fans, "Moonlite Theatre" is an engaging project full of energy and steam. These five consummate musicians succeed in tapping the very consciousness of high-octane bluegrass music. (Joe Ross)

Best of the Gillis Brothers: The Hay Holler Years

Hay Holler HH-CD-1371
PO BOX 868, Blacksburg, VA. 24063
Playing Time - 58:02
           Songs - Down By The River, Peace Bells In Glory, A Lonesome Night, Wake the Town, Wild Turkey, Keeper of the Door , Ice Cold Stone , Sunshine in the Shadows , Ohoopee, Single Girl, The Lonesome Traveler, The Memory of Your Smile , The Angels are Singing (in Heaven Tonight), Rock Bottom, Nobody Came, Life Beyond Death , Harbor Of Love, Mother's Last Years, The Promise
           The Gillis Brothers from Soperton, Georgia refer to their music as "Mountain Style Bluegrass from the Georgia Swamplands." Hay Holler Records' Kerry Hay calls it "Southern Appalachian Mountain Music along the lines of what Carter and Ralph Stanley did." Banjo-player and guitarist Larry Gillis once admitted, however, that "actually, we never listened to them much," even though this nearly hour-long album does offer four songs recorded by the Stanleys (A Lonesome Night, The Angels are Singing, Harbor of Love, The Lonesome Traveler). The latter tune features some frenetic clawhammer banjo. This compilation has 19 of the 42 cuts that appear on three Gillis Brothers albums released by Hay Holler in 1992-93. The Gillis' called their band "Hard Driving Bluegrass." The cover photo also has shows them decked out in 50s-vintage white hats which were a Gillis Brothers' trademark until about 1997. Guitarist John once said, "I had a headache all the time ... and it's hard to keep ‘em clean."
           This exciting quartet also featured Owen Saunders (fiddle) and Andy Dye (bass), both who also assisted with vocals. To a slight extent, I miss hearing some mandolin in the mix, but their sound instead emphasizes powerful guitar crosspicking, fluid yet understated fiddling, impressive lead singing and winsome harmonizing. Recreating a classic sound of the 40s and 50s, the mix seems a little distant -- not as "in-your-face" as some studio projects being released today. Also, the track listing in the CD jacket seems slightly askew because "Single Girl" actually plays on track 9 (not 10 as listed) and "The Lonesome Traveler" plays on track 10 (not 11 as listed).
           During the six years in the 1990s that the Gillis Brothers were actively touring, they developed a strong following. Their mountain music sound captures the best of the roots of the bluegrass genre. All three albums from which these tracks are drawn are still available today as CDs. With the release of this "Best of the Gillis Brothers" sampler, this band's music is back with a vengeance. (Joe Ross)

Come to the Mountain: Old-Time Music for Modern Times

Rounder 11661-0547-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140
Playing Time - 72:16
           Twenty-two tracks of contemporary old-time music for the new generation sample a large variety of primarily Rounder Records artists from Putnam String County Band to Corey Harris, Mac Benford & the Woodshed All-Stars to Alison Krauss, Dirk Powell to Norman Blake, and many others. Cuts vary from the raw simplicity of a singer and banjo (Dirk Powell's "Hop High My Lulu Gal") to more intricate arrangements of full ensembles (Dry Branch Fire Squad's "Walking Back to Richmond"). Scott Alarik provides 4 pages of liner notes about old-time music, and he closes with a quote from Dirk Powell, "I think of traditional music as a bottomless well; the more you take from it, the more you give to it. It's a sustainable resource; that what's so powerful about it, and why more people are listening to it and playing it today…." Three additional pages provide paragraph descriptions about each of the featured artists who works range from recordings released between 1973-2004.
           A sampler such as this is a great way to keep the music moving from generation to generation. The ongoing resurgence in old-time music continues strong and vibrant with releases like this one. Some standout tracks include Corey Harris's "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground," Alison Krauss and Union Station's "There is a Reason," Jones and Leva's "A Sweet Goodbye," and Dirk Powell and Riley Baugus' "When Sorrows Encompass Me Round." Corey Harris' "Station Blues" incorporates guitar, vocals, fife and drum. "Amazing Grace" is executed as an interesting harmonica duet by John Sebastian and Paul Butterfield. A few cuts, like Ron Block's "Your Heart Has Found a Home" is a beautifully-rendered contemporary song, but its arrangement comes off more like acoustic country music than old-time perhaps due to the incorporation of Jerry Douglas' lap steel in the mix.
           Well-recorded contemporary old-time music from the last three decades will whet the appetite for more. Many of the themes in these songs are still relevant today. Ken Irwin and Rounder Records are to be commended for their efforts to reissue some excellent old-time music. (Joe Ross)

Mountain Journey: Stars of Old Time Music

Rounder 11661-0546-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140
Playing Time - 64:28
           At first glance, one has to chuckle at the subtitle of this album, "Stars of Old Time Music." Perhaps with a few more "O, Brother Where Art Thou" and "Cold Mountain" movies, old-time music will have its stars, but I think that's still a long ways off. Twenty-one cuts pulled from Rounder Record releases spanning from 1972-2005 comprise this sampler. The "stars" featured are among the best purveyors of this genre of music - Ola Belle Reed, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Mike Seeger, Doc Watson, Hazel Dickens, Etta Baker, Ginny Hawker, Blue Sky Boys, and others. Similar to another Rounder old-time music sampler "Come to the Mountain: Old-Time Music for Modern Times," this album provides thoughtful liner notes (by Scott Alarik), artist descriptions, and credits for each song.
           This old-time mountain music is performed by ordinary folk, with plenty of emotional electricity and without any grandstanding. The vocals particularly impart an intensity that is emotionally-charged. Most tracks feature solo vocals, although it's nice to hear a few cuts with harmonies, such as "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again" (Blue Sky Boys) and "Time Are Not What They Used to Be"( Ginny Hawker and Hazel Dickens). There is even a one-minute song, "The Traveller" featuring sacred harp singers of Georgia and Alabama.
           "Cripple Creek" (Mike Seeger & Etta Baker), "Sweet Sunny South" (fiddled by Buddy Thomas), "Midnight on the Water" (Ralph Blizzard and the New Southern Ramblers), "Cruel Willie" (Connie & Babe and the Backwoods Boys) and "Bully of the Town" (guitar by Etta Baker) are the instrumentals among the cuts. Major record label samplers like this one are welcome entries in their catalog of offerings. The multitude of songs resonates with authenticity of our deepest musical traditions.
           As producer Ken Irwin once said, "In thinking about how to sell the music, I came up with the idea of ‘Stars of Old Time Music,' and we all liked it. For those who don't know the old-time music scene, they might actually buy it thinking it was what it sounded like and for those who knew the scene, they'd see it as being tongue in cheek….When I was growing up, we used to collect trading cards, and the matched sets were highly valued. You tried to collect all of those with the same frame or the same look or whatever. With some of the reissues, we have been successful reaching some of the newer fans to the music by putting together compilations of quality music with a similar look to them hoping that people who had enjoyed the earlier ones would take a chance on the newer ones."
           The compilations from this record label are a great way to showcase many singularly impressive talents. Find your favorites among the sampled artists, and then buy their complete albums to explore them further. (Joe Ross)

Back To Back (2-CDs)

Acoustic Disc ACD-60
PO Box 4143, San Rafael, CA. 94913
TEL. (800)221-DISC
Playing Time - 41:03
           "Back To Back" presents music that resulted from an historic 1979 summit of two superb jazz mandolinists, Tiny Moore and Jethro Burns. Both were 59 years old at the time and full of maturity and vitality in their playing. This 2004 release includes a second disc of previously unreleased alternate takes and a bonus track ("Maiden's Prayer"). At the session, Moore and Burns were accompanied by some stellar musicians -- Eldon Shamblin (guitar), Ray Brown (bass) and Shelly Manne (drums). Producer David Grisman also plays on three tunes (Moonlight Waltz, Tiny's Rag, Maiden's Prayer), and the third mandolin imparts a powerful intensity particularly on the slower tunes.
           During his fifty years in the business, Jethro Burns made a big name for himself as half of the comedy duo Homer & Jethro. His playing is distinctive and picturesque. Texan Tiny Moore began working with western swing legend Bob Wills in 1946 and created his own unique style on a 5-string, solid-body electric mandolin. The 1979 recording session marked the first meeting of these legendary mando-giants, and you can hear the excitement in their playing.
           The title cut, "Back to Back," comes from the repertoire of Wes Montomery. Tiny's electric flair blends nicely with Jethro's unparalleled acoustic sense. The interpretive twists added along the way supplant some tunes with new life (like jazzy progressions Bill Monroe's "Moonlight Waltz"). They push the envelope on a number of jazz standards. A dazzling display of gypsy jazz permeates a cover of the Reinhardt/Grappelli favorite "Swing '39," while the two masters take Duke Ellington's "In a Mellotone" and Count Basie's "Tickle Toe" to places these songs have never been before. Impressively virtuosic playing is the trademark of this recording. Perhaps the most illustrious offerings are their own originals. With their veteran sidemen, they romp through "Jethro's Tune" and "Flickin' My Pick," both certainly jaw-dropping performances. Their improvisational skills are something everyone should appreciate and study closely. Moore's poignant "Real Laid Back" and bouncy "Tiny's Rag" are similarly breathtaking.
           The recently discovered alternate takes that comprise the second disc reveal "golden insight into what made these cats swing so hard," as jazz mandolinist Don Stiernberg writes in the liner notes. A bit of laughing and chatting on disc two, and their variations on the themes allow us to further study this music. (Joe Ross)


Hay Holler HH-CD-1369
PO BOX 868, Blacksburg, VA. 24063
Playing Time - 42:43
           Based in Hillsboro, Missouri, Cedar Hill was formed in 1967 and consists of Frank Ray (mandolin), Mel Besher (guitar), Lisa Ray (fiddle), Kenny Cantrell (banjo), and Ali Keisler (bass). All band members also sing. On January 15, 2005, Cedar Hill won five Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music (SPBGMA) Mid-West Awards. The band received Vocal Group of the Year, Frank Ray received Songwriter of the Year, Mel Besher received Male Vocalist of the Year (Contemporary), Kenny Cantrell received Banjo Player of the Year, and Lisa Ray received Fiddle Player of the Year. That alone should tell you about the support and confidence that their many friends and fans show for Cedar Hill. A contract with the Hay Holler label will launch them to even greater heights on the international bluegrass scene.
           "Stories" emphasizes story songs of death, lost love, train wrecks, tragedy, and life. With a distinctively traditional stamp, their music draws some covers from the likes of Bill Monroe with "Close By." However, a clear strength of this album is the eight originals from band members along with some other new material from others. Lisa sings lead on her self-penned "Unwanted Children," a sad tale of abandonment. Frank Ray contributes five originals, with his collaborations with Mel Besher, "Who's Gonna Pray For Me" and "Ice on the Timber" being standouts. The latter is a ballad that sends a chill right up your spine like a freezing norther. Two original Frank Ray instrumentals, "Leavin' Egypt" and "D B's Blues" have strong Monroesque feeling. Kenny Cantrell's instrumental "Flowers Creek" was inspired by the creek behind his house.
           Most importantly, Cedar Hill's songs come from their own insights and perspectives on life. Whether a song written thirty years ago for his wife ("Country Girl") or one based on a story told by his father and grandfather ("Ice on the Timber"), the result is a deep introspection into messages that impacted them personally. The story of "Echo Mountain" was shared by Mac Elliott with Mel Besher a few years back, and the song has also become a recent hit for James King who put it on his "Bluegrass Storyteller" album. Guest artists on "Stories" include Robert Bowlin (2 cuts), Ferrell Stowe (1 cut), and Ronnie McCoury (1 cut).
           Story songs are typically presented with slower to moderate tempos that allow their compelling narratives to be accentuated. Cedar Hill's presentation is deliberate, their bluegrass has a rare charm with choruses that resonate with conviction. (Joe Ross)

The Old Crooked Trail

Hay Holler HH-CD-1370
PO BOX 868, Blacksburg, VA. 24063
Robert Dowdy, 3560 Casey Road , Salem, VA 24153 , 540-384-8029 , email:
Playing Time - 42:27
           Songs - The Old Crooked Trail, You Should Be Ashamed, Nobody's Love (is Like Mine), Lonesome Old Prisoner, Five Mile Mountain Road, Forever Now She's Gone, Lovin' You Has Not Been Easy, A Stranger in my Own Home Town, Home Is Where The Heart Is, Save My Love For You, I Called Her Sunshine, Legend Of The Highway, Wait A Minute, Wild Bill Jones
           The Bluegrass Brothers are Robert Dowdy (banjo), Victor Dowdy (bass), Steve Dowdy (guitar), and Jack Leonard (mandolin). From Roanoke, Virginia, the band was formed in 1992 by brothers Robert and Victor. Steve is Victor's son, and he joined the band in 1998. Jack joined the band in late-2002. Victor handles most of the lead vocals, but all four contribute lead and harmony vocals. Truly a family endeavor, we are also treated to a guest appearance of Victor's younger son, Donald, on a song he wrote, sings and plays mandolin on ("Lonesome Ole Prisoner").
           The band has released several self-produced albums, their most recent indie album in late-2001. Their first Hay Holler album, "Memories of the Blue Ridge," hit the streets in 2002. Their sophomore release on Hay Holler, "The Old Crooked Trail," continues their successful formula of mixing well-chosen covers with their own originals. Songs from such songwriters as Carter Stanley, Tom T. and Dixie Hall, Paul Craft, and Jimmy Haley are interspersed between originals.
           The band's bluegrass is full of power and intensity. Their efficacy is a result of first class musicianship built around a dogmatic approach to traditionalism. On "The Old Crooked Trail," the Bluegrass Brothers present entertaining, spirited, family oriented bluegrass music. Although most of them have day jobs, they're ready to travel and bring their show right to you. (Joe Ross)

Two Roads to Travel

Lonesome Day Records LDR-004
143 Deaton Road, Booneville, KY. 41314
Murray Music Group, PO Box 983, Goodlettsville, TN. 37070
TEL. (606) 398-2369
Playing Time - 39:38
           Songs - Two Roads To Travel, Higher Ground Awaiting, Meet You In Heaven Someday, Church by the Side of the Road, The Last Move For Me, When Day Is Done, Our Savior's Blessed Blood, Going Up, I Won't Forget The Day, When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder, I Steal Away And Pray, Still Driving Nails In The Hands Of The Savior, Anywhere is Home, Jesus Found Me
           Lonesome River Band's mandolin player and vocalist Jeff Parker gives us a stellar bluegrass gospel album that includes material from Rick Bartley, David Carroll, Tim Stafford, Rick Bartley, Vern Gosdin, Louvin Brothers, Bill Castle, Shannon Hess and others. The CD jacket contains all lyrics. Varied tempos, keys and rhythms give us a spiritually-tinged project that covers many musical moods with Jeff's smooth lead vocals always in the forefront. Fourteen cuts are backed by an all-star cast of the bluegrass elite. The session musicians include Harold Nixon, Wayne Fields, Steve Gulley, Don Gulley, Tim Stafford, Randy Kohrs, Ron Stewart, Russell Moore and others.
           Jeff Parker was born in 1961and began playing guitar at age six. His father (Vester Parker) was a musician at the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. At age 12, Jeff saw his first live performance of the Russell Brothers and was amazed with the mandolin. Harold Russell lent Jeff a mandolin, and he started playing that instrument with his family band, Sounds of Gospel. Jeff's first professional gig was as a fill-in mandolin player for Larry Sparks on a Renfro Valley show. At age 19, Jeff and other friends formed a band called Train 45 that played for a couple of years. At age 25, Jeff was hired as a full time staff musician at Renfro Valley. He worked there until 1994. From 1995-2001, Jeff, his brother Mike, Terry Wolfe, and David Osborne, played in the band Wilderness Trail. In 2001, Jeff auditioned with the Lonesome River Band, and he has been their mandolin player and singer ever since. "Two Roads to Travel" is Jeff's long awaited solo album that is sure to win the hearts of bluegrass gospel fans everywhere.
           Jeff Parker's touching, harmony-rich gospel numbers are performed and sung with deep conviction and reverence. Without proselytizing, Parker's straight-ahead Christian messages clearly bring joy to his and our hearts. "Two Roads to Travel" is an unqualified triumph among the large body of bluegrass gospel releases. What sets this gospel set apart from even his finest bluegrass peers is Parker's ability to find, arrange, sing and play material with artistic depth and spiritual respect that is a cut above. (Joe Ross)

Defying Gravity

Philo 11671-1240-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140
Playing Time - 44:04
           Dreamy electric guitar tones open "Defying Gravity," singer/songwriter Cheryl Wheeler's first studio album since 1999. With the exception of Jesse Winchester's title cut, all songs were written by Wheeler, and the six-year wait is well worth it. While a singer/songwriter could fall into the trap of rushing out mediocre material to meet self-imposed deadlines, Cheryl's new masterfully crafted songs are clearly ready for release. Her lyrics color some intriguing auralscapes. Some of her songs are somber meditations about life, and the CD's jacket gives us all the lyrics to read and reflect upon.
           Sung from the heart, Cheryl's themes revolve around loneliness brought on by the death of her father ("Since You've Been Gone"), heartache ("Must Be Sinking Now"), and inner turmoil ("Beyond the Lights"). "Summer's Almost Over" is a sad nostalgic tale of a season changing and time passing. "On the Plane" and "It's the Phone" are both funny and cynical pieces that were recorded live at The Bottom Line in New York. With wry wit, she's full of humorous lines like "The air that you're breathing's been re-circulating since Orville and Wilbur were boys…" And the song is nice respite even though it was dropped from her setlist for quite some time following 9/11.
           "Alice" describes a hardworking Minnesota campground host and hotel desk clerk who is full of wanderlust. An instrumental, "Clearwater, Florida," allows Cheryl to showcase her fine and delicate fingerpicking. Somewhat of a concept album, "Defying Gravity" has a more laid-back and somber tone than some previous releases. She seems more serene, thoughtful and introspective with this project. Tasteful use of guitar, percussion, bass, vibes and keyboards permeates the instrumentation.
           "Defying Gravity" is a very strong album with plenty of good lyrics and music to ponder. After listening to a nostalgic closing piece like "Blessed," one will want to reflect upon their own childhood memories and of Jesus and his love. Thus, Cheryl Wheeler succeeds in motivating, inspiring and entertaining us with her music. (Joe Ross)

Slide Effects

Pinecastle Records PRC-1143
PO Box 456, Orlando, FL. 32802
TEL. (865)925-1122 OR OR
Playing Time - 44:07
           Resonator Guitarist Phil Leadbetter's "Slide Effects" is his first CD since "Philibuster" (on Rounder Records) in 1997. With twelve hustling tunes and an illustrious bevy of guests, Leadbetter clearly asserts his stylistic footing as a solo artist, especially as the band members tear up his two original instrumentals, "Moon Racer" and "Sea of Tranquility." Jimmy Gaudreau's "Glide Path," Scott Vestal's "My Little Dancing Girl," Herby Remington's "Remington Ride," and Leon McAuliffe's "Steel Guitar Rag" are also given equally impressive treatment. Although heavier on instrumentals, the CD also gives us some well-chosen songs sung by Marty Raybon, Steve Gulley, Ronnie Bowman, Alice Vestal, Gene Johnson and others. Instrumentalists on this CD include Cody Kilby (guitar), Byron House (bass), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Scott Vestal (banjo), Matt Leadbetter (resonator guitar), Steve Thomas (fiddle) and Andy Leftwich (mandolin, fiddle). Clean, crisp, intricate picking from all involved. Scott Vestal was also key in co-producing, recording and engineering the project.
           Hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, Leadbetter is clearly one of the most-happening resonator guitarists in the business today. Phil's father played in a band with Bashful Brother Oswald of the Grand Ole Opry, and "Closer Walk with Thee" on this album actually begins with a 1-minute snippet of Phil's father playing banjo in the mid-1970s shortly before his death. At age 14 (in 1976), Phil performed before President Gerald Ford at the White House. He worked as an intensive care unit nurse for 12 years, and his liner notes say that he listened to the same Steve Wariner tape for over a year while driving to work. One song on this CD, "Tattoos Of Life," was written by Steve Wariner and Max D. Barnes. From 1975-1987, Phil was a regular performer at Silver Dollar City (now Dollywood), then from 1988-89 with Grandpa Jones, and in 1990 with Vern Gosdin. In 1991, he joined J.D. Crowe's band before forming his own band "Wildfire" with several other members of the New South in 2000.
           Phil Leadbetter manages some tasty sounds from his various instruments with precise licks only as tricky as they need to be. On "Closer Walk With Thee," he lays in two resonator guitar tracks for a particularly haunting effect. With relaxed showmanship pervasive throughout, Phil Leadbetter slides gold. He's a resophonic guitar trailblazer and not one who is merely content to slide the established groove. Why, he's even got Gibson "Phil Leadbetter Signature Dobro" named for him! (Joe Ross)

Homegrown Music:
Discovering Bluegrass

By Stephanie P. Ledgin (Foreward by Ricky Skaggs)
PO Box 10598 New Brunswick NJ 08906
TEL. 732-699-0665
Praeger Publishers, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT. 06881
216 pages, 25 B&W photos
ISBN: 0-275-98115-0. $39.95
Websites: OR
           All of us were bluegrass music neophytes at some time in our past. Perhaps a few of us were born into bluegrass, but most of us crossed paths with the genre somewhere along life's road. For journalist and photographer Stephanie Ledgin, it was July, 1975 when the young college graduate went to work as assistant editor of Pickin' magazine. She probably didn't know the difference between the Clinch Mountain Boys and the Clinch Mountain Clan. Or the Blue Grass Boys and Blue Sky Boys. But Ledgin did know that the music grabbed and moved her, and she then spent a couple years in Nashville. Besides Pickin', her work has also appeared in such publications as Bluegrass Unlimited, Acoustic Guitar, Sing Out!, and Bluegrass Now. Now, with nearly three decades of journalism experience under her belt, she has the background, facts and insight to educate today's bluegrass "newbie." Her timing is good as the late-2000 release of the film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" has created a resurgence of interest in the genre. She mentions the movie frequently throughout the book.
           Ledgin gives us an open-minded and objective assessment of bluegrass music, a fabric of our lives which is embedded in popular culture more than we consciously realize. At the same time, she concedes that it's still a "nonmainstream music." Her approach is shared in an enthusiastic personal manner. She wants us to know where to listen to bluegrass, what some recommended albums are, and how to learn to play the music. After defining bluegrass and delving into its origins, the author describes how it has evolved over the years. She explains that the family tree of bluegrass is more like a "forest of tangled roots and branches." Her paragraph descriptions of many bands and artists are good information, but, to a certain extent, they aren't presented chronologically which makes the logical historical threads a bit hard to follow. Ledgin then explores the various instruments of bluegrass.
           The repertoire of bluegrass is given a cursory discussion of its themes related to love, death, faith and family. Then, some background info about a few key songwriters is presented. Throughout the book, she also includes short interviews with various individuals associated with bluegrass (Ralph Stanley, Janette Carter, Earl Scruggs, Jim Lauderdale, Sierra Hull, John McEuen, Jeff Hanna, Pete Goble and others). The international bluegrass scene, concerts, festivals, jam sessions, workshops and bluegrass in the schools are discussed. Her "completely subjective" list of 25 recordings to jump-start your collection (along with a few videos) barely scratches the surface of the bluegrass cannon, but it offers solid selections. She also includes concise contact info (including Internet website addresses) for magazines, syndicated radio shows, record labels, instruction material, and key organizations. I wish she would've noted the on-line listservs Bgrass-l and the Nwbluegrass Yahoogroup. The 25 photos were all taken by Ledgin, and all but one have not been published previously. They span a period from 1982-2003.
           In an interview transcribed in the book, Ralph Stanley states about the importance of bluegrass in America music, "It's more down-to-earth. It tells a story; a lot of the songs do. It just fits all classes of people…Well, this type of music has not only reached the old people and the mountain people, it's gone out now and proved itself to the world." That, in the words of one of bluegrass music's patriarchs, may simply be the best reason for the newcomer and established fan (whether a musician or not) to pick up a copy of this book and discover bluegrass. (Joe Ross)

By Fred Neumann
Book MB20314
ISBN 0-7866-7153-X
$ 9.95
Mel Bay Publications, Inc., #4 Industrial Drive, Pacific, Mo. 63069
40 pages
           The bassist in bluegrass is the designated timekeeper who needs to maintain a solid foundation for a song. Fred Neumann's book of bluegrass bass favorites takes less than two full pages to discuss his system of notation, how to transpose, and major scales and key signatures. The remaining 38 pages are chord charts for about 330 songs, instrumentals and fiddle tunes. They are listed alphabetically, and some cross-referencing is also provided (e.g. "Way Downtown" See "Late Last Night"). There are also nine Christmas songs included too. A beginning bluegrass bass player would be able to easily use these charts to practice or jam with. Of course, another more advanced technique would be to learn how to follow a guitarist's chording. Eventually, the bluegrass bassist should know the songs well enough to do them without any resources for assistance, as well as developing their ears to guide their accompaniment.
           Rather than full bass lines, Neumann's charts primarily offer the root and the fifth for each chord in the songs. There are few variations or passing notes provided. His book includes no music, tab, or lyrics. Although he did it occasionally, it would have been more helpful to consistently label which lines are for a song's verse, and which are for the song's chorus. While this is elementary bluegrass bass 101, it will open the doors for some who are just starting out on the instrument. (Joe Ross)

By Carl Yaffey
Book/CD MB20820BCD
ISBN 0-7866-6419-3
$ 14.95
Mel Bay Publications, Inc., #4 Industrial Drive, Pacific, Mo. 63069
23 pages
           Carl Yaffey, of Columbus, Ohio, has been playing guitar, mandolin, banjo, and bass since the 1960s. His old-time and bluegrass bands have included One Riot One Ranger, Five Guys Named Moe, Timbre Wolves, Pit Bull String Band, and Turkey in the Straw. Three books in his player's guides to jamming cover guitar, banjo and mandolin.
           The flatpicker's guide claims to show you what you need to know to sit in on a hot jam session. Well, it doesn't really go that far. What the beginner gets from this book is realy some very basic information about which chords to play and when. The accompanying CD contains nine tunes performed at a typical jam session. The songs are Hot Corn, Cold Corn, Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms, Nine Pound Hammer, John Henry, Two Little Boys, Columbus Stockade Blues, Down the Road, Little Maggie, John Hardy. The music is on the left channel with dialog about the tunes such as the name, the key, and the chord progression on the right.
           We are seeing some very basic instructional material produced for the bluegrass music newcomer since the late-2000 release of the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" There's apparently a market for such items since bluegrass has a very participatory community and fan base. When compared with the general population, bluegrass consumers were found to be more than twice as likely to play an instrument. So Yaffey's series would certainly be helpful to someone with an instrument just getting acquainted with the genre and wanting to jam along. I was happy to see Yaffey cover some essential information about how jam sessions work (some rules for jamming) and how to act in a session (jam etiquette). He also offers some tips for playing and practicing chords. (Joe Ross)

By Carl Yaffey
Book/CD MB20818BCD
ISBN 0-7866-5736-7
$ 14.95
Mel Bay Publications, Inc., #4 Industrial Drive, Pacific, Mo. 63069
23 pages
           When some musicians attend a bluegrass festival, they never take in a stage show. Instead, they gravitate to the campground and parking lot to partake in the endless jam sessions with others. They are key to the learning process, and there is "parking lot picking" for all levels of musicianship. Prior to just jumping in, however, one must be grounded in the rules of jamming and how to act in a session. If you don't understand these basics, you could easily be ignored, labelled a "jam buster" or worse. No one wants that reputation hanging over their head. That's where Carl Yaffey's player's guides come in. To date, the multi-instrumentalist from Columbus, Ohio has produced them for guitar, banjo and mandolin.
           With this book/CD set, you'll be introduced to nine standard jam songs (Hot Corn, Cold Corn, Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms, Nine Pound Hammer, John Henry, Two Little Boys, Columbus Stockade Blues, Down the Road, Little Maggie, John Hardy). Of course, knowing these songs will barely scratch the surface of the bluegrass repertoire, but these will give you some minimal confidence as you search out others of your same abilities to pick with. On the accompanying CD, the tunes are played twice. First, the tune is played on the left channel with a verbal description on the right channel. Then, the song is played in stereo.
           Don't let jam sessions be intimidating. You need to be familiar with the typical chords and keys for jamming. You need to understand the importance of your right hand technique, no matter what instrument you've chosen to take up. Yaffey's guide discusses the role that each instrument plays for providing bluegrass rhythm. This is one more resource available from Mel Bay Publications that will allow beginning musicians to discover, participate in, and celebrate bluegrass music. (Joe Ross)

Mountain Tracks: Volume 3 (2 CDs)

Frog Pad Records FP0204
2805 Wilderness Place Suite 100, Boulder, CO. 80301
TEL. (866)746-2665
Playing Time - 55:25 (disc 1); 65:47 (disc 2)
           A large contingent of Yonder Mountain String Band fans were out in full force at Planet Bluegrass in Lyons, Colorado in September 2003 for the live recording of this 23-track album at Kinfolk Celebration 2003. The band's distinctive jamgrass sound is supplemented with the expert fiddling of Darol Anger. Four tracks at the end of the 2-CD album also include Rashad Eggleston and Brittany Haas. Regular band members Jeff Austin (mandolin), Dave Johnston (banjo), Adam Aijala (guitar), and Ben Kaufmann (bass) all contribute original material to the band's spirited repertoire. Besides material from Willie Nelson, John Hartford, and Bill Monroe, the band also covers four songs penned by songwriter Benny "Burl" Galloway. The lyrical messages of their original material are interesting. Their material is well-rehearsed and arranged. Not sticking to straight three-chord traditional progressions, YMSB punctuates and accentuates their music with a lot of excitement. The fun they have energizes their audiences.
           While quite a few of their songs fit the standard 3-4 minute timeframe ideal for radio airplay, it's interesting to note that they also serve up eight songs that span anywhere from 6 to 10.5 minutes. Spread throughout their sets, these improvisational adventures take us on journeys that ebb and flow like an ocean's tide. In fact, four songs on disc 1 (their first set) progress effortlessly as a medley that spans over 26 minutes. The crowd is left in a wild frenzy. The encore is John Hartford's "Holding," introduced with the advice, "if you're holding, then don't hold out" and accentuated with Anger's pizzicato fiddle. Liner notes are remiss in not identifying who is singing on each song.
           Since day one, YMSB has held that their fans, the Kinfolk, are the cornerstone to their success. "Mountain Tracks: Volume 3" is a testament to their ability to incite a crowd to riotous support of acoustic jamgrass music. (Joe Ross)

Long Journey

No label, no number
PO Box 375, Twisp, WA. 98856
TEL. (206)632-5139
Playing Time - 40:57
           After just reviewing a raucous live jamgrass offering from Yonder Mountain String Band, I chose Leah Larson's "Long Journey" for a little something more relaxing, comfortable, and soothing. It's a great choice to leave a listener with a pleasant feeling of musical contentment. Leah has an affinity for moderate-tempo'ed songs, some accentuated with only solo voice, two-part harmonies or relatively lean instrumental accompaniment. Besides Leah's lyrical fiddling and evocatively appealing voice, there are some enchanting moods created by some impressively virtuosic guitar (Dale Adkins, Orville Johnson, Mike Marshall), charged-up mandolin (Jeff Smith, Mike Marshall), eclectic fiddle (Laurie Lewis, Ron Stewart), powerful banjo (Ron Stewart), and solidly-rendered bass (Dee Ann Davidschofer, Laurie Lewis, Todd Phillips).
           "A Little Ways Down The Road" and "Long Journey" set the stage at the beginning of the album for Leah's easy-going and affable approach to her music that incorporates considerable elements of old-time, folk and bluegrass tradition. Chris Brashear's ¾-time "Sing Me A Song" is a call for a tune that will perpetuate that lonesome state of mind. Larson sings and fiddles "Pretty Saro" with only Candy Goldman's banjo along for the ride, and she gives us a lovely version of Dolly Parton's "Crippled Bird" complemented only by Mike Marshall's guitar. A fuller band also cooks when it steps up to the plate. "Sun's Gonna Shine In My Backdoor Someday" drives with a pedal to the metal, while the drive in Mark Knopfler's "Fare Thee Well Northumberland" comes largely from Larson's inspired vocals and Orville Johnson's unique guitar stylings. Boston singer/songwriter Mark Simos wrote the thought-provoking "Dangerous Boys" which also demonstrates Leah Larson's fondness for poetic and imaginative songs.
           Leah Larson has a strong traditional foundation, and she has a clear vision for her own expressive contemporary signature sound. Lonely, broken hearts mix nicely with timeless messages about home, courage, and optimism. Leah Larson has a lot of soul and creativity, and she associates herself with talented musicians who share her insight and spirit. (Joe Ross)

Back Home in the Country

Blue Light Productions, no number
PO Box 333, Sweet Home, OR. 97386
TEL. (541)367-6050 or 569-1370
Playing Time - 47:29
           Songs - Hold Whatcha Got, There Ain't A Cow in Texas, Back Home in the Country, Choo Choo Ch'Boogie, The Rights of Man/Drowsy Maggie, I'm Not Over You, Why Did You Have to Leave?, Texas Bound, Blue Water Holler, Just This Side of Blue, Love Potion #9, These Blues are Killin' Me, Love Someone Like Me, Panhandle Rag
           Blue Light Special is an Oregon-based trio that incorporates elements of bluegrass, country, swing and Celtic into their acoustic guitar, mandolin and bass sound. Clearly, this band with Theron Yochelson (mandolin), Betsy Yochelson (bass), and James "Fester" Read (guitar) likes to have fun and entertain. They also like to present music that encourages their audiences to have fun too. Each band member shares the lead vocalist duties. Originally from Seattle, Fester now resides in Mt. Angel, OR. and lays claim to having placed in the Top Ten in the national flatpicking championships in Winfield, Ks. on four different occasions. Theron has been playing and singing since 1985, and he released an instrumental album of his originals ("The Mists of Scotland") in 1994 that provided the soundtrack for a PBS series about Oregon's covered bridges and lighthouses. Music has been a part of Betsy's life since her teen years, and she added upright bass to her instrument arsenal several years ago.
           Songs from Merle Travis, Louis Jordan, Carl Jackson, Claire Lynch, Holly Dunn and Leon McAuliffe are chosen. When covering a song, the trio tells me that they first learn a song as it was written. Then, they experiment, innovate and improvise to develop their own arrangement.
           The covers are interspersed with four originals penned by Fester Read. The nostalgic title cut "Back Home in the Country" sings about the fishing hole, moonshine still, and a love left behind. "Why Did You Have to Leave?" has a strong classic country feeling, and I could also imagine a little pedal steel or fiddle embellishing the arrangement. Had it been written decades ago, "Texas Bound" could've become a western swing hit for Bob Wills. When someone gets a bad case of the blues, they might be singing "These Blues Are Killin' Me." A few of Blue Light Special's songs have snippets of vocal harmony, and some could've used a tad more.
           "Back Home in the Country" is a self-produced project that presents an accurate introduction to the music of Blue Light Special, another fine band that Oregon should be proud to have within its regional fold of musicians. The three performers seem well matched in talent, and they share common interests for a more eclectic acoustic sound built around proficient lead guitar and mandolin breaks. Blue Light Special would add some nice variety at a bluegrass festival or swing dance. (Joe Ross)

Somewhere Between

Mountain Home MH09962
Crossroads, Arden, NC TEL. (800)766-7664
Playing Time - 33:29
           Songs - 1. It's Raining The Blues 2. That's How I Got To Memphis 3. These Old Blues 4. Nothing Ever Turns Out Right 5. Lonesome Feelin' 6. Somewhere Between 7. Edinburgh 8. I Need You Lord 9. Love At First Light 10. Don't Be Gone 11. Rock of Ages (Acappella) 12. Jesus Sure Changed Me
           I've paid close attention to the music of NewFound Road because I'm convinced that, with some luck and a few breaks along the way, they have the sound that will lead them to bluegrass stardom. Previous gospel albums from this group have been eye-openers. "Somewhere Between" now gives us an exceptionally solid performance of genuine and solid bluegrass. This is their best album yet. Sure to get the attention of the bluegrass community, this head-snapper CD features inspired picking, emotional singing, and a powerful set of new and uncommon material. Songs from Darren McGuire, Tom T. Hall, Larry Sparks, Tom Uhr, Judy Marshall, and others are interspersed with the band's own originals. "That's How I Got To Memphis," "It's Raining the Blues," "Love at First Light," and "Somewhere Between" are some of my favorite songs on the album. Despite the source of each song, the NewFound Road approach incorporates breathtaking instrumental work with emotionally-evocative lead singing and harmonies.
           NewFound Road is Tim Shelton (guitar), Tim Caudill (bass), Rob Baker (mandolin) and Junior Williams (banjo). Shelton achieved a fair amount of acclaim with his solo album, I Stand Amazed. Caudill's versatility has found him much session work in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Baker won a share of the 2001 IBMA Entertainer of the Year award as a member of Rhonda Vincent's band. Williams primarily picks the banjo but he also plays some guitar on this project. He spent six years touring with The Bishops, a popular southern Gospel group. Guest fiddler Jim VanCleve rounds out NewFound Road's sound, and I quickly noticed his absence on one cut, "Don't Be Gone." This project will surely launch NewFound Road to a new level, and I highly recommend this album to fans of straight-ahead contemporary bluegrass with all the trimmings. (Joe Ross)

All Star Bluegrass Celebration

LikonaVision RLV2001
Rainmaker, PO Box 638, Tampa, FL. 33601
Playing Time - 55:55
           SONGS - 1 "Shady Grove" Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, 2 "Crying Holy (Unto The Lord)" Vince Gill & The Del McCoury Band, 3 "Let Me Touch You For Awhile" Alison Krauss & Union Station with Jerry Douglas, 4 "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" The Del McCoury Band, 5 "Get Down On Your Knees And Pray" The Del McCoury Band, 6 "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" Earl Scruggs, 7 "Daniel Prayed" Patty Loveless & Ricky Skaggs, 8 "Pretty Polly" Ralph Stanley & Patty Loveless, 9 "O Death" Ralph Stanley, 10 "Uncle Pen" Ricky Skaggs, Travis Tritt, Patty Loveless, 11 "Little Georgia Rose" Travis Tritt & Ricky Skaggs, 12 "Darlin' Corey" Bruce Hornsby & Ricky Skaggs, 13 "Seven Wonders" Nickel Creek, 14 "Lonesome Ruben" Group finale, 15 "Rawhide" Group finale
           The high octane of bluegrass music in a live show has been captured in the "All Star Bluegrass Celebration" produced by legendary Austin City Limits architect Terry Lickona. Available on CD or DVD, the intensity of this genre is seized in this documentation of a show featuring some of the greatest performers in the business. The many moods of bluegrass range from the hard-core traditional to quick-paced contemporary, enchanting gospel to powerful mountain sounds.
           Recorded on January 16, 2002 at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium for a PBS broadcast, the All-Star Bluegrass Celebration was a very popular fund-raising special. There is one primary tradeoff to the energy of a live show, and that is the audience applause which can be downright noisy and annoying, especially when it's rendered over a hot break or vocals.
           The DVD version contains three bonus tracks. The show was hosted by Ricky Skaggs, and the CD begins with Kentucky Thunder's fiery rendition of the traditional "Shady Grove." A project like this always offers some interesting pairings that bring illustrious guests onto the bluegrass stage. More often associated with country music but clearly having strong bluegrass foundations, stars like Vince Gill , Travis Tritt, Patty Loveless, and Bruce Hornsby also make appearances. Unfortunately, the set's flow has some problems. For example, following the Del McCoury Band's "Get Down on Your Knees and Pray" with a drum-heavy rendition of Earl Scruggs' "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" is like jumping from a warm bed into a freezing cold lake. While the crowd appreciates the sheer energy of the breakdown with electric guitar, electric bass, and drums, it seems rather odd to transition right back to Patty Loveless' more acoustic rendition of "Daniel Prayed." Later in the set, after Ralph Stanley and Ricky Skaggs play straight-ahead bluegrass, Bruce Hornsby builds his compelling case for bluegrass piano on "Darlin' Corey." Of course, Nickel Creek's "Seven Wonders" pushes the bluegrass envelope even further. The all star finale jam it up on Earl Scruggs' "Lonesome Reuben" and a fitting tribute to the father of bluegrass with Bill Monroe's "Rawhide."
           There are no liner notes that try to define bluegrass. It's obvious that producer Terry Likona has chosen to let the music do that for us, and the sideboards are large. With its strongly mainstream commercial sound, the All-Star Bluegrass Celebration raised a great amount of funding for PBS. Projects like this also give us a broad sampling of bluegrass for all tastes. From the sounds of the noisy audience, they clearly loved it. (Joe Ross)

TREY HENSLEY & Drivin' Force -
Backin' to Birmingham

Copper Creek CCCD-0231
Copper Creek Records, PO Box 3161, Roanoke, VA 24015
TEL. 1-888-438-2448 OR (540)563-5937 OR (423)257-6867
Email: OR OR
Playing Time - 34:33
           Songs - 1 Wildwood Bouquet 2 Legend of the Johnson Boys 3 Carpenter's Trade 4 Backin' to Birmingham 5 Forsaken Love 6 Blue Ridge Cabin Home 7 I'm Troubled 8 Angel Band 9 You Can Have Her 10 Theme Time 11 A Hundred Years from Now 12 Give Mother My Crown
           Trey Hensley is a talented young guitarist and singer who has obtained the backing of the reputable Copper Creek label. He's released one album prior to this one, and Trey has found great support from family and friends like Tom T. and Dixie Hall. Trey's friends (referred to as "Drivin' Force") who appear on this CD with him include G.C. Matlock (rhythm guitar), Susie Keys (bass, vocals), Jeffrey Orr (vocals), Tommy Austin (mandolin, vocals), Jerry Keys (banjo), Barry Bales (bass), Keith Williams (fiddle, vocals), Hunter Berry (fiddle), Tim Stafford (vocals), and Paul Williams (vocals).
           Performing since the age of twelve, Trey has been described as "a stand-up nice young man with a love for bluegrass music." Trey sings with a pleasant voice that will only get better as he matures and works with others. The song listing in the CD's jacket and on the CD's back is in error. "You Can Have Her" appears at track six although liner notes put that song at track nine (which actually is "Theme Time"). Trey's aptitude for guitar-picking is especially noteworthy. He also shows that he likes old standards, some of which have been recorded extensively over the years. His delivery is relaxed, and such cuts as "Backin' to Birmingham," "Forsaken Love," "Give Mother My Crown," and "Legend of the Johnson Boys" would be very deserving of airplay.
           Keep your eyes and ears peeled for this bluegrass up-and-comer. The music's clearly in Trey Hensley's blood. (Joe Ross)

Moody Bluegrass: A Nashville Tribute to the Moody Blues

Rounder 11661-0550-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140
Playing Time - 48:31
           Before reviewing this bluegrass album, I cued up my turntable with my vinyl copy of the Moody Blues' 1969 album "On The Threshold of a Dream." It brought back some great memories of the 70s. Then, I rediscovered a booklet inside with all the lyrics, and I sang along with Harley Allen and John Cowen on their bluegrass renditions of "Lovely to See You" and "Never Comes the Day." Both has the songs' signature licks down, and both also featured quartet harmony of Odessa Settles, Ira Wayne Settles, Calvin Settles, and Todd Suttle. Wow, that was fun. Now I'll probably spend an hour trying to find my old vinyl copies of "Days of Future Passed" and "In Search of the Lost Child." It just goes to show how timeless the Moodies' music is. If we only had more time in our lives, we could continually retrieve decades old music to revisit and reinvent in a new genre.
           Mandolinist David Harvey produced Moody Bluegrass as a tribute to the progressive rock band formed in 1964 in Birmingham, England whose music was once described as "psuedo-philosophical music to get stoned by" and "mood music for the permissive generation's lazy ears." The Moody Blues really launched their career with their most famous song (in 1967), "Nights in White Satin." It brought goose bumps to hear John Cowan, Sam Bush and Alison Krauss now sing this song accompanied by guitars, mandolins, violins, violas, cello, dobro and bass. In the old days, it was Mike Pindar's Mellotron (a type of synthesizer) that enabled the Moodies to tour without orchestra. Another big hit, of course, was "I'm Just a Singer in a Rock & Roll Band," and the new acoustic cover featuring Cowan, Bush and John Randall's vocals is a splendid happening. On other tracks, additional lead vocalists Tim O'Brien ("Land of Make Believe" and "Legend of a Mind"), Larry Cordle ("The Other Side of Life" and recitation on "Late Lament"), and Jan Harvey ("It's Up To You") expertly interpret the music. Jon Randall, Jill Snider, Russell Smith and Patty Mitchell are some other vocalists who sing nice harmonies.
           Besides the snappy mandolin of David Harvey, the charged-up instrumental support for this project includes some phenomenal Nashvillians like Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Alison Brown (banjo), Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Andy Hall (dobro), Tim May (guitar), Daniel Carwile (various strings), Barry Crabtree (banjo) and Andy Todd (bass). Bob Mummert's laid-back percussion finds its way into the mix on three tracks. Like the original Moodies' music, the songs continue to cast a magical spell that will free you of life's repressions.
           In the accompanying booklet with the original "On The Threshold of a Dream," David Lymonds wrote, "The problem about reactions is that they tend to need a catalyst to trigger them off, and that's why the Moodies are so important in my life. Their music catalyses. Words, instruments and voices - a controlled power that is all their own."
           A group of acousticians exhibiting special chemistry have now reacquainted us with the substances and reactants to put their own creative stamp and interpretive twists on the musical process. The resulting chemical reaction is a dynamic and engaging one. (Joe Ross)

Mojave River

Backcountry Music BCK-839
13774 Recuerdo Drive, Del Mar, CA. 92014
TEL. (206)632-5139
Playing Time - 45:01
           SONGS - 1) Dollar Bill Blues 2) Mojave River 3) Take Me Into Your Heart 4) Sin Stealer 5) Rider On This Train 6) Don't Throw Mama's Flowers Away 7) Ullapool/The Sleeping Tide 8) Buttermilk Pie 9) Old No. 7 And Me 10) The Jealous Crow 11) Time Was 12) Dear Friends And Gentle Hearts
           Guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Chris Stuart is doing everything right to continue building his name among the bluegrass community. In 2003, he was an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) showcase songwriter (he had already won both the bluegrass and gospel categories at the prestigious Merlefest songwriting contest). In 2004, Chris Stuart & Backcountry showcased as a band for the IBMA after the release of their highly-acclaimed 2003 debut album, Saints and Strangers.
           The band clearly has a highly successful collaborative approach to their music and presentation. The album opens with Backcountry banjo-player Janet Beazley's forward rolls on a cover of Townes van Zandt's "Dollar Bill Blues." Beazley penned "Take Me Into Your Heart," and she's listed as a co-writer of "The Jealous Crow" that also incorporates her recorder playing into the lilting melody and folksy ballad about a beautiful girl and an envious crow with ragged feathers who desires to steal the girl's beauty. Did you know that Beazley holds a doctorate degree in early music history? Resonator guitarist Ivan Rosenberg's original medley "Ullapool/The Sleeping Tide" is an atmospheric and leisurely piece that gives me images of floating clouds, a sandy beach or lush green countryside. The composition evokes a sense of peaceful tranquility. Rosenberg and Stuart wrote the rollicking but sad "Don't Throw Mama's Flowers Away," a song about a little girl who doesn't understand that her mother is gone and why flowers are being laid at a cold, lonely roadside grave.
           Rosenberg's clawhammer banjo deserves special note in "Buttermilk Pie," a piece that all four band members wrote collectively. Bassist Mason Tuttle also adds some mandolin and lead guitar on a few places on this album which closes with a song called "Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts," inspired by some words found on a piece of paper in Stephen Foster's pocket upon his death in 1864.
           Stuart was born in Indiana but moved to Florida when his father's job as a Disciples of Christ minister took them there. After earning a degree in medieval history and marrying, Chris and his family moved to Ithaca, N.Y. in 1986 where he worked as a computer programmer and consultant. I first met Stuart in the early 1990s when he fronted a band called Cornerstone that released three albums of driving bluegrass. A job for Stuart's wife took them to southern California where his songwriting was re-energized. Stuart was a member of the band called Highway 52 that produced an excellent album. When the latest endeavor started, Dean Knight played bass with them, but the heavy touring and performing commitments led to Mason Tuttle assuming the doghouse responsibilities.
           Chris Stuart's gift is clearly his ability to deliver inspirational songs that tell you things you might not have heard before. In a tongue-in-cheek article in Bluegrass North magazine, Chris offers a little advice on how to write bad songs. Rhyme a word with the same word, be really obvious, be really obscure, use the word "really" a lot, use a lot of different chords, cram many words into the chorus, don't consider the singer, study your radio, and never rewrite anything. Oh, some more bad advice he offers is to "write about what you know, as long as it's cabins, Mom, trains and dogs whose names are one syllable like Shep." Now that you know what he doesn't do, take a closer look at his songs on Mojave River that shows an appreciation for the land and forces of nature in various offerings. Stuart doesn't write songs about himself much, but instead he creates other persona and paints musical pictures of these characters like the "Sin Stealer." Chris' love of classic country themes is apparent in "Time Was" and "Old No. 7 and Me," the latter a lonely drinking song inspired by the slogan on a Jack Daniels bottle. Stuart says that he writes songs about the dark side of life because he thinks that is where most of us live.
           This band's future looks very bright. With "Mojave River," the band succeeds in building upon their established contemporary signature bluegrass sound that has been getting people talking in the bluegrass and Americana music communities. (Joe Ross)

Fiery Mountain Music

Indidog Records IDR5072
Swannanoa, NC 28778
EMAIL Joe Dendy OR
Playing Time - 45:07
           SONGS - Bakerstown, Once Upon A Time, Autry's Peach Orchard, Prayer of the Moonlight, Mountain Lily, If I Fall, Cow and Sake, Come On Darlin', Mono County Jail, Mermon, August Evening, Red Mountain Wine
           Based in Asheville, N.C., the Biscuit Burners play "fiery mountain music" characterized by vocals tinged with old-timey flavorings and clawhammer banjo. The paradox is that their original material, arrangements, and guitar and resophonic guitar instrumentation are very 21st Century. When the Biscuit Burners showcased for the IBMA in 2004, people sat up and took notice of Mary Lucey (bass, vocals), Shannon Whitworth (guitar, banjo, vocals), Dan Bletz (guitar), and Billy Cardine (resophonic guitar, vocals).
           Shannon Whitworth wrote five songs on this album. She writes with a traditional flair that demonstrates passion for songs about heartache, trucks, flowers, front porch pickin', and nostalgic places in her memory. It's not clear who's singing when, but Mary Lucey is clearly another powerful vocalist in the band whether singing lead or harmony. Interestingly, the Fredericksburg, Va. native studied African drumming and dance in college at the University of Virginia. Dan Bletz, originally from Pennsylvania, studied music at South Plains College in Texas with Alan Munde and Joe Carr. Hailing from Virginia, Billy Cardine has performed with the Larry Keel Experience, Vassar Clements, Leftover Salmon, Country Gentlemen, Acoustic Syndicate and others. His original compositions on this project include "Mermon," "Cow and Sake," and "Mono County Jail." Written by dobro player Tut Taylor, "Autry's Peach Orchard" allows the band to showcase their instrumental prowess. A couple numbers from Lance Mills ("Prayer of the Moonlight" and "If I Fall") are about a love ended too soon, tears, mountain life and moonshine.
           The Biscuit Burners formed in early 2003 and are well on their way to building a legion of fans who like their spirited and infectious music. If you like also hearing mandolin and fiddle in the mix, this album's not for you. They might consider adding some guest artists on their next project to embellish their sound. But pay no mind. When they competed in the North Carolina State Fair's Bluegrass Band Competition, they took home the second place trophy. Individually, they won additional awards in the guitar (1st), vocals (2nd & 3rd) and bass (3rd) contests. Perhaps an even more impressive credit in their resume is a third place in the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival's band contest. In late 2004, The Burners played the Station Inn, Ryman with Rhonda Vincent, and this album was picked in the top 10 bluegrass albums of the year by the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper also picked the song "Come on Darlin'" as the IPOD hot pick bluegrass song of the year.
           Regardless of their catchy name, The Biscuit Burners do know how to cook. They take a fervent and fiery approach to their new mountain music. And they're don't appear shy about wanting to get their scorched music out there. They're touring further from home, and more stations are playing their music. But it can be a rough road for a young band. A west coast road trip found them broke down in Oregon in a borrowed RV. They hope to get booked into more "real" venues (in contrast to those catering to the drinking crowd). In the future, the band promises to take their music seriously. We should too because these young practitioners clearly have a lot to offer. (Joe Ross)


Columbia/Legacy C4K 90628
811 18th Avenue So., 2nd Floor, Nashville, Tenn. 37203
TEL. (615)467-6677
           This 4-CD box set with 109 songs captures the American bluegrass music tradition. This is quite an undertaking. Consider their objective to cover 80 years of music. Old-timey seeds planted by Gid Tanner and Charlie Poole in the 1920s are included. Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, and Flatt & Scruggs are well-represented with about 20% of the tracks. But so are the Carter Family, Roy Acuff, Carl Story, Arthur Smith, Osborne Brothers, Jim & Jesse, Jimmy Martin, The Byrds, Herb Pedersen, Ricky Skaggs, Blue Ridge Ramblers, Coon Creek Girls, Bailes Brothers, Molly O'Day, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, Mac Wiseman, Carl Butler, Louvin Brothers, Joe Maphis, Don Reno, Grandpa Jones, The O'Kanes, Mark O'Connor, Dixie Chicks, and Alison Krauss. What, they're not all bluegrass! I guess it's all in how you define the genre.
           Songs from nearly two dozen record labels is included. A 58-page booklet comes with the CDs, and it has some excellent liner notes by Billy Altman and Ralph Stanley. This music was chosen by Shoreline Community College instructor Tom Moran for his on-line "History of Bluegrass" distance learning class. The anthology compiled by Gregg Geller is broad and expansive, and it's a major milestone in the promotion of bluegrass music for a large label with the reputation of Columbia/Legacy to support such an endeavor. My hat's off to them. Of course, every person's 100 tracks documenting the "history of bluegrass" would be different. And the main question to ask about "Can't You Hear Me Callin'" is does it adequately cover the main bases? With more than fifty different groups and solo artists sampled, I'd say that it does pretty well, but it certainly would've been exponentially enhanced with even 2-3 more CDs in the set.
           Special rare tracks include some by The Coon Creek Girls ("Pretty Polly"), Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper ("On The Banks Of The River," "Sunny Side Of The Mountain," "Stoney, Are You Mad At Your Gal"), Carl Story & the Rambling Mountaineers, Don Reno. Three previously unreleased songs include Carl Story's "Don't You Hear Jerusalem Mourn," Roy Hall & His Blue Ridge Entertainers'1938 version of "Orange Blossom Special," and Sara & Maybelle Carter's "No More Goodbyes" from 1966.
           This is a fascinating and erudite collection that every bluegrass music lover could study for months. You're bound to discover something new about the genre that you didn't know before. (Joe Ross)

Better Times

Reminiscence Records Rem 2004
PO Box 1324, Henderson, NC 27536
TEL. (252)438-2635
Playing Time - 39:01
           Songs - 1-Correna, Correna, 2- Better Times, 3-West Virginia Turnpike, 4-Working On A Building, 5-Standing On The Rock, 6-Pretty Girl(Hannah's Song), 7-Heavenly Mansion, 8-Look Out Your Window, 9-Ninety Nine Years, 10-Train Rider, 11-Rock, Salt, & Nails, 12-River Queen
           Grass Street describes their music as "bluegrass drive with style." The band includes Wayne Kinton (guitar, vocals), David Kinton (bass), Joe Martin (mandolin,vocals), Barney Rogers (banjo), and Kevin Tompkins (dobro, vocals). In 2003, their Acoustic Pathways album was well-received, and they were complimented for eclectic material, sweet vocals, and instruments which don't overcrowd the messages. Now, "Better Times" is a sampling of favorite tunes presented in their live shows and ranging from traditional fare to original compositions. The former include "Correna, Correna," "Working on a Building," and "Ninety Nine Years." They also cover Utah Phillips' "Rock Salt and Nails" and J. Dillon's (of the Ozark Mtn. Daredevils) "Standing on the Rock." The remainder of the twelve cuts are originals, and some of my favorites are Better Times, Heavenly Mansion, and River Queen. Wayne contributed the most originals (5), and he writes about farm foreclosures, factory layoffs, lost love, and hobos. "Look Out Your Window" is getting some good national airplay as a result of being included on Volume 72 of Prime Cuts of Bluegrass. Overall, the band varies the tempos nicely and demonstrates that there are both fast and slow lanes on Grass Street.
           Grass Street hails from North Carolina, and they evolved from an earlier group called Swift Run which formed in the early 1980s. Wayne Kinton has an interest in a number of musical styles. In 1995, he and Clifton Preddy released "Reminisce" with a number of original tunes about life in the Vance/Granville County area. Wayne's son, David, is a graduate of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he was active in the jazz studies program. He also performs with a Christian rock band called Deeper Still. Mandolinist Joe Martin also plays saxophone, banjo, guitar and bass and is currently learning the fiddle. He's won many contests and has recorded on over 25 CD projects. Kevin Tompkins started seriously playing dobro about 1994. He penned "West Virginia Turnpike" and "Pretty Girl" for this album, the latter being a tribute to his daughter Hannah. Banjo-player Barney Rogers has performed with various groups and also teaches banjo. His 2002 instrumental CD, "Opening Act" includes some of his most requested tunes.
           Grass Street is an example of one of those regional bands with exceptional talent that doesn't tour and play too far from their North Carolina home. It's not because their music wouldn't land them engagements further afield. I suspect that their musical goals are balanced with other commitments, but this self-produced project on an independent record label is sure to get a greater number of bluegrass fans driving on Grass Street. (Joe Ross)

Crossing Bridges

OMAC Records OMAC-7
PO Box 398, Bonsall, CA. 92003
Ellen Pryor OR Mark O'Connor
Playing Time - 73:50
           Recorded live at Spivey Hall at Clayton College & State University in Morrow, Georgia, "Crossing Bridges" features violinist Mark O'Connor's Appalachia Waltz Trio, which also features violist Carol Cook and cellist Natalie Haas. The CD's booklet provides this quote from O'Connor - "I always think that music should elevate the spirit, stimulate the intellect and strengthen the heart." If those criteria define his goal, then the consummate pro and his two sidekicks easily succeed. This album of largely original material offers much in the realms of vitality, reasoning and emotion.
           His rise to fame has been noteworthy. I remember when O'Connor, originally from Seattle, was just a young pup in the 70s drawing a large crowd in jam sessions with mentor Benny Thomasson at the National Old-Time Fiddlers Contest in Weiser, Idaho. In fact, he could identify specific classical composers at age three. He began playing guitar at six and violin at eleven. Before he had fiddled for a year, Mark had won second place at Weiser. At age 12, he was on the Grand Ole Opry. By 14, he'd won various fiddle and guitar championships, and the Winfield, Ks. guitar contest rules were changed to require that contestants wait at least five years before they could win again. He did. Touring with Dan Crary, The David Grisman Quintet, and The Dregs followed. In 1983, he embarked on a solo career and journey that has him "crossing bridges" into many musical genres.
           In 1991, Mark & The New Nashville Cats (featuring Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, and Steve Wariner) won the CMA "Vocal Event of the Year" Award. Mark O'Connor also won the CMA "Musician of the Year " Award consecutively from 1991-1996. He toured with Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt in 1993. In more recent times, he has focused primarily on classical music. He wrote his first violin concerto in 2000. His 2002 Nashville concert with Chris Thile, Bryan Sutton and Bryon House was captured on his excellent "Thirty Year Retrospective" album (OMAC Records 5). The "Bowtie" track from this album has been nominated for a Grammy in the Country Instrumental category.
           Now, O'Connor, Cook and Haas unite to recreate, with expert technical proficiency, the original 1995 "Appalachia Waltz" repertoire and some fine new material in the same tradition. The original two "Appalachia Waltz" CDs and tours featured violinist O'Connor, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and bassist Edgar Meyer. Yo-Yo Ma made a solo version of the title track his signature piece perfect for an encore.
           Compared to the original sound with violin, cello and bass, the new trio's sound is more airy, fluid and light. No one should question the credential of Cook and Haas. Cook was a a member of Scott Yoo's great ensemble, Metamorphosen. She's also a champion Scottish fiddler and made her debut with the Edinburgh Symphony at age 16. Haas studied at Julliard under cello legend Fred Sherry. She also loves Scottish folk music. The album's 15-minute closer "Olympic Reel" medley is textbook string pyrotechnics.
           Some other technically impressive tracks include "Chief Sitting in the Rain/College Hornpipe," "F.C.'s Jig" and "Limerock." All in all, the generous 74-minute album gives us a kaleidoscope of multi-hued sound that enchants us from the first measure to the last. The sheet music is available on Mark's website. (Joe Ross)

Jesus Washed Away My Sins in The Color of Red

No label, no number
C/o Jerry Vincent, KMG Music, 5136 Hwy 351 E., Henderson, KY. 42420
TEL. (270)826-4878
Playing Time - 28:15
           With the exception of "I'm Claiming This Mountain" written by herself, all songs on Joetta Grant's "The Color of Red" were written by her son, Richard Grant, who fought alcoholism for many years and to who the album is dedicated. According to Joetta's liner notes, "In September 2000 God performed a miracle and delivered him completely. Richard gives God the glory every day for keeping him sober. God has given him many songs of faith and hope." Joetta Grant had a dream to record these originals for quite some time, and she made it come true by collaborating with Jerry Vincent at KMG Studios in Henderson, KY. Their goal was to recreate a "Classic Era" bluegrass gospel sound that was popular during the 1950s and early-1960s. Besides Jerry Vincent on guitar, the instrumental assistance comes from Steve Mohler, Steve Miles or Gary Vincent (bass), Jeff Littleton, Gary Vincent, or Dorin Luck (mandolin), Steve Mayo (fiddle), Jeff Littleton (dobro), and Steve Mohler (banjo). Harmony vocals are supplied by Gay Jackson, Rhonda Legate, Gary Vincent, and Barry Denton.
           Grant sings in a pleasant and relaxed manner. Her accompanists don't do anything flashy, and the resulting music has a distinctive classic country feeling that emphasizes spiritual reverence. All the musicians are "local living room pickers" but they turn in some decent performances. Jerry Vincent tells me that this started out as a small project that Joetta wanted to do for her family and friends, but they were so happy with the results that it was produced at a little higher level than anticipated. At 28 minutes the album is a little short, but it makes a nice documentation of this body of original gospel material. It's getting good airplay on their local stations that broadcast with classic country formats. A favorite cut of mine is actually the shortest track on the album, "It's My Time To Shine." (Joe Ross)

Rebel Records REB-CD-1808
PO Box 7405
Charlottesville, VA. 22906
Playing Time - 37:08
           1. Living in the Pane 2. Goodbye Bottle of Whiskey 3. Bluegrass Blues 4. 454 5. Kicked Out of Town 6. Ill Drink No More Wine 7. Feelin' Just a Little Like Dale 8. Lonesome Moon 9. Going On 10. Last Thing My World Needs 11. Southwind 12. Are You Happy Now 13. Lucky Streak
           All in their 20s, The Steep Canyon Rangers are one of a new generation of young bands with solid traditional chops who will, with the support of a major record label like Rebel, carry the bluegrass torch. The fact that their name was inspired from Deep Canyon Stout doesn't mean that they don't have respect for the music and its tradition. The band members (Woody Platt, Mike Guggino, Graham Sharp, Charles R. Humphrey III) met in 1996 and began playing together about 1999 while students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
           These boys can pick and sing with a lot of hustle and kick. Humphrey's spirited "Living in the Pane" opens the set. His "Bluegrass Blues" sings about travelling down the road, wearing out their shoes, making music every night, and dealing with those blue, bluegrass blues. Sharp's instrumental, "454," is a tastefully-rendered minor romp that gives everyone a chance to shine. Nine of the songs were written by Sharp, and he shows an affinity for both common and less common bluegrass music themes in his lyrics. As a storyteller, Sharp also succeeds with "Kicked Out of Town" that tells of a man's run-in with the law as the result of helping an abused woman. Sharp even sings lead in fine bass fashion on his novelty truckin' tune, "Feelin' Just a Little Like Dale," that incorporates some percussion (by Rob Ladd) in the mix. The song is a tribute to late North Carolina NASCAR legend Dale "the intimidator" Earnhardt, and it was inspired by the guys' camaraderie and fun on the road. Unlike many young groups, The Steep Canyon Rangers know that it's wise to alter their well-arranged songs' tempos and keys throughout the set. "Going On" offers some nice respite with its inspirational gospel message. They also were very astute to pull in fiddlers Josh Goforth and John Garris to fill out their sound.
           All of the Rangers hail from North Carolina. Graham Sharp grew up playing jazz saxophone, and studied comparative literature in college. Charles Humphrey III played some bass in his high school orchestra, gave it up for a few years, then got back into it in college. Also a songwriter, Charles has done an IBMA songwriting showcase. Woody Platt and mandolinist Mike Guggino both grew up in Brevard, N.C. Platt is the band's lead vocalist, and he delivers each lyric with an intensity and emotion that is immediately appealing. Guggino does some very impressive straight-forward traditional picking, and he offers a fantastic original fiddle tune called "Southwind" on this project. The band has been playing music full-time since about 2001. The band attributes much of its success to their ability to "cross-market" and play festivals, concerts, theaters, as well as rock venues, college clubs and eclectic and world music festivals.
           The band's first album was produced by Curtis Burch. Like the first, another album was put out on a small, independent label. While more progressive material initially got them interested in bluegrass, they admit that they're now going back to study the classic traditional works of seminal bluegrass artists and bands. One track on this album (the band's third) is a cover of Jimmy Martin's "I'll Drink No More Wine." Just another indication of their deep respect for the sideboards and standards of how bluegrass with a traditional foundation should sound. A little luck and a few key connections have now found them signed with Rebel Records. The band is now thinking about doing a live album. The Steep Canyon Rangers were nominated for IBMA's Emerging Artist of the Year award, and I expect that they'll win it very soon at the rate they're going. In age, these guys may only be knee high to bantam grasshoppers, but their music indicates that they are smart and talented bluegrass operators. (Joe Ross)

Scorched Heart & Ashes

No label, no number
1308 Kim Drive, O'Fallon, Il. 62269
TEL. (618)628-3029 or (618)550-8625
Playing Time - 48:36
           Songs - Heart of Stone, Last Love Letter, Long Shot, Who Did You Love, Grahlin', Streets of Bakersfield, He's Held in Angels Wings, Scorched Heart and Ashes, Everybody's Reaching Out For Someone, Right Combination, Swift Water Bend, There's No Reason, Don't Laugh, Gone Away, The Least You Can Do is Pretend, I Have Found the Way
           I first met Carla & Marla Greer when Chuck Holloway asked me to help them out at a Northwest Regional Folklife Festival show in May, 1998. I was very impressed with their talent, drive and showmanship. Both are fine singers. Carla plays guitar, and Marla plays bass. After moving from Oregon in 1998, the twin sisters formed The Greers Bluegrass Band in the St. Louis area with Joel Ferber (mandolin), Mike Aehle (banjo), and Don Grahlherr (dobro). A couple guests (Gary Hunt and Robert Bowlin) help out on guitar and fiddle, respectively. The band's debut CD has 16 tracks which show the influences of bluegrass, classic country and gospel inspiration. The sisters' own originals include "Heart of Stone," "Long Shot," "He's Held in Angel's Wings," "Scorched Heart & Ashes," "There's No Reason," and "The Least You Can Do is Pretend." The up-tempo title cut speaks of a blackened heart and the flame of love burning out, but their most impressive and defining performances are on some of the slower numbers like "Everybody's Reaching Out for Someone."
           Don Grahlherr's instrumental "Grahlin'" bursts with pep throughout its quick-paced romp. Mike Aehle's "Swift Water Bend" makes good use of his banjo D-tuners as they pay tribute to a stretch of Missouri's Meramec River. Additional songs come from Sidney Cox, Mel Besher, Homer Joy, Porter Wagner, Rebe Gosdin, Steve Collom, and Lee Dickey & Reynolds Allen. Song selection is one of this band's strengths as they offer good variety that also capitalizes on their individual skills. Don and Carla's duet on "Right Combination" is also a special country moment on the CD.
           Carla and Marla Greer have actually been performing since 1986 as music has always been a big part of their lives. Their father, Bud Greer, was a bluegrass musician who played regularly and hosted frequent jams. After studying their dad's record collection while growing up in northern Idaho, they discovered the Louvin Brothers during their teenage years. The Greers family band included their father and four daughters. They played churches and other family events throughout the west and Canada. To date, The Greers have produced six albums. "Walk On In" came out in the mid-90s. Other projects on cassette tape included The Greers (1992), He'll Lead You (1990), Resting Easy (1989), and Bible for a Roadmap (1987).
           I was sad to see Carla and Marla move from Oregon to pursue their music interests elsewhere. However, I'm also very happy to see that they are succeeding with their dreams in Missouri. They are serious about their music, and they know what it takes to make it high-quality and professional. With the help of able musicians, the band is sure to go far. After decades of playing electric guitar, Don Grahlherr took up bluegrass music and dobro in 1996, playing with The Rosa String Works Band from 1997-2003. Joel Ferber started banjo in high school, played with such bands as The Hunan Mt. Boys, Charged Particles, Natural Bridge, and Old Man Joe. Mike Aehle has played with the String Town String Band, and he sang on the Chris Talley Trio's 2003 release "Tribute."
           Mike Aehle has now left The Greers to spend more time with his family. The band's new banjo player is Bill Cross, a multi-instrumentalist from Troy, Il. who has been playing for many years and is always in demand to fill in with bands when he is not playing along side The Greers. Collectively, their talent, honesty and work ethic will take The Greers Bluegrass Band very far. (Joe Ross)

Sings and plays bluegrass music

No label, no number
Evzen Lovecky, Brehy 319 698 01, Veseli nad Moravou, Czech Republic OR
Playing Time - 37:18
           Songs - Down To The River To Play, Last Old Shovel, Nellie Kane, Heaven's Bright Shore, Blue Night, Blue Skies and Teardrops, Keep on the Sunny Side, Hard Times Come Again No More, Roses In The Snow, Blue Moon Of Kentucky, Long Journey Home, I'll Fly Away, I Am Ready, I'll Go Stepping Too
           Dessert is a 6-piece band from the Czech Republic that sings and plays with remarkable intensity. Their unique and energetic international flair helped them take home second place in the 2004 European World of Bluegrass' (EWOB) Band of the Year Awards. Dessert was also one of five regional band winners (from over 20 that competed) in five diffferent locations around the country. Dessert was the regional winner at the Sloupnice Banjo Jamboree and Festival. They then went on to compete with the other four winners and took home first place at the final round at the Banjo Jamboree Festival in Caslav. With that feather in their caps, the performed in the main program (with 25 of the best Czech and Slovak bands) at the 2003 Caslav Festival. They also performed at the EWOB Festival in Holland in May, 2004. Dessert will perform there again in a highly desirable Saturday evening time slot in May, 2005.
           Dessert's current members include Jitka Hrubosova (vocals), Jana Bilkova (vocals), Evzen Lovecky (banjo, vocals), Ivan Zabelka (mandolin, vocals), Milan Boda (guitar, vocals), Dusan Grombirik -(bass, vocals). On this album, Jitka sings lead on eight numbers, and tenor on five. Jana sings lead on four, and tenor on five. The men in the band provide the harmonies. This gives Dessert a unique sound anchored by the female voices.
           It's always a pleasure to hear solid bluegrass music coming from other countries around the world. Such a trend is indicative of the broad international appeal of the music. When one thinks of the Czech Republic, the first bands to come to mind are Druhá Tráva and Poutnici that have built reputations for innovative and eclectic sounds. Radim Zenkl is a world class mandolin champion who emigrated from the Czech Republic to the U.S. n the early 1990s. And I've also heard good things about the legendary Czech newgrass band, Prudusky.
           Dessert takes a much more standard approach to their music, preferring to concentrate on more traditional fare from the bluegrass and Gospel canon. They draw material from The Carter Family ("Keep on the Sunny Side"), Bill Monroe ("Blue Moon of Kentucky"). They also do a good job covering common songs like Down To The River To Play, Last Old Shovel, Nellie Kane, Blue Night, Hard Times Come Again No More, Roses In The Snow, Long Journey Home, I'll Fly Away, I Am Ready, and I'll Go Stepping Too. As liner notes by Helena Bretfeldova state, "Not cold perfection, but loving open heart…looking for good music without loosing [sic] their enthusiasm."
           The band comes from Veseli nad Moravou (a town in the region known as South Moravia) and was formed in 1997. They have experienced numerous personnel changes, with twenty different members passing through the band during their first five years together. However, Dessert is dedicated to their goal of practicing and presenting bluegrass music. The current band configuration has been together since 2002 when more than a half of the members became new. Clearly, they are part of a far-reaching international community that also celebrates bluegrass. (Joe Ross)

Mandolin Orchard

Butler Music Group BMG 100904
TEL. (615)218-0517
Playing Time - 40:49
           Songs - AndiWayne, Seed City Stomp, Grayson County Line, The Jaelee Swing, Hickory Springs, Believe It Or Not, O.A.I., Old Paths, Hobert & Rhue, Bonaparte's Retreat, Mandolin Orchard
           Equally comfortable with many musical styles, mandolinist Danny Roberts is a picker of breathtaking ability. "Mandolin Orchard" shows that a variety of fresh musical produce grows in his garden of notes. The title cut reminded me somewhat of David Brubeck's "Take Five," and the song's title is actually the perfect answer for someone suffering from mandolin acquisition syndrome. With all original material (except "Bonaparte's Retreat that he arranged), Roberts can be orthodox (e.g. his Monroe-influenced "Old Paths" or "AndiWayne") or rather unconventional (e.g. "O.A.I."). One minute he's full of steam, and the next he might be taking a slightly more leisurely approach to his music (like on the waltz for his grandparents called "Hobert & Rhue".)
           Danny hails from Leitchfield, KY. but now lives in Nashville. He works as the mandolin department manager at Gibson USA in Nashville. He was an original founding member of The New Tradition, which toured extensively from 1982-2000. He wrote many songs for that band (perhaps the best known is "Grandpa's Way"). Now a member of The Reno Tradition, Danny is a first-rate musician, songwriter, artist and entertainer. Picking with a vengeance, "Mandolin Orchard" is executed with great skill. I want to emphasize how Danny uses this project to entertain us also. He does this by recruiting some nimble-fingered artists that are masters in their own right. The other musicians are Tony Wray (guitar, banjo on 5 tracks), Jimmy Mattingly (fiddle), Charlie Cushman (banjo on 5 tracks) and Andrea Roberts (bass). Roberts works with Tony Wray at Gibson and holds him in very high regard as an amazing and inspiring multi-instrumentalist. A little jam they had at work resulted in the jazzy composition, "O.A.I," a tribute to Gibson O.A.I. - Original Acoustic Instruments. Tony and Danny also serve up a red hot banjo/mandolin duet called "Believe It or Not."
           To determine how Roberts gets his fantastic mandolin sound, we should check into his instrument, strings and picks. Over the years, Danny has played many types of mandolins from Aria to Gibson, Gilchrist to Dearstone until he settled on his new Gibson Sam Bush model that he absolutely loves. His strings are GHS medium gage phosphor bronze, and his picks are Dunlop 1.5 or tortoise shell.
           Playing in a smooth, relaxed and controlled style, yet still with good attack, is the skill apparent on this CD that sets Roberts apart from many other technically proficient mandolinists. A little research indicates that he comes from a contest background where it's tantamount to not make any mistakes. Roberts' philosophy is to play as cleanly as he can. He won't play licks unless he can pull them off without error. And now he's not only able to play cleanly, but he does it with some very technically difficult material of his very own. Perhaps the most technically impressive pieces on this album are "Hickory Springs" and "Seed City Stomp."
           Bill Monroe, Adam Steffey, David Grisman, Sam Bush, Wayne Benson, Chris Thile are a few of his inspirational players. Listening to "Mandolin Orchard," it also becomes apparent that Roberts has appreciation and understanding of the mandolin as both a lead, as well as rhythm, instrument. This is an instrumental album that strikes gold. (Joe Ross)

Up this road and down

Appleland Productions, no number
9 Central Avenue, Northbridge, MA. 01534
TEL. (860)974-2004
Playing Time - 41:30
           "Up This Road and Down" is a concept album that presents leisurely-paced songs and ballads of freedom and a longing for home. The cover photo shows vocalist Mary Sequine's family homestead where she was raised and currently lives with her husband, Darrell, who also sings on this CD. The other musicians featured include Bob Dick (guitar), Dave Dick (banjo, mandolin), Ken Taylor (bass, vocals), David DiBiasio (dobro), and Bob DiQuattro (vocals).
           Living in the heart of central Mass., Bob, Dave and Ken are also members of the Blackstone Valley Bluegrass Band which performs throughout New England. The Dick brothers from Sutton, Ma. are well-known performers and recording artists in their region. Ken Taylor is a solid bass player.
           Multi-instrumentalist Bob Dick has studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
           When not touring with Front Range, Bob keeps busy producing, recording and playing in New England. Dave Dick, a luthier at Union Music in Worcester, MA., also plays various instruments and won the World Banjo Championship in Ontario, Canada. He's played with many artists including John Hartford, John Herald, Stacy Phillips, Jonathan Edwards, Southern Rail, Salamander Crossing, and Northern Lights. Ken Taylor started as a guitar player in folk and blues music, but he was soon picking bluegrass. Ken's played with the Central Turnpike Bluegrass Band, Slo-Grass, Rolling Hills Bluegrass, Adam Dewey & Crazy Creek, and Blue Union with Herb Applin.
           The fact that the Dick Brothers and Ken Taylor have years of experience playing results in the greater assemblage with the Sequines and Bob DiQuattro (a.k.a. Well Seasoned) having a sound that is relaxed and comfortable with tight musicianship and fine harmonies. Free of frills, the songs chosen were arranged to be understated yet still catchy with an emphasis on the lyrics' messages and harmony vocals. The repertoire is derived from such writers as Jesse Winchester, Earl Montgomery, Tom Paxton, Wayne Taylor, Nick Forster, Randy Newman, Gram Parsons, Rodney Crowell, Holly Tashian, and others. Favorite tracks are "My Songbird," "Before the Cold Wind Blows," "Hickory Wind," and "Feels Like Home." It's an appealing and pleasant offering of impressionistic songs. (Joe Ross)

Hillbilly Girl

No label, no number
c/o Graham Sullivan, PO Box 52, Diaz, AR. 72043
TEL. (501)454-3002
Playing Time - 41:48
           Songs - Who's Cryin' Baby, The Cheaters Game, I'll Be Here Waiting For You, Mule Skinner Blues, Behind Those Big Closed Doors, I'm Gonna Be A Hillbilly, Gold Watch And Chain, In Those Days, I'll Go Steppin' Too, Please Love My Baby, Hell's Vision, Don't Act, Lazarus And The Rich Man
           The rustic, mountain feeling in Connie Leigh's lead vocals provides the perfect canvas for some excellent instrumental work and passionate harmonies on an appealing body of ten original songs and three covers ("Muleskinner Blues," "Gold Watch & Chain" and "I'll Go Steppin' Too"). From Diaz, AR., Connie Leigh enlisted some top-notch musicians to assist -- Tim Crouch (fiddle, mandolin), Dennis Crouch (bass), Randy Kohrs (dobro), and Scott Vestal (banjo). Just listen to those boys jam it up on the last minute of "Muleskinner Blues." Becky Coffee sings tenor, and Doug Deforest sings baritone.
           Connie's originals are well thought out, and they they come off with pure heart, body and soul. "In Those Days," "The Cheater's Game," and the up-tempo "Don't Act" are favorites. "Behind Those Big Closed Doors" and "Please Love My Baby" tell some gripping stories. These songs are based on personal and emotional experiences from Connie Leigh's life. "Behind Those Big Closed Doors" is about a girl from Connie's hometown who had a bad childhood, looked for love in the wrong ways, and was laughed at and talked about. Connie was bothered by that and says, "Unless you actually live with them, we never know what others really go through behind closed doors." Connie wrote "Please Love My Baby" when her husband's mother, stricken with Alzheimer's disease, was sick in the hospital. It's a statement about a mother's love for her offspring. "Who's Cryin Baby" is about a 14-year marriage that didn't work out and the fact that Connie hasn't shed one tear over it.
           Connie Leigh writes a lot of songs that can fool you if you don't really know the stories behind them. "I'll Be Here Waiting For You" is one very personal song that sounds like a cheating song. While you might get the impression that the singer is in love with a married man who loves his wife, it's actually about Connie's sister and estranged biological mother. Told that she had never been loved, Connie is still hoping for a reconciliation someday. "The song is about hanging around and hoping someone can love you too."
           A self-professed hillbilly girl, Connie Leigh delivers with considerable personality. On the swingy "I'm Gonna be a Hillbilly," she sings about being a faded jeans, buttoned-down shirt type of country gal. Like a good rare possum burger with some squirrel tails and gravy on the side, Connie Leigh's "Hillbilly Girl" is a right tasty collection. Turkeytail it to County Sales or Connie Leigh's website to pick up a copy. Put it on the next time you cook up some catfish stew flavored with bullnettle root and wahoo bark. (Joe Ross)

2/8/05 release
The Grascals

Rounder 11661-0549-2A
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140 OR
Playing Time - 39:07
           After a couple listens to The Grascals' debut CD, I was convinced that this album would be among my top five favorites this year. Besides great music, the band is a cohesive and collaborative unit built around six talented friends who share common goals. The group members have had previous professional experience with The Osborne Brothers, Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, Dolly Parton's Blue-niques, The Sidemen, and many country music superstars. You won't find much better musicians with consummate bluegrass (and country) sensibilities than The Grascals' Terry Eldredge (lead vocals, guitar), Jimmy Mattingly (fiddle), David Talbot (banjo, vocals), Jamie Johnson (guitar, vocals), Danny Roberts (mandolin) and Terry Smith (bass). Dolly Parton invited The Grascals to open all concerts on her Hello, I'm Dolly tour in the fall of 2004, as well as to join other musicians backing up Dolly each evening.
           Opening with some lonesome fiddle on the Osborne Brothers' "Leavin's Heavy on my Mind," Bobby Osborne's guest mandolin playing is also a nice addition to that track. "Mourning Dove" is a Jamie Johnson's high-stepping romp with blazing fiddle, mandolin and banjo. Johnson also sings lead on it. These six guys are superior instrumentalists, and every solo resonates with some hot licks. Crisp, clean rhythm guitar and deep resonating bass fill out their sound. "Bevans Lake Crossing" is an Irish jig that takes the high road as it evolves into a reel.
           The Grascals don't push the envelope too far from conventional traditional bluegrass orthodoxy when they take on more standard fare. As a definite strength, these bluegrass phenoms know exactly what a song requires. They take liberty to change a few words in "Teardrops in my Eyes," and some work better than others. For example, it makes more sense to say, as the song was written, "why I cry with these teardrops in my eye," rather than "why I try." I can't say why they made that change, but Eldredge still delivers it in a gutsy, high-lonesome manner. "Sally Goodin" is a right pert, albeit standard, rendition of this fiddle tune, and the band incorporates the minor chord eventually for a little excitement. "My Saro Jane," recorded by Flatt & Scruggs about 1959, is an enjoyable reminder that "there's nothin' to do but sit around and sing." "Sweet By and By" is an excellent way to close the album with some understated, respectful instrumental work that doesn't detract from the song's inspirational message. The Grascals simply have good taste when it comes to arrangements, techniques employed, and musicianship.
           The Grascals' contemporary material allows them to take more risks. Some light percussion (Tom Roady) and pedal steel (Lloyd Green) embellish Harley Allen's "Me and John and Paul," a ballad about some of the "best friends you ever saw, all for one, one for all." Another standout, "Where I Come From," is built around the common bluegrass theme of longing for home, and the song's bridge gives it a nice change of pace as Jamie Johnson delivers the lead vocals in fine fashion. Another gripping tale of hard roads and dusty fields is "Where Corn Don't Grow," which has some guest dobro played by Andy Hall, as well as Terry Crisp's steel guitar. Bobby Osborne sings on "Some Things I Want to Sing About." The Grascals' bluegrass cover of "Lonely Street" tells us where to go when you need a place to weep, where broken dreams and memories meet. Finally, "Viva Las Vegas" includes special guest vocalist Dolly Parton and some of Bob Mater's drumming.
           From traditional to contemporary, The Grascals certainly don't disappoint us with their broad selection of material that will appeal to many tastes. In fact, there are no-holds-barred vocals, tasteful instrumental work, and an overall sound that just about jumps out of the speakers. I personally enjoy an eclectic set of bluegrass with a few countryish (and even Celtic or old-time) twists, and that's why I dig this masterful band. Others might find them a little too diverse or attempting to be too universal. Not me! The Grascals are very discriminating, well-rounded and resourceful performers with a high degree of showmanship and entertainment value. I understand that Jamie even does Elvis Presley impersonations. Like the song "Viva Las Vegas" states, I think they "shoot a seven with every shot." (Joe Ross)

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