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

Upated: November 21, 2005

3 FOX DRIVE - Listen to the Music
MAGGIE AUSTIN - Time & Again
BALL SISTERS BAND - Christmas with the Ball Sisters Band
DANNY BARNES - Get Myself Together
BELL WITCH: THE MOVIE (Soundtrack from the motion picture)
HEATHER BERRY - He Walks Beside Me
Best of Bluegrass Gospel (3 CDs)
Bluegrass Revival (3 CDs)
THE BOOHERS - Grandma's Songs
RONNIE BOWMAN - It's Getting' Better All the Time
BRAVE COMBO - Holidays!
JUNE CARTER CASH - Keep On The Sunny Side: Her Life In Music
CHARIVARI - A Trip to the Holiday Lounge
CHERISH THE LADIES - Woman of the House
CHERRYHOLMES - Self-titled
CASEY & CHRIS and the TWO-STRINGERS - Bluegrass Up Ahead!
JOE DEAN ­ The Thrill of a New Game
JERRY DOUGLAS - The Best Kept Secret
THE DUHKS - Self-Titled
DREW EMMITT ­ Across the Bridge
FLATT & SCRUGGS ­ Foggy Mountain Gospel
LESTER FLATT & EARL SCRUGGS ­ Foggy Mountain Jamboree
KEVIN GORDON - O Come Look at the Burning
GREAT BIG SEA - The Hard and the Easy
RAY HESSON - Sunrise
HIT & RUN BLUEGRASS ­ Without Maps or Charts
HOT STRINGS - Uncharted
CLAY JONES - Mountain Tradition
THE JORDANAIRES - Believe: A Collection of Bluegrass Hymns (2-CDs and 1 DVD)
TIM LAKE - We All Need Heroes
PATTY LOVELESS - Dreamin' my Dreams
DEL McCOURY BAND - The Company We Keep
JIM MILLS - Hide Head Blues
BOB MITCHELL ­ Some Days This Place is a Zoo
MONROE CROSSING ­ Somebody Like You
WILLIE NELSON - Countryman
NIGHT TRAIN TO NASHVILLE: Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945-1970 Volume 2
MICHELLE NIXON - What More Should I Say?
TIM O'BRIEN ­ Cornbread Nation
TIM O'BRIEN ­ Fiddler's Green
CALEB OLIN - Tangled Roots
OPEN ROAD - Lucky Drive
POCO - Bareback at Big Sky
JON RANDALL - Walking Among the Living
JOHN REISCHMAN - North of the Border
LARRY RICE - Clouds Over Carolina
TOM RUSSELL BAND - Raw Vision 1984-1994
JAKE SCHEPPS ­ Expedition
MIKE SCOTT & OTHERS - Blue Moon of Kentucky: A Tribute to Bill Monroe
WAYNE SCOTT - This Weary Way
EARL SCRUGGS (w/ special guest stars) ­ I Saw The Light With Some Help From My Friends
CURLY SECKLER - That Old Book of Mine
SHADY CREEK OUTLAWS ­ WAYLON GRASS: A Bluegrass Tribute to Waylon Jennings
SKAGGS FAMILY - A Skaggs Family Christmas Volume One
KENNY & AMANDA SMITH BAND - Always Never Enough
STEEL STRING THEORY - Curve in the Road
JIMMY STURR and his ORCHESTRA - Shake, Rattle and Polka
TODD TAYLOR - Taylor Made
JORDAN TICE - No Better Place
UNCLE EARL - She Waits for Night
UNION KUN-TREE ­ Are You Ready
VARIOUS ARTISTS - 20 Best of Bluegrass Gospel
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Bluegrass Hits: Twenty Timeless Favorites from Yesterday and Today
VARIOUS ARTISTS - HAPPY LAND: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Stelling Banjo Anthology
VARIOUS ARTISTS ­ Tone Poets (2 CDs)
VARIOUS ARTISTS ­ Ultimate Pickin' ­ The Best of Instrumental Bluegrass
VIRGINIA RUN - "Blueridge"
WILDFIRE - Rattle of the Chains
PAUL WILLIAMS & The Victory Trio - When the Morning Comes
THE WOODYS - Telluride to Tennessee

The Hard and the Easy

Zoe 01143-1080-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, Ma. 02140 OR OR OR
Playing Time - 41:16
            SONGS - 1. Come and I Will Sing You (The Twelve Apostles), 2. Old Polina, 3. The River Driver, 4. The Mermaid, 5. Captain Kidd, 6. Graceful & Charming (Sweet Forget-Me-Not), 7. Concerning Charlie Horse, 8. Harbour LeCou, 9. Tishialuk Girls Set, 10. French Shore, 11. Cod Liver Oil, 12. Tickle Cove Pond
            It was about twenty years ago that some students studying English and folklore met at Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. Their bands like Newfoundland Republican Army and Rankin Street eventually evolved in 1993 into Great Big Sea with multi-instrumentalists Alan Doyle, Séan McCann, Bob Hallett and Darrell Power. Darrell has since left the group, replaced by Toronto-area native Murray Foster. From Pictou County, Kris MacFarlane is the fifth member of Great Big Sea and plays drums and percussion. During the band's 15 years, they've produced nine albums that blend traditional and contemporary approaches to folk music, always with copious amount of imagery and emotional sentiment. This release, however, takes the new approach of being all-acoustic.
            With a seafaring theme, many of their songs on "The Hard and the Easy" immediately draw you in for interaction with humorous lyrics and catchy melodies. Arrangements are given rousing pub-song presentation, and listeners who like songs about the flowing bowl in a more relaxed style might actually prefer to explore the material of a duo like William Pint and Felicia Dale. "Harbour Lecou" and "Cod Liver Oil" are the types of stories that they can so evocatively tell. Great Big Sea's lineup includes six guests on 5-string banjo, harmonica, and vocals. It would be hard to not sing along on "Captain Kidd," which features Fergus O'Byrne's banjo. It might've been rather interesting to invite a guest to play some hurdy gurdy on a bounding tune like this. The down-home, earthy side of the band, along with a bit of bawdiness, is best captured in "The Mermaid," a song I've heard entertainers like Alex Beaton cover.
            Frank Maher's harmonica provides expressive fill for the sentimental ballad, "Graceful & Charming (Sweet Forget-Me-Not)." It's a bit of an extreme segue to the next cut, "Concerning Charlie Horse," which is back into a pub-song mode. The liner notes don't identify exactly who is singing on which cuts. Great Big Sea's instrumental prowess is best captured in "Tishialuk Girls Set" that begins with low whistle before making a genesis into an accordion and fiddle-driven dance music and song. If one is more interested in their original material, look for their 2004 album, "Something Beautiful." Somewhat of a concept album. "The Hard and the Easy" captures the joy and delight of their region's unique musical canon.
            Besides having obvious personal affection for these songs, the band members also know that the playful tunes are solid crowd pleasers. There are plenty of references to history, life, labor and love. One would be hard-pressed to not be pleased with renditions of the tongue-twisting "Come and I Will Sing You," the somber "River Driver," or the poignant "Tickle Cove Pond." The album's title comes from words mentioned in the latter, part ballad and part chantey that tells the story of falling through ice and losing a trusted horse. "The hard and the easy, we take as they come …" epitomizes the band's undaunted attitude about success and perseverance. In addition, a DVD that comes with the album shows Alan, Bob and Sean talking about their songs, reflecting on their region's musical traditions, and singing the songs in relaxed, informal fashion. (Joe Ross)

A Trip to the Holiday Lounge

Rounder 11661-6112-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, Mass. 02140
TEL. 617-218-4495 OR OR OR
Playing Time - 58:44
            SONGS - 1 Carollee 2 It's All My Fault 3 Reel de Barzas/Wayne Perry's Reel 4 Sur le Courtableau 5 Courville's Favorite 6 Dreamer's Waltz 7 Persian/Zydeco Gris Gris 8 Le Holiday 9 Cajun Klezmer Breakdown 10 Knife Fight 11 It's Lonesome in Prison 12 Quelle Etoile/One-step de McGee/Reel des Deshotels 14 Neitzsche's Waltz 14 Nonc Charlot 15 Two-step à Will 16 Valse à Jean Billeaudeau
            Charivari is a variant of the word "chivaree," the noisy serenading and partying that friends and family deliver to newlyweds on their wedding night. Thus, the festive, fun-filled and frolicking nature of Charivari's music is appropriate for a night of revel. They have all the necessary ingredients for rousing Cajun music - lonesome mournful vocals, wailing fiddle, breezy button accordion, and the metronomic beat of the bass and drums. The band demonstrates considerable versatility with a repertoire that doesn't stray too far from traditional roots while also mixing in a few originals. They embrace an old sound while still making it fresh and contemporary. A number of their Cajun and Zydeco tunes are attributed to Dennis McGee, Nathan Abshire and Michael Doucet. Ebullient performers, Charivari also draws some influence and inspiration from Celtic, Klezmer and Middle Eastern music. In true raucous party form, you don't even seem to experience much tedium when the two tracks spanning more than 6 minutes cue up. The messages in their songs cover common Louisiana ground about Cajun and Creole people and their lives. Their "Persian/Zydeco Gris Gris" mentions the bayou, oak trees, moss, alligators, swamp gas, werewolves, and Mulattos. In few words, the song paints quite a picture of partying in the swamp. The CD jacket includes the French lyrics and English translations of them.
            The band's signature sound balances vibrant vocals and assertive instrumental work. Guitarist J. Randy Vidrine handles most of the singing, with fiddler/accordionist Jonno Frishberg vocalizing on a couple. Mitchell Reed does some impressive bowing of the fiddle. Their rhythm section are two Cajuns who hail from New Orleans -- Alfred "Bo" Ledet (bass) and Matt Swiler (drums). Ledet also plays fiddle on one cut.
            About 15 years ago, Mitchell and Randy met at a jam session, and the band was started. As the Mamou Prairie Band. three albums were released on Swallow Records between 1993 and 1998. Their debut on the reputable Rounder label (Rounder-069) occurred with the album, "I Want to Dance with You." These musicians have had much experience performing, touring, recording, and teaching. Their innovation and versatility have been keys to their success. However, one thread holds their music all together. That is their respect for the Cajun culture, the foundations of the music they play, and their desire to see it thrive today. Some favorite cuts include Carollee, It's My Fault, Knife Fight Reel, and Le Holiday. Charivari's "gris-gris" and musical ritual are sure to please all who appreciate danceable music with strong traditional roots. (Joe Ross)

Bluegrass Hits: Twenty Timeless Favorites from Yesterday and Today

Rounder 11661-0569-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, Mass. 02140
TEL. 617-218-4495 OR OR
Playing Time - 65:57
            At one time, the words "bluegrass" and "hit" would be contradictory. However, in more recent times with the great success and growth of the genre, bluegrass music can claim to have many top songs that are garnering significant radio airplay. Every song on this Rounder Records compilation placed in the Top Ten of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine's National Bluegrass Survey. So this sampler gives us a generous 66 minutes of tried, true and tested bluegrass. The chart is based on feedback from radio DJs and programmers so people that know the music have weighed in to name these songs as among the best of the best contemporary bluegrass dating from 1985-2005. Cuts come from a number of stalwarts such as Doyle Lawson, The Cox Family, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Tony Rice, Rhonda Vincent, Ricky Skaggs, J.D. Crowe, and Claire Lynch. Other emerging acts like Blue Highway, Longview, Alecia Nugent, Open Road and The Grascals are more recently on the scene, but no less impressive with their hits. It's impressive to see women playing such a prominent role among these hits. Hits are also drawn from highly-acclaimed solo releases Rob Ickes, Dan Tyminski, and Stuart Duncan. Unfortunately, a few of these groups who had hits (Johnson Mountain Boys, Weary Heart, Rambler's Choice) are no longer together. The 20-page CD booklet offers musician credits, a short summary about each group, and Rounder discography for further exploration.
            "Bluegrass Hits" is a wonderful set from a leading label in the genre. It also makes a strong statement about where bluegrass music is headed. Listen to this album in context of what has gone before. I was surprised to hear the banjo and fiddle relegated to minor roles in some of the arrangements. In "Me and John and Paul," (IBMA's 2005 Song of the Year) there are percussion and pedal steel in the mix. Compared to the seminal works of bluegrass' founders, we hear songs with slower tempos and smooth, polished Nashville-style vocals. The resonator guitar also appears to be playing a more and more prominent role in the genre's current sound. "Bluegrass Hits" closes with the earliest track recorded, a 1988 version of the traditional "Dream of a Miner's Child" from the Johnson Mountain Boys. It's an interesting way to close this album - on a note that recognizes the spirit and significance of classic bluegrass from a band, now defunct, that never compromised their traditional sound. (Joe Ross)

PAUL WILLIAMS & The Victory Trio -
When the Morning Comes

Rebel CD-1814
PO Box 7405
Charlottesville, VA 22906
Playing Time - 43:53
            SONGS - 1. I'm A Little Closer To My Lord 2. I Know, I Know 3. I Call It Home 4. I Could Sing About Heaven 5. Do Something For Jesus Today 6. He's Answered Each Prayer 7. That Healing Fountain 8. Are You Washed In The Blood 9. As Soon As I Touch Calvary 10. Keep On Believing And Keep On Loving 11. In Heaven She'll Live On And On 12. When The Morning Comes 13. When I Get Home 14. When They Ring Those Golden Bells
            Paul Williams and "The Victory Trio" are actually a full 5-piece band that offers solos, duos, trios and quartets inspired by the "Holy Spirit of God." Originally from Virginia but now living in Tennessee, former Lonesome Pine Fiddler (and Sunny Mountain Boy) Paul Williams left bluegrass music in 1963 to pursue a career with the U.S. Postal Service. Now retired, Williams is back performing and recording since his reappearance on the music scene in 1996.
            "When the Morning Comes" must be his tenth or eleventh album during the last decade, and this album includes some new personnel in the band. Gone are band associates Jerry Keys, Ned Cutshaw, Jeff Orr, Susie Keys, and Keith Williams. This new and impressive project features Paul's mandolin playing, with all five other bluegrass instruments impressively played by one stellar artist, David Johnson. My hat is off to him. Besides Paul's lead and tenor vocals, three other singers (Billy Proffitt, Mike Grove, Karen Benton) are impressive and nicely blended. Proffitt sings lead on eight songs while Williams sings lead on six.
            Dave Freeman and the Rebel label have been very supportive of Paul and his traditional style music that he's known for. He also continues to spread his ministry through music. Paul Williams hopes that this CD will be a blessing to each and every person who hears it. His reputation is one of fine bluegrass gospel that emphasizes a good selection of original and lesser-recorded material. The title cut, as well as four others, come from the traditional canon. He also draws material from Dixie and Tom T. Hall ("Do Something for Jesus Today"), Larry Whitehead ("I Could Sing About Heaven"), Squire Parsons ("I Call it Home"), "Clay Edwards ("I Know, I Know") Bud Harmon ("That Healing Fountain"), and Roscoe Reed ("When I Get Home"). I always enjoy hearing a devout singer of gospel do their own heartfelt original songs, and for that reason the ¾-time "He's Answered Each Prayer" is one of my favorites on this album. (Joe Ross)

Stelling Banjo Anthology

Rebel CD-1815
PO Box 7405
Charlottesville, VA 22906 OR
Playing Time - 61:54
            Song List: 1. Emergency Pulloff - Ned Luberecki, 2. Cotton Patch Rag - Alan Munde, 3. Another Time, Another Place - Keith Arneson, 4. Ticket To Alvarado - Bill Emerson, 5. Roadrunner - Alvin Breeden, 6. Shuckin' The Corn - Chris Warner, 7. Nedscape Navigator - Ned Luberecki, 8. Powder Creek - Alan Munde, 9. Little Juniata - Bill Emerson, 10. In Late September - Keith Arneson, 11. Bury Me Beneath The Willow - Murphy and Casey Henry, 12. Boatmans Stomp - Chris Warner, 13. Home Sweet Home - Geoff Stelling, 14. Riding The Stelling - Geoff Stelling, 15. Apple Blossom - Alan Munde, 16. John Hardy - Murphy Henry, 17. Trousdale Ferry Rag - Chris Warner, 18, Red Mary Janes - Casey Henry, 19. Home Of The Red Fox - Bill Emerson, 20. Shenandoah Breakdown - Keith Arneson, 21. Banjo Special - Alvin Breeden
            I still remember the first time I heard a Stelling banjo in the mid-1970s, and I recall thinking that the instrument sure projected with both volume and tone. The very first issue of Frets magazine in 1979 featured the Stelling Bellflower. At that time, Stelling Banjo Works was based in Spring Valley, CA. The company now operates out of a former one room schoolhouse on Heards Mountain in Va. Founded in 1974, Stelling Banjo Works has always tried to innovatively improve on banjo construction with such patented creations as the wedge-fitted pot assembly, pivot-pin tailpiece, Stelling maple bridge, and compensated nut.
            With over thirty years in the business, Geoff Stelling has become known as one of the best banjo builders today. And that may explain why some of the world's finest banjo players play these instruments. Geoff's impetus for making this album was to present an array of banjos on one recording played by various well-known pickers. Potential Stelling owners can hear how the different banjos sound when played by different people. Geoff also wanted to showcase some of his favorite pickers and friends who play Stellings. He had many musicians in mind but had to narrow the group to who was available and willing to participate under the terms he offered.
            This CD's collection of 21 instrumentals played on Stellings by nine well-known banjo players is a celebration of three decades of success. During that period, about 6,000 banjos have been built. Photos in the CD booklet include nice instruments such as # 91 (a 1976 Golden Cross built for Don Reno) and The Scrimshaw (of which only 15 were made). About half of the banjos used on this recording were constructed since 2002, many with Tony Pass rims made of mature timber that has been underwater for over 100 years, recovered and kiln dried.
            The tunes, a variety of the common and uncommon, were recorded from February-April, 2005 in various studios, with each banjo-player assembling their own competent back up musicians. The majority of the tunes are the players' own original compositions. However, there are also some Bill Monroe, Don Reno, Earl Scruggs, Gary/Randy Scruggs, Roland/Clarence White, and traditional covers.
            The featured artists include Bill Emerson, Alan Munde, Keith Arneson, Casey and Murphy Henry, Alvin Breeden, Ned Luberecki, Chris Warner, and Geoff Stelling. It might've been nice to include a paragraph about each artist and their styles. The leanest arrangement is Luberecki's "Nedscape Navigator" with just banjo and Ron Pennington's mandolin. Keith Arneson played banjo, guitar and bass on his one cover and two original compositions. The other pickers organized full ensembles for their contributions, but I was surprised that not one of the 21 cuts includes any resophonic guitar. According to Geoff, "None of the banjo players apparently felt the need for Dobro given that the CD is supposed to feature the banjo. We had a limited amount of time and no need for an instrument that usually competes with the banjo in a way that is unique to that instrument." All in all, this hour-long set is a great banjo-centric conversation among friends. Assuming the success of this album, Geoff Stelling will do another with other prominent pickers of banjos he's built. (Joe Ross)


Rounder 11661-9069-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, Mass. 02140
TEL. 617-218-4495 OR OR OR
Playing Time - 53:55
            SONGS - 1. Auld Lang Syne, 2. New Year Polka, 3. Groundhog Groundhog, 4. Glitter & Glue, 5. Hail To The Chief / Minstrel Boy, 6. Postcard From New Orleans, 7. A Little Bit Irish, 8. April Fool, 9. I'm A Bunny Rabbit, 10. Cinco De Mayo, 11. Mama Pushed Me Out, 12. Father's Day, 13. Precious Freedom, 14. No Work Polka, 15. The Vampire Twist, 16. Thanksgiving Day, 17. Hey Little Dreidel, 18. Coal And Switches, 19. Mambo In A Brand New Year
            When Brave Combo first formed in 1979 in Denton, Texas, they were called a New Wave polka band. However, a quarter century later, they've proven they are much more. Your hear influences of country, jazz, rock ‘n' roll, surf, blues, Celtic, Tex-Mex, Latin, Klezmer, big band, and salsa in their music. And there's a good measure of the novelty element too. So that explains Brave Combo's moniker and cryptic genre, but it's really not that baffling. Behind the scenes, I suspect that the band is very serious about their tunes. It shows in their arrangements and musicianship. For us, music is a rather personal thing, and we usually listen to it for enjoyment and stimulation. "Holidays!" succeeds because there's something for everyone. Brave Combo's prime directive is to "break down people's perceptions about what's cool to like in music…. to shake up people's ideas about what they label hip, or right or wrong." They also say that acceptance of polka and other dance rhythms can help bring about world peace. If people start dancing together, they'll also learn to respect each other's cultures too. So put your inhibitions and restraints aside…Get up and cut a rug.
            "Holidays!" gives us a fun, chronological journey through our favorite days of the year. They begin with "Auld Lang Syne" and "New Year's Polka," then take us through 19 cuts to "Mambo in a Brand New Year." But what happened to Martin Luther King Day in January? That's one of my favorite winter days off from work. Hey guys, it's not too late to pen a song called "MLK Porter," a tribute to the homebrewed beer that was started in a friend's garage that day. And where is the tribute to Veteran's Day? How P.C. is it to jump right from Halloween ("Vampire Twist") to "Thanksgiving Day." While definitely eccentric, they have built a legion of fans who like the outlandish with a grooving, danceable beat. Dr. Demento would appreciate them too.
            The package includes Larry King's liner notes about making the CD. As producer of the TM Comedy Central Network, he was on the lookout for good original songs that met their criteria for morning radio shows. Brave Combo is Jeffrey Barnes, Alan Emert, Carl Finch, Bubba Hernandez, and Danny O'Brien. Guests on Holidays! include Rob Avsharian, Joe Cripps, Milo Deering, and a whole host of background singers. With over a dozen albums out on the Rounder label, Holidays! is a playful phantasm of foolish and often frenetic festivity. (Joe Ross)

We All Need Heroes

Padraig Records PAD-35445
P. O. Box 22164, Lexington, KY 40522-2164
TEL. 859-268-1718
Playing Time - 68:48
            It's been about 20 years since Tim Lake first caught our attention with his "Same Old Roadside Inn" release on the Rounder label. He established his own Padraig record label in 1993. "We All Need Heroes," the latest album from Tim Lake, is the eleventh from the singer and songwriter who is originally from New York City but now living in Lexington, Ky. His musical approach fuses bluegrass, gospel, country, rock, pop, and light jazz behind his singing voice on all-original material. With sultry, bluesy and soulful vocalizing, Lake is also somewhat of a political spokesman with songs like "If Only I was a Praying Man," "Praise the Lord and Shoot to Kill," "Two GIs in a Foreign Prison" and the title cut. He also presents some tender love sentiments, gospel, and other messages that are creative and unique ("Ain't Nobody Normal Anymore"). A typical arrangement has Lake's banjo and vocals layered with piano, pedal steel, percussion and other instruments.
            Calling his music "jazz with bluegrass and blues," Lake earned a doctorate in music in 1991 from the University of Kentucky. His dissertation (and one of his albums) is titled "An American Concerto for the 5-string Banjo and Orchestra." That piece was documented from a 1993 performance with the Atlanta-Emory Symphony Orchestra. It also won the Kentucky Al Smith Fellowship for Music Composition in 1995. On "We All Need Heroes," Lake addresses the spiritual issues that we all confront daily during turbulent times. Four of his songs were inspired by the 9/11 tragedy. He also successfully explores the role of the banjo in American popular music, with the 4-string plectrum banjo played in "It's You," while the 5-string is more frequently used. Lake also plays guitar and ukelele, while the rest of his Little Big Band plays woodwinds, sax, percussion, trumpet, keys, tuba, steel guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and guitars. Besides Lake's own background vocals, others are provided by Danielle Thompson and Nathan Wilson.
            Some of Lake's 17 originals work better than others, and "They Will Always Love You" is a personal favorite due to its contemporary bluegrass feeling. Some of his other songs grow on you with continued listens. With nearly 70 minutes of music on this album, you're bound to find some melodies and lyrics to personally relate to. His family has also been both supportive and inspirational. "When I Think of You" was written for his wife, Miyuki, on Valentine's Day 1997. "That's Why I'm Smiling" is a jazzy ballad written for his son, Sheehan. Dave Anderson's saxophone and John Heinrich's steel guitar give the song an enchanting atmospheric effect. "Sail for the Lord," with its funky riff, presents optimism for tomorrow if one has faith in the Lord. Lake's music is a type of Americana in that it has attributes that are drawn from all American styles. If his own song, "Outside Looking In," has any autobiographical truth to it, then we are pleased to know that Tim Lake is doing just fine despite detractors, taxes, and others who may not understand his own unique approach to musical expression. (Joe Ross)

This Weary Way

Full Light FLR-0502
PO Box 40100, Nashville, TN. 37204
TEL. 615-385-0001 OR OR OR
Playing Time - 44:05
            SONGS - It's The Whiskey That Eases The Pain, Sunday With My Son, The Writer, Sinner, This Weary Way, I Wouldn't Live In Harlan County, When It's Raining After Midnight, In The Mountains, My Last Bottle Of Wine, Crash On The Highway, Since Jesus Came Into My Heart, What I Really Need Is You, Folsom Prison Blues
            Wayne Scott has a great deal of classic country soul. In fact, he seems about 50 or 60 years late in making this album. Born to play and sing, he grew up on a Kentucky tobacco farm in the 30s and 40s, and the old photos in the CD jacket show that he's done his share of country music picking and singing. However, until now, he'd never really performed his own material that was inspired by the songs he covered from Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard. He presented some originals once in bar but quickly realized that the people weren't there to hear his songs. Orchestrated by one of his five kids, Darrell, "This Weary Way" recreates a different musical era…one not characterized by all the hype and glitter we typically see in country music today. Thus, armed with all but two originals, Wayne Scott sings life-affirming tales about being born, raised, working, drinking, loving and praying in the mountains. Fortunately, his son saw something special in his father's songs and the feelings they express.
            Wayne's country band toured for about 20 years, and Darrell learned to play guitar on stage for five sets a night with the group. Darrell's own songs have been recorded by the likes of Garth Brooks, Dixie Chicks, Travis Tritt, Brad Paisley, Sara Evans and Patty Loveless. The aptitude for good songwriting must be in their genes. Darrell recognized that his father's songs were simple, emotional, direct - all the essential rudiments of old country. Just listen to "What I Really Need is You" with its heartfelt music. Some stellar Nashville session musicians helped out on this project --Guy Clark, Dirk Powell, Tim O'Brien, Dennis Crouch, Dan Dugmore, Casey Driessen, Danny Thompson, and others. These guys know how to tap into the river of tradition, history, values and beliefs that ran through yesteryear's country music. Building on this, Wayne Scott's creates his own distinct image when he sings about family ("Sunday with my Son"), heartbreak ("It's the Whiskey that Eases the Pain"), or salvation ("Sinner"). For a little more variety, I only wish that Wayne would have put a few more faster tempo'ed tunes like "In the Mountains" and "Since Jesus Came Into My Life" on the CD. (Joe Ross)


No label, No Number
Tel. (970)731-5653
Playing Time - 53:12
            A minute hadn't elapsed in the opening cut of Peter Frampton's "Do You Feel" before I noticed something distinctly missing from Hot Strings' "Uncharted." They've chosen a bluegrass-related new acoustic medium for their expression, but there's no banjo. Despite this obvious shortcoming, these guys really rise to the challenge. A large percentage of their material is original on this project produced by Pat Flynn. The set has energetic tempos, interpretive twists, and well-calibrated vocals. There are high-octane instrumentals ("Ghost of the Leopard" and "Lighter Than Air" and "March of the Ents") and mesmerizing vocals ("I'll Be There" and "Spirit of the Night" and "Times Like These"). In fine new acoustic fashion, arrangements are executed with great skill to showcase all four musicians' talents. What do the members have in common besides the enjoyment of biking, hiking, skiing, fishing, rock climbing, backpacking, and hacky sack? The answer is a simple one -- the Hot Strings are hot pickers!
            The Hot Strings hail from Pagosa Springs, Co. where the majority of them attend Fort Lewis College. Their dynamism stems from having strong fluency in the language of their strings, as well as their willingness to walk fences between genres. A song like "We Will March" yields some interesting results and bountiful rewards when reggae rhythms meet bluegrass. Band members Josiah Payne (mandolin), Carson Park (fiddle) and Jared Payne (guitar) have played together for more than a decade. Bassist Lech Usinowicz joined the band in 2004, replacing Carson's father, Dan Park, who contributed to the writing of four songs on this project. Josiah and Jared are brothers; Carson is their cousin. By the time they were 14, 12 and 10, they'd won the 1998 Rockygrass band contest. A year later, they won the Telluride contest. But that's not all. Carson is the 1999 Colorado fiddle champion. Josiah is the 2000 national mandolin champion. Lech was the 2002 recipient of the San Juan Symphony Scholarship.
            While they have "Uncharted," the band deserves to chart some of their songs. They sing in the closer, "I'm going to climb higher and higher until I reach my goal." With that good attitude, dedication, perseverance, a little luck (and perhaps a little guest banjo courtesy of Alison Brown, Tony Furtado or Scott Vestal), it won't take them long. The Hot Strings already have the musical talent, aptitude and skill to take them far. (Joe Ross)

Foggy Mountain Jamboree

Columbia/Legacy CK-92801
550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022 OR
            Before its reissuance on CD, there's a reason that "Foggy Mountain Jamboree" was a heavily sought after Flatt & Scruggs LP. It's classic bluegrass of the finest quality. Recorded in Nashville from 1951-1955, it was produced by Don Law who provided for a high level of quality control. Besides Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, the rest of the band included some of the finest bluegrass ever assembled at the time: Curly Seckler or Everett Lilly (mandolin), Benny Martin, Paul Warren or Howdy Forrester (fiddle), and Josh "Buck" Graves (dobro). While every cut has strong emotional and historical value, I especially like the material that featured Lilly's wonderful tenor voice soaring above Flatt's solid and expressive lead vocal.
            The bluegrass classics include Flint Hill Special, Some Old Day, Earl's Breakdown, Jimmie Brown the Newsboy, Foggy Mountain Special, It Won't Be Long, Shuckin' The Corn, Blue Ridge Cabin Home, Randy Lynn Rag, Your Love is Like a Flower, and Reunion in Heaven. The CD reissue adds three new bonus tracks (On My Mind, Dear Old Dixie, Pray for the Boys), as well as new liner notes from Bob Cherry. I never tire of hearing Earl twist those Scruggs tuners in the middle of a breakdown. Also, the songs are a testament to the songwriting abilities of their wives who penned four of the songs including the timeless "Blue Ridge Cabin Home."
            At the time of its recording, Flatt & Scruggs toured widely throughout the southeast from Lexington to Tampa, Bristol to Roanoke, and Knoxville to Atlanta. Tennessee-based Martha White Mills thought that they'd be a great band to sponsor and feature on their radio broadcasts, and that support brought them steady weekly paychecks without all the heavy road work.
            Lester Flatt passed on in 1979, but Earl Scruggs will turn 82 on January 6, 2006. Scruggs recently appeared at Merlefest and Bonnaroo, and he has been the subject of much national media attention. In September, 2005, I caught him leading an enthusiastic rendition of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" with four other banjo-players on the David Letterman Show. Flatt & Scruggs' impact on bluegrass goes without saying. Their names are synonymous with the classics of bluegrass. My hats off to Columbia/Legacy Records for re-releasing this inspirational and stimulating Flatt and Scruggs material on CD.

Foggy Mountain Gospel

Columbia/Legacy C2K-92574
550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022 OR
            After recording for Mercury, Flatt & Scruggs started recording for Columbia in 1950. Their last Columbia session was 1969. This 2-CD "Foggy Mountain Gospel" set presents material recorded between 1951-1966. Besides a number of songs originally released as singles, this 2-CD set draws material from many classic LPs, most heavily from Songs of Glory (Columbia CL1424) and When the Saints go Marching In (Columbia CS9313).
            Scruggs' phenomenal lead guitar work ("I'm Working on a Road") kicks off the project. Then, there is the band's cohesive vocal quartet on songs like "Get in Line Brother" and "I Saw Mother with God Last Night" and "Give Me the Flowers." I like the old hymns they sang such as "Give Mother My Crown" and "Jesus Savior Pilot Me," the former attributed to the songwriting of Walter Bailes. Tom T. Hall, an up-and-coming songwriter at the time, wrote"A Stone The Builders Refused."
            As Rich Kienzle points out in the new liner notes, it is Flatt & Scruggs' gospel material that transcends all else and stands as "an impressive facet of their musical legacy" and a "reminder of their peak creative years." Both old favorites and some overlooked jewels comprise the canon. Two selections were previously unreleased ("He Will Set Your Fields on Fire" and "No Mother in the World Today"). Of the many original songs written by their wives, some of my favorites from their pens are "Joy Bells," "No Hiding Place Down Here," and "Get on the Road to Glory."
            They also cover songs from The Carter Family ("I'm on my Way to Canaan's Land" and "On the Rock Where Moses Stood"), the latter featuring the autoharp of Mother Maybelle Carter. Other covers come from J.E. Mainer's Mountaineers, Charlie Monroe ("When the Angels Carry Me Home"), and The Bailes Brothers. Band members like Curly Seckler, Everett Lilly, Benny Martin, Paul Warren, Jake Tullock, Howdy Forrester, and Josh "Buck" Graves. On the slight downside, Buddy Harman's drums creep into the mix on seven tracks that are drawn from Flatt & Scruggs' "When the Saints Go Marching In" LP.
            Lester Flatt passed on in 1979, but Earl Scruggs will turn 82 on January 6, 2006. Scruggs recently appeared at Merlefest and Bonnaroo, and he has been the subject of much national media attention. In September, 2005, I caught him leading an enthusiastic rendition of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" with four other banjo-players on the David Letterman Show. Together, Flatt & Scruggs' impact on bluegrass goes without saying. Their names are synonymous with the classics of bluegrass. My hats off to Columbia/Legacy Records for re-releasing this Flatt and Scruggs material on CD.
            "Foggy Mountain Gospel" is a compilation of unadulterated and authentic bluegrass gospel music from the 1950s, along with two releases from the 1960s, "Songs Of Glory" and "When The Saints Go Marching In." There are also a number of live recordings. These 52 tracks on two CDs remind us that Flatt & Scruggs' gospel music was certainly as compelling as their secular material. (Joe Ross, staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

EARL SCRUGGS (w/ special guest stars) ­
I Saw The Light With Some Help From My Friends

Columbia/Legacy CK-92793
550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022 OR
            With a title that nods to the music of Hank Williams and The Beatles, "I Saw the Light with Some Help from my Friends" was an Earl Scruggs' solo album that represents a different creative era for banjo virtuoso. In 1969, Flatt & Scruggs parted ways as a result of their disagreement about repertoire and whether to include folk material into their sets. Scruggs was also looking to broaden his musical horizons. From 1971, this album gave Scruggs to team with three of his sons (aka Earl Scruggs Revue), fiddler Vassar Clements, along with popular country vocalists Linda Ronstadt (4 tracks), Tracy Nelson (5 tracks), Arlo Guthrie (3 tracks), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and some of Nashville's best studio musicians. Bob Wilson plays piano; Jody Maphis or Karl Himmel play drums; and Norman Blake appears on dobro.
            Songs are drawn from the country genre (Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings," Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," Hank Williams' "I Saw the Light"), blues (Tracy Nelson's "Motherless Child Blues") and pop (Michael Nesmith's "Some of Shelley's Blues" and "Propinquity"). The banjo is relegated to a more minor role than it played in Earl's earlier straight-ahead and classic bluegrass endeavors. I believe that the project was an effort to reach out to younger people, and Don Law's liner notes also acknowledged that "Earl Scruggs is far more than a bluegrass banjo picker." I consider the album (like the seminal 1971 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle be Unbroken" project with also featured Scruggs) to be a popular success that served to help bring a largely urban youthful audience to bluegrass.
            Like the Nitty Gritty project, "I Saw the Light with Some Help from my Friends" helped to form a new circle that would unite past and present through music. The success of albums like these were proof that different generations could respect each others' brands of music. Originally a folk singer from Wisconsin, Tracy Nelson could also belt out the blues and built her early reputation as a singer on the west coast before moving to Nashville. She appears on five tracks, but her own self-penned 1971 recording of "Motherless Child Blues" is a highlight. "Tramp on the Street," "Fireball Mail," and "The Cure" are previously unreleased cuts.
            The songs chosen range across a wide musical spectrum from folk to rock, country to pop. Cross-pollination of musical genres has its place, and listeners with eclectic interests find much to enjoy from the resulting blend. When I pour a glass of refreshing beverage at the local mini-mart, I might mix up a concoction of sweet and unsweetened ice tea, lemonade and a few shots of 7-Up. I wonder if Earl Scruggs does the same. (Joe Ross, staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

Are You Ready

Ecore Fabre Records, No number
715 E. 4th St. El Dorado, Ar.71730
TEL. 870-862-0261 OR
email (Kathey Bird)
Playing Time - 29:27
            The music of the Bird and Davis families can be traced back over 100 years to the "Champagnolle String Band" that played on local Arkansas radio in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The sub-title of this CD states "Celebrates Fifty Years in Music." Some historical background is needed. I was not familiar with Union Kun-Tree, but I knew about Bluegrass Kun-Tree. In a section about musicians who entered into bluegrass since the late 1950s, Bill Malone's book (Country Music USA) says "Joe Wilson, from Eldorado, Arkansas, and the leader of a group called Bluegrass Kun-Tree, was one of the best singers in bluegrass music, with a soulful style that somehow suggested the phrasing and emotion of two great but dissimilar stylists: Ralph Stanley and George Jones (Wilson died from a heart attack at his home in Eldorado on Sept. 14, 1984.)" Joe Wilson and Phil Breeding actually worked with Bill Malone in New Orleans (before Phil worked with Carl Sauceman who had a radio station in Gonzales, La.).
            Bluegrass Kun-Tree's previous albums include: The Salt Creek Park Winners, I Just Think I'll Go Away (Kun-Tree 001), Lonesome River (Kun-Tree 002), and Stretching Out (Ridge Runner 0029). The early LPs included Dorothy Bird (fiddle, vox), Bobby Bird (guitar, vox), Joe Wilson (banjo, vox), Gary Bird (fiddle, vox), and Phil Breeding (bass). BU reviewed their second and third albums in the 2/80 issue. Frank Godbey acknowledged that "they won the best band award at Hugo, Ok. in 8/78, have excellent singing and understated but appropriate picking, the voice of Joe Wilson is the one that stands out, their instrumental accompaniment is played in a straightforward usually tasteful, to the point, and technically above average, and their material is mostly familiar with only a couple of new choices."
            The fourth album ("Stretchin' Out") was reviewed in BU's 11/81 issue by Richard Spottswood. Besides Joe Wilson, Bobby Bird, Gary Bird & Phil Breeding, it also had Gene Wooten (dobro), Roland White (mando), Junior Knight (steel guitar), Robert Bowling (piano), Gerald Jones (drums), and Dahrell Jones (drums). Spottswood called them a "clean, professional outfit whose instrumental and vocal stylings blend nicely." He also noted that the band was blessed with a good songwriter in Bill Caswell who authored 5 songs...all nice and "kun-tree." He said that "not one song or musician stood out over the other...this indicating their hard work and much thought given to a good unified group sound."
            Finally, there's a full-length feature article about Bluegrass Kun-Tree in the 8/82 issue of BU. It was written by Arlie Metheny. Guitarist Bobby Bird talks about getting together with Mickey Davis and his cousin and forming a band in the 50s. They played on an Eldorado radio station for 4 and a half years. They played hillbilly tunes, country and country swing. Mickey Davis became the new fiddler in Bluegrass Kun-Tree, replacing twin fiddlers Gary and Dorothy Bird. Mickey's a cousin to Bobby and Gary and grew up in that area. Mickey's grandfather was a fiddler, and he took some lessons but quit. Then, a few years later, he got some lessons from a guy in Smackover. Mickey's dad was killed when Mickey was 11, and he spent a lot of time with his cousins. They formed the Chitlin Switch Roadrunners. Mickey said, "We were hot to trot. We played on the radio for awhile as kids."
            Mickey went on to major in music at Northeast State in Louisiana, had a very good teacher there, got a scholarship, and got set up in music instead of joining the Air Force like he was thinking of doing. He started teaching music and playing in a symphony orchestra in Jackson, Miss. He did studio work too. His main full-time job (for 10 mts of the year) was with a program with the symphony orchestra. As of the article in '82, he'd done that for 12 years. Summer was his off time so he could go play bluegrass. Mickey also said he was married and had a boy who played guitar and a little banjo but wasn't too interested in it. His daughter (14 at the time) was "burning up piano." Mickey started with Bluegrass Kun-Tree when Gary hurt his hand and they had a lot of festivals scheduled. (In early 1981, Gary had cut off his left ring finger with a router).
            Union Kun-Tree is the band that has evolved from this earlier Arkansas bluegrass tradition. Under this name, they have previously recorded two singles ("Daddy's Train and "Legend of Fayetteville"). The band is now Bobby Bird (guitar, vocals), Gary Bird (fiddle, vocals), Joe Wilson Jr. (banjo, vocals), Mickey Davis (fiddle), and Phil Breeding (bass). Guest musicians on "Are You Ready" include Dwight Bird (banjo), Jamie Bird (mandolin), Nick Charles (guitar, bass), and Newell Roberson (dobro). The group has been honored by the Arkansas State Legislature, and they have been nominated for the Natl. Heritage Fellowship Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award.
            "Are You Ready" is Union Kun-Tree's first of many gospel albums they plan to release. Bobby and Kathey Bird wrote the album's title song. This 29-minute release is a pleasure to hear, and the same kinds of earlier review comments hold true even today about their cohesive instrumental and vocal work. It is gratifying to see a band maintain their signature sound over the years. The fiddle work, as well as Bobby's and Joe's lead vocals, are especially noteworthy. Thanks to the higher quality recording techniques today, we are treated to an even more inspiring, optimistic and "kun-tree" experience than they gave us on the Bluegrass Kun-Tree projects of earlier days. (Joe Ross)

Squatney Records 45000
2649 N Albany, Chicago IL 60647 OR
Playing Time - 29:17
            SONGS - Train 45, C-Jam Blues, Spoonful, Banjo in the Holler, Cindy, Make Me a Pallet on the Floor, Blackberry Blossom, Columbus Stockade Blues, Old Joe Clark, Katy Kline, Ragged but Right, Orange Blossom Special
            Tangleweed is a self-professed Chicago-based "foot stompin', moonshine drinkin', bluegrass group" whose new CD, "Just a Spoonful" captures their live exuberance and energy. Ryan Fisher (banjo), Paul Wargaski (upright bass), Billy Oh (fiddle), Kenneth Rainey (mandolin), and Scott Judd (guitar) appear to share a chemistry that results in some good-time music drawing inspiration from old-time, bluegrass, jug band and swing music.
            Playing regularly since mid-2004, Tangleweed chose to record their debut live to two tracks in an empty second-floor Chicago apartment . There are no tricks, electronic wizardry, or overdubs here. For folks who like a few "warts" on their music (ie. not the slick studio productions from the dimple of the universe), Tangleweed does the trick. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Each track spans 3 minutes or less, and includes a few floorboards creaking, feet stomping, and perhaps even some heavy breathing. While this approach captures their live energy, vocals are bit hard to understand at times. My guess is that this 29-minute set was developed as both a demo CD and as a product to be sold. Their repertoire draws from standard fare in the hit parade of bluegrass, with warhorses like Train 45, Cindy, Make Me a Pallet on the Floor, Blackberry Blossom, Columbus Stockade Blues, Old Joe Clark, and Orange Blossom Special. Besides the title cut, other favorites were C-Jam Blues and Ragged but Right.
            Tangleweed has some rough edges. However, with too much polish on their chrome, Tangleweed would lose their bluegrass spunk. They're the kind of band that no doubt goes over better live than on a CD. I would imagine that they'd get plenty of people tapping their toes numbers like "Spoonful" despite its drug-related connotations. Their next project will be multi-tracked in a recording studio. Tangleweed is associated with TwangOff Records ( which offers live recordings of Chicago showcase performances just minutes after the shows. For a mere $7, Tangleweed can also be heard on the December 2004 edition of "The Homegrown Series."
            Tangleweed plays mostly watering holes, and their primary mission seems to be for everyone to have fun in their presence. This attitude will no doubt allow them to just keep getting better and better with a few more years of experience and maturity. In the meantime, they may not be quite ready for a Grammy Award, but I appreciate their spirit and ability to get the toes tapping. As they sing at track 11, they're a little ragged but they're right. Pick up a copy of "Just a Spoonful" over the Internet from (Joe Ross)

Get Myself Together

Terminus Records 0502-2
PO BOX 12260, Atlanta, Ga. 30355
Email OR OR OR
Playing Time - 42:04
            Songs - 1. Get Myself Together, 2. Rat's Ass, 3. Big Girl Blues, 4. Get Me Out of Jail, 5. Sympathy for the Devil, 6. Cumberland Gap, 7. Let Your Light Shine on Me, 8. Cut a Rug, 9. Corn Kingdom Come, 10. Wasted Mind, 11. Get it Down the Line, 12. Cat to the Rat, 13. Big Shoe
            Danny Barnes shows us how musicians can be very successful by doing more with less by treating us to rawboned arrangements of songs inspired by old-time, blues, bluegrass and jug band music. Barnes plays guitar, banjo, and even tuba on one track. Four songs have smokin' fiddle or sweet violin sawed by 19-year-old Brittany Haas. They do a particularly nice job on the banjo/fiddle rendition of the traditional "Cumberland Gap." Garey Shelton's electric bass is in the mix of four songs. With a vocal charisma characteristic of John Hartford, Norman Blake and Guy Clarke, Danny's singing and delivery have a heartwarming alt-country quality. Formerly of The Bad Livers, the multi-instrumental entertainer does a lot of solo shows as well as session work and touring with the likes of Tim O'Brien.
            "Get Myself Together" doesn't try to knock us upside the head with pretentious or ostentatious music. Rather, it has a rusticity that is immediately charming. But don't think that what Barnes does is as simple as child's play. It takes a bunch of skill to be picturesque with one's minimalist music, arranged with just a few instruments, and crossing over into so many genres. This is the meat and potatoes of Americana music.
            An old-time rendition of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" could become one of his trademark songs. But the practitioner of taste also introduces us to The Frigidairs, an imaginary multi-tracked gospel quartet comprised of Danny singing four of the five parts (Garey Shelton singing the fifth) on Blind Willie Johnson's "Let Your Light Shine on Me." Mark Graham is an interesting and whimsical tunesmith who may have written "Corn Kingdom Come" just for Barnes. Capricious lines like "I'll be the king of corn liquor, and you can be the queen of fools" are interspersed with funky guitar rhythms and flatpicked riffs.
            About half of the album are Barnes' originals, and the title cut has a swing jug band feeling to emphasize his message to "get myself together somewheres else." In "Rat's Ass," all of us should be able to relate to being driven wild by people who talk too much and just wanting a jug of Œshine. With a few chuckles along the way from the singer himself, we can tell that he had fun recording these songs. "Get Me Out of Jail" is a sorrowful tale of a guy addicted to Oxycontin. His profound countrified advice (learned in fine folkloric fashion from his daddy, or so he says) is often pretty honest and straight: "You can work in a coalmine, You can make a little moonshine, or you can get it on down the line." That seems to be a recurring theme here. People can control their own destinies, but many makes poor decisions and wind up on those highways of pain, sorrow, misery and regret. He's a good storyteller with songs like "Cat to the Rat" and "Wasted Mind," and his blues riffs on "Big Shoe" (music written by one of his collaborators, Bill Frisell) keep us thrilled. I sometimes wish that musicians didn't have to be so authentic that they strive for vintage sound complete with LP scratches. Maybe just start the song with a minute of this then seque into a cleaner sound that capitalizes on today's audio technology.
            On the surface, Danny Barnes might appear a little eccentric or disjointed like the image on this album's cover, but I know better. He's very tuned into the heart and soul of roots music, and he has the necessary skill to present it in a rollicking and gleefully pleasing style. Relocating to Seattle from Austin in 1997, the wry-witted and indefatigable Danny Barnes still has a lot of Texas outlaw sensibilities that have taken root and have found fertile soil for their growth in the Pacific Northwest. (Joe Ross)

A Bluegrass Tribute to Waylon Jennings

Rural Rhythm RHY-1023
PO BOX 660040, Arcadia, CA. 91006-004
TEL. (626)286-8742 Email OR OR
Playing Time - 37:51
            Waylon Jennings once said something to the effect that "I ain't no cowboy. I'm a country boy. I'm a hillbilly. My music ain't no Nashville sound. It's my kind of country. It's not western. It's Waylon." That, in a nutshell, might be why bluegrass renditions of his songs work well. What other genre can so delightfully tap Waylon's classic country spirit and hillbilly charm so tactfully and respectfully? Of course, we can't help but compare these bluegrass renditions to the original arrangements. Despite their promotion as "bluegrass with attitude," the North Carolina-based Shady Creek Outlaws are a little weak in the mandolin and fiddle departments which don't allow them to achieve the greatest potential from this idea. The banjo's equalization and body are also rather thin on this project.
            The Shady Creek Outlaws include J.D Prince (mandolin), Alan Chastain (guitar), Ronnie Chastain (banjo), Randy Bryant (fiddle), Dale Roberts (bass) and Wayne Bridge (guitar, dobro). What the band lacks in some instrumental prowess, they make up for in spirited vocals handled by J.D., Ronnie and Alan. The Chastain brothers were the core impetus for the band's formation. Ronnie started performing at age 17, but it wouldn't be until he turned 45 that he and his brothers, Alan and Odell, formed "Shady Creek." They put out a CD, played small local venues, and also booked some festivals in Tennessee. It was at the 2003 Cherokee Jamboree's Battle of the Bands that they met Jody Prince and shortly thereafter formed The Shady Creek Outlaws. The foundation of their outlaw bluegrass sound is "just feeling the music."
            The Outlaws pick some classic Waylon to cover: Good Old Boys, Never Could Toe the Mark, Good Hearted Woman, I'm A Ramblin' Man, Lucille, and the great tribute to Hank Williams, Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way. The latter was a minor pop hit for Waylon in 1974. How does one choose which songs to put on a tribute album? There are a couple that I wish The Outlaws would've worked up ­ My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, Luchenbach Texas, Belle of the Ball, Amanda, Lonesome Onry and Mean are the ones that immediately come to mind. Perhaps another volume is forthcoming. I understand from label President Sammy Passamano Jr. that this album is the first in a new series from Rural Rhythm Records entitled "Fresh Cutgrass." Tribute albums seems to be catching on, and they are being used as vehicles to introduce many to bluegrass music in general. Waylon Jennings is a legend who left an idelible mark on the American country music scene. At only age 64, he died on 2/13/02 as a result of complications of diabetes. While the Shady Creek Outlaws venture is a novel idea, I'm not sure that they'll make much noise or have much impact with this tribute. For fans of Waylon's music and bluegrass, it will end up making a nice curio in one's music collection for folks who'd like to hear his music done in a slightly different manner. (Joe Ross)


Epic EK 92026
Sonynashville.comn OR OR
Playing Time ­ 46:17
            Chad Cromwell's pounding drums and Glenn Worf's throbbing bass lay the foundation and set the stage for Miranda Lambert's explosive music that has country, pop, rock and even a few bluegrass sensibilities. The talented and beautiful young lady was on the first season of USA Network's "Nashville Star" show when Buddy Jewell won. Now she's a Sony recording artist, and her successful singles, the upbeat "Me and Charlie Talking" and sad "Greyhound Bound For Nowhere" got much airplay and kept the buzz about Miranda buzzing. It just goes to show that she can cover many emotions in her strong vocalizing. Besides singing with style and verve, what's equally amazing is that she is an astonishing songwriter too. She wrote or co-wrote eleven of the twelve singles on "Kerosene," collaborating with one of her "Nashville Star" competitors (Travis Howard) on "Bring Me Down" and "Mama, I'm Alright." Howard wrote "I Can't Be Bothered," a two-stepping honky tonk tune that serves as an especially nice showcase for the steel and electric guitars. Although they didn't immediately take to each other, Howard and Lambert developed a bond after sitting around playing each other's songs on guitar. Miranda wrote "What About Georgia" about Howard in response song to his "Train Wreck," a less than flattering song written about Lambert.
            Miranda Lambert is only 21, and she's taking her time to do things right. She understands that the road to stardom is a long, uphill climb that involves much hard work and some luck. While her music has pop leanings, I can appreciate that her musical interests also include blues, ballads and alt-country vibes. A taste of mandolin (Randy Scruggs), banjo (Mike Wrucke), harmonica, and even jaw harp sneak into some of the full mixes. That down-home feeling is what helps make "Me and Charlie Talking" a favorite cut on the project. It also has a simple, upbeat heartfelt message that tells a story about friends growing up. In true collaborative fashion, Miranda and her guitar-picking father took turns for 3 hours on a rainy night writing alternate lines for "Greyhound Bound for Nowhere" about a woman on a bus thinking about her lover and his girlfriend.
            From Texas, Miranda was singing in talent shows by age 10. High school choir and an interest in the music of Mariah Carey led to a Tru-Valu Talent Search Contest in April, 2000 at age 16. She started playing guitar and writing songs by age 17. Her father taught her five guitar chords, and Miranda wrote ten songs. A small budget independent record and playing throughout Texas with her band, Texas Pride, got her thinking more and more about pursuing a music career. A couple songs landed on the Texas music charts. Nashville Star was next She first competed in Dallas, but didn't make the top 30 out of 250 participants. Lambert sang Shania Twain's "Still the One," a song not well-suited for her voice. Then she competed in Houston and won by singing "Crazy," along with two originals from her indie album, "Lyin' Here" and "Somebody Else." In the Nashville finals, she came in third with the judges commenting on her great look, sparkle, voice, and confidence.
            "Kerosene" is some very combustible material that is sure to explode and launch Miranda Lambert's career to even greater heights. Light up Miranda's music, and watch her burst upon the country music scene. (Joe Ross)

Ultimate Pickin' ­
The Best of Instrumental Bluegrass

Pinecastle PRC 1147
PO Box 753, Columbus, NC 28722
Playing Time ­ 67:30
            Songs - Clinch Mountain Backstep 2 Forked Deer 3 Sally Ann 4 Done Gone 5 I'll Fly Away 6 Maggie Blues 7 Foggy Mountain Special 8 St. Anne's Reel 9 Roanoke 10 Steel Guitar Rag 11 Louisville Breakdown 12 Home Sweet Home 13 Leather Britches 14 Jesse James 15 Come Along Jody 16 Little Rock Getaway 17 Hot Burrito Breakdown 18 Red Apple Rag 19 Jerusalem Ridge 20 Dear Old Dixie
            Derived from the various Bluegrass '90s albums that the Pinecastle label released, "Ultimate Pickin'" features Jeff Autry (guitar), Wayne Benson (mandolin), Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Scott Vestal (banjo) and Mark Schatz (bass). Rickie Simpkins also plays fiddle on half dozen cuts. Rob Ickes plays resophonic guitar on 14 of 20 tracks, and Randy Kohrs plays on the remaining six tracks. Although most of the tracks are staples of the bluegrass repertoire, these players are able to impart their own stylistic interpretations and breathe new life into them. For example, the bouncing tempo and key changes in "I'll Fly Away" are a pleasant surprise as the breaks get handed around. "Roanoke" is given the barn-burning treatment. As a matter of personal taste, I prefer one tune ("Red Apple Rag") at a more moderate tempo. The original CD releases from the 90s had two accompanying AcuTab transcription books (Scott Vestal's banjo and Wayne Benson's mandolin).
            These guys are all the cream of the crop ­ musicians' musicians who have earned our respect for their great session and performance work over the years. I can tell that they had fun jamming up these tunes, and I can almost see their joy and creativity being exuded at the sessions. For a little motivation or inspiration, one need only put on a few minutes of this super picking. As hot and clean as their picking is, I can't help but think that a little more harmony might've embellished the project.
            Drawn from the famed but sadly out-of-print "Bluegrass 96-99" series, this is the first time many of these 20 tunes have been available in years. Produced by Scott Vestal, this "ultimate" disc is truly worth of it's "Best of Š" moniker and is incomparably good. Absolutely extreme instrumental bluegrass favorites at their best! For their next challenge, I'd like to see them assemble the same pickers and give us 20 more tunes, new less-oft-heard ones that we can embrace as the 21st Century's standards. (Joe Ross)

THE MOVIE (Soundtrack from the motion picture)

Penny Jar Records, No number
Playing Time - 63:05
            1. Fly, 2. Ole John Bell (the Witches Curse), 3. The Dreams We Dream, 4. Dead and Gone, 5. Mountain Way of Life, 6. Foundation, 7. Shady Grove, 8. I Remember, 9. Jacob Spence, 10. Leave Well Enough , Alone, 11. Blind Beggar, 12. Will the Circle Be Unbroken, 13. Make New Choices, 14. Wade in the Water, 15. Wayfaring Stranger, 16. The Sentence, 17. Want You Gonna Do, 18. Talk About Surfering, 19. Amazing Grace
            Over the years, some phenomenal bluegrass marketing and growth has been directly correlated with the music being used in movie and television soundtracks. Bell Witch premiered as a movie on September 24, 2005 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. On BGRASS-L, musician Kraig Smith posted a humorous account of twelve people cramming into a limo which comfortably seated 10 for the movie's premier. The soundtrack showcases music from Jimbo Whaley, Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike, Jeannette Williams Band, Jeff and Vida Band, Wells Family, and Becky Buller. Interestingly, the movie's premiere broadcast via satellite in full-bandwidth high definition video to over 80 theaters throughout the U.S. That's a first for bluegrass music.
            In a story that documents a terrifying, supernatural event in the 1800s, the Bell Witch ("Kate") haunted a pioneer family, murdered patriarch John Bell, and inflicted a reign of terror throughout the Tennessee countryside. The bluegrass soundtrack draws heavily from artists on the Bell Buckle record label (in Bell Buckle, Tn.) that has built a reputation for being able to tap into an authentic mountain consciousness with their original synthesis of old-time and bluegrass sounds. The soundtrack doesn't feature any instrumentals, but it instead focuses primarily on ballads that bring plenty of apparitions to musical life. Because of its emphasis on lyrics, I wish that at least 6 panels of the fold-out 18-panel CD insert would have included a majority of key original song lyrics written by the artists.
            I particularly take to Becky Buller's five compositions on the project and have always felt that she shows great potential for being a regular contributor to the bluegrass canon in the generation ahead. "Blind Beggar" and "Leave Well Enough Alone" were favorites, largely as a result of their juxtaposition of old-time instrumental wok with very pleasing contemporary and bluesy vocal stylings. "Ole John Bell" documents the witch's curse, and Valerie Smith and Becky Buller do a nice job presenting Kate's theme song in rawboned fashion with only vocals and fiddle as the ghost comes to curse, claim and torment Bell's "worthless soul." Smith's "Jacob Spence" is a lonesome murder ballad that masterfully captures the cold, dank feeling of serving a 20-year prison sentence.
            Debi Wells' "Make New Choices" is given an a capella treatment. Jimbo Whaley also plays a big role as songsmith, leader of the band Greenbrier, and even in the movie itself. Whaley's originals "Fly," "The Foundation," "The Sentence," and "The Dreams We Dream" are standouts. With the instrumentalists being challenged, "Fly" captures a boy's flight through a neighbor's cornfields. The latter is a sensitive song subtitled as the Bell Witch love song that alludes to the many joys of sweet and tender togetherness. Mandolinist Jeff Burke and guitarist Vida Wakeman (of the Jeff and Vida Band) harmonize well together and offer up some nice renditions of "Dead and Gone" and "Shady Grove." "Dead and Gone" asks for certain compassion and consideration when one's time comes to go. Johnny Williams' uptempo "What You Gonna Do" gets the toes tapping. As far as vocals on the soundtrack, Jeanette Williams is a standout on "I Remember." Some of the other vocalists sing with raw or gritty character and sentiments.
            Kraig Smith speculated that the movie premier was somewhat like "a duck on a pond, cruising serenely on the surface, but paddling like heck underwater." The Bell Witch movie soundtrack is a big coup for these artists. It may not have the same impact as "O Brother, Where Art Thou," but it certainly shows that bluegrass music belongs in the movies on a much more regular basis. (Joe Ross)

Some Days This Place is a Zoo

No label, No number
PO Box 7281, Louisville KY 40257
Playing Time ­ 44:04
            Tap the ethos of your inner child. Akin to a number of Dilbert cartoons being put to music, it's hard not to immediately start chuckling when Bob Mitchell sings his humorous music about office and home. Because I spend much of the daylight hours in a cube myself, I took to many of his messages like a mallard takes to a pond. Opening with "Stressed Out Blues," Mitchell evokes much of the same kind of emotional spirit that Hank Williams did with "Honky Tonk Blues." Mitchell's blues are related to not earning enough dough, a memo with forty more things to do, computers going down, budget cuts, and even his own in-service training where he performs these ditties.
            Mitchell has been a bluegrass fan for about fifty years. He's a guitarist, author, social worker, seminar leader, keynote speaker, and an album reviewer for Louisville Music News. Although primarily into traditional bluegrass, he incorporates a little electric guitar, percussion and piano into some of his honky tonk and blues arrangements on numbers such as "I'm Going Where It's Peaceful." Some other favorites are "Will there be any Meetings in Heaven?" "The Whole World's on My Back," "Give Me that Old Time Depression," and "Tons of Paperwork." The melodies are familiar for many of Mitchell's songs. "Back to the Old Grindstone" takes its melody from "Sitting on Top of the World" as Bob sings "Was in the spring one sunny day, I got my check, two weeks of pay, It won't last long, I should have known, So it's back to the old grindstone." When "Has Anybody Seen the Nurse?," is up (written to the tune of "Five Foot Two"), it's very apparent that medical professionals can relate to such lines as "Change the sheets, eat those beets! Run the halls with swollen feet. Has anybody seen the nurse? Takes some blood, urine too, lots of fun things she can do. Has anybody seen the nurse?" The title cut uses the melody of "Mountain Dew" and the song stops and goes with corny one-liners in hee-haw fashion. Lyrics for his songs can be found on his website. While there aren't any vocal harmonies, the uncredited instrumental accompaniment is solid and pleasing.
            Music is a great way to relax and humorously deal with stress and burnout. In fact, Bob Mitchell reminds us to not take things too seriously. Laughter has been shown to be great medicine. If you don't want to experience side effects of drugs, try singing along with Bob instead. His album is a ray of sunshine in a world that takes itself much too seriously. And, even as an overworked album reviewer, I relate to his perceptive insight that "This job of mine sure is fun. At the end of a day I'm never done. The real problem is my brain's gone numb. The whole world's on my back!" (Joe Ross)


No label, no number
c/o Frank Wolking, 67449 Highway #69, Westcliffe CO 81252 TEL. 719-783-3351
Playing Time - 52:02
            Songs: 1. Oh Captain My Captain 2. Measure of a Man 3. Up on the Divide 4. Diamond Joe 5. She 6. Old Ebenezer Scrooge 7. Rodeo Hobo 8. Turn to Jesus 9. Orphan Train 10. Vaquero Joe 11. Lights of Cheyenne 12. Sweet Hour of Prayer
            Based in Westcliffe, Colorado, the Sons and Brothers' new album, "WestGrass" focuses on acoustic and gospel material that draws upon life experience and history. There are references to horses, mountains and cowboys that evoke images of their rural Rocky Mountain home. Guitar/mandolinist Frank Woking and his three sons, Mike (guitar, dobro), Aaron (acoustic bass guitar) and Joe (mandolin, fiddle), draw songs from the traditional sources, Bill Monroe, Mike Flemming, Gram Parsons/Chris Ethridge, Martha Scanlon, Mike Flemming/Les Buffham, Bruce Phillips, E. Smith and Jack Murphy. The album opens with "Oh Captain, My Captain," a Walt Whitman poem put to music by Joe Woking, who also put his pen to work composing the high-stepping instrumental "Vaquero Joe." Their audio quality is a slight bit bassy on this piece, and some of their vocals seem to have been mixed in the studio with a little much compression. A telltale sign of this is when breaths can be heard regularly folowing each phrase. Like their late-2003 release called "Hold Fast," the Sons and Brothers display their many energetic facets of vocal and instrumental prowess on primarily slower to moderate tempo'ed songs that tell stories. Long-time friend and band supporter Ron Thomason (of Dry Branch Fire Squad) guests with twin mandolin on "Old Ebenezer Scrooge."
            In the region around their town of 300 at the base of Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the charismatic Sons and Brothers are well known. Started in 1998 as a Christian music band, their eclectic presentation deserves a much wider listen. Besides gospel, the band shows tinges of country, bluegrass, folk, western and old-time mountain inspiration. Being out West and playing "WestGrass," they may have more freedom to push their musical envelope beyond any imaginary boundaries imposed by traditional practitioners of a genre. Herein lies their strength ­ an ability to not be constrained. The band also puts considerable effort into arrangng their music to make it their own. They simply are building a reputation for being talented, young, professional acousticians with a diverse repertoire that is sure to please audiences made up of folks with many interests. They are touring farther afield, even to Europe, and introducing more and more people to their tasty blend of WestGrass music. (Joe Ross)


No label, No number
Boulder, CO. 80304
Playing Time - 43:39
            SONGS - 1. Bluff's Collar, 2. Master of the Ages,3. When I'm 64, 4. Sorrento Waltz, 5. Moo Old Cow, 6. Warbonnet, 7. Beyond the Blue, 8. The Narrows, 9. Samba de Orpheus, 10. A Footlight Favorite, 11. Civilization, 12. Lullaby Lucy
            Ever since Earl Scruggs emerged on the scene, others' able hands have taken the banjo on incredible musical journeys into new territory. To that effect, Jake Schepps is also a pioneer with his banjo tunes. Guys like him reinforce the great potential of the five-string, and they make it look too easy. "Expedition," the title of his independent self-released album indicates that he knows where he's headed with his music, but I believe that his purpose is also one of exploration. From Colorado, Schepps and his muscial friends demonstrate an affinity for new acoustic, swing, ragtime, jazz, Latin and bluegrass.
            Jake assembled some high powered string wizards from various musical walks of life to assist: Greg Schochet (mandolin, guitar), Ivan Rosenberg (dobro), Eric Thorin (bass), Ross Martin (guitar), Gabe Witcher (fiddle), Kailin Yong (fiddle), Benny Galloway (guitar, vocals), Jeff Hamer (guitar, vocals), and James Hoskins (cello). These artists have made significant marks on bluegrass, country, swing, honky tonk, salsa, Flamenco/Indian, classical, jazz and new acoustic scenes. Schochet, for example, has performed with Runaway Truck Ramp, All Night Honky Tonk All-Stars and Greenwich Gulch. Rosenberg has played with Steel String Theory, Hit & Run Bluegrass, Chris Stuart & Backcountry, Iron Lasso, and The Creek Jumpers. Thorin toured with the Tony Furtado Band for four years and currently plays with Open Road. For the past six years, Denver-based Ross Martin has worked with The Theory of Everything, Mollie O'Brien, Ron Miles, Tony Furtado Band, The Motet, Nina Storey, Matt Flinner Quartet, Three Twins, Greenwich Gulch and others. Jeff Hamer is with The Single Malt Band and Great American Taxi. This array of experience gives some idea of the talent that's on-board Schepps' Expedition that was originally inspired by a Strength in Numbers performance at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
            Schepps' current project is the Strings of Tao, an ensemble with two violins, cello and banjo, playing original music, Brazilian choro tunes, fiddle tunes, and beyond. Prior to that, Jake spent 9 years leading trips for The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), and teaching emergency wilderness medicine courses around the world. During this intervening outdoor work, Jake has been a guest on stage with Leftover Salmon, Yonder Mountain String Band, Runaway Truck Ramp, Hit and Run, Shanti Groove, Greenwich Gulch, Element 37, and Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band. Jake is a frequent contributor to Banjo Newsletter, and is currently working on an advanced instruction manual for the 5-string banjo.
            "Expedition" features six instrumental originals, and six other tracks unique to the string-band setting, including two previously unrecorded Benny Galloway songs. The instrumental work really shines, with "Lullaby Luck," "When I'm 64," and "Samba de Orfeus" being standouts. "Warbonnet" has a recurring theme that illuminates the tasty original composition. The three vocal numbers are the weakest cuts, mostly because they seem a bit out of place overall and Galloway's singing is an acquired taste. While this is a banjo-centric album, it's also full of many stellar guitar, mandolin, cello, resophonic guitar, and bass moments that sit nicely throughout the arrangements. The exploration covers a gamut of tonal discovery and textural artistic expression. With his Nechville banjo in hand, Jake Schepps takes us on a very exhilarating ride. (Joe Ross)


Bell Buckle Records BBR-016 OR
Playing Time - 38:11
            1. 1-800-Lonesome, 2. Down Hearted, 3. Take Your Love And Go, 4. Shutters of My Heart, 5. Love Me or Leave Me Alone, 6. Trail of the Old Lonesome, 7. Never See Mama or Daddy Again, 8. Sweethearts in Heaven, 9. Perfect Joy, 10. Sailor's Regret, 11. Round Woods, 12. You Don't Love Me Anymore, 13. I Cling To Your Memory, 14. When The Blue Ridge Turns To Red & Gold
            Both Jeanette and Johnny Williams' lead vocals have a dynamic force and magnetic charm that reveal a natural inclination for honest, sincere messages in their largely original songs. The perfect backdrop for these vocals is the melodious instrumental accompaniment. Songs with beautiful, life-affirming tales are the fare of 1-800-LONESOME, the title cut written by Tom T. and Dixie Hall. "Down Hearted" was also penned by the same team. Being featured on Prime Cuts of Bluegrass, Volume 71, brought the composition some good airplay and DJ feedback from around the world.
            Johnny Williams is an award winning singer and songwriter from Virginia. He took first place in the bluegrass division of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest in 1998 and 1999. Besides with The Jeanette Williams Band, Johnny's songs have been recorded by Rambler's Choice, New Classic Grass, Larry Stephenson, Honi Deaton & Dream, and Special Consensus. As President of the Dan River Region Bluegrass Association, he works tirelessly to promote the music there.
            Although this is guitarist/singer Johnny Williams' debut project, it is really another Jeanette Williams Band project with Jeanette (bass, vocals), Marsha Bowman (banjo), Stephen Fraleigh (fiddles), and Ashby Frank (mandolin) prominently featured throughout. Sally Jones sings baritone on the title cut. The band imparts some powerful intensity on a number of songs, with their straightforward drive being most apparent on "Sweethearts in Heaven," a song written by Buck Owens.
            With other songs written by Tom T. and Dixie Hall, Ron Spears, Jimmy Haley, Jeremy Garrett, and Bill Bryson, 1-800-LONESOME picks some material with compelling narratives. The album comes to a close with the songcrafting of Johnny taking the spotlight. Four of the last five cuts on the CD were penned by Johnny. "Sailor's Regret" is a tale of sorrow with the refrain "this ol' country boy is afraid of dying at sea." Marsh Bowman's clawhammer banjo set an old-time stage for an instrumental "Round Woods." "I Cling to Your Memory" has a slower _ time, and the band wisely incorporates Fraleigh's twin fiddles to give it a plaintive mournfulness so characteristic of bluegrass of the lonesome variety. To close the album, Johnny sings "When the Blue Ridge Turns to Red and Gold," a tale of returning home to one's true love. (Joe Ross)

Without Maps or Charts

TEL. (303)818-3811
Playig Time - 41:08
            Hit & Run Bluegrass' second CD, "Without Maps or Charts," is a welcome continuation of the enchanting repertoire of this Colorado-based band formed in 2001. Solidly one of the most engaging and dynamic co-ed bluegrass bands on the scene, they've already won the band contests at Rockygrass, Telluride and the SPBGMA International Band Championship in Nashville. Their hard travelling, touring, and marketing of this project make them a cut above the rest of the many indie bluegrass artists trying to make a bigger name for themselves. I surprised that this band hasn't landed a record label contract yetŠor perhaps they have and are just depending on theor own moxie to succeed. Kenny & Amanda Smith helped with the production of their second release which was priamrily recorded in Charlotte, NC. Their signature sound is "authentic-yet-modern" bluegrass. Compared to ther debut, I must admit to slightly missing guest fiddler Aubrey Haynie in the mix of their second project.
            Each of the band's musicians bring some impressive skills to the cohesive unit. Guitarist Rebecca Hoggan is originally from Virgina and has expert command of flatpicking and singing. Covering an old favorite of hers from Bonnie Raitt in the 1970s, she sings theopener "Any Day Woman" written by Paul Seibel. Hoggan composed and sings "Why Does This Old Town Look Better Now," and she sings lead on two other songs that come from Lisa Aschmann & Ellen Britton, and Danny Shafer. Todd Livingston is the 2001 Rockygrass Dobro Champion. John Frazier's mandolin and fiddle playing, as well as singing, are very proficient, and he contributes the well-penned original songs "Home is Where I'll Ever Be" and "Lockdown for your Love." He also wrote additional lyrics for and sings lead on the traditional "Flying in the Wind" (frm Hobart Smith's "Cuckoo's Song" on an Alan Lomax recording). Aaron Youngberg is a banjo champion who hails from Fort Collins, Co. Such as on "Flying in the Wind," his rolls are crisp, clean, syncopated exactly when necessary. Erin Coats, from Wyoming, is only in her early 20s, but she's been playing bass since age nine. The stalwart vocalist sings lead on four numbers, including a barn-burning rendition of Ralph Stanley's "Highway of Regret" to close the album and show their support and respect for the first generation of bluegrass (something they always do in every show). Only banjo and fiddle accompany the duo of Erin and Rebecca on the traditional "Single Girl."
            Among the most promising young bands in the nation today, Hit & Run Bluegrass has clearly emerged as a major force in the market as they introduce a younger demographic to their large body of original music. At the same time, they've managed an enchanting magnetic sound that also thrills long-standing bluegrass fans who simply know and enjoy good bluegrass. Th band members are focused on their goals, and they maintain a heavy touring schedule in support of their self-released ablums. Their greatest may be yet to come. I was happy to see lyrics included in the CD jacket. Without the need for maps or charts, Hit & Run's compass is taking them to great success. (Joe Ross)

Tone Poets (2 CDs)

Acoustic Disc ACD-62
Box 4143, San Rafael, CA 94913 TEL. 800-221-3472 OR (415) 454-1187
CD1 Solos (57:37), CD2 Duos (57:31)
            SONGS ­ DISC # 1 Solos: Blue Bells of Scotland, I Thought About You, Corrente in D Minor, Ananas Africain, Jimmy Fell Off the Wagon, Down in the Willow Garden, Spring Break, Gypsy Playland, Backin' Playwards, Ruben's Train, Cherokee, Improvisation No. 1, Joyful Variations, Afternoon Rag, Song for Meghan, Ave Maria
            DISC #2 Duos: You Are My Flower, Impromptu, Glen Rock, Lost Highway, Cochichando, Were You There, F-5 Riddle Blues, Constant Lowdown, Moonlight in Vermont, Hattie & Jenelle, The North Shore, Old Dangerfield, Waltz for the Underworld, The Old South, Blues for Vassar
            Good tone is all about what sounds good to one's ears and when the instrument sounds full with plenty of depth in the notes. They ring out in clarion fashion and sustain. An instrument's player and their technique determine tone, but the instrument must be reasonably well-made also. Hearing good tone is a rather subjective exercise because people hear tone differently. One musician's priorities may be different than another's. Sounding nice should be the main objective and not necessarily playing a lot of notes or technically challenging material. As an experiment to investigate tone, David Grisman assembled a number of gifted musical poets able to express beautiful and lyrical music. What a great idea that both titillates and stimulates our aural sense. The lean arrangements result in splendid clarity on an entire body of music that is both relaxing and ethereal largely because tone is often best captured and demonstrated in slower selections.
            The 2-CD set features a stellar cast of mandolinists and guitarists who all performed and recorded over a 4-year period on the same vintage 1922 Gibson "Lloyd Loar" F-5 mandolin and 1933 Martin OM-45 guitar. The mandolin is affectionately nicknamed "Crusher," and the orchestra model guitar was produced for only five years in the 1930s and was chosen for its ringing treble. The same microphones were also used (Neumann KM-84s for the mandolin; Neumann KM-84 and KM-85 for the guitar), and recording was done directly to the same _" 2-track analog Ampex ATR-100 tape recorder. No equalization was added during recording. Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes both used a metal nut to temporarily convert the OM-45 to a slide guitar. Tone Poets is a continuation of the Acoustic Disc label's successful Tone Poems projects that explored the unique relationship between musician and instrument.
            Besides Dawg himself, the contributing tone poets (42 altogether) include David Bromberg, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, John Jorgenson, Mike Marshall, Ronnie & Del McCoury, Tony Rice, Andy Statman, Bryan Sutton, Tim O'Brien, Frank Vignola, Chris Thile, Don Stiernberg and Frank Wakefield. I was a little sad to see only one woman (17-year-old Eva Scow) included, but she wasn't the youngest player invited to participate. That honor goes to 16-year-old mandolin prodigy Jacob Henry Jolliff of Forest Grove, Or.
            As Grisman offers in the liner notes of the 28-page well-illustrated CD booklet, "It ain't the car, it's the driver!" Disc one alternates solo mandolin and guitar pieces. What is so exhilarating is that each player's techniques (whether using flatpick, fingerpicks, duo stylings, slides or bare fingers, standard or alternate tunings) are a sheer treat to experience by these masters. Multiple genres of music are also represented in the pieces chosen. There is classical, bluegrass, blues, jazz, gypsy jazz, hymns, traditional folk, Brazilian, and new acoustic. I am reluctant to pick a few favorite selections because every single one demonstrates penetrating virtuosity and innovation. The 15 duos on disc two range from Tim O'Brien and Bryan Sutton playing "You Are My Flower" to David Grisman and Tony Rice closing nearly an hour later with a 7-minute rendition of "Blues for Vassar." Tone Poets is creative artistry at its very best. As with an earlier Tone Poem project, I wonder if a companion book of music and/or tablature for the Tone Poets project would be possible. I'd love to hear another volume in the Tone Poets series, and it could even include one disc of trios and one of quartets. (Joe Ross)

Baby Girl

CMH CD-8969
PO Box 39439, Los Angeles, CA. 90039 OR OR
Playing Time - 43:36
            SONGS - Baby Girl, Who Will Sing For Me, The Fields Have Turned Brown, The Memory of Your Smile, She's More To Be Pitied, How Mountain Girls Can Love, Harbor of Love, White Dove, Train 45, The Angels are Singing in Heaven Tonight, Two Sides to a Story, Jesus is Precious, The Lonesome River, Dream of a Miner's Child.
            Subtitled "A Tribute To My Father Carter Stanley," this project features the lead singing of Jeanie Stanley who was only four years old when her father passed away on December 1, 1966 at age 41. Life on the road was hard, and the emotional and physical strain took its toll. Until his end, Carter sang with strength, feeling and conviction, and those same qualities are what his daughter Jeanie builds into her singing. Jeanie's uncle (Ralph Stanley) and cousin (Ralph Stanley II) also sing lead on a couple numbers. Vocal accompaniment is by Joe Isaacs (a long-time family friend who also produced the album), Stacy York (a member of Joe Isaac's band) and John Rigsby (former mandolin and fiddle player for Dr. Ralph Stanley). This recording includes two songs written by Carter Stanley which have never been recorded entitled, "Two Sides To A Story" and "Jesus Is Precious." The latter is sung acappella by Ralph Stanley. The album closer, "Dream of a Miner's Child" has Jeanie's voice mixed with her father's which was recorded live at the 1961 Chicago Folk Festival. Some favorite selections are the trios (like "The Fields Have Turned Brown") that have Jeanie singing with Ralph Stanley and John Rigsby. Stacy York and Joe Isaacs also sing harmonies on other cuts. "Harbor of Love" is the only quartet. I'm sure glad that Jeanie chose the mournful "Lonesome River" and "The Angels are Singing." I wouldn't have minded if she had included the classic "A Vision of Mother." Jeanie agreed with me that was one song that she wished now she had included, even if it had to make a 15th song.
            The instrumental accompaniment is provided by the Clinch Mountain Boys, and they do a fantastic job. They feel it and play it in the old-time mountain way. Stacy York provides some solid harmonizing. The 16-page CD booklet has liner notes by Gary B. Reid, as well as many interesting photographs. None is as touching as the cover photo of Carter and Jeanie as a toddler, and when she closes with "O daddy, dear daddy please don't go away, I never could live without you." Ralph had to prove it could be done, not only with the passing of Carter but another of his lead singers, Roy Lee Centers, a few years later. Now resting in the old Smith Family graveyard in McClure, Va., Carter Stanley is a guardian from on high.
            Ralph Stanley provided emotional support, encouragement and wisdom to help Jeanie realize this dream. Ralph says "I'm proud of it. It's good, it's a piece of history and people are gonna' love it." Carter would have been so proud of his "baby girl," and the tribute album also acknowledges the role that Jeanie's mother, Mary, played in remembering Carter and his music. Jeanie sings with rustic mountain twang and powerful delivery that reminds me a bit of Rose Maddox. I'm sure that it was moving experience for all of the musicians to work on this tribute album. The timeless music's sung right, done right, and has the proper feeling for a daughter's tribute to her eloquent songwriting, guitar-picking and singing father. With mountain soul, this album hits you right in the gut. As Jack Cooke would say, they keep it mountainous. (Joe Ross)

New Moon

Fifty Fifty Music FFM 105
111 East 14th St., #300, New York, NY 10003
Tel. (212)366-5982 or (505)856-7100 OR OR OR
Playing Time - 42:24
            SONGS - 1. Oh, Lady Be Good 2. Lonely Moon 3. Listen To The Radio 4. Empty Pages 5. Twenty Six Daughters 6. Bury Me Beneath The Willow 7. Sit Down Servant 8. Dusty Miller / Ride The Wild Turkey 9. Blue Chalk 10. Blue Yodel No. 4 11. Orphan Girl 12. Baby I Love You
            How time flies. Northern Lights, a Boston band, can trace its roots to late-1975 when a good-time bar band decided to get seriously into progressive bluegrass music. For awhile (1977-81), the band was called "String Fever" (Taylor Armerding, Bob Emery, Rex Waters, Steve Arkin). Over the years, they've stayed on course, always providing their own interpetive twists to their defining music. While Taylor Armerding (mandolin, vocals) is no longer with them, another long-time member, Bill Henry, is keeping the Northern Lights shining brightly with some engaging acoustic music centered around strong mandolin, guitar, banjo, bass and vocals. Besides Taylor Armerding, other band alumni now include such superior players as Bob Emery, Jake Armerding (Taylor's son), Alison Brown (a member in the early 1980s when she attended Harvard), Mike Kropp, Richard Hand, Oz Barron, Jeff Horton, and Chris Miles. Many are continuing to pursue music full-time in other situations.
            In the band's early days of the 1970s and 1980s, they recorded for Revonah. In the 1990s, award-winning Northern Lights put out three great projects on the Flying Fish label. Their songs found their way into Bluegrass Unlimited's National Bluegrass Survey. After their signing with Red House Records in 1996, Northern Lights put out "Living in the City" with its eclectic mix of folk, rock, gospel and original music. 2000 found the band on the Prime CD (now called Fifty Fifty Music) label that released "Three August Nights Live" with Vassar Clements in 2000, and "Another Sleepless Night" in 2001. Bill Henry released a solo album, "Red Sky" in 2002.
            "New Moon" is a remarkable project with many stellar moments that marks guitarist/vocalist Bill Henry's new association with some fresh talent, all very experienced in the new acoustic genre. The lineup also consisting of Ben Demerath (vocals, guitar, mandolin), Dave Dick (banjo, mandolin, harmony vocals), and John Daniel (bass, harmony vocals) may be one of Northern Lights' best configurations ever. Dave Dick (Salamander Crossing) started playing mandolin and banjo with Northern Lights in early-2000. John Daniel (Brooks Williams) has been with the group since mid-2002. In mid-2003, Taylor Armerding left to pursue other musical endeavors, and Ben Demerath (Sugarbeat) joined up.
            With the new line-up, the band has less emphasis on original material, but they wisely choose and arrange covers that sit nicely within their large envelope. Songs come from the likes of George Gershwin, Nanci Griffith, Steve Winwood, John Gorka, Gillian Welch, traditional sources and others. Their vocal showcases are the gospel "Sit Down Servant," "Lonely Moon" and "Empty Pages." It seemed a little odd for these four guys to be singing "Orphan Girl," but their lean arrangement is solid. Ben Demerath's original "Twenty Six Daughters" is an impressive number that builds with euphonious zeal as the vocals interplay with lyrical riffs. While typically done by strong female vocalists, Shannon Roosevelt's "Baby I Love You" is given an interesting Northern Lights arrangement full of emotional electricity. Jimmy Rodgers' "Blue Yodel No. 4" is presented with gusto. "Dusty Miller/Ride the Wild Turkey" demonstrates an instrumental bridge as the band drives traditional and contemporary roads. Past album projects have incorporated guest fiddlers, and that instrument was missed to a slight degree on "New Moon." However, the bottomline is that these four gifted veterans are both resonant and rousing with their new acoustic music. (Joe Ross)

The Last Train

Rising Son Records RSR9501-2
10741 US Hwy 1, Sebastian, FL. 32958 OR OR
INFO: Lisa Kay Howard OR OR
Northwest Hills, CT USA Playing Time ­ 29:58
            Songs - 1. If It Were Up To Me, 2. Gold Plated Love, 3. The Last Train, 4. I Had A Dream, 5. Take Me Back, 6. The River, 7. Snicker Doodle, 8. Pennies A Day, 9. Snake River Hoedown, 10. The Road That Never Ends
            A member of Arlo Guthrie's group for over three years, multi-instrumentalist Gordon Titcomb starts his debut solo project with a leisurely ballad, "If It Were Up to Me," but by the second track, "Gold Plated Love," Titcomb and Co. are into high-octane bluegrass. That song is catchy with the hook "your gold plated love turned my ring finger green." The title cut is a train song that mentions the City of New Orleans, Wabash Cannonball, Midnight Flyer, and Lonesome Freight Train. It sadly was arranged without any mournful harmonies on the chorus, but the strength of this project is Titcomb's emphasis on originals that cover many musical moods from folk, bluegrass and country inspiration. Besides his own lyrical twists, he does this by incorporating a little piano and viola ("I Had a Dream"), some accordion ("The River") and his musical consciousness takes him more into folkgrass territory. Gordon also has a witty side that he captures in "Pennies a Day," a cute country song driven by the walking bass line.
            Best known for his work on mandolin and pedal steel, Titcomb is also a solid guitar, dobro and banjo player. Fine examples of his picking pyrotechnics are found in the banjo breaks on "Gold Plated Love" and "Snake River." Gordon's high-octane mandolin break on "Snicker Doodle" would easily bring up prices at the pump. I was impressed with Gordon's all star musical guest list for the album: Arlo Guthrie, Mike Auldridge, Bill Keith, Mark Schatz, Frank Solivan II, Mike Munford, Jon Caroll, Stefan Custodi, Dede Wyland, Kip Martin, John Previti, John Miller and Antoine Silverman. It must've been a blast to see his large body of originals come to life in the hands of these artists. "Snicker Doodle" and "Snake River Hoedown" are instrumentals that require some nimble fingers from these masters. While not a defining voice of the time, Titcomb's baritone voice is pleasant. The strongest cuts incorporate Solivan's and Wyland's harmonies, and one nostalgic number with trio ("Take Me Back") is a yearning for eternal youthfulness that most of us can relate to. Presented in _-time, "The River" shows a deep appreciation and connection to nature and our environment.
            By age 17, Gordon had left high school and was playing with Mike Williams, opening shows for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Over the years, he's played with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, Patrick Sky, John Herald Band, Woodstock Mountain Review, Happy and Artie Traum, Bill Keith , Jim Rooney, Rory Block, Eric Andersen, Kinky Friedman, Barry and Holly Tashian, Jim Lauderdale, Shawn Colvin, and now Arlo.
            Titcomb's also recorded in more than 2000 sessions. For the last 30 years, Titcomb's made his living recording and playing as a sideman. I'm sure that it was strange, albeit very rewarding, to show up for recording sessions and have to assume the leading role of callling the shots on what songs to record, how to arrange them, and who to feature for solos.
            Based on his music, Titcomb seems like an amiable and genuine person. He's straightforward and easy to understand. That's primarily why I like his songs. Some come across as more meaningful and effective than others, but they're without gimmicks. Gordon sings and picks them with sincerity and subtlety so his tuneful stories and messages are easily remembered. (Joe Ross)

One Dime at a Time

Rebel REB-CD-1816
PO Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA. 22906 OR
Playing Time - 35:24
            While only in their 20s, the bluegrass music of The Steep Canyon Rangers is that more commonly found being played by much more experienced and well-seasoned veterans. With the production assistance of Mike Bub and label support of Rebel Records, these guys are climbing the ladder to stardom quickly.
            There's always room for solid, young bands with traditional chops and original material. The band members have known each other for less than a decade, and they began as a band about 1999 while students at UNC in Chapel Hill. Since their debut album, their lineup has added Californian Nicky Sanders (fiddle, vocals). A smakrt move to have a permanent fiddler in the folkd. The other band members are Woody Platt (guitar, vocals), Mike Guggino (mandolin, vocals), Graham Sharp (banjo, guitar, vocals), and Charles R. Humphrey III (bass). Now playing full-time since 2001, the band has been able to "cross-market," representing the burgeoning bluegrass genre at venues and events that might not normally include this type of music. So, in a sense, the SCRs are amabassadors of bluegrass who are bringing a younger demographic to the music.
            Like their debut album on Rebel, this release has originals from Humphrey ("Ghost of Norma Jean" and "Restless Night") and Sharp ("Waiting to Hear You Call My Name," "Slow Burn," I'll Be Long Gone," "Hold On," "Big Cypoophus, "Green Eyed Lady, "Yesterday's Blues"). They're spirited and tastefully rendered in fine bluegrass style, both instrumentally and vocally. Lyrics are delivered with intensity and emotion. The picking is also immediately appealing. Why, Sharp even fingerpicks the guitar for the plaintive and bluesy "Green Eyed Lady." Recording in a circle around a couple microphones, the band was able to capture their natural blend and intensity. The technique also illustrates how cohesive the band has become.
            "The Ghost of Norma Jean" is a spooky tale that continues where "Norma Jean" from their last album left off. Many of their originals speak of pain, suffering and despair, mainly from love gone wrong. And keeping with that theme, the title track (written by Dottie Bruce and Jerry Chesnut) was originally recorded by country musician Del Reeves. Maybe they ought to consider some bluegrass covers of Del's "Be Quiet Mind" or "Lookg at the World thrugh a Windshield" on a future project. Jason Carter adds the fine twin fiddling on "Evangeline." A splendid showcase of their a capella quartet, "I Can't Sit Down" was written by Wade Mainer.
            The band had been thinking of doing a live album, but I'm glad to see this as a studio production. At the same time, the efficacy is built on a foundation of power and strength. I'd eventually like to see an all-gospel project from The Steep Canyon Rangers. Nominated for IBMA's Emerging Artist of the Year award, they have all the necessary ingredients to make a significant long-term mark on the bluegrass genre. (Joe Ross)

Fiddler's Green
Playing Time ­ 47:34
            Songs - Pretty Fair Maid in the Garden, Look Down That Lonesome Road, Fiddler's Green, Land's End/Chasin' Talon, Fair Flowers of the Valley, Foreign Lander, Buffalo Skinners, First Snow, Train on the Island, Long Black Veil, A Few More Years, Early Morning Rain
            Over the years, multi-instrumentalist Tim O'Brien has shown the unusual knack to be equally comfortable with jazz, bluegrass, swing, and Celtic music. The eclectic acoustic musician, originally from West Virginia, is certainly not afraid to walk the line between several genres of music. Thus, he's become one of the purveyors and ambassadors of Americana music. Besides being a fine singer with a definable sound, Tim plays guitar, fiddle, bouzouki, and mandolin on this album.
            The title cut is a bounding tale of the sea written by Pete Goble which speaks of a sailor being "lured by the tradewinds" to find that enchanting but mythical utopia with women, music and sustenance. When Tim wants a rousing Celtic feeling ("Land's End/Chasin' Talon), he supplements his own mandolin with the support of guys like Jack Doyle (guitar), Kenny Malone (djembe, cajon), Casey Driessen (fiddle), Dirk Powell (bass), Seamus Egan (low whistle). The bluegrass line-up ("Look Down that Lonesome Road") enlists veteran sidemen like Charlie Cushman (banjo), Jerry Douglas (resophonic guitar), Dan Tyminski (guitar), and Dennis Crouch (bass). What is particularly nice is that Tim's arrangements range from a fiddle/vocal solo ("A Few More Years") or guitar/vocal solo ("Buffalo Skinner") to full ensembles that incorporate dynamics into the genesis of their songs like "Fair Flowers of the Valley" that features Tim singing with his sister, Mollie. Another lean, but very successful, arrangement is the duo "Foreign Lander" (Tim's fiddle/vocals with Edgar Meyer playing arco bass) that presents a ballad of a rambling soldier conquered by his love's beauty.
            The last third of the album (4 songs) has a good cross-section of Tim's approach. His original and high-stepping old-timey "Train on the Island" introduces Chris Thile (mandolin) and Stuart Duncan (banjo, fiddle). While the twin fiddling is spectacular, I missed hearing some vocal harmony on the refrain "train on the island, hear that whistle blow." After the lean "A Few More Years," we're treated to perhaps one of the best arrangements ever of an old favorite, "Long Black Veil." Dan Dugmore's pedal steel gives the song its unique eeriness, and the duo is sung with Darrell Scott. Tim closes the project with "Early Morning Rain," from a profound troubadour not too unlike himself, Gordon Lightfoot. The sweet notes of bouzouki, fiddle and mandolin weave their way effortlessly between the words.
            O'Brien is a minstrel with great command of his lyrics and melodies. Besides being a songcarrier for traditional music, he's also a songsmith of contemporary songs that could've been written hundereds of years ago. His musical acumen demonstrates keen insight and creativity. With his astute approach of emphasizing diversity, Tim O'Brien offers a set with plenty for everyone. (Joe Ross)

Cornbread Nation

Sugar Hill SUG-CD-4005
Produced by Tim O'Brien
Playing Time ­ 49:14
            Songs: Hold On, Moses, Cornbread Nation, The Foggy Foggy Dew, Let's Go Hunting, Walkin' Boss, House of the Risin' Sun, Running Out of Memory, Busted, California Blues, Boat Up The River, When This World Comes To An End
            Tim O'Brien is not afraid to arrange an old traditional number like "Hold On" with electric guitar (Kenny Vaughan) and conga and shaker (Kenny Malone). He recognizes that traditional music is timeless, but he also welcomes the opportunity to incorporate modern sounds right alongside the old. While a bit lengthy, take the 6-minute rendition of "Moses," for example. Kenny Malone's drum kit imparts a solid rhythmic foundation as banjo, fiddle, guitar and four vocalists get spiritual. Tim shows a very adventurous side with the title cut that could have the same significant impact on this century's music as "Hot Corn, Cold Corn" did when Flatt & Scruggs first presented that in the last one. For folks who want to discover how to embody saxophone into traditional music, then they need look no further than Sam Levine's playing on songs like "Cornbread Nation" and "The Foggy, Foggy Dew."
            That gives a clue as to why I appreciate O'Brien's releases. Besides his own zestful singing and picking, he also hears accordion, drums, percussion, electric guitar, steel guitar and other instruments right alongside the traditional string sounds of banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and bouzouki. He also branches into various genres such as Cajun with "Let's Go Huntin'," that the supporting musicians also clearly enjoyed too. The blues are best captured on this album when Tim O'Brien and Dan Tyminiski sing "House of the Risin' Sun." Well, Jimmie Rodgers' "California Blues" is full of old-time country moxie and yodeling but also some slightly distorted electric guitar with reverb and driving snare drum. On "Boat Up the River," I would've preferred hearing some banjo and less electric guitar. Bluegrassers will perk up at the original "Runnin' Out of Memory" (with Del McCoury's tenor). A slower country twang permeates the cover of Harlan Howard's "Busted." A number of the songs are only sung solo, and I heard a few opportunities where Tim could've built a few more vocal harmonies into the mixes. However, those looking for vocal harmonies will certainly enjoy the album closer, "When this World omes to an End," with electric guitar, drums, bass, and mandolin accompanying the vocals of Tim O'Brien, Odessa Settles, Todd Suttles, and Darrell Scott.
            Tim O'Brien has built a reputation for being able to bring a new sense of contemporary spirit and perceptiveness to older music. With spring coming, "Cornbread Nation" is like a new bloom in the garden. Crossing into a multitude of genres (gospel, old-time, blues, bluegrass, classic country, Cajun) is part of his approach. Creative arrangements are another element. Finally, Tim also likes to hear traditional instruments alongside drums, percussion, electric guitar, saxophone and other non-traditional ones. As long as you like this type of transmutation, you'll find this CD to be very fulfilling and stimulating. (Joe Ross)

Across the Bridge

Compass Records 7-4410-2
916 19th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212
TEL. 615-320-7672 OR
Playing Time - 55:38
            Somewhat like Tim O'Brien, mandolinist and singer Drew Emmitt has a contemporary style all his own. Unlike Tim who incorporates electric guitar, drums and percussion into his arrangements, Drew Emmitt prefers to keep his music fully acoustic. Drew is best known for his work with Leftover Salmon, a Colorado electric "jamgrass" band (actually their own genre moniker was "Cajun slamgrass") which broke up in 2004. Drew then assembled a band, The Drew Emmitt Band, which has returned to a more traditional sound. His musical compadres include some first class musicians -- Matt Flinner (banjo, mandoin, bouzouki), Greg Garrison (bass, harmony vocals), and Ross Martin (guitar). Guest artists appearing on this CD include Del McCoury, Ronnie McCoury, Sam Bush, John Cowan, Stuart Duncan, Paul Barrere and Jim Lauderdale. Barrerre (of Little Feat) sings lead vocal and plays slide guitar on his own composition, "All That You Dream."
            "Across the Bridge" is actually Drew's second release, and it's largely original material. It would've been nice if the CD jacket had included lyrics. Emmitt is the sole composer of "Reach Out For Me," "Silvanite," and "Out in the Woods." The former is _-time is an offer of love, friendship and support in tough times. Over 7 minutes in length, the latter is a fluid piece that gives equal footing to instrumental improvisation and the song's message in a similar way to how Leftover Salmon performed it. Once the groove is established, each string wizard gets to strut their stuff. Three songs were written by Emmitt and Jim Lauderdale ("Up Where We Are," "The Awakening," and "This House"). Emmitt's collaboration with Ben Galloway resulted in two numbers, "All Night Ride" and "Cross That Bridge." "Big Ice" is a snappy instrumental written by Flinner. The nearly 7-minute cover of Dylan's "Meet Me in the Morning," gets a tad bit tedious and could've potentially been arranged.
            Emmitt's multi-genre exploration takes us into steaming bluegrass ("All Night Ride"), engaging country ("Reach Out For Me"), gripping instrumental ("Silvanite"), and even some ethereal new acoustic territory ("The Awakening"). His music is tightly crafted with a visceral quality that is both intense and profound. (Joe Ross)

Long Time Coming

CMH CD-8861
PO Box 39439, Los Angeles, CA. 90039
TEL. (270)866-8448
EMAIL Randy Graham
Playing Time - 37:14
            The members of David Parmley & Continental Divide have plenty of bluegrass experience under their belts with groups like the Bluegrass Cardinals, Lost & Found, Easter Brothers, and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Originally from Los Angeles, guitarist/vocalist Parmley began playing pro at age 17 with his father in the Bluegrass Cardinals. In 1993, he moved to Nashville to pursue a solo career in country music. In 1994, "David Parmley, Scott Vestal & Continental Divide" formed to journey into progressive bluegrass. If my memory serves me right, Harley Allen, Aubrey Haynie, Mike Anglin and later Jimmy Bowen, Rickie Simpkins and Randy Kohrs were members too. In 1998, the band re-organized into what we know them as today with the emphasis back to more traditional, gospel and some original material. That is clearly their forte, and "Long Time Coming" includes some former Cardinals in the lineup (Randy Graham on mandolin, Dale Perry on banjo, Barry Berrier onbass) along with the hot fiddling of Steve Day, a Kentucky state champion fiddler. "Where Rainbows Touch Down" have Mike Hartgrove's fiddles in the mix.
            David Parmley has smooth and distinctive lead vocals. Randy Graham sings all the tenor parts on the recording. This is the first recording that David and Randy have made together since the early 90s when they recorded "What Have You Done For Him," the last project cut by the original three Bluegrass Cardinals (Randy Graham, Don and David Parmley). Parmley had a hand in composing three original songs, his father Don wrote "Where the Sweetwater Flows," and Randy Graham penned a gospel number, "Get Right or Get Left." Also included are two songs from a favorite songwriter they often cover, Randall Hylton, with "Lee Berry Rye" and "Where Rainbows Touch Down." They chose to include them because they were previously recorded by the Cardinals on albums now out of print and the band gets many requests for them. The band's "new favorite songwriter" is Robert Gately who contributed three songs ("More Than I Can Bear," "Done Gone," and "Katy Hill"). The former open the album with a driving bluegrass bang. The latter closes the project with a more leisurely ballad about love and life that evolves into the hoedown of the same name. What becomes immediately apparent is that the group can present contemporary material that immediately evokes the same feelings and emotions that much older traditional material does. They have captured the essence of traditional bluegrass, and as they say in their personal appearances, "if that ain't a bluegrass song, a pig ain't pork!" (Joe Ross)

The Thrill of a New Game

Bulls Eye Records mm-36693-2
P.O. Box 8097, Granite City, IL 62040
TEL. (618)931-7825
Playing Time - 37:24
            The curtain has gone up, and Joe Dean is in the spotlight. The young man of 16 has been bitten by the bluegrass bug, and he's proven his instrumental prowess on "The Thrill of a New Game." His exciting debut features his solid banjo, mandolin, guitar, lead and harmony vocals. His remarkable all-around talent is also apparent in the songwriting department with an instrumental "Flyin South," co-penned with Bull Harman who also plays guitar on the album. The awe-inspiring project also enlists the support of Jamie Dailey, Steve Gulley, Junior Sisk, Dale Perry, Kevin Shults, Bo Jamison, Marc Rennard and Randy Kohrs.
            Joe Dean began playing bluegrass at age 11, shortly after winning the Illinois state dulcimer championship. Jerry Rosa (Rosa String Works) saw the young man's great potential, gave him some tutoring, and provided developmental opportunities on stage. Joe's name spread like wildfire among bluegrass enthusiasts in the St. Louis, Mo.area. It wasn't long before Dean was playing mandolin and singing with Bull Harman and Bull's Eye.
            "The Thrill of a New Game" presents songs from both traditional (e.g. Lester Flatt, Ralph Stanley) and more contemporary sources (e.g. Cecil Tinnon, Clay Hess, Ronnie Rogers, Arthur Crudup). If there's a slight weakness, it's that Dean's voice is also an instrument that will just improve further with additional experience, practice and maturity. Within a short time, I'd expect him to be able to sing with such emotional impact that he could become a defining bluegrass voice of the century. At present, he conveys a pleasant, youthful exuberance in his singing. Most impressive is his fiery mandolin and banjo picking on instruamentals like Herschel Sizemore's "Amandolina" and his various breaks throughout the project. With a heart firmly implanted in bluegrass, Joe Dean deserves our great support because his great talent and spirit indicate that the genre has a very promising future. It's always very exciting to hear such a young, gifted and skilled purveyor of bluegrass. Joe Dean has a very illustrious future in music ahead of him. (Joe Ross)

Home To You

Dualtone 80302-01210-2
1614 17th Ave. S., Nashville, TN. 37212
TEL. (615)320-0620 ext. 27
Playing Time - 40:27
            SONGS ­ 1) Home to You, 2) Rushing Around, 3) Freight Train Blues, 4) Logtown, 5) Gray County Line 6) Angel Band, 7) I Never Will Marry, 8) The Old Church Yard, 9) Fair and Tender Ladies, 10) The Old Account, 11) Carrick Fergus, 12) Where No One Stands Alone
            Tennessee's Peasall Sisters sing with a mournful, melancholy and innocent quality that captures an acoustic classic country style of yesteryear. The sisters (Sarah, Hannah and Leah) ae only 18, 15 and 12, respectively. You might recognize their voices as those of George Clooney's daughters in "O Brother, Where Art Thou." Not just a lucky break or fluke, these kids have abundant talent. Their "First Offering" album was a success, and "Home to You" is also a very enjoyable followup. All three girls have an enchanting quality in their singing, and their close harmonies throughout a songs like "Freight Train Blues" are especially noteworthy. They each sing lead and harmony vocals. Sarah plays acoustic guitar and banjo, while Leah plays fiddle. Other joining in the instrumental fun are Randy Scruggs (guitar, slide guitar), Charlie Chadwick (bass, cello), Jamie Hartford (mandolin, electric guitar), Kenny Malone (drums), Laura Cash (fiddle), Larry Perkins (guitar), Leroy Troy (banjo), Gene Chrisman (drums), and Tony Harrell (accordion, piano, harmonium). This is one well-produced album by John Carter Cash. Sarah demonstrates her aptitude for songwriting ("Home to You" and "Logtown"), and Sarah and Hannah play a major role in arranging much of the other material.
            The Peasalls choose songs that embody the traditional canon or its spirit and soul. It never hurts to give bonafide respect to the familiar folk ("Fair and Tender Ladies) or the material of the Carter Family ("I Never Will Marry"). They also show an appreciation and aptitude for bluegrass (Newton Thomas' "Rushing Around"), Irish ("Carrick Fergus") and Gospel ("Angel Band," "The Old Account"). Their own compositions are more ethereal in a slower-tempo'ed, acoustic country vein ("Logtown," "Gray County Line") that can turn misty skiies into blue ones. The middle of their set on this project could've used another pick-me-up selection, but at track eight, Jim Brasher's bouncy gospel composition, "The Old Church Yard," is a welcome statement that could've easily been done by the likes of Reno and Smiley decades ago. Individually, their voices are pleasant, and the girls will only get better as lead vocalists with smooth, silky personalities of their own. Their real strength is emboded in the magnetism of their collective vocal sound, best demonstrated on the album's a cappella closer, "Where No One Stands Alone." With an ample amount of rustic purity in their music, The Peasall Sisters are being groomed for even bigger things to come. (Joe Ross)

Somebody Like You

17625 Argon Street NW Ramsey, MN 55303
TEL. 763-213-1349
Playing Time - 49:40
            Songs - At Last, When The Cold Winds Blow, The Call and the Answer, Maiden's Prayer, My Girl, My Little Georgia Rose, Rose of My Heart, Oh Lonesome Me, Electric Blanket, Sonny's Dream, Rocky Road Blues, Just Wondering Why, Never on Sunday, Somebody Like You
            Lisa Fuglie makes a strong and jazzy vocal statement with the Etta James' classic, "At Last," when this disc starts to spin. You immediately realize that Monroe Crossing is no ordinary bluegrass band. In fact, their fifth release is chock full of musical references to other genres too (some Greek influences in "Never on Sunday", a little country in "Rose of my Heart" and "Oh Lonesome Me," a little Motown soul in "My Girl," Celtic flavors in "The Call and the Answer"). Bluegrass is still this band's foundation, but more and more, I've come to appreciate their solid multi-dimensional music as Americana, rooted in tradition but with many branches into other territories.
            Monroe Crossing hails from Minnesota, and bands outside Appalachia often take more adventurous tacks as they sail musical waters. Somewhat of a concept album, "Somebody Like You" concentrates on love songs. Mixing instrumentals ("Never on Sunday" and the western swingy "Maiden's Prayer") with plenty of vocal numbers, the thematic result is a set with slower to moderate tempos than typically found on your usual bluegrass album. But, then again, this entertaining band seems to be breaking more and more out of the bluegrass mold. When they cover Bill Monroe's "My Little Georgia Rose" and "Rocky Road Blues," their arrangements end up more subtle and indirect, than high and lonesome as the Father of Bluegrass did them. Unlike Jim and Jesse McReynolds' version, "Just Wondering Why" has a visceral and effective quality with a different type of emotional impact than the original. Blackburn's self-penned title cut is a longing to find just the right person for life's journey.
            Monroe Crossing has kept fairly constant in their personnel lineup although banjo-player Graham Sones has moved on, and Jeff Whitson has been picking the five-string with them since 2004. From Clarksville, Arkansas, Jeff performed with Eversong since the 1990s. The other members are Lisa Fuglie (fiddle, mandolin, guitar), Art Blackburn (guitar), Matt Thompson (mandolin, fiddle) and Mark Anderson (bass).
            Monroe Crossing always seems to have surprises up their sleeves. They are able to present their own eclectic interests with plenty of thrills to enthuse a crowd. In the past, I've said this band can be a bit hard to peg or categorize. They've found a way to walk the line between various genres and earn the respect from many corners of the music community. Their 2003 album, "The Green Mossy Ground" was a Minnesota Music Academy (MMA) award winner for "Best Bluegrass/Old-Time Recording." They were also the only bluegrass band ever nominated by the MMA as "Artist of the Year." Individually, the band members bring an experience base from many musical walks of life ranging from rock, blues and bluegrass bands. The total package is a compelling set with a distinctive stamp. (Joe Ross)

Even Hotter Water

Speirbhean Records, No number
C/o Sue Duffy Assoc., 2808 Summit Circle, Bakersfield, Ca. 93306 OR
EMAIL Mary Tulin OR
Playing Time - 57:31
            1. Shoe, 2. Jewish Girl, 3. Bantry Marches, 4. Milltown, 5. Comb Sonja, 6. The Righteous Set, 7. The Aran Boat Song, 8. Mom's, 9. Bog Sligo, 10. March of the King of Laoise, 11. The Castaways, 12. Miss Gordon of Gight, 13. Ye Jacobites, 14. Merrily Kiss the Quaker
            To do it right, Celtic music requires a certain amount of sassiness, a bit of impudence along with strong respect and joyful spirit. The three women of Banshee in the Kitchen know how to balance their audacity with reverence of the art form. "Merry abandon," they call it themselves. Or "banshee-fying" traditional tunes to impart a contemporary freshness to them. With plenty of personality, the result is a gripping performance that strikes gold. "Even Hotter Water" is the third album from this popular trio based in Bakersfield, Ca. Working through sets of dance tunes alternately with songs, Banshee in the Kitchen gives us music that is both memorable and impressionistic.
            Brenda Hunter, Jill Egland and Mary Tulin are all multi-instrumentalists who are quite proficient and precise on their hammered dulcimer, fiddle, accordion, bodhran, flute, whistle, guitars and bouzouki. . "The Aran Boat Song" demonstrates how Hunter won the Natl. Hammered Dulcimer championship at Winfield, Ks. Using dampers on the strings is a technique that Brenda also employs for percussive effects at various points in the set such as on "Miss Gordon of Gight." Guests include Jeff Pekarek (bass), Michael Mercy (percussion) and Amelia Egland (additonal vocals on two tracks). The band's vocals are also immediately appealing, although they allocate a greater percentage of the nearly hourlong set to instrumental work. "Ye Jacobites by Name" is a popular song from Scotland's national bard and poet, Robbie Burns. The band also has a knack for arranging to interweave melodies, counter-melodies and harmonies into a patchwork of passionate, spine-tingling music. High fidelity on the album and professional production are also comendable. Mastering engineer Bernie Becker (Neil Diamond's personal engineer) did a fine job. Together since 2001, the Banshee in the Kitchen energy is contagious. Some Celtic projects are delivered with earnest effort, but with little personality. This is not the case on "Even Hotter Water," an album that gives us excellent musicianship, strong creative achievement and charismatic qualities. (Joe Ross)

BHB Records BHB-03
4205 Havard Street, Silver Spring, MD. 20906
TEL. (240)447-9654
bob perilla -
Playing Time ­ 43:59
            Big Hillbilly Bluegrass could be one of the best kept secrets on the eastern seaboard, but bluegrass fans in that region know well about this astonishing group that has taken the stage every Wednesday night for about a decade at Madam's Organ in northwest Washington, D.C. Together for about six years, they guarantee bluegrass satisfaction with their crooning vocals and smoldering banjo and fiddle work, accompanied by solid guitar and bass. Stefan Custodi lays down bass tracks on two songs, and Akira Otsuka is a guest on mandolin. However, the mandolin is relegated to a minor role, with few instrumental breaks, riffs, and staunch traditionalists might miss a more prominent role for the little instrument. Otsuka is very capable on the mandolin, and "The First Whippoorwill" gives him a chance to shine. On the other hand, mandolin breaks may not be that necessary when a band has Tad Marks on fiddle and Mike Munford on banjo. Bob Perilla plays guitar and sings lead. Elizabeth Day provides vocals, and Mike Marceau is the band's bassist. Big Hillbilly Bluegrass has a bold and daring side, even a little chutzpah to do songs like "Get Together" and "Porpoise Mouth." Bandleader Bob Perilla says that they're strong advocates of preserving the bluegrass sound, but they also like to see envelopes pushed and bluegrass presented at diverse music festivals. "Bluegrass holds it own and creates new believers," he once told me, while also stating, "The bluegrass festival system of self-segregation has insured the music's survival but also sadly limits its overall popularization."
            Big Hillbilly Bluegrass considers Madam's Organ to be "absolutely the best weekday bluegrass gig in the countryŠ.a phenomenon." To fully understand their wide appeal, you really should experience them by seeing them live. However, this CD will shed insight on the Big Hillbilly Bluegrass marvel. Six cuts from this new CD have been added to XM rotation, and their season highlight was a June, 2005 tour of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia for the U.S. State Department. The band has also appeared in Chris Rock's "Head of State," one TV gig with Earl Scruggs, at the Kennedy Center (for 5 years), Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and American Film Institute's recent opening. They also are in the bluegrass documentary "Bluegrass Journey." They have also played the prestigious 9:30 club.
            Bob Perilla's bluegrass experience includes playing with Don Stover, Buzz Busby, Dean Sapp, Al Jones and Frank Necessary. He's also written scores for stage and screen. Tad Marks hails from Cooksvile, Md. and has fiddled with Del McCoury (1990-92), Lynn Morris (1992-93), James King (1995-97), Kate McKenzie, and Scottis folsinger Charlie Zahm (2000). His own CD "Crazy Love Affair" has been well received. Born in St. Louis, Mike Munford started playing banjo at 15 years old. He has toured widely with Tony Rice, Peter Rowan, the Rice Brothers and Lynn Morris. His recordings include Peter Rowan's 1997 Grammy Nominated album "Bluegrass Boy," a musical segment on "America's Most Wanted," Larry Rice's album, "Notions and Daydreams." Mike Marceau is a solid bassist, comfortable on acoustic or electric instruments. Vocalist Elizabeth Day raised in Kentucky and educated in Texas, has a deep-rooted appreciation for traditional music. She's had fiddling relatives in her family for generations.
            Ian Anderson's "Locomotive Breath" makes for a nice runaway bluegrass cover. In their next "breath," Big Hillbilly Bluegrass captures the essence of the master, Bill Monroe, with "The First Whippoorwill." A couple other numbers from Monroe (Roanoke, Close By) are intermixed with covers from Paul Williams, Bill Harrell, Darrell Scott, Del McCoury and others. "Roanoke" is presented in such barn-burning fashion that I was worried that one of the musicians might hurt themself. Rhythmically and lyrically compelling, Bob Perilla's own "Tenor of the Dove" is a contemporary offering about his bond with the old homeplace. All in all, very entertaining! (Joe Ross)


Lonesome Day LDR-009
143 Deaton Road, Booneville, KY. 41314
TEL. (606)398-2369
Playing Time - 44:25
            Lou Reid sings about livin' the mountain way, but he also clearly shows how to play the mountain way too. With a fresh body of bluegrass material from excellent songwriters, Reid and Carolina show us why they're a notch above the rest of the pack. On "Time," he puts added emphasis on beautiful, life-affirming tales, courtesy of such songsmiths as Mike Evans, David Carroll, John Cadley, Shawn Camp, Mark Brinkman, Teddy Cosby, and others. A song like Ray Edwards/Terry Foust's "Carolina Morning Memory" captures much of the feeling and reason for the band's name in the first place. Carolina moon, Carolina rain, Carolina morning, and Carolina memories are all embodiments of this band's bluegrass. Reid's voice, as fine and steady as always, is centerstage most of the time, but Christy Reid and Kevin Richardson also get a chance to shine with some lead vocals on "Before Your First Tear Hits the Ground" and "Forever Ain't No Trouble Now," respectively. With a bit more tempo and some twin fiddles in a piece like "Forever Ain't No Trouble Now," Lou Reid and Carolina's music would hit me in the gut with an impact like the first time I heard Bill Monroe's. An uptempo song like "Tennessee Backroads" would have a little more bluegrass gusto by simply bringing the instrumental breaks, especially guitar and mandolin, front and center into our speakers. Their clean breaks deserve to be heard loudly, crisply and clearly.
            Lou was born on a North Carolina tobacco farm and grew up around music. His impressive bluegrass experience includes stints with Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Ricky Skaggs, Seldom Scene, and Longview. Also from North Carolina, Christy Reid's grandfather was a fiddle champion at the first Union Grove Fiddler's Convention, and her cousin (Kent Dowell) played with the Country Gentlemen.. Her previous bands have included Grass Vibrations, 220 Connection, and Southern Drive (a 2000 International Pizza Hut Showdown winner). Christy and Lou married in Florida on 04/12/04. Banjo-player Trevor Watson contributes a hard-driving style to the Carolina sound. His mother and father both played bluegrass, and Trevor was picking by age eight. Trevor won first place in the "bluegrass banjo" contest at the Galax Old-time Fiddler's Convention. His former bands include Blue Night, Foxfire Unlimited (Bluegrass Band contest winners at the 1988 Galax Fiddlers' Convention), and with the cast of The Carolina Opry in Myrtle Beach. Guitarist Kevin Richardson has been playing since age 5. He's won many ribbons in Fiddler's Competitions across the Southeast. Last but not least, Joe Hannabach plays bass for Carolina. As a band, Carolina received the "Emerging Artist of the Year" Award at IBMA's 1994 World of Bluegrass Awards in Owensboro, KY.
            On "Time," instrumental guests include Jerry Douglas, Ron Stewart, and Randy Kohrs. Some vocal guests include Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill on the title cut, along with Harold Nixon on acoustic bass. A Buck Owens/Red Simpson song, "Heart of Glass" also includes James Mitchell's high strung guitar and Chris Wood's snare drum in the mix. The credits say it's also known as a "slap guitar" for the bluegrass purists.
            The songs give us imagery with plenty of comforting warmth. The band's contemporary bluegrass has tender sentiments, lilting melodies, and gentle rhythms. (Joe Ross)

Listen to the Music

Koch Records KOC-CD-9879
1709 19th Avenue South, Nashville, TN. 37212
Playing Time - 46:30
            Bluegrass aficionados have no doubt heard of The Fox Family and Kim Fox Band. Now, you'd better sit down and get ready for impressive showcase of 3 Fox Drive. Originally from the Adirondack Mountains of New York, the brother and two sisters (Joel, Kim and Barb) won the 1989 Winterhawk festival bluegrass band contest. Kim Fox, you may recall, is a prolific songwriter who won the prestigious songwriting contest at Merlefest in 1994. In the year 2000, The Fox Family became the Kim Fox Band (Kim, Joel, bassist Andrea Roberts, and fiddler Jesse Cobb). The clever Foxes have now embarked on a new path of musical ingenuity that emphasizes cunning acoustic keenness. Seven songs bear the mark of Kim Fox's crafty songwriting, with each having their own distinctive flavorings but still being mainly easy listening country and folk fare. Their engaging approach doesn't look for hooks, but rather songs like "Red Rose Bouquet," "Short Walk to the Moon," "Eye for an Eye," and "This Little House of Mine" have stirring messages that beg for close listening and introspective reflection. From a young girl's perspective, the latter is a slow, sad tale of selling the house and moving on. It's a common theme in bluegrass and country music, but "leaving the kid behind in this little house of mine" is a great new way to convey the sentiment. An exceptional love song, "Short Walk to the Moon" has a lot of heartfelt soul, and this song has potential to be covered and taken to the charts by top-name country musicians. With this amount of original material, I wish that lyrics would have been included in the CD jacket. 3 Fox Drive also covers material from Larry Cordle ("It Always Rains When I'm Lonesome"), Doobie Brothers ("Listen to the Music") and one done by Keith Whitley (Roger Ferris' "Some Old Side Road"). From an early 90s recording by Shelby Lynne, "Slow Me Down" establishes a good groove with a recurring riff, the instruments trading licks, and impressive vocalizing.
            Besides Kim, Barb and Joel, the other musicians include Mike Anglin (bass), Megan Lynch (fiddle), Jim Reed (mandolin, lead guitar), Eric Darken (percussion), and Randy Kohrs (dobro). There are a few points where I wish that Kohrs' dobro was mixed with a little more presence. With their polished, cohesive sound, this band will go far. You'd better take them up on their invitation at the album's opener to "Listen to the Music." (Joe Ross)

Curve in the Road

No label, No number
321 Moody Cover Rd., Weaverville, NC 28787
TEL. (864) 915-9178
Playing Time - 62:33
            SONGS - The Way You Do, Jalapa, Lonely Room, One Less Worry, Curve, Misery, Rent Song, Left at the Lurch, Can't Get Used to Goodbye, Big Burley, River Song, Possamaquaddy, These City Lights, Bingo Sully, Shoulda' Stayed Gone, Train Song, Black Hairy Possum
            It doesn't take more than a few measures of the lead off track, "The Way You Do," to conclude that Steel String Theory, an Asheville, N.C. band takes a young, inventive and resourceful approach to the music. This open-minded trio (Charlie Chamberlain, Philip Barker, Steffans Hardin) tends to be experimenting with diverse abstractions to attract an eclectic audience. Depending on one's support for musical experimentation within the sideboards of bluegrass instrumentation, the result may not be everyone's cup of tea. While their various instruments were born between 1907-1988, Steel String Theory lives in a more futuristic acoustic genre of their own incorporating elements of newgrass, jazz and classical music. A photo of the seven instruments used (three guitars, mandolin, mandola, banjo, bass) is included. Speculating about the future success of Steel String Theory, I feel that some additional tightening and embellishment of their music will build them a legion of trendy fans to ride along on the expedition. Give their music a few listens, and see if you comprehend and are moved by the good-time aspects, catchy lyrics, and excitement in the same way that I was.
            Originally from Greenville, S.C., Phil Barker writes and sings many of their songs. He and Charlie Chamberlain formerly played in the Prograss Duo. Also from Greenville, Charlie has studied jazz, music composition and theory in Texas and South Carolina. Besides writing and performing original acoustic music, he teaches at the 5th String in Greenville. Bassist Steffans Hardin hails from Georgia, and he began studying and performing music at age nine. He's played with Moonshine Still and a Klezmer band called The Red Heifers. I understand that resonator guitarist Ivan Rosenberg is now playing with Steel String Theory. As a band, Steel String Theory recently placed third in the Telluride Bluegrass Festival band contest.
            With more than an hour of music, this album covers many bases. There are soaring, energetic vocals ("The Way You Do" and "Misery") and jazzy instrumentals ("Jalapa" and "Black Hairy Possum"). Thematically, there are songs about drinking, cheating, trains, rivers and home. I tended to like their instrumentals best of all, with the dawg-like "Black Hairy Possum" having the most impact. There are some other instrumental standouts -- "Big Burley" grabs you with an engaging romp that keeps revisiting the tune's melodic head. "Curve" throws one at you with its bluegrass intensity, but I sure wish that a guest fiddler and banjo-player had been invited to embellish the arrangement. The 8-minute "Left at the Lurch" begins with a passage from Gustav Mahler's "Symphony #1," recreating a day when static-ridden LPs were our norm for music. The piece uses a minor scale and eastern flavoring that evolves into more of a Latin piece. With that many minutes for the song's genesis, I was left hoping for a few more interpretive twists and innovative improvisational passages during their exploratory adventure.
            Steel String Theory shows great potential. Their eclectic and slightly unorthodox approach might just be in need of some expert production guidance and a few guest artists to take them to the next level of acoustic individualism. (Joe Ross)

20 Best of Bluegrass Gospel

Sound Sensation DPS2 5338
TEL. (615)255-0105
Playing Time - 53:01
            SONGS - 1. Just a Closer Walk With Thee, 2. Power in the Blood, 3. What a Friend We Have in Jesus, 4. Softly, Tenderly, 5. Amazing Grace, 6. When We All Get To Heaven, 7. When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder, 8. Wonderful Words of Life, 9. To God Be The Glory, 10. Jesus Loves Me, 11. Count Your Blessings, 12. Blessed Assurance, 13. Nothing but the Blood, 14. Peace Like a River, 15. At the Cross, 16. Tis So Sweet, 17. Rock of Ages, 18. Savior Like a Shepherd, 19. It Is Well With My Soul, 20. When I Survey
            Steve Ivey is an impressive musician and producer, but his real strength may be in music marketing. His gospel products, distributed by Madacy, consistently appear in the Billboard bluegrass charts for considerable periods. Ivey's third collection of traditional bluegrass gospel songs indicate a great demand and appreciation for this music. Ivey's approach has been to enlist the support of top Nashville session players - Andy Leftwich (mandolin), Richard Bailey (banjo), Shad Cobb (fiddle), Charlie Chadwick (bass), and Jesse Lee Campbell (female lead vocals). Steve Ivey provides all lead male and background vocals, as well as proficiently playing guitar, mandolin and dobro.
            "20 Best of Bluegrass Gospel" is part of Madacy Record's Sound Sensation series which has nearly 100 different albums which sell for $7-8 each. There are reggae, big band, jazz, country gospel, country, children's, rock ‘n' roll, patriotic, Latin, Celtic, blues, broadway, disco, pop, doo wop, and relaxation offerings in the series. Not just great music for the budget, the gospel album has expert, albeit rather conservative, arrangements and good fidelity presumably from its high resolution 24-bit/96-KHz mastering technology used. (Joe Ross)

Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945-1970 Volume 2

CMF Records B0005228-02 OR
EMAIL Tamara Saviano 615-385-1233
Jim Flammia/Lost Highway 615-524-7507
Playing Time - CD1 (47:00), CD2 (54:34)
            Continuing with a desire to re-release "hits and rarities" from a great 25-year era of Music City R&B, the Country Music Hall of Fame has compiled a second volume from 25 different record labels. There's also one live track never before heard on record (The Imperials' "Lucky Lou") which was recorded on the bandstand by guitarist George Yates. Both of the volumes in this series coincide with an exhibition that was held at the Museum in 2004-5, held to document an underreported era in Nashville's music history, the story of Nashville's R&B heyday from pre-World War II roots through its ongoing connections to country music.
            Disc #1 captures Nashville in the late 1940s and 50s. Rhythm & blues is the black popular music genre, emerging at that time, and which became a big influence on rock ‘n' roll and even pop music today. Check out pianist Bernie Hardison's 1955 rendition of "Too Much," a song that Elvis took to the top of the pop charts two years later. The roots of R&B were the country blues, vaudeville ‘hokum,' big band and swing. As the big band era came to an end, groups got smaller, and vocalists fronted combos presenting blues and pop. Lyrics were often fun and humorous. The music was very danceable too.
            Volume 2 has rollicking barrelhouse piano, steaming saxophone, smooth vocals, raucous singing, and even some doo wop groups that accented soulful singing. The Gladiolas' "Little Darlin" is imparted with a calypso beat. One of Little Ike's only known recordings is "She Can Rock." We know that the electric guitar made inroads into R&B, and I'm curious about the instrument's minor roll in the music of this release. We hear Johnny Jones playing it on the 1959 release of Charles Walker and the Daffodils' "No Fool No More." The electric guitar also gives Freddie North's "OK, So What?" a sweet country twang. Christine Kittrell's bluesy "I'm a Woman" wouldn't be the same without electric guitar and sax. Johnny Jones' "Soul Poppin'" has some swinging trumpet too. A colorful commercial message at track 11 on disc#2 encourages us to buy a swinging soul medallion for only $3.
            Many of the great musicians on this release are unnamed Nashville cats who really knew how to jump with their jive. With a 32-page booklet insert, this CD is a splendid introduction to some fantastic music of not so long ago. These remastered tracks have very high fidelity. At the time, Nashville seemed open-minded to new musical ideas, and record producers were encouraging boundaries to be expanded. Just like the ground-breaking television show back then, "Night Train," this 2-disc CD will reinvigorate an interest in R&B music of fifty years ago. (Joe Ross)

Dreamin' my Dreams

EPIC EK 94481
www.sonynashville OR
TEL. (615)371-5119
Playing Time - 49:09
            SONGS - Keep Your Distance, Old Soul, When Being Who You Are Is Not Enough, Nobody Here by That Name, Same Kind of Crazy, Everything But the Words, Dreaming My Dreams with You, On the Verge of Tears, Never Ending Song of Love, Big Chance, My Old Friend the Blues, When I Reach the Place I'm Going
            With plenty of good new tunes from happening songwriters like Steve Earle, Jim Lauderdale, Delbert McClinton, and Allen Reynolds, the emotional and adventurous Patty Loveless has another winner with "Dreamin' my Dreams." Anyone remember when the young country singer from Kentucky came to Nashville at age 14? She replaced her cousin, Loretta Lynn, as the singer for the Wilburn Brothers. Her association with songwriter Steve Earle dates back to at least 1988 when she tapped the songwriter for material on her monumental "If My Heart Had Windows" release. Some other great albums have followed over the years, and she also successfully returned to her mountain roots with bluegrass material on the 2001 release, "Mountain Soul." "Dreamin' My Dreams" has hints of both. "Same Kind of Crazy" is rockin' country. "When Being Who You are is Not Enough" is pure acoustic beauty. The weight of the world might turn a young girl's heart to an "Old Soul," but Patty's takes on love and life prove that she'sstill got plenty of young soul.
            Her bass-playing husband and producer, Emory Gordy, Jr., is a constant throughout most of the album. But when Patty wants to electrify and rock, she calls on guys like Albert Lee and Guthrie Trapp (electric guitars), Owen Hale (drums), and Russ Pahl (steel guitar). At the other end of moody spectrum, we're treated to acousticians like Rob Ickes (dobro), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin, mandola), Bryan Sutton (guitar, banjo), and Stuart Duncan and Deanie Richardson (fiddles).
            Patty's songs also cover another spectrum from happiness ("Big Chance") to suffering ("On the Verge of Tears"). "Everything but the Words" is a slow crooner that is an interesting musical paradox - the lyrics are crafted in such a way that she truly does have the necessary words, at least for a hit song. Another splendid song co-written by the same pair (Jim Lauderdale and Leslie Satcher) is "When Being Who You are is Not Enough" which begins with Duncan's droning fiddle and McCoury's lilting mandola. While there are some wonderful backup vocalists on the album, Emmylou Harris and Virgie Lee add some powerful pleasure to the choruses of this number. In a duo with Dwight Yoakam, Loveless gives us a bouncy and tasteful bluegrass rendition of "Never Ending Song of Love." Her rustic soul is best captured in humorous tale of mountain life in "Big Chance," a cute story about trying to find the right boy and getting the parents' permission to marry. A reflective "When I Reach the Place I'm Going," closes with album with her own thoughts about finding Neverland in a tribute to the memory of her mother-in-law. With extraordinary voice, full of heartfelt emotion and passion, Patty Loveless proves that she's among the top female country singers of all time. (Joe Ross)


Skaggs Family 6989020142
PO Box 2478, Hendersonville, TN. 37077 OR
Michelle Nikolai
INFO: Kissy Black TEL. (615)298-1144 OR OR
Playing Time - 45:51
            The Cherryholmes' pendulum of repertoire swings from Bill Monroe ("Tallahassee") to the Dirt Band ("Workin' Man"), and Hazel Dickens ("Workin' Girl Blues") to the Louvin Brothers ("No One to Sing for Me"). Karen Rochelle's "He Goes to Church" imparts a powerful message that it's never too late to pursue salvation. So there are influences from old-time mountain, bluegrass, classic country and Gospel sounds. Their original songs are equally varied, with inspiration that covers the traditional music map. Twin fiddles and the bouncing ¾-beat give "Heart as Cold as Stone" a definitive Monroesque feeling, while "Makin' Time" is an uptempo and catchy song that could've been covered by Jimmy Martin before his death. "Will I Be the Winner?" and "Brand New Heartache" have classic country sensibilities. Jeff Taylor's whistle and accordion are added into the mix on the Celtic-flavored medley of some more originals, "Shelly in the Heather" and "Linda's Reel."
            Thematically, they clearly understand the roots of the music when they compose and present a nicely-arranged song like "Red Satin Dress," a murder ballad that only slightly suffers from the vocals not being as high and lonesome as we're used to in such numbers. While there are many lead vocalists in this family band, Cia Leigh Cherryholmes is the most expressive and evocative on a straightforward original like "Don't Fall in Love." Among very stiff competition, she garnered a first round nomination as IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year. As a unit, all six band members sing a cappella on the album closer. Besides their impressive songwriting and singing, The Cherryholmes demonstrate consummate instrumental skills that certainly belie their ages. "Coastline" is a fiery and frenetic tune that swirls like its inspiration, the hurricanes of 2004. Guests Ricky Skaggs (mandolin) and Ben Isaacs (harmony vocals) appear on one track apiece. Isaacs produced the project.
            Based in Arizona, the hard-working Cherryholmes range from 13-year-old fiddling Molly Kate on up to the bass-playing patriarch of the unit, Jere. The other kids, Cia, B.J., and Skip, masterfully play banjo, fiddle and guitar, respectively. Their home-schooling mother, Sandy, plays mandolin. Since 2002, the Cherryholmes have been performing music full time (over 250 shows a year) and traveling extensively. They have the talent, dedication and the right attitude to really go places. (Joe Ross)

Rattle of the Chains

Pinecastle PRC-1148
PO Box 753, Columbus, NC 28722
Playing Time - 36:47
            J.D. Crowe says Wildfire is "a great bunch of pickers with a lot of talent." That's a pretty solid endorsement from one of the world's greatest banjo-players, and he truly does know these guys. Four members of Wildfire (RobertHale, Phil Leadbetter, Darrell Webb, Curt Chapman) shared the stage with Crow as members of his band, The New South. Banjo-player Barry Crabtree is the fifth member of Wildfire, and he cut his teeth touring with Larry Sparks for about ten years. In 2000, they formed Wildfire and started playing Dollywood and on the Home and Gardens television network.
            Engineered by Scott Vestal, "Rattle of the Chains" is Wildfire's third release on the prestigious Pinecastle label. They have a smooth contemporary sound that is tightly-knit with shining solos, passionate vocals, and arrangements that fit like a glove. Their repertoire draws from bluegrass, country and original material. Much of today's contemporary bluegrass is walking the fence with acoustic country, and Robert Hale is a talented songwriter in both genres. Darrell Webb and Mark Brinkman co-wrote "Their Father's Land," a moving ballad with a hard-hitting story that life is too short to hold grudges and hate one's brother. Wildfire also draws songs from other notable bluegrass songwriters, Tom T. Hall ("Ballad of Forty Dollars") and Carter Stanley ("Sweetest Love"). Their acoustic country feeling is best demonstrated in two memorable songs, "The Blame" and "I Wouldn't Mind the Shackles." A Harley Allen/Bobby Carmichael gospel song, "All in God's Plan" features some harmony vocals by Alice Vestal. While very cohesive, I really like seeing a band with Wildfire's caliber tap into their inner bluegrass spirit and soul for more snappy numbers like "Grapes on the Vine" and "Sweetest Love."
            Besides their song selection, this stellar up-and-coming group has some other notable strengths in both the instrumental and vocal departments. While not featuring any fiddle, Leadbetter's resophonic guitar slides gold. Darrell Webb's mandolin and tenor vocals also give the band a defining sound. Barry Crabtree's prevalent banjo is red hot. A barn-burning instrumental would've been a nice addition to supercharge this album with some high voltage bluegrass electricity. But pay no mind, there's plenty here to enthuse fans of contemporary bluegrass who like a mix of slower and more uptempo offerings. (Joe Ross)

Blue Moon

3-15 Higashinakanocho, Akashi-city, Hyogo 673-0886 JAPAN
Playing Time - 39:38
            SONGS - Blue Moon in Your Eyes, Someone Took My Place With You, The Waltz You Saved For Me, My Old 5-String Banjo, The Break Of The Day, I've Just Seen The Rock Of Ages, Come Back Darling, I Never, Cherokee Shuffle, 'Til Each Tear You Cry Becomes A Rose, I Wonder Where You Are Tonight, Don't Cheat in Our Home Town, Ice Cold Love
            Burugurasu Ongaku! That's how you say "Bluegrass Music!" over in Japan. While dialects and pronunciation are slightly different depending on your region of the world, the common language of bluegrass music is widespread and popular. The Japanese Bluegrass Band features some of the country's most experienced pickers -- Masuo Sasabe (guitar), Katsuyuki Miyazaki (mandolin), Satoshi Yoshida (banjo), Jimmy Akazawa (fiddle), and Tatsuya Imai (bass). All members but Imai-san sing. Not at all an easy task when you consider that most Japanese are not fluent in conversational English. You sure have to commend this band for their achievements built around preserving an authentic bluegrass sound.
            After meeting fiddler Byron Berline, the Japanese Bluegrass Band performed at Oklahoma's International Bluegrass Festival in Guthrie (see They have now entertained there for many years since 2000. Guitarist/leadvocalist Masuo Sasabe has been picking bluegrass in Japan since 1964. He also plays with General Store of Bluegrass, New Appleseed, and the Greengrass Boys. Katsuyuki Miyazaki has placed third in the mandolin championship at Winfield, Kansas in 1992 and 1996. His solo albums include "Man-o-Mandolin"(Red Clay Records RC-114), "Battle One" and "Battle Two" (Palm Strings-002 and 006) with guitarist Shogo Sakaniwa, and "Mandoscape" (Red Clay Records SRC-119). Born in 1960, Satoshi Yoshida bought his first guitar in 1970, started playing banjo in 1974, and now runs a musical instrument business in Shiga Prefecture. Fiddler Jimmy Akazawa has played with the Rocky Chucks, Carnival String Band, Teruaki Fukuhara and the Cowboy Dreamers, and has toured the U.S. and Great Britain. His solo album, "Cowboy Herding Songs" is full of fun, wit and energy." Finally, the youngest band member, Tatsuya Imai, heard his first bluegrass as a junior high student, took up bass in college, and he now plays with the bluegrass band, Rosine, which also has a CD out.
            The Japanese Bluegrass Band's fourth successful album draws a number of songs from the genre's traditional canon, and they do them right with soul and passion. Instrumentally convincing, the band really knocks you out, especially when they take a quick-paced romp through a favorite jam tune like "Cherokee Shuffle." It's great to see the band members step outside of their comfort zones when they improvise around the melody. Most impressively, there are also four original compositions on "Blue Moon." Fiddler Jimmy Akazawa penned three, while sparks fly when banjo-player Satoshi Yoshida kicks off his "The Break of Day." The Japanese word for this would be "Yoake," and it also serves as an analogy to the dawning of a radiant musical movement with a bright future in Japan called "Burugurasu!" In fact, there is actually a Japanese verse that fiddler Jimmy Akazawa once taught me for Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe's song called "Y'All Come." The last line is "Yoake wa mo ochi kai," meaning "The dawn is breaking once again!" It's a great analogy for the fourth album of The Japanese Bluegrass Band's great music from the Land of the Rising Sun. (Joe Ross)

Walking Among the Living

Epic AEK 92083
INFO: john.gusty@echomusic.ocm OR
Playing Time - 54:07
            Because there are so many Stewarts and Stuarts in Nashville, Jon Randall Stewart simply became known as "Jon Randall" back in the early-1990s. With the exception of the closing cut, "My Life," Nashville-based Jon Randall wrote all the songs on "Walking Among the Living." Best know as a backup vocalist with top-name artists like Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush and Lyle Lovett, singer/songwriter Jon Randall shows that he deserves the spotlight. Randall's well-executed music has a calming effect, and a large reputable label like Epic appears to be grooming and presenting him for mainstream success. At track six is "Whiskey Lullaby," a song he wrote with Bill Anderson that brought CMA and ACM awards to Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss for their sad and grievous duet. "In the Country" was written with Gary Scruggs and "North Carolina Moon" was penned with Ron Stewart. Throughout the album, the music is kept largely acoustic, and the arrangements enhance his expressive voice without overpowering. Guitar, fiddle, dobro, mandolin, piano, and percussion are just what the doctor ordered for his emotionally-charged vocalizing. Midway through the set, harmonica imparts intensity to the bluesy "Austin."
            Jon Randall has enlisted some impressive instrumental and vocal support for the project. "No Southern Comfort" has Alison Krauss' silky smooth backup, while Patty Loveless belts out harmony for "I Shouldn't Do This." The title cut could well be his theme song as this solo debut project will open a new chapter for this talented singer and songwriter. The juxtaposition of organ and banjo in the song's arrangement emphasizes his desire to simply make good music that knows no boundaries. Although the drums a bit heavy in the mix, Randall's only cover, Robert Lee Castleman's "My Life," evolves into a hot picking session that features some kickin' guitar, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin breaks.
            From Dallas, Jon's parents both played bluegrass music. He moved to Nashville after graduating from high school, and his break came at age 20 when Holly Dunn hired him after hearing him at Nashville's Opryland theme park. He then worked for five years with Emmylou Harris' Nash Ramblers. Jon recorded for BNA Records, Asylum Records, and Eminent Records. With Sam Bush, he recorded Glamour & Grits (1996) and Howlin' at the Moon (1998). After a stint touring with Lyle Lovett, he sang with Patty Loveless on Mountain Soul (2001) and Bluegrass & White Snow (2002). Patty and Jon also sang together on Grammy winner, Livin,' Lovin,' Losin,': Songs of the Louvin Brothers. It's nice to see him now concentrating on writing and presenting his own outstanding songs. (Joe Ross)

Dream Big

(sampler from the upcoming Capitol Records Nashville Release 73343)
Capitol 7087-6-19085-2-7 OR
INFO: john.gusty@echomusic.ocm OR
Playing Time - 21:25
            As they sing at track 3 of this 6-song sampler, Ryan Shupe & The Rubberband "Dream Big." They believe in their music, and perseverance and hard work will allow them to fulfill their dream that is as big as the ocean blue. Originally from Utah, Ryan Shupe sings with an engaging and distinctive appeal. Acoustic country is taking Nashville by storm, and Ryan's groove fits the scene. With more of a country grass flavor, these guys are on the bandwagon. "Simplify" could be the start of a new genre, funkgrass or rapgrass. You're sure to grin like a Cheshire cat when "Banjo Boy" spins. It's a frolicking, fun-filled, funky song about a banjo-player who wants to be a star. A real contradiction there! Besides lead vocals, Ryan's instruments of choice are guitar, fiddle and mandolin. The other elastic musicians are Colin Botts (bass, vocals), Roger Archibald (guitar, vocals), Craig Miner (banjo, bouzouki, guitar, mandolin, vocals), and Bart Olson (drums). This band is very hip. They may be best categorized as Americana, or just as rugged musicians with considerable individualism. (Joe Ross)

The Outsider

Columbia AC2K 94470
550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211
INFO: john.gusty@echomusic.ocm OR
TEL (212)833-4448 OR 4101
            Growing up in Houston, Rodney Crowell grew up solidly grounded in country music. He was lured to Nashville by a promoter who didn't follow through on his promise to use Crowell as an opening act on a major tour. However, Crowell eventually found his Nashville niche, first as a member of Emmylou Harris' Hot Band, and then as a songwriter, producer and arranger. You may remember than Bob Seger turned his "Shame on the Moon" into a pop hit. And his "After All This Time" won a Grammy. Don't forget his "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight." Despite a slow start at commercial success in the 1980s, that changed with his regular hits throughout the decades to follow. Mainstream country success can often be elusive, despite a songwriter like Crowell having a very tantalizing appeal. "Diamonds & Dirt" was a great album from the 1990s and so were "The Houston Kid" (2001) and "Fate's Right Hand." (2003). He's also written songs like "Making Memories of Us," which Keith Urban landed n the country charts.
            Which brings us to today. "The Outsider" has plenty of messages. They're honest and insightful, and his garage-band approach has the raw energy of country, blues and rock. Why, it could be argued that a song like "Beautiful Despair" even has some classical and folk leanings. "The Outsider" rightly focuses on Crowell, the songwriter. Of the eleven songs, ten were written by Crowell. "The Obscenity Prayer (Give It to Me)" is a raucous statement in support of blatant materialism, hedonism and epicureanism. That song introduces us to Rodney Crowell, perhaps even more philosopher than songwriter. With "Don't Get Me Started," he issues a cautious warning about engaging him in discourse about war, politics, poverty, corporate America, genocide, and more. Of course, his ingenious song has already gotten him started with his angry statement. Inspiration for the song stemmed from an encounter he had in an Irish pub where Americans were blamed for all the world's problems. Although Crowell may sound incensed, "The Outsider" also has calmer songs for smooth sailing. These include "Glasgow Girl," "Say You Love Me,"and a cover of Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm," sung as a duet with Emmylou Harris. The former song features some exquisite guitar work by Randy Scruggs. Friends John Prine, Buddy and Julie Miller also help out on the album. "The Outsider" gives a set full of thoughtful songs that are both edgy and seductive. (Joe Ross)

Keep On The Sunny Side: Her Life In Music

Columbia/Legacy C2K 90908
550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211
INFO: Tom Cording or Randy Haecker
Kay Clary, Commotion PR
TEL (212)833-4448 OR 4101
Playing Time - Disc 1 (48:19), Disc 2 (57:12)
            This monumental 2-disc archive comes with a hard cover CD book full of liner notes, historical perspectives, song credits and photographs. The Carter Family (A.P., Sara, Maybelle) first recorded in Bristol, Tn. in 1927, two years before June was born. This project opens with the original Carter Family singing "Keep on the Sunny Side," followed by ten-year-old June Carter singing "Oh! Susannah" in 1939. The 1949 cut of "Root Hog or Die" includes her trademark "growl," and her comic routines until 1948 as Aunt Polly might've included buck-dancing. Onstage, she simply became "Little Junie Carter" (a friendly, innocent tease) when they came to the Grand Ole Opry in 1950.
            Besides including songs recorded alone with Nashville sidemen, disc 1 takes us up to 1964 with cuts from the Carter Sisters & Mother Maybelle, June with Carl Smith (a refreshing but largely ignored rendition of "Love Oh Crazy Love"), June with Homer & Jethro ("Baby, It's Cold Outside" and "Country Girl"), and The Carter Family with Johnny Cash. Unfortunately, some of musicians (pedal steel, drums, piano, guitar, bass) accompanying June on songs like "Juke Box Blues," "No Swallerin' Place," and "The Heel" are unknown. Just from her tone and inflection, it's readily apparent that June was a good-time fun-loving gal who always kept on the sunny side of life. She was a true entertainer who loved to sing. However, her success was slow in coming in an era where female vocalists were more of a novelty in country music. June's various antics and hillbilly humor became part of her act presumably as a result of her own lack of self-confidence as a vocalist. After she and Carl Smith divorced in 1956, she studied acting in New York. "The Heel" (about a paranoid, love-obsessed, would-be killer) was recorded after five years away from the studio. In 1961, Johnny Cash invited Maybelle and the Carter Sisters to tour with him. June co-authored "Ring of Fire," and her 1964 version is presented here.
            Disc 2 has material recorded primarily between 1967-1976, along with three cuts from 1999-2003 (Will the Circle be Unbroken, Diamonds in the Rough, Keep on the Sunny Side). The four songs sung with Johnny Cash come from 1967, 1969, 1972 and 1976. "Jackson" and "If I Were a Carpenter" were both top 40 hits for them. They toured widely and also had a highly-rated television show in the late 1960s and 70s. June also sings "Once Before I Die" with Jerry Hensley. Some of the most enjoyable songs on disc 2 are the non-duo tracks, and especially those originals such as "A Good Man," "Losin' You," "Gatsby's Restaurant," "Appalachian Pride," and a number of others. While largely unnoticed at the time, her songs from this period are indicative of her experience, maturity, comedic verve and dramatic aptitude. Her mountain soul and roots may be best revealed with a cover of Jean Ritchie's "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore." She put out a successful album in 1999 called "Press On." Shortly after she finished recording the album "Wildwood Flower," June Carter Cash died on May 15, 2003. This 2-CD compilation is welcome documentation of "her life in music." Earl Scruggs stated, "She was always full of energy and a really great show-gal." And as Johnny Cash once said, "June's work will live on and on." (Joe Ross)

The Best Kept Secret

Koch CD—9847
Koch Records, 740 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10003
PHONE 212-353-8800
INFO: Melchiorre, Gio OR OR OR OR OR
Playing Time - 52:02
            Just about two decades ago, Jerry Douglas had already established himself as the premier dobro player on the bluegrass scene. Fine albums on the Rounder, MCA and Sugar Hill labels were one of his legacies from the 1980s and 90s. "Slide Rule" and "Lookout for Hope" were two stupendous releases. Now associated with growing Koch Records, Douglas now appears headed in new electric directions that match up his resophonic guitars, Fender telecaster and lap steel with drums, B-3 organ, violin, guitars, bass, mandolin, banjo, saxophone and piano. Joining him on the journey are a number of friends, including Sam Bush and Bela Fleck who joined Jerry in the band, Strength in Numbers. Other key quests include Alison Krauss, John Fogerty, Bill Frisell, and Derek Trucks.
            "The Best Kept Secret" may take a few by surprise. Bluegrass fans expecting a more acoustic or traditional sound will be displeased. On the other hand, fans of progressive country rock will immediately take to the dramatic opening salvo of the 6-minute "She Makes Me Want To Sing," with its driving guitar. The album appears to be a vehicle for Douglas' astonishing creative juices to freely flow, an even the most close-minded traditionalist has to appreciate the hot picking in the upbeat "Who's Your Uncle?" An album of enterprising undertaking, Douglas seems to enjoy the challenge of facing formidable tasks. It's actually pretty cool to hear Alison Krauss getting down and funky on "Back in Love Again." Assuming you like blues and country rock, this is the kind of music that grows on you with repeated listens. On my first few spins of the CD, orchestrated late at night after a long day, I took to the soothing effect of Joe Zawinul's "A Remark You Made" and Bob Willis classic "Swing Blues No. 1," sung by John Fogerty. Guitarist Bill Frisell trading licks on "Lil' RoRo," and Douglas' "Ya Ya etc." are packed with punch and intensity. Musicians appearing on most cuts are Gabe Witcher (violin, B-3), Keith Sewell (guitars), Shannon Forrest (drums, percussion), and Derek Jones (acoustic bass).
            While many Nashville artists are getting more country or acoustic and a lot less rock 'n' roll, Jerry Douglas is bucking that trend. I won't purport to say that he's going against the grain because he's never had a specific grain to follow. His objective has always been to simply produce stimulating music. With multiple Grammy awards under his belt, Jerry Douglas has the experience and smarts to know exactly what he's doing. His "Best Kept Secret" may be commercial and targeting a younger album-buying demographic. In any case, we know he's come to represent exceptional dobrology with broad influences. His aqueous compositions are full of excitement and energy. It's another chapter in Flux's music book that illustrates the creative genius at work. (Joe Ross)

Bareback at Big Sky

Drifters Church Productions 82297-60001-2 OR
INFO: Tamara Saviano 615-385-1233 OR
Playing Time - 72:35
            "Bareback at Big Sky" was recorded live in April, 2005 in Bozeman, Montana. Long gone are guys like Richie Furay, Jim Messina and George Grantham who first established Poco's innovative country rock sound in Los Angeles back in the early-1970s. However, Rusty Young (steel, mandolin, dobro, vocals) was one of the original members. Paul Cotton (guitar, vocals) joined the band in the 70s. Rusty, Paul and their bandmates are keeping Poco's warm, pleasant, crisp music alive that is characterized by solid arrangements and vocal harmony. Joining Young and Cotton are Jack Sundrud (bass, vocals) and George Lawrence (percussion). "Big Dave" David Goodwin plays harmonica on J.J. Cale's bluesy "Cajun Moon," always a crowd-pleaser.
            "Bareback at the Big Sky" captures the band's lyricism and upbeat approach. The CD is full of wonderful moments and great songs, largely written by Cotton, Young and Sundrud. "Every Time I Hear that Train" presents an analogy about a signal in the night running through Paul's heart. Largely unplugged, songs like "Under the Gun" and "Barbados" are given musical facelifts with more laid-back acoustic sensibilites. "Midnight Rain" has some tantalizing pedal steel work by Young. On a few other cuts, I found myself wishing that his mandolin and dobro were a little more prominent in the mix like Cotton's guitar. Besides the cover from J.J. Cale, others are from Timothy Schmit/Robbin Thompson ("Find Out in Time"), and Neil Young ("On the Way Home"). "Find Out in Time" was arranged with Poco's vocal trio. "On the Way Home" is a signature closing tune since the 1960s, as they did in Poco's precursor band, Buffalo Springfield.
            Doing a live album was also wise to demonstrate that they still pull in large and dedicated audiences full of Poconuts. The venue was the Goodwin Ranch, a beautiful lodge at the base of the Bridger Mountains. At 72 minutes, this album is filled to the brim with Poco's spellbinding and more acoustic country rock sound and even, by request of an audience member, their rabbit joke to close the project. (Joe Ross)

Shake, Rattle and Polka

Rounder 11661-6111-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140
617-218-4495 OR OR
Playing Time - 31:48
            By his junior year in high school, Jimmy Sturr, a young man of Irish descent, was fronting his Orchestra in Florida, New York, a fertile area to where European immigrants brought their culture, music and farming skills. Now, 14 Grammy Awards later, the big band is still primarily a polka band although its repertoire includes songs from rock ‘n' roll, country, Cajun and western swing works also. Nine polkas and three waltzes make up the set on "Shake, Rattle and Polka!" If you're not used to the beat, you might have a double take at a polka version of a song like "Maybellene" or "I Walk the Line" or "Rock Around the Clock." But, the bottomline is that the music is lively, and it's danceable. As is typical with the many releases from this group, Jimmy and the 14 musicians are also joined by many special guests on a few tracks apiece: Willie Nelson, Duane Eddy, Frankie Ford, Delbert McClinton, The Duprees, and Chris Eddy. For a slower favorite I perked up when The Duprees sang "You Belong To Me." Faster favorites are Willie singing "Blueberry Hill" and Delbert singing "Promised Land." The only instrumental is "Detour" featuring guitarist Duane Eddy.
            A question on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" television show hosted by Regis Philbin, was "Who is America's polka king?" The contestant won $250,000 by correctly answering "Jimmy Sturr". This hard-working and prolific band tours extensively and has appeared in some very prestigious venues. Their music is spirited, energetic, infectious and stimulating. His creative approach has been to adapt hits from other genres to the polka tradition. So the American melting pot is also reflected in his own simmering musical cauldron. (Joe Ross)


Rounder 11661-3250-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140
617-218-4495 OR OR OR
Playing Time - 68:43
            Bruce Cockburn is a world-renowned guitar master who has released his first ever instrumental recording. Produced by Colin Linden and Bruce Cockburn, "Speechless" includes some previously recorded material along with new recordings. "Sunwheel Dance," for example, was the title track from an album released on True North Records in 1971. "Fox Glove" comes from 1973 "Night Vision" project, "Salt, Sun and Time" from the 1974 record of the same name, and "Mistress of Storms" from 1996's "The Charity of Night." One composition, "Rise and Fall," was previously only available in Japan. Bruce's new recordings include "The End of All Rivers," "King Kong Goes to Tallahassee," and "Elegy." The common thread throughout his songs is one of warmth spun from the yarn of peaceful personality, charisma and state of mind.
            Cockburn has written hundreds of songs for his over two dozen albums. He's also received numerous awards. Known as a compassionate ambassador for humanitarian causes throughout the world, he has traveled extensively to most of the continents. In January 2004, he was in Baghdad. His music is an extension of his personal feelings and desires to put an end to war, poverty, starvation, hate, violence and other social injustices. Thus, "Speechless" is a bit of a misnomer for this album because Cockburn's music speaks volumes, depending on how you interpret, reflect or meditate with it. (Joe Ross)

Raw Vision 1984-1994

Philo 11671-1248-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140
617-218-4495 OR OR OR OR OR
Playing Time - 60:34
            SONGS - 1 Waterloo, 2 U.S. Steel, 3 Blue Wing, 4 Home Before Dark, 5 Veteran's Day, 6 Purgatory Road, 7 Heart of Hearts, 8 Navajo Rug, 9 Gallo Del Cielo, 10 Spanish Burgundy, 11 Hurricane Season, 12 Haley's Comet, 13 Oil Field Girls , 14 Hong Kong Boy, 15 Denver Wind
            About a decade or two ago, The Tom Russell Band's music was considered folk. Now, this album hails the band's frontman as "one of the seminal artists of the Americana movement." The singer/songwriter from New York emerged on the scene in the mid-1980s, and his sound had influences of country, rock, Tex-Mex and folk. You might have seen his name in songwriting credits in collaboration with such big names as Nanci Griffith, Peter Case, Ian Tyson, Sylvia Tyson, Dave Alvin and Katy Moffatt. On "Raw Vision," all but three selections were written solely by Russell. "Navajo Rug" was written with Ian Tyson; "Haley's Comet" with Dave Alvin; and "Hong Kong Boy" with Greg Trooper. Americana has now come to signify an eclectic blend of music, largely acoustic, for diverse tastes. The format implies an aesthetic style that is honest roots music with a connection to country. Americana is both a small grassroots specialty format as well somewhat of a marketing strategy too. It's also a foundation that serves as a springboard for artists who are difficult to categorize exactly.
            The Tom Russell Band released five albums on the Philo label between 1984 and 1994. With deep voice, Russell is a storyteller with his lyrics. His songs are packed with imagery and emotions. Instrumentally, the band works as a strong team. Besides Russell on acoustic guitar and vocals, there are Andrew Hardin (guitar, bass), David Mansfield (slide guitar), Fats Kaplin (pedal steel, fiddle, harmonica, accordion), Lee Thornburg, Tom Timko (horns), Skip Edwards (keyboards), Hank Bones, Dusty Wakeman, Billy Troiani (bass), Steve Holley, Charlie Caldarola, Mike Warner, Jeff Donovan (drums). Guests include Katy Moffatt, Greg Trooper, Ian Tyson, and David Hidalgo.
            This compilation documents some solid performances of some very polished songs. With this album's release following in Katrina's aftermath, "Hurricane Season" is particularly a timely piece. "Haley's Comet" is a classic about Bill Haley's demise. So are "Blue Wing," "Veteran's Day," and "Navajo Rug." Johnny Cash also cut the first two. Another popular Tom Russell Band song is "Gallo del Cielo," which Joe Ely covered. One cut that I wish Tom would've included is one co-written with bassist Andrew Hardin called "Zane Grey."
            Americana has been trying to position itself as a "better alternative" to mainstream stations. Tom Russell Band has as strong alternative country flavor. If you're part of that whole segment of music-listening populace who is not listening just to what is programmed on the pop and country charts, you owe it to yourself to rediscover this body of work from The Tom Russell Band. "Raw Vision" realizes that the country music umbrella is much broader than just might hear on mainstream radio. Tom Russell's tangent from the 80s and 90s was on the leading edge of the Americana movement. "Oil Field Girls," "Hong Kong Boy," and "Denver Wind" are previously unreleased. (Joe Ross)

O Come Look at the Burning

Crowville Collective CC-4001
PO BOX 60493, Nashville, TN 37206
INFO: Tamara Saviano TEL. (615)385-1233 OR
Playing Time - 50:31
            His first album in five years (since "Down to the Well"), Louisiana native Kevin Gordon just up and felt the musical urge to get back in the studio. Recorded live in a home studio in east Nashville, the band's music captures the same impulsiveness and capriciousness that characterizes his life. His shows can often have great power and passion.
            "O Come Look at the Burning" has a raw and raucous personality. There are ten new original songs, and all lyrics are included in the CD jacket. Charles "Wigg" Walker, an early 1960s Nashville R & B star, appears as a guest vocalist on "Flowers." The band's rhythmic foundation is built around guitars, bass, drums and Hammond organ. On a few pieces with R&B influence, it might have been very interesting to consider some saxophone in the mix. Gordon covers Eddie Hinton`s "Something Heavy" and Willie Dixon`s "Crazy Mixed-Up World" (originally recorded in 1959 by Little Walter). The former may be the best statement about Kevin Gordon's perspective on life, sanity, and need for something heavy to keep moving in the right direction. His original music on "O Come Look at the Burning" is a bit abstract too. It's a little mysterious, but the essence of the singer/songwriter's music shows an ardent appreciation for colliding and conflicting forces. In his on-line blog, Gordon makes reference to similarities in the rodeo arena: "God and country, sin and redemption, man and animal." (Joe Ross)

Woman of the House

Rounder 11661-7063-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140
617-218-4495 OR OR
Playing Time - 52:13
            New to the Rounder Records label, Cherish the Ladies have a well-produced and highly-arranged selection of songs on "Woman of the House." The five women in the band also enlist the support of 14 artists in various guest instrumental and vocal capacities. Thus, the project creates many moods, and we listeners are richly rewarded. Cherish the Ladies is Joanie Madden (flute, whistles, harmony vocals), Heidi Talbot (lead vocals, bodhran), Mary Coogan (guitar, banjo, mandolin), Mirella Murray (accordion) and Roisin Dillon (fiddle). To accompany the splendid music, a 16-page CD booklet includes photos, lyrics and background notes about the songs.
            Cherish the Ladies has been together for over twenty years, and their traditional Celtic music has built them a legion of fans. Their albums have been tightly crafted, with haunting vocals and striking instrumental accomplishment. The newest band member, Heidi Talbot has a magnetic voice that adds much to Cherish the Ladies' signature sound. Haunting contemporary Celtic accompaniment and vocal harmonies are another. Besides sung by Joanie Madden, the noteworthy harmonies are courtesy of Kate Rusby, Eddi Reader, Donna Long and Karen Matheson (of Capercaillie). Heidi, Karen and Eddi share the vocal spotlight on the oft-sung "Fair and Tender Ladies." Other key contributors are producer Phil Cunningham (piano, keys), Triona Ni Dhomhnaill (piano) and Donald Shaw (Wurlitzer organ).
            With one foot firmly planted in tradition, this band also keeps one headed in the direction of the future. These innovative and forward thinkers demonstrate a playful spirit. The great reels at track one, as well as "The Hills of New Zealand" at track six were composed by Madden. Inspiration for the latter came from the hard work and research a Kiwi man showed to return her lost digital camera. The band's mixture of the familiar with their own creative artistry is commendable. Whether instrumental or vocal, CTL's music conveys powerful messages of struggle, hardship, bravery, love, kindness, compassion and benevolence. That's a real laundry list and a lot of ground to musically cover, but well-performed Celtic music creates this for me. And how better to end an album on an uplifting note of optimism than with four cheery reels. CTL's debut on the Rounder label is a clear triumph with its striking music. CTL's poignant presentation is truly moving. (Joe Ross)

North of the Border

Rounder CD-0315
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140
617-218-4495 OR OR
Playing Time - 40:22
            Mandolin tonemaster John Reischman's highly-acclaimed 1993 solo album on the Rounder label highlights his musical depth and composing skills in a variety of acoustic settings. In fact, this album may be the best of all his releases to gain an appreciation for John's great diversity and comfort in many genres of music from bluegrass, Latin and jazz. We are also treated to five of his own originals. About his own original instrumentals, John once told me that plenty come from just noodling around on the mandolin. He might decide on a particular type of tune to write, and the key to get started. He often ends up with something different than intended. For example, he started "Big Bug" as a Monroe style blues in E. He worked on it a long time, and it ended up as a breakdown with more notes in the melody. Several composed while walking and just humming a tune have resulted in his strongest, melodically speaking. Like beautiful rays of sunlight in one's backyard on a pretty spring day, John Resichman plays clear, tuneful music without distractions.
            "North of the Border" includes a cross section of styles, but his primary accompanists are eleven top acoustic players such as Todd Phillips (bass), Scott Nygaard (guitar), Tony Trischka (banjo), Byron Berline (fiddle), Sally Van Meter (dobro), and Rob Ickes (dobro). While every cut is strong, it's interesting that the trios with John, Scott and Todd actually convey some of the most powerful chemistry. These include the songs "Brooks" and "You'd be so Nice to Come Home To." The largest ensemble used is basically a quintet for five cuts that keeps the mandolin front and center around the other instruments.
            A thrilling instrumental delight, "North of the Border" is a majestic album. Delightfully diverse and flawlessly played, the music covers all four bases - for shrewdness, subtlety, skillfulness and sophistication. Thus, "North of the Border" hits a homerun. (Joe Ross)

The Bumpy Road

Corvus Records CR009
Playing Time - 42:01
            SONGS - 1. The Bumpy Road, 2. Kenny's Gone, 3. Pacoca, 4. Danza, 5. The Path Downhill, 6. Wind Song, 7. Snake Eyes, 8. Three Lions, 9. Pedro Padilla Medley, 10. Don't Wake Me Up
            Hang on tight. "The Bumpy Road" has plenty of twists and turns. However, with guitarist John Miller and mandolinist John Reischman in the drivers' seats, we can be assured that we'll arrive safely at our final destination. Along the way, we might visit Central America, Ireland, Cuba, Puerto Rico, South America, and Paris. Largely original material characterizes the smooth, dreamy album from Miller and Reischman. "The Bumpy Road" is their second duo project and was released in 2002. A bit different than their first release, "The Singing Moon" (1998), this CD has both musicians equally sharing the soloing and improvising. Also, "The Path Downhill" features the vocals of Koralee Tonack. There are no weak cuts on "The Bumpy Road," but some personal favorites are those that either really challenge the pickers…or result in a musical bonding that reaps bountiful rewards. Miller's "Danza" and Reischman's "Snake Eyes" and "Three Lions" are good examples. Besides using their nimble fingers, these guys clearly know how to be astute listeners to each other too. Celso Machado's chorinho "Pacoca" and Miller's jazz waltz "Wind Song" make the intricate notes and techniques sound so very effortless. We know that great skill and exertion are need to do it all so right, and we even hear a few grunts of concentration. The only slight criticism I have of "The Bumpy Road" is that this type of music would have a much fuller sound with a little low end as in having a hot upright bass player in the session, especially to complement the mandolin's rhythm during guitar breaks.
            Expect plenty of flair, festivity and fun while on "The Bumpy Road" with Reischman and Miller, two outstanding musicians who share similar admirable qualities -- great rhythm, creativity, respect for tradition, and sense of humor. Isn't it about time for this duo to give us another set of grooving, memorable tunes? (Joe Ross)

White Window

Benjamusic BMPWW2005
TEL. (615)399-4551
Playing Time - 44:52
            SONGS - 1. Business, 2. Rain Check, 3. The Sky Is Falling, 4. Run Away, 5. Get The Lead Out, 6. Left Out, 8. Rocket Ride, 8. White Window, 9. Suddenly, 10. Pessimistic Proposal, 11. One Man Band, 12. Cheap Date, 13. Light, 14. Regret
            Singer-songwriter Benjamin Olson describes his music as "pop-sensible Americana folk-rock." He has a few catchy melodies, and he seems sincere in the delivery of his lyrics although a song like "Left Out" challenges his range on the low register. Originally from Wisconsin, Olson started writing songs at age 15, and he had over 100 songs by the time he graduated high school. He eventually found himself Nashville in 2003. While he had played drums and piano (and does so on a couple tracks of "White Window"), his favorite instrument is now the guitar. Others on the album include Rod Lewis (bass, vox), Tim Grogan (drums, percussion, keys, vox), and Howard Buckwold (electric guitar, mandolin).
            Olson appears to be reaching out to the Americana market, and his challenge is to create memorable songs. His music seems more in tune with the Austin scene than perhaps Nashville. His best efforts are "One Man Band," "The Sky is Falling," "Regret," and "3d Rocket Ride." While "Regret" is regretfully a little short (under two minutes), it has a nice acoustic flavoring in comparison to the drum-heavy and throbbing opener, "Business," which has punk or grunge overtones. "Rain Check" starts with a haunting feel then the song's genesis takes us through some dynamics of various tonal and rhythmic colors. The title cut, an instrumental piano piece with eerie synthesizer which appears at track 8, seems a bit out of place sandwiched between the more raucous offerings. However, it does showcase his piano playing in a rather lean, almost demo-like, arrangement. "Suddenly" then establishes a funky groove as it relates a enigmatic recipe. Despite Olson's perseverance and dedication to his craft, the message in "Pessimistic Proposal" could be construed as a rather defeatist attitude when it comes to love-gone-wrong or rejection.
            To get his messages further heard and understood, Olson should've included his lyrics in the CD jacket. Stylistically, "White Window" shows that Benjamin Olson shows promise as a budding songwriter. I'd encourage him to listen to some guys like Tom Russell, Jon Randall, Rodney Crowell and Ryan Shupe for a better handle on the alt country genre. I did appreciate his ability to combine blues, rock, punk and funk rhythms into his music. With some good support and a bit of luck, we could be hearing much more about Benjamin Olson in the near future. (Joe Ross)

Double Violin Concerto

PO Box 398,Bonsall, CA. 92003
EMAIL OR Ellen Pryor
Playing Time - 59:33
            Recorded at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver on two nights in November, 2003, "Double Violin Concerto" features violinists Mark O'Connor and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop. "Double Violin Concerto" was composed by O'Connor in 1997 and is his third symphonic concerto. Mark's goal was to achieve blues, jazz, swing and big band feelings, and he shows an extraordinary ability to accomplish it as only a virtuoso can. The piece was originally composed for Nadja and was premiered with the Chicago Symphony in 1999. The third movement, "Dixieland," give the Orchestra's bass players and horns a good workout. Mark and Nadja also perform "Appalachia Waltz." O'Connor's "Johnny Appleseed Suite" is his 1994 orchestration of the children's music he originally composed for a Garrison Keillor disc and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Children's Recording. Friends John Jarvis (piano) and Bryan Sutton (guitar) join O'Connor and the Orchestra in a resplendent string journey. Long exquisite lines provide us with nostalgic views lost to the passing of time. The album closes with Mark's splendid rendition of "Amazing Grace" with Orchestra. His fluid, lyrical, and emotional style is truly heartwarming.
            I first became familiar with Marin Alsop, the emerging superstar conductor when she was on the podium with the Eugene Symphony Orchestra. Her insight, instinct, intuition and interpretation of the music resulted in O'Connor calling her "the best friend to an American composer." Mark's collaboration with Nadja has spanned about six years, and he considers her to be "one the greatest violinists of not only our time but of all time." A diverse musician who has made a considerable name for himself in many walks of life, O'Connor has a down-to-earth style which is impeccable. Salerno-Sonnenberg's second violin is played with a more regimented classical approach. However, both have excellent command of the techniques to impressively play difficult passages and responses that complement each other. There are occasional flurries of notes and rapid-fire commentary, but the two indefatigable maestros fully understand each other. (Joe Ross)


Rounder 11661-3246-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140
TEL. 617-218-4495 OR OR Alan or Lesley at Indiscreet PR OR
Playing Time - 70:59
            SONGS - Intro / Sweet Mama / Ain't Misbehavin' / She's My Gal / Goodbye Charlie Blues / Up A Lazy River / Sari Barabas / Polly Wolly Doodle / Please Don't Talk About Me / Keep Your Hands Off / Think Of Me, Thinking of You / Marie Redo / Sugar / Big Time Woman / Loveletters / Sixteen Bars I Like / Going Home / Diddy Wah Diddy / Play, Gypsy, Play / Whistling Colonel / Shake That Thing / Relax
            Recorded live at the Olympia Theater in Paris, France on 10/26/92, Leon Redbone "Live" is a splendid treat for fans of the eccentric performer who presents music from the traditions of early jazz, blues, ragtime and folk. Appearing on the music scene in Toronto about 1970, Redbone built himself a strong cult following, and his stage persona is one of odd appearance but swinging music presented without much expression. Antics like the Woody Woodpecker theme make their way into "Ain't Misbehavin." While some of the words are a little hard to make out in a piece like "She's My Gal," Redbone shows he's got a knack for scat. He's also a phenomenal whistler ("The Whistling Colonel"), and that gets the appreciative crowd clapping along.
            The album is well-packed with 71 minutes of music featuring twenty-one songs. He dishes up some memorable interpretations of "Polly Wolly Doodle," "Diddy Wah Diddy," "Sugar," "Up the Lazy River," and "Relax." Sadly missing are some of his best and campiess oldies like "Lulu's Back in Town," "Lazybones," as well as some favorites like "Champagne Charlie" that was featured on his 2-CD 1985 live album on the Greene-Stone label. Redbone has also been known to cover country (like "Lovesick Blues" or "Your Cheatin' Heart") and even Dylan ("Living the Blues"). Dylan, along with well-known musicians like Bonnie Raitt and Maria Muldaur, have been huge supporters of Redbone over the years. Of special note on this live project are the Hungarian "Csardas" and Irving Berlin's "Marie." In the former, though, liner notes are unclear as to who the guest female vocalist is.
            Guitarist and vocalist Leon Redbone deserves to be remembered as much more than a novelty act. Although his distinctive visual image has been described as "part Groucho Marx, part Vaudeville entertainer," Redbone is an excellent musician from the true vine. This particular concert also includes Scott Black (cornet), David Boeddinghaus (piano), and Frank Vignola (guitar). The stellar quartet is tight, and their arrangements don't show any subtle missteps. A fun-filled "Shake That Thing" gets the band (and crowd) shouting out the response. The audience takes to old standards like "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," as well as quick paced romps through novelty numbers like "Waitin' on You" and "Big Time Woman." Leon already sings with a deep, gruff voice so my only complaint with this album is its fidelity and our inability to understand all the lyrics. There's no doubt that Redbone is an American treasure, and a generous live album is second best to seeing him live. He's no joke, and his repertoire of songs from the hit parades of yesteryear are timeless crowd-pleasers. (Joe Ross)

That Old Book of Mine

County CD-2740
PO Box 7405, Charlottesville, Va. 22906
TEL. (434)973-5151
Playing Time - 40:16
            Considered one of the best tenor singers ever in bluegrass music, this reissue of a 1971 album called "Curly Seckler Sings Again" (County-732) also includes five cuts from Curly's 1989 release with Willis Spears called "Tribute To Lester Flatt" (Rebel CS-4301). All told, we're treated to 16 tracks including such classics as "No Mother In This World," "Salty Dog Blues," and "You Took My Sunshine." In 2004, Seckler was deservedly inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Hall of Honor (they had previously honored Seckler in 1996 with the Distinguished Achievement Award).
            This bluegrass pioneer is from China Grove, N.C., and his real name is John Ray Sechler. With his brothers, his first band was The Yodeling Rangers in 1935. Four years later, he joined up as a guitar and banjo player with Charlie Monroe. In 1948, he joined Mac Wiseman in The Smokey Mountaineers. In the late-40s or early-50s, he briefly worked with Danny Bailey, The Cope Brothers (on Grand Ole Opry), Jim & Jesse (making an album on Capitol with them), The Stanley Brothers and The Sauceman Brothers. By 1949, he was with Flatt and Scruggs as one of their Foggy Mountain Boys. After a year, he left them to work with Jim & Jesse, but he became a Foggy Mountain Boy again from 1952-62 when he retired and started a trucking business.
            The 1971 session also included Billy Edwards (banjo), Herschel Sizemore (mandolin), Tater Tate (fiddle) and John Palmer (bass). Curly played guitar, and sang lead or tenor at this session. If singing tenor, the lead vocals would be handled by Billy Edwards. When called for ("Salty Dog Blues" and "Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky"), Tater Tate would sing the baritone harmony part. The band's quartet is featured on the gospel piece, "Remember the Cross," and Hank Williams' "Sing, Sing, Sing." Of special note are Seckler's own compositions, "That Old Book of Mine" and "What's the Matter Now," that illustrate his songwriting abilities as well. Of course many of the songs covered from the repertoire of Flatt and Scruggs. Seckler and Flatt collaborated to co-write "No Mother or Dad."
            After recording, Curly Seckler "unretired" in 1973 and joined Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass. Although Lester died in 1979, Curly assumed the leadership role to keep the band going until about 1994. In 1981, Curly Seckler & The Nashville Grass hired Willis Spears as their lead singer. In 1987, Seckler and Willis became partners, and they led the band together until Curly's retirement in 1994.
            The 1989 recording session teamed up Seckler (on mandolin) with Willis Spears (guitar), Ron Stewart (fiddle), Larry Perkins (banjo), and Philip Staff (bass). Seckler only sang tenor to Spears' lead at this session. Stewart or Perkins added baritone parts on two of the five songs offered. Perkins also picks lead guitar on "Give Me the Roses While I Live," that has Harold Jones adding the bass vocal in the only quartet from this session.
            This reissue captures the sounds of significant periods in traditional bluegrass history. Curly Seckler has always remained true to his traditional form. This classic bluegrass is about as good as it gets, and "That Old Book of Mine" should be required reading. (Joe Ross)

It's Getting' Better All the Time

Koch CD-9884
1709 19th Ave. South, Nashville, TN.37212 OR
EMAIL TEL. (615)298-9944 OR OR
Playing Time - 44:52
            I just finished listening to Curly Seckler's "That Old Book of Mine," and now Ronnie Bowman's new project is spinning. Boy, has bluegrass evolved within just the course of a few decades. There's the rustic mountain side, but there's also an urbane and more refined contemporary side. Both types have their own elegance and sophistication. Ronnie Bowman sings like a country boy at heart, and he actually does hail from North Carolina and Virginia. Music's been an enormous part of his life ever since he first started singing with his parents and four sisters in "The Bowman Gospel Singers." He became a professional bluegrass musician when he joined The Lost and Found in 1987. By 1990, he was the lead singer with The Lonesome River Band. His first solo album in 1994 climbed to #1 on the BU Top 30 chart. The 1995, 1998 and 1999 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year is also a fantastic songwriter. You may recall award-winners like "Cold Virginia Rain," "The Healing Kind," and "Three Rusty Nails." Country musicians Dan Seals, Brooks and Dunn, and others have recorded his songs.
            Just like Curly Seckler's tenor was many years ago, Ronnie Bowman's bluegrass voice is a defining one of our time today. Combined with stellar instrumental support and an enchanting repertoire of fresh material, Ronnie hits a homerun right out of the park. His musical companions include Wyatt Rice (guitar), Dan Tyminski or Adam Steffey (mandolin), Andy Hall (dobro), Steve Thomas (fiddle), Dave Talbot (banjo), Dave Pomeroy (bass). "The Epitaph of Lester Moore" has the assistance of Del, Ronnie and Rob McCoury. "It's Getting' Better All the Time" is leanly arranged with just Ronnie singing with John Jarvis' piano and strings. With a little more acoustic country emphasis, we really only hear banjo on three songs ("Crazy Train" and "The Epitaph of Lester Moore" and "Walkin' the Dog"). The latter features the banjo-picking of Don Wayne Reno, fiddle bowing of Jeremy Garrett, and Mike Anglin's vocal. I wish that a couple numbers (e.g. "Perfect Love") might've also included some five-string, but thank you Ronnie, for not incorporating drums or percussion into your music. In most arrangements, Ronnie sings both lead and tenor vocals. High baritone harmonies are beautifully rendered by Garnet Imes-Bowman.
            Eight of the eleven songs were penned or co-penned by Bowman. In his songs, he exhibits a natural inclination to set the stage, pull you into the stories, and impart evocative messages. His melodies and attention-grabbing lyrics flow smoothly. The lines all sound so correctly assembled. With this amount of original material, I wish that the CD jacket would have included lyrics. Many of us benefit from being able to use both our auditory and visual senses when contemplating such beautiful lyrics as Bowman's. Covers come from Hugh Moffatt ("Old Flames"), Larry Rice ("Four Wheel Drive") and E.M and W.C. Grimsley ("Walkin' the Dog"). With both country and bluegrass overtones, it's clearly "getting' better all the time" for vocalist Ronnie Bowman. (Joe Ross)


Rounder 11661-6112-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, Mass. 02140
TEL. 617-218-4495 OR
Playing Time - CD (58:36) plus DVD
            Ayeeee! "Dominos" is the tenth release from Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. Nine of them are on the reputable Rounder Records label. Steve Riley is a very talented Cajun accordionist and fiddler. David Greely, also a fiddler, is a founding member of the band too. The other members are Kevin Dugas (drums, triangle), Brazos Huval (bass) and Sam Broussard (guitars). Steve Riley grew up in the small Louisiana town of Mamou where French is spoken on the street. He plays a single-row diatonic instrument made by his cousin, accordionist Marc Savoy. He also plays a triple-row accordion. David Greely grew up near Baton Rouge, served as an apprentice to Dewey Balfa, and has studied and toured area rich in Acadian history from where his mother's family, the Thériots, come from. I wish he would've included some of his fine saxophone playing on "Dominos."
            With many releases under their belts, this exceptional band from Louisiana has been very prolific and popular over the years. They present some excellent dancehall music that is comprised mainly of two-steps and waltzes. The 24-page CD booklet includes all the French lyrics (and English translations). The songs have straightforward messages which are easy to comprehend like "I'm working really hard, I'm working as a day laborer. When I collect my week's pay, All I think of is spending it" from "La vie d'un vieux garcon" (The Bachelor's Life). That song comes from the canon D.L. Menard, a preservationist of a pure Cajun sound. If you think the lyrics are all about partying, there's also a sad element imparted in minor key on "Marie mouri" (Marie Has Died), a haunting piece with lyrics from a poem by a Louisiana slave named Pierre. About a half of the album is their own high-stepping original material. The remainder are covers from D.L. Menard, Denis McGee, Canray Fontenot, Nolan Dugas, and Slim Doucet.
            True to a more traditional style such as that of the Balfa Brothers, this band keeps their sound dominated by fiddle and accordion. While some other Cajun bands are being influenced by rock , R&B and blues, the guys on this album are passionate about Cajun tradition. At the same time, they've created a sound of their own for people who want to boogie from the bayous into the 21st Century. Akin to Belton Richard and the Musical Aces, there are a few country and rock ingredients in the Mamou Playboys' gumbo.
            After cutting a bean on a song like "Coulee Rodair" and thinking you have this group pegged, they serve up an a cappella rendition of "Les clefs de la prison" (The Keys to the Prison), a song which Alan Lomax recorded Elita Huffpauir singing in 1934. Country influences are most apparent in a beautiful waltz written by drummer Kevin Dugas' father, Nolan Dugas. "Tu peux cogner" (Keep A-Knockin') is a Cajun version of a song from Texan western swinger Milton Brown. David Greely's instrumental "Ramificajuns" even has a bluegrass flavor that reminds me of a upbeat fiddle tune like "Billy in the Lowground." The album closes with Sam Broussard's "Riviere de temps" (River of Time) which dispels any myths about the simplicity of Cajun music. I like his observation that "A hard head has its value, It holds the family together…" Many of the band's extended family and friends are shown in the album's cover photograph. After the song ends, we hear Steve Riley and his grandfather from a 1975 recording.
            Flip the disc over and you are also treated to a DVD that has interviews with band members, as well as performances of four selections. That's right, folks. This is one of those new high-tech (and rather costly to produce) 2-sided discs with both CD and DVD.
            Together since 1988, their gumbo is upbeat and spirited dance music. With a very similar and successful band formula found on their Grammy-nominated 2003 "Bon Reve" release (Rounder 11661-6112-2), "Dominos" captures the heart, soul and groove of Cajun music. Proponents and among the leaders of the Cajun revival, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys are both preservationists and innovators who balance roots conformity with contemporary creativity. Sounds to me like their acquiescence to tradition, mixed with a little heterodoxy, has simply allowed these ambassadors to create their own strong signature sound. (Joe Ross)

Christmas with the Ball Sisters Band

Doobie Shea Productions, No number
TEL. (432)272-6139 OR (540)334-1118 OR
Playing Time - 29:00
            Songs - What Child is This, Silent Night, Do You Hear What I Hear, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, We Three Kings, Joy to the World, Frosty the Snowman, Jingle Bells, O Holy Night, Away in a Manger/Silent Night, Beautiful Star of Bethlehem
            The Ball Sisters Band is based in Rogersville, a town in the hills of East Tennessee. Sisters Jessica and Cris play fiddle and mandolin, respectively….and quite respectfully too I might add for young women of 18 and 15. Randy Ball, their father, plays guitar. John Skelton plays bass. On their Christmas album, they are joined by Jim Bowman on banjo, fiddle and bass. The band plays in their region of Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina. Jessica is now in the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass Program. Cris was recently voted "most talented senior" at her high school. The Ball Sisters Band began playing as a trio in 1988, and John joined in mid-1998.
            Prior to about 1980, just about every artist had a Christmas album or at least some singles ready for airplay during the holiday season. Then, radio programmers eliminated much of it from their playlists during the 80s. Since 1990, holiday releases are making a big comeback. The Ball Sisters Band holiday bluegrass project covers a number of carols in standard arrangements. One of the strengths is that they've included some nice instrumental harmonies on tunes like "Do You Hear What I Hear" and "O Holy Night." It's also a joy to hear them sing an a cappella rendition of "Joy to the World." All members of The Ball Sisters Band are Christians, and I can tell that they enjoy playing Christmas music as well as performing their gospel music in area churches. They play and sing with pensive and well-mannered attitude, even if not always totally precise. There may be other Christmas albums that are more essential in your music library, but the Ball Sisters capture the spirit and meaning of the season. This collection will make a particularly nice gift and keepsake for their friends and family. Why not trim your tree or stuff some stockings with a few of their album? You can get a copy of "Christmas with the Ball Sisters Band" at (Joe Ross)

A Skaggs Family Christmas Volume One

PO Box 2478, Hendersonville, TN. 37077
Skaggs Family Records 6989020152
(615) 264-8877
Email: OR OR
Playing Time - 46:19
            After hearing Volume One of Skaggs Family Christmas, "yule" need to run right down to your local CD store and pick up copies for all your friends and family members. This album is a great combination of easy-listening country and bluegrass treatments of Christmas standards and some less oft-heard material too. The bright, breezy recording includes Ricky Skaggs, members of Kentucky Thunder, The Whites, and many third generation family members. Sister/brother Molly and Luke Skaggs, along with their cousin Rachel White, make this a joyous family event. I was quite impressed by these young folks' vocal (and Molly's dulcimer) abilities.
            Besides the standard bluegrass instruments, the arrangements are brought to life with tasteful whistle, percussion, accordion, dulcimer, viola, mandola, piano, bouzouki and strings. Sharon White's angelic lead vocals on "Love Came Gently" give us a rendition of soaring beauty. Nashville String Machine provides the smooth layer of synthesized wintery atmosphere. Cheryl White's voice is also a perfect gift for the holidays. The mid-set pickup is "Hangin' Round the Mistletoe," a cute and catchy song featuring Buck White's lead vocal and piano. An instrumental "Deck the Halls" is rather short at 2 minutes, but the band's hot breaks, even though conservatively confined to the song's melody, will melt even the coldest icicle.
            One interesting selection is Buck White's recitation of "The Christmas Guest" (words by Grandpa Jones and Bill Walker). Gospel bluegrass collections occasionally have recitations, such as Ralph Stanley's moving story by Dean Deel, "On a High, High Mountain," about a friend's passing of his mother and father. On a Christmas album, however, a 5-minute recitation could be slightly distracting to some families spinning the CD for background music at holiday reunions. However, the poetic story is worth listening to closely. After seeing a vision in a dream, a man prepares for the Lord to be his Christmas guest. While seemingly disappointed by His non-appearance, the man discovers that He actually did appear as a beggar, hungry woman, and lonely child who were all met with the man's love and warmth on Christmas day.
            In keeping with Skaggs Family's great support of the bluegrass genre, it might have been nice to tap the traditional bluegrass repertoire for some material. Granted there might not be a lot of Christmas bluegrass material, but imagine contemporary Skaggs Family arrangements of Ralph Stanley's "Jesus Christ is Born," "Holiday Pickin'" or perhaps "Christmas is Near." Or better yet how about a cover of Virginia Stauffer's "That's Christmas Time to Me," partly in tribute to Ricky's mentor, Bill Monroe? All in all, "A Skaggs Family Christmas" is an inspirational delight. This musical treasure has very warm and pleasant sounds for families at fireside during the holiday season. Thanks to the Skaggs Family for sharing their music, love, and warmth during a very religious and emotional time of the year. CMT will host a Skaggs Family Christmas television special on December 10, 2005, with several repeats of it throughout the holidays. (Joe Ross)

Bass Boy

DA-4200 A
P.O. Box 953, Kent, OH 44240
Phone: 330-554-6887
Playing Time - 41:58
            1. Assembly Line 2. Short Order Time 3. Midnight Storm 4. Kentucky Love 5. Old Home in Virginia 6. Glady Fork 7. Sad Girl 8. Uncle Eph 9. Damn Yankee10. Flowers Need Rain 11. Asheville Junction 12. Mountain Preachers Child 13. I Love You (After All)
            David Mayfield is a talented bluegrass multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who is deserving of a much larger following. From Ohio, Mayfield plays bass, guitar, mandolin, and clawhammer banjo. At age 12, he assumed the role of bass player in his family's band, "One Way Rider." By the time he'd graduated from high school, he had won several awards for guitar and mandolin. For this solo showcase project, Mayfield has assembled some stellar instrumental support from the likes of Jeremy Abshire (fiddle), Brent Pack (banjo), Randy Kohrs or Al Moss (dobro), Mitch Meadors (guitar), and Jen Maurer (accordion, whistle). Pack and Abshire, two superior instrumentalists in the bluegrass idiom, impart some indisputable intensity to the CD. The album's closer, "I Love You (After All)," introduces the piano playing of Joe Hartsel.
            Most the project is bluegrass with a contemporary bent, but Mayfield shows the innate ability to present an acoustic country mood ("Kentucky Love"), some old-time mountain vigor ("Glady Fork"), and even a touch of Celtic flavoring ("Damn Yankee"). The latter is 4-minute ballad which doesn't quite sound instrumentally or vocally finished yet. Some vocal harmony and some additional instrumentation would have helped to supplement the bass, strummed banjo and other items. Mayfield's strongest and most memorable songs are "Assembly Line," "I Love You (After All)," and "Old Home in Virginia." The first two have great hooks. The latter effectively captures the driving soul and heart of traditional music in a new composition.
            On the vocal front, Mayfield sings with considerable verve and personality. Backup vocalists include his mother Valerie Fay Mayfield, his father David Lee Mayfield, his baby sister Chittlin', Chelsea Ryan, Don Rigsby, Ron Bonkowski, and Joe Bob Farley. Each of them contributes substantially to the emotionally-charged choruses. Most impressive, David sings multiple parts on a couple songs (lead and tenor on "Uncle Eph," and three vocal parts on "Kentucky Love.") It all seems to work nicely and provides ample proof that Mayfield has found his stylistic footing as an eclectic solo artist. His self-titled debut is memorable, distinctive, and deserving of considerable accolades from the bluegrass community at large. (Joe Ross)

He Walks Beside Me

MBG 5504
TEL. (540)649-0602
Playing Time - 34:47
            Heather Berry is a young and talented woman with beautiful voice about who Charlie Waller said could be the next Dolly Parton. Singer, songwriter, guitarist and autoharpist Heather Berry has released six albums by the time she reached the grand old age of 17 years. She got her professional start at age 12 when invited by Little Roy Lewis to perform at one of the Lewis Family's annual shows at Appomattox, Va. She had just started playing autoharp but jumped at the chance to be on stage entertaining. In her own "My Favorite Childhood Memory," she sings about the many special folks she's met while playing music while acknowledging her mother as the most precious. Besides instilling Heather with a love of the Lord, her mother is credited in the liner notes for the driving lessons. Others who have featured Heather on stage include Larry Stevenson, Alvin Breedin, Ralph Stanley II, and Jim and Jesse. Heather's also opened shows for many big names in bluegrass.
            Heather's spiritual music includes some new outlooks on standard material like "I'll Fly Away," "In the Sweet By and By," and "Life's Railway to Heaven." They are executed with great skill. Also very satisfying are some songs like "Remind Me Dear Lord," and "The Bible That They Read," in which she sings "My life might be the only Bible that my neighbors read." Heather quotes scripture, psalm or proverb that is relevant to each of her songs, in this case Matthew 5:16 which states "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven." Another standout song is Heather's emotional rendering of her own "Do I Care (That He Cared For Me)," although some harmony on the chorus would have been a nice embellishment. "He Walks Beside Me" features her splendid duet with Jimmy Fortune, formerly with the Statler Brothers. Other assisting musicians include Bryan Sutton (guitar, mandolin), Travis Wetzel (fiddle), and Robbie Meadows (bass guitar). Eddie and Tina Deane sing harmonies on "Remind Me, Dear Lord," and Henry Boitnott (mandolin) and Harvey Mays (banjo) are heard on "In the Sweet Bye and Bye." Heather Berry calls her music a blend of many styles, but it's all held together by a common thread of her ministry - with strong desire to reach out, touch lives, comfort others, and tell others of His wonderful grace. You'll be hearing much more about Heather Berry as she was recently signed by Tom T. and Dixie Hall's new label, Blue Circle Records. (Joe Ross)

Making Memories

PO Box 741, California, MD. 20619
TEL. (301)737-3004
Playing Time - 43:18
            Down south of Washington, D.C., a band of bluegrass practitioners are preserving a traditional sound without relying on dazzling displays of speed and melodic invention. Instead, Jay Armsworthy & Eastern Tradition execute their music with keen insight for their bluegrass and classic country. In 1995, guitarist Armsworthy worked with David Davis and the Warrior River Boys. I presume that he started this band shortly after leaving Davis, and the group has had a few personnel changes over the years. "Making Memories" is their third release and also features Tom Gray (bass), Mike Phipps (mandolin) and Marc Bolen (banjo). All but Bolen sing lead and harmony vocals. Given the nature of their repertoire, it might have been nice to include a guest fiddler or resophonic guitarist to round out and enhance their overall sound.
            The four band members bring over a century of bluegrass experience to the group. Armsworthy has been performing since age ten. For 7 years, he hosted the "Bluegrass on the Bay" show on radio stations in Lexington Park, Maryland. His solo recording project is called "Just Lookin' For Fun." Phipps has played with Fred Travers, and The Dixie Ramblers (with Keith Arneson). Bolen has played banjo for over three decades, performing with George Winn, Carolina Grass, Charlie Moore, and Jimmy Martin and various Florida solo artists. Gray is the only bassist inducted into the IBMA Hall of Honor. He played with Seldom Scene from 1971 until 1987 when he went to work with Paul Adkins. He's also played with Gary Ferguson, Roger Green, Fred Travers, Federal Jazz Commission, Hazel Dickens Band, and Randy Barrett and the Barretones.
            The 14 cuts include a nice mix of obscure bluegrass and classic country material, most presented with a relaxed approach. Songs are drawn from Carter Stanley, Aubrey Holt, Jim & Jesse, Ray Pennington, Kris Kristofferson, and others. Fitting comfortably like an old shoe, their music is calming and unlikely to offend anyone. "Dirty Old Couch and Chair" is a catchy, new song written by J.C. Poff about four walls, two windows, and a couple other items left after a life-long love affair. I understand that "I'm a Stranger in My Home," a ¾-time song penned by Neal Burris, Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart is the first time that Tom Gray's lead vocal has ever been recorded. Roy Botkin's "Singing on Sunday" is guaranteed to get your toes tapping. Jay Armsworthy and Eastern Tradition certainly have drive in their music, but I wouldn't call it real hard driving. Rather, it has a very pleasant, affable and kind-hearted quality. (Joe Ross)

That's What Love Can Do

Bell Buckle Records
PO Box 298, Bell Buckle, TN. 37020
TEL. (931)389-9694
Playing Time - 47:50
            Songs - 1) Heaven Is Waiting, 2) Fill My Every Need, 3) In Those Mines, 4) Engineer, 5) Healing Hills, 6) Buzzed, 7) Falling, 8) Sarah Hogan 9) Rocky Island/Sally Gooden, 10) Planet or a Star, 11) That's What Love Can Do, 12) Thunder Clouds of Love, 13) Peace of the River
            Valerie Smith, from Missouri (but now Nashville since '92), has taught both elementary and junior high school music. She majored in vocal music education at the Univ. of Missouri and has also studied jazz, opera and Broadway music. Her up-and-coming band's fourth album, "That's What Love Can Do," continues with a successful formula that they have established with previous accomplishments. They explore a field of new bluegrass for a variety of notable songwriters such as Becky Buller, John Lowell and Lisa Aschmann. With characteristic verve in her voice, Valerie Smith has a distinguishing vocal style. Nominated a few times for IBMA's Emerging Artist of the Year, Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike are a band on the rise.
            Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Becky Buller is originally from Minnesota but now lives in Nashville, having completed the bluegrass program at East Tennessee State University. Her two solo albums have been met with high praise. John Wesley Lee, from Dahlonega, Ga., is an award-winning mandolin player, including a top five finish at the 2000 National Mandolin Championships in Winfield, Ks. His sister, Jessica Lee, plays bass in this group. Tennesseean Matt Leadbetter is quickly establishing his name as one of bluegrass music's top resophonic guitarists as he follows in the footsteps of his father, Phil Leadbetter of Wildfire. North Carolinian Jason Johnson plays guitar and banjo, and he's a former member of Constant Change. Together, they are a hard-working band that tours extensively. This project includes a number of guest musicians & Russell Moore on harmony vocals on "In Those Mines" and "Falling."
            This album takes a leisurely approach with its initial contemplative offerings, and the band shows a certain affinity for reflective songs with stories. "Heaven Is Waiting" opens the CD with a Becky Buller composition that sets a stage for much more reflective material to come. Smith sings of "searching for a single soul to claim" in Megan McCormick's tuneful "Fill My Every Need." The group also steps up the pace nicely with such songs as "In Those Mines," "Rocky Island/Sally Gooden," "That's What Love Can Do," and "Thunder Clouds Of Love." "Engineer" emphasizes the blues in bluegrass as the beat and some light percussion imitate a locomotive climbing a moderate grade. Demonstrating comfort in the swing genre, Lisa Aschmann's "Buzzed" is an especially nice showcase for Buller's fiddling. Aschmann's other songs on this CD ("Planet or a Star" and "Peace of the River") help to characterize this group's signature sound as one that combines unhurried country sensibilities with more pensive, acoustic musical moods. The latter is a nice way to end an album on an inspirational note.
            There is some excellent talent on this album, and their songs are primarily arranged with vocals, dobro, fiddle and mandolin in the spotlight. Don't expect hard-driving banjo-centric bluegrass on this project. Rather, Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike's fresh and thoughtful material encourages considerable deliberation as we give the CD many listens. (Joe Ross)

Release 6/28/05
Lucky Drive

Rounder 11661-0562-2A
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140 OR
Playing Time- 38:56
            The folks at Rounder Records have a knack for finding bluegrass bands that can, as Kitsy Kuykendall's liner notes say, "cook up a sound for today that is new but old at the same time." That's why they signed Open Road in 2002, after hearing their first album produced in 2000 by Sally Van Meter. Meeting in the mid-1990s at jam sessions in Fort Collins, Co., the members of Open Road decided to form a "young traditionalist" band in 1998 and set their sights on preserving a bluegrass sound of yesteryear. These purveyors of the traditional style of bluegrass know how to offer just the right type and amount of musical interaction to emphasize an inspired and spirited bluegrass sound that could be five decades distant.
            Some of their covered songs from the likes of Charlie Monroe, Buck Graves/Jake Lambert, Bill Grant/Delia Bell, and Kitty Wells can be traced back to a classic era in the bluegrass and country genres. However, on this CD, their third on Rounder, Open Road isn't shy either about including some new originals, such as guitarist Bradford Lee Folk's title track and "Wanderin' Blues." Did you know that Folk is a "real" cowboy? Banjo-player Keith Reed penned the high-stepping instrumental "Shotgun," a little ditty that incorporates plenty of string bends and even some Scruggs tuner action. Original Open Road banjo-player Jim Rummels has apparently moved on to other endeavors.
            The rest of the band includes Caleb Roberts (mandolin), Eric Thorin (bass), and Paul Lee (fiddle). All five band members sing, although lead vocals are predominantly sung by Folk whose vocalizing has a rustic purity at the heart of bluegrass. Roberts doesn't have the best of singing voices, but his rendition of "After Dark" is delivered with earnest effort. Vern Williams makes a cameo appearance, singing with Folk on "I'm Lonesome," a song learned from a Larry and Happy Smith recording. And what would a set like this be with a novelty tune like "Tater Patch" with its cute hook…or an upbeat traditional fiddle tune like "Little Rabbit."
            Dressing the part, these showmen also understand the need to entertain. Besides their suits, the guys wear Stetson hats, perhaps some are even of the "open road" style. Produced by Sally Van Meter, "Lucky Drive" has a spontaneous feel to it because many of the songs had not been overplayed and their thrills worn down by the band before they set out to record them.
            Folk claims to "live the music we sing about," and this fact may allow them to deliver the gritty goods with plenty of personality and credibility. This album is one for all who enjoy a visceral brand of bluegrass. Open Road strives for music that is both explosive and emotional, and they successfully impart a traditional stamp on a mix of classic and contemporary material. It makes for mighty powerful bluegrass medicine. (Joe Ross)


Blueridge Recording BRRCD-1056
145 Stagecoach Lane, Luray, VA. 22835
TEL. (540)743-1172 or (540)828-6323
Playing Time - 30:01
            While Virginia Run chooses a few bluegrass standards (Georgia Rose, More to be Pitied, Dark Hollow), we have to immediately appreciate their tightly-crafted arrangements and musical prowess on them. They also offer some compelling material from lesser-known songsmiths who are not credited in the CD's jacket, with the exception of Verna Rodes' "Redemption Draweth Near," Scott Linton's "Silly Boy," and Will Parsons' "Elements."
            Because liner notes are minimal, a little research was needed to find out more about this fine band. Guitarist Josh Pickett took first place at the 2001 Merlefest guitar competition. Larry Taylor (vocals) grew up in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains and spent over two decades playing electric music before returning to his acoustic roots. Originally from North Carolina, guitarist Mike Ketchum owns and operates Blue Ridge Recording in Luray, Va. Ron Rigsby grew up in the eastern Kentucky hills and plays rhythm guitar and banjo on this CD. He also sings lead on "More to be Pitied." After a ten year absence from music, it's good to see him contributing to Virginia Run's professional sound. Vocalist Scott Linton has been entertaining crowds around the world for many years. Originally from West Virginia, Will Parsons plays multiple instruments, and he now spends his time building mandolins, recording, and performing. Others contributing on "Blueridge" are John Beller (dobro, bass), Shane Ingram (bass), Don Rigsby (mandolin on 2 tracks), and David Coffey (guitar on 2 tracks).
            Besides some very proficient picking, Virginia Run's voices blend with seamlessless fused harmonies that are immediately appealing. The standout is the title cut (at track 2) and the album's gospel closer composed by Verna Rodes. This well-crafted project is a gripping performance chock full of emotional impact and virtuosity. (Joe Ross)

Believe: A Collection of Bluegrass Hymns (2-CDs and 1 DVD)

IMI Music MC2-50426
20 Music Square West, Nashville, TN. 37203
Tel. (615)255-0105
            The passionate beauty of 26 bluegrass hymns is captured on this large project with two CDs and a DVD. The Jordanaires recently celebrated their 50th anniversary, and the DVD is a great place to start for personal interviews and a look behind this group's scene. In fact, viewing the DVD is essential as liner notes in this album sadly don't acknowledge the group's career highlights, band members or the songwriters. My knowledge of The Jordanaires was limited to the fact that lead vocalist and tenor Gordon Stoker was the group's leader and remains the only original member today. Starting as a gospel quartet, they've done many background choruses on a ton of country recordings (including Elvis Presley's first recordings in 1956) since about 1949. "Dig a Little Deeper" is dedicated Elvis as that song attracted him to The Jordanaires' sound. The quartet must have averaged 3 recording sessions a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year despite also being involved in other businesses such as clothing, publishing, and food.
            It's nice to see this collection of bluegrass hymns include "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," that was a million-selling hit for Red Foley as backed by the original Jordanaires in 1950, a year after they first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. The Jordanaires own a Grammy in 1965 for best religious album.
            This bluegrass project has many favorite hymns, including some of my personal favorites "Rock of Ages," "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder," and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." Even an oft-rendered "I'll Fly Away" is infused with new life as a result of its contemporary arrangement. The album also includes four new hymns (Believe, River of Life, Blessed, Go With God) written by Steve Ivey, producer and owner of IMI Music International. This is a pleasant project of gospel quartet singing accompanied by bluegrass instrumentation. The basic messages are ones of comfort and happiness. With bluegrass accompaniment, they take on added happiness. The hymns stand up for themselves. Sing along with them because you like them, the messages are good and believable, and the music is appealing. As sung by The Jordanaires, the music is full of encouragement, compassion and joy. (Joe Ross)

Best of Bluegrass Gospel (3 CDs)
IMI Music TDP2-51154
20 Music Square West, Nashville, TN. 37203
Tel. (615)255-0105
Playing Time - CD#1 (32:07); CD#2 (33:25); CD#3 (33:43)
            Subtitled "music for the soul," this zealous production of 36 songs was the brainchild of Steve Ivey of Ivey Music International, a music publishing and production company he started up at age 19. Holding advanced degrees in music voice performance and communications, Ivey also has a significant amount of business acumen. In less than two decades, he's seen his business grow to one that has produced over 1,000 songs that are heard around the world.
            This 3-CD set of the Best of Bluegrass Gospel has spent over two years on the Billboard Top Bluegrass Albums chart. Ivey not only arranged and produced the tracks, but he wrote 20 of the songs, sang lead on most of the cuts, sang all of the background parts and played guitar, mandolin and dobro. The all-star bluegrass sidemen include Andy Leftwich (mandolin), Shad Cobb (fiddle), Charlie Chadwick (bass) and Richard Bailey (banjo). Jesse Lee Campbell contributes some lead vocals, and she really shines on a number like "Softly and Tenderly" and "Wonderful Words of Life" and "Nothing but the Blood."
            Best of Bluegrass Gospel is distributed by Madacy to Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Best Buy, along with placement in Christian bookstores through Ivey's connections with Lifeway. Ivey Music International (IMI) is building quite a reputation, and the company has garnered such honors as a Grammy nomination and an Emmy nomination. While the company has produced music in many genres, Steve Ivey is originally from Georgia, and he admits that bluegrass is close to his heart. This 3-CD set offers a great deal of well-produced music that is assured of commercial success. (Joe Ross)

Bluegrass Revival (3 CDs)
IMI Music MC2-50435
20 Music Square West, Nashville, TN. 37203
Tel. (615)255-0105
Playing Time - CD#1 (33:35); CD#2 (32:37); CD#3 (33:36)
            Bluegrass Revival is a 3-CD set of bluegrass gospel that has spent over two years on the Billboard Top Bluegrass Albums chart. Steve Ivey not only arranged and produced the tracks, but all the songs not public domain were written or co-written by him. Ivey sings lead on most cuts, all background parts, and he plays guitar, hammered dulcimer, mandolin, harmonica and dobro. Other lead vocals are offered by Jesse Lee Campbell, Laura Jewel,a nd Larry Cordell. Jerry Salley, Simon Ivey, and Sid Ivey contribute background vocals and sound effects. Stellar instrumental accompaniment is provided by Andy Leftwich (mandolin), Shad Cobb (fiddle), Charlie Chadwick (bass) and Richard Bailey (banjo).
            One can tell that gospel singing is of great importance to Steve Ivey and his sidemen. It's not only fun, but it holds a great deal of meaning. Ivey dips into a deep well of sacred material - one that will never run dry, especially with his own personal emphasis on songwriting. While some of the songs are more on the serious side, others (like "I Am Thine O Lord") move faster and provide encouragement to tap one's toes or clap one's hands. A few more of the latter would have conveyed an even more upbeat and spirited mood to this project. However, the 3-CD set still gives great pleasure…and includes some of the greatest love songs of all time. (Joe Ross)

Tangled Roots

No label, No number
1717 Harvard Drive, Louisville, KY 40205
Playing Time - 39:48
            Banjo-player Caleb Olin's all-instrumental debut album, "Tangled Roots," is a stimulating melodic excursion through multiple genres from bluegrass to Celtic, new acoustic to swing, classical to Klezmer. The project includes nine original tunes, as well as two uncommon public domain tunes ("Woodpecker in the Deadin'" and "Coleraine"). Olin has assembled a stellar cast of supporting artists -- Gabe Witcher (fiddle), Ross Martin (guitar), Greg Schochet (mandolin), Eric Thorin (bass), Jeff Hamer (guitar), Jessie Burns (fiddle), Micahel Reid (concertina), Sean Sutherland (bouzouki), Marcus Reddick (drums), and Andy Wilson (harmonica).
            Caleb Olin picks his 5-string with a considerable amount of chutzpah. His more melodic songs have a lyrical whimsy that easily get one whistling or humming along. Tunes like "Kristina's Reel" and "Handlebar McGee" are Olin's forte, while his rolls on the bluegrassy "Up Through the Middle and Out to the Side" seem a tad bit unpolished. "Lupine Dawn" is a heartwarming duet of just banjo and bass, while "Woodpecker in the Deadnin'" just pairs him up with Witcher's spunky fiddling.
            Olin was born and raised in Kentucky on an eclectic musical fare of Mozart, Earl Scruggs, golden oldies, and hip hop. After studying piano and violin, he took up banjo at age 19. Caleb Olin picked with a wide variety of musicians during his eight years in Colorado. He has since relocated to Louisville, KY. Olin is a banjo player with considerable oomph, demonstrating his ability to find a groove and apply graceful twists to his capricious and fanciful compositions. (Joe Ross)

HAPPY LAND: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder

Pa's Fiddle Recordings SAR-1259
906 Walnut Grove Rd., Christiana, TN. 37037
1-888-573-3902 or (615)904-7049 or (615) 385-1233
Playing Time - 51:42
            Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) wrote a famous series of eight "Little House" books which trace her family's history through the west from 1867 to 1885. The books, published between 1932-1943, have become classics in American children's literature. Within her stories are references to 126 songs. There are songs from the parlor, stage, minstrel shows, church and school. Laura's guiding musical spirit was her singing and fiddling father, Charles "Pa" Ingalls. On this musical tribute, we are treated to contemporary renderings of 18 of the 126 referenced songs. The set recognizes the esteemed place that music-making once held within the lives of ordinary American families and pioneers.
            In a sense, this concept album is a soundtrack for the books. Fans of the "Little House" books will especially thrill in being able to hear the music that was an integral part of pioneer life on the prairie. Dale Cockrell recruited well-known mandolinist Butch Baldassari to co-produce the project, and they were backed by a grant from Blair School of Music. Top Nashville musicians were enlisted. Participants include Riders in the Sky, Dave Olney, Andrea Zonn, Deborah Packard, Pat Enright, Doug Green, Keith Little, Jep Bisbee, John Mock, Butch Baldassari, Peggy Duncan Singers, Harpeth Valley Sacred Harp Singers, and The Princely Players. "Arkansas Traveler/Devil's Dream" and "Happy Land" are played by Pa's Fiddle Band (including various instrumentalists).
            The result is a set of contemporary renditions of American folk music, a melting pot of hymns, minstrel show songs, spirituals and fiddle tunes. A 16-page CD booklet provides background about the songs and lyrics, where applicable. One should imagine the days before radio and television when music-making was a family endeavor, and the activity was pursued for fun, entertainment and intellectual pursuit. For that same reason, families today will obtain plenty of enjoyment together with the rediscovery of such classics as "The Girl I Left Behind Me," "Oh! Susanna," "Highland Mary," "Barbara Allen," and others. New discoveries are also awaiting within the 52 minutes on this disc. Songs like Captain Jinks, Oft in the Stilly Night, The Big Sunflower, Uncle Sam's Farm, and Promised Land deserve a much wider listen. The title cut, "Happy Land," appears more often in Wilder's books than any other hymn and came to epitomize family strength and opposition to unruly outside influences.
            Wilder's eight children books inspired two television series - one that ran from 1974-1983, and the other which had a limited airing in 2005. With this CD in the schools, librarians and reading teachers can work hand-in-hand with music teachers to help kids discover a rich part of American's musical heritage and legacy. (Joe Ross)

What More Should I Say?

Pinecastle PRC-1146
PO Box 753, Columbus, NC 28722
Playing Time - 39:32
            Songs - 1. I Know Rain, 2. What More Should I Say?, 3. If It Ain't Love, 4. Blue Kentucky Girl, 5. I Know, 6. Prisoner Of Your Love, 7. Tree of Hearts, 8. Roses in the Snow, 9. Leavin's Heavy on my Mind, 10. Ramblin' Fever, 11. Heart of Stone, 12. Slippin' Away
            About two years have passed since Michelle Nixon & Drive grabbed our attention with their debut album, "It's My Turn." Now, with their sophomore effort, folks from the misty valleys of the Pacific Northwest will especially relate to the hard-driving and appealing opener, "I Know Rain," (written by Dixie and Tom T. Hall) on their new Pinecastle release entitled "What More Should I Say?" The title cut, appearing at track 2, was written by the band's guitarist and "other" vocalist Patrick Robertson who also penned "I Know." Dallas Frazier's "If It Ain't Love" has been done by other bluegrass units, and Southern Connection comes immediately to mind. Nixon & Co.'s version has a copious amount of contemporary get-up-and-go.
            For broad, far-reaching appeal, this contemporary Virginia band blends bluegrass, country, and gospel to soothe every possible downhearted disposition. Their music is happy, upbeat, and Michelle has assembled a band that will solidly lay claim to their place as one of the most happening and dynamic acts on the bluegrass scene. Michelle sings with unique gusto that immediately that identifies her. Nixon also wrote "Prisoner of Your Love" and "Heart of Stone." The former gives both of the band's lead vocalists a chance to showcase their contemporary, yet haunting, mountain feel. The latter is a story inspired by Nixon's daughter and son-in-law. Robertson also injects considerable energy into his vocalizing, equally matching Nixon's forceful presentation. They're pretty fair vocal compatriots. With only two vocalists identified in the core group, additional harmonies are sung by fiddler Justen Haynes. Bill Anderson and Michelle Nixon sing a duet on "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds," a country song written by Melba Montgomery. Anderson penned "Slippin' Away," a tune whose hook proved successful for Jean Sheppard years before.
            While music is a large part of her life, Michelle Nixon also has three kids, owns a hair salon, teaches Sunday School, and loves to camp, fish and play sports. With Michelle in the driver's seat, this band can hardly do wrong. The band has had a few personnel changes since their first album. Vernon Hughes and Eddie Shifflett are no longer with the band. The band's nickname for Jason Davis (banjo) is "Boy Wonder," a homeschooled teenager and all-around great guy from Dinwiddie, Virginia. Jamie Harper (mandolin) and Adam Seale (bass) round out the quintet. Justen Haynes (fiddle), a recent grad of Shenandoah College, is credited as a guest artists, along with Jeff Murray, Mike Toppins, Phil Leadbetter, and Bill Anderson. Associating with four young and talented string burners, Nixon has built a quintet whose bluegrass is clearly on the sunny side. (Joe Ross)

7/19/05 release
She Waits for Night

Rounder 11661-0565-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140 OR
Playing Time - 42:37
            Mournfully sweet, infectiously spirited, and expressively conveyed are the best ways to describe the new old-time music offered by Uncle Earl. The four women not only reinvigorate old material, but they render it timeless. Besides finding material from obscure sources, they are able to also pen a few originals (Divine, Take These Chains, Pale Moon) whose juxtaposition in the set hardly delineates the old from the new. Perfectly attuned to the string band ways of yesteryear, Uncle Earl exhibits a collective vision for their old-time music. Band members Kristin Andreassen, Rayna Gellert, KC Groves, and Abigail Washburn each contribute to the lead and harmony vocals. These vocal talents provide many options to the band for song arrangement. Then, underlying their vocals, are exhilarating guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo. Each member has their role, and performs it masterfully. Interestingly, the four come from different states and diverse solo careers. Andreassen is a clogger and stepdancer with Maryland's Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble. Washburn sang with soul, gospel, and reggae bands. Gellert is an accomplished second-generation old-time fiddler. Groves is a compelling songsmith and singer. Guest artists include Dan Rose (bass), Dirk Powell (banjo and accordion on one track with each), and Christine Balfa (triangle one track). I understand that Uncle Earl has added Sharon Gilchrist (mandolin, bass, vocals) to their permanent lineup since recording "She Waits for Night." While the band members hail from Colorado, North Carolina, Tennessee, New Mexico, and Washington, D.C., they all share a common desire to decorate and embellish the current old-time music mosaic.
            Beaming with life, this album has music that is both animated and radiant. There are uptempo fiddle bowing, reflective a capella gospel, instrumental string interplay, plaintive ballads, and even some feet clogging. Formed in 1999, Uncle Earl also puts on one entertaining live show. (Joe Ross)

The Company We Keep

McCoury Music MCM0002
PO Box 625, Goodlettsville, TN.37070
TEL. (813)223-3603
Playing Time - 51:37
            It's difficult to maintain your place when you're already on top. Everyone's been wondering how the Del McCoury Band would follow the album "It's Just the Night," that won IBMA's Album of the Year Award for 2004. The very first item you notice about The Del McCoury Band's "The Company We Keep" (the second on their own McCoury Music label, distributed exclusively by Sugar Hill Records) is the high quality production of the 12-page fold out CD jacket with liner notes, numerous color photos, and lyrics to all songs on this generous 52-minute project. First impressions and marketing ARE important! While the music always takes priority, it's great to see their record company not skimp on the rest of the product. Del and the Boys have never been content to merely rest on their laurels. Rather, they've always been strong proponents of giving their fans 125% whether it be in live concert or on compact disc. That's the attitude that Del conveys when he sings his original (co-written with Harley Allen) "Never Grow Up Boy" about being a "guitar pickin', bluegrass singing, never grow up boy" whose dreams "can set men free." Del and Harley also wrote "Keep Her While She's There." Del also collaborated with Don Schlitz on "If Here is Where You Are." Ronnie McCoury's instrumental "Seventh Heaven"
            The Del McCoury Band is also a full-speed-ahead band packed with vocal and instrumental energy and excitement. One song in ¾ time (When Fall's Coming Down) provides its nice contrasting rhythmic beat at track eleven. They keep their music upbeat and distinctive as they deliver the bluegrass goods written by such songcrafters as Mark Walton, Joseph New & Jeff Silbar, Larry Keel, Liz Meyer, Gary Nicholson, Jeff & Dean Presley, Jerry Salley & Susanne Mumpower-Johnson, Mark Simos & Jon Weisberger. We have to thank these writers for some very cool songs that bring out the best in this band! We have to thank the Del McCoury Band for being some of the hardest working musicians in the bluegrass business, and for being meticulous with all the details that come with the fame. Not just great entertainers, the band members are truly highly credible and professional emissaries for the genre. In eight years, McCoury's been IBMA's Entertainer of the Year. "The Company We Keep" pays tribute and expresses gratitude to all friends, family and team members who have helped make them what they are. The CD's back cover shows Del's grandkids at the head of the table and indicates that the McCoury bluegrass tradition is in very good hands. (Joe Ross)

Blue Night

231 Bolt Mill Road, Willis, VA. 24380
TEL. (540)789-4828
Playing Time - 31:57
            Before spinning this CD, my expectations were not that high. I anticipated another mediocre independent local or regional band release. I was very pleasantly surprised when I heard The Bolt Brothers Band, a Virginia-based group whose cohesive sound is built around expert picking and singing on a large well-arranged body of original material. The quartet is Dan Bolt (mandolin), Sam Bolt (banjo), Stacie Bolt (bass), and Glenn Scaggs (guitar). Sam and Dan are twin brothers, and Stacie is Dan's wife. The fine bow work of guest fiddler Bill Hawks adds much to this effort.
            Lead vocals sung with conviction by Scaggs are blended nicely with the Bolts' harmonies. Stacie Bolt also has a beautiful voice as she sings lead on two cuts (Why Don't You Tell Me, The Key to Heaven), and Dan Bolt's lead vocals on Carter Stanley's "Our Last Goodbye" are smoothly rendered, without much high-lonesome edginess. The band tears up an instrumental "Fodder Twine," and they close the album with an inspirational gospel original, "Don't Let the Devil."
            Some of their originals work better than others, and the band emphasizes straight-forward messages that are very easy to comprehend and relate to. Their gospel material provides some of their best songs. Songs like "Don't Give Up" and "Heart Feels the Pain" and "What She Means to Me" are given contemporary arrangement, but they slightly suffer from their commonplace, almost trite, adages. While solid material, I'd encourage them to look for new, provocative messages along with, dare I say it?, a few memorable and catchy phrases or hooks. Their exceptional instrumental and vocal musicianship makes up for any identified shortcomings as songwriters. The Bolt Brothers Band achieved a clean, crisp sound from their recording and mixing of "Blue Night" at Eastwood Studio in Cana, Va.
            So just who are The Bolt Brothers Band, and why haven't we heard much about them? It seems that they've been performing for over two decades, and this debut album is going to launch them to new heights of prominence. I'm sure glad they've gotten their music out there for us to enjoy, and it should help land them plenty of engagements. (Joe Ross)


Sugar Hill SUG-CD-3997
PO Box 55300, Durham, NC 27717
Playing Time - 61:45
            The Duhks' music is best described as highly-arranged folk and Americana that draws inspiration from various genres. The quintet hails from Winnipeg, and it is complemented by many well-known guest artists (Paul Brady, Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Abigail Washburn, Victor Wooten). Their self-titled CD gives us a tightly crafted, innovative mix of songs with haunting vocals and striking guitar, banjo, bass, fiddle and percussion. Even some low whistle and Uilleann pipes find their way into the musical caldron.
            Four of the five Duhks provide vocals, both lead and harmonies. Two guest vocalists (Furleen Maines, Captain Lavender) also appear on one track apiece. A number of their songs illustrate how The Duhks blend tradition with their own individuality. The opening song, "Death Came A Knockin'," was one heard done by Ruthie Foster at the Edmonton Folk Festival. "The Wagoner's Lad" is a traditional piece they heard done by Doc Watson. "Gene's Machine" is a fiesty instrumental medley (Mary McMahon's, Pretty Little Indian, Sligo Creek, Dublin Reel). The juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary is most emphasized by their inclination to also cover songs writtten by the likes of Jez Lowe, Leonard Cohen, Paul Brady and Sting.
            Creative artistry is built around an ability to free one's own muse. The Duhks' approach allows for personal expression without belittling the very traditions that they're stretching. This successful and impressive debut effort was done right and with abundant rewards. Before reinventing tradition, The Duhks have obviously lived and breathed the tradition itself by knowing, respecting, and appreciating the natural graces and flowing rhythms of Celtic and folk music. It's an amazing feat for these twenty-somethings. With this strong foundation, The Duhks then incorporate their own life experience to arrange and create a signature sound. The musicians' sensory journey takes us along with joy, sorrow, inspiration, and even occasional humor.
            The Duhks' proficient acousticians are Scott Senior (percussion), Jessica Havey (vocals), Leonard Podolak (banjo, fiddle), Tania Elizabeth (fiddle, mandolin), and Jordan McConnell (guitar, whistle, pipes). Whether serving up a beautiful, spiritual ballad or a rousing medley of reels, they manage to make each a part of greater "Duhkville." With impressionistic and memorable material, this album is a perfect showcase for The Duhks' earthier side. Their music conveys a understanding of the bond between land and soul. Their compelling performance is one wrought with the emotional impact and virtuosity of soulful vocals, slapped skins, wailing fiddle, flowing guitar, and bouyant banjo. With a band vision to redefine both folk and pop music, The Duhks are well on their way to doing it with their acoustic tools of the trade. I, for one, greatly appreciate their conscious decision to not rely on any electric instruments, synthesizers or drum machines. (Joe Ross)

Taylor Made

DWEG 110804
TEL. (615)824-1947
Email OR
Playing Time - 61:45
            Songs - 1. Foggy Mtn. Special, 2. Jo Ban, 3. Washington County, 4. Gold Tone Jubilee, 5. Unleashed, 6. John Hardy, 7. Ghost Riders, 8. Shuckin the Corn, 9. Stairway to Heaven, 10. Dixie Breakdown, 11. El Cumbanchero
            Notes in Todd Taylor's "Taylor Made" album include Mark Twain's famous quote about the banjo…you know the one about breaking out your hide like the pin-feather pimples on a picked goose. Well, with this inspiration to set the stage, Todd Taylor does a mighty fine job invoking "the glory-beaming banjo!" on this all-instrumental effort. He has some innovative licks and demonstrates various techniques on the 5-string (Scruggs style, melodic, and single string). His repertoire pays tribute to the music of Earl Scruggs, Kenny Baker, Don Reno, Hugh Tomasson and even Led Zeppelin. At the same time, about half of the CD is made up of Taylor's originals, and one can see why he was nominated for a 2004 Grammy for "Blazin' Bluegrass Banjo." John McEuen wrote the liner notes for "Taylor Made."
            On stage since age 6, Taylor performed with his twin brother (Allen) as the "Taylor Twins." They appeared with Bill Monroe, Carl Story, Roy Acuff and others. Todd lights a fire on his five-string, but one should look beyond just the breakneck licks. The musician finds his stylistic footing by expanding into non-bluegrass genres (Latin, new acoustic, western, and rock). While every banjo-player worth his salt cuts his teeth on far like Foggy Mountain Special, Dixie Breakdown, Washington County, Shuckin' the Corn, and John Hardy, the task at hand becomes one of incorporating innovative interpretive twists to make these recorded tunes your own. That's why Taylor's best material is built around his own originals (Jo Ban, Gold Tone Jubilee, Unleashed) or his renderings of "El Cumbanchero" or "Stairway to Heaven." Unfortunately, his 6-minute rendition of "Ghost Riders" gets a bit mundane and tedious, especially without lyrics included. After one round of banjo, dobro, and fiddle interplay, the song actually stops and starts again with another 3-minute round. Despite this reviewer's opinion, I'm told that the tune is getting rave reviews and airplay.
            Taylor's arrangements tend to use the fade-out to end his songs. He does this to be different and so that his music can be used in major movies (ie. Roadkill). At times, Taylor's accompanists seem challenged to cleanly match his exceptional musicianship. I also felt that Todd's rhythm guitar sits a little too dominantly in the overall mix in places. Minimal album shortcomings aside, I was impressed with this young man's virtuosity and vitality. Accompanists include Bo Frazier (fiddle, mandolin), Mike Moody or Ken Parker (bass), and Steve Thorpe (dobro). Look for Todd Taylor and his Gold Tone. He shows us that he's a very daring young man with a lot of confidence and musical skill. The CD can be purchased at (Joe Ross)


2108 Muirhead Ave., NW, Olympia, WA. 98502
Email OR
TEL. (360)481-0751
Playing Time - 24:46
            Most of the ten tracks on Head for the Hills Bluegrass Band's CD span for 2-3 minutes or less. It's not clear if this 25-minute CD was developed as a demo CD or as a product to be sold. Their repertoire draws from standard fare in the hit parade of bluegrass, with warhorses like Cripple Creek, Salt Creek, Dark Hollow, Shady Grove, Roll in my Sweet Baby's Arms and More Pretty Girls. After meeting in Olympia and Seattle, Wa., these four developed an association built around their similar musical abilities and vision for the band. A bit like the dirty typewriter ribbon font used on the album's cardboard envelope, Head for the Hills has a few rough edges, but those don't diminish from their bluegrass spunk. They're the kind of band that probably goes over better live than on a CD.
            David Allan Martin (banjo) hails from Baltimore where he first started performing at age 13 with a church choir. From Missouri, Phil Post (bass) has also sung in choirs, played reeds, studied jazz and composition, and has performed an eclectic mix from punk to Afro-pop. Guitarist Dirk Ronneburg studied violin as a kid, and his recent experience is with the Mud Bay Stompers and bluesman Daniel "Mudcat'" McKinstry. Emily Salisbury Keene is a multi-instrumentalist but doesn't sing with the band. Her bluegrass fiddling is one of the strengths of Head for the Hills. She has played with the Tennesseans, Sockeye, Tommy Priese's Country Deputies, and Donna Daye Honey and the Cowpokers. The band has changed slightly since they put out this CD. They have added a full-time mandolin picker, Miles Nowlin, and they are currently drawing from a pool of four fiddle players (Emily or one of three others) to make up the quintet.
            This band works hard, travels and is ready to play at nearly every venue that invites them including festivals, colleges, pubs, cafes, parties, farmers' markets, and street corners. They like to have fun. In their musical presence, they like others to have fun too. This dedication and attitude with no doubt allow them to just keep getting better and better with a few more years of experience and maturity. In the meantime, they may not be quite ready for a Grammy Award, but I appreciate their bluegrass interest, spirit, exuberance, and ability to get the toes tapping. (Joe Ross)

Mountain Tradition

Rural Rhythm RHY-1025
P.O. Box 660040, Arcadia, CA. 91066
TEL. (626)286-8742
Playing Time - 36:48
            Clay Jones is one of those guys we call "Hoss" or "Hot Picker" in the bluegrass community. So, what did guitarist Jones decide to do? Well, he enlisted the help of four other hosses to produce one simply killing mostly instrumental album recorded at the reputable Doobie Shea Studios. That's right, "Mountain Tradition" also features Jason Moore (bass), Jim VanCleve (fiddle), Adam Steffey (mandolin), and Ronnie Stewart (banjo)….some of my favorite string wizards today. We're also treated to Tina Trianosky's clawhammer banjo on Black Mountain Rag and Mississippi Sawyer, Barry Abernathy's lead vocal on Gonna Settle Down, and Steve Gulley's tenor vocal on Cold Sheets of Rain and Gonna Settle Down. Jones has a decent voice, and I wish he would've sung on more than one cut.
            This is the debut solo album for Jones who currently picks with Gulley and Abernathy in the exceptional band, Mountain Heart. He appears on their "Forces of Nature" album. Jones' former experience is with Lou Reid, Terry Baucom & Carolina, then with Marty Raybon and Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. The group assembled for "Mountain Tradition" turns in a racing, jaw-dropping performance. Perhaps it's because they choose fairly standard fare that we've all come to love so well like Under the Double Eagle, Blackberry Blossom, Road to Columbus, Salt Creek, Black Mountain Rag, Clinch Mountain Backstep and Big Mon. If you think you might be bored by hearing these warhorses again, my counsel is to reconsider. These guys give them a unique flair with clean adroit picking, and their closing rendition of "Big Mon" is about the faster I've ever heard. Most of the tunes are quick-paced romps, and a couple slower selections might've given the project a little more variety. Of special note are their peppy renditions of Ron Stewart's "BF05" and Darol Anger's "Ride the Wild Turkey." I believe that the former tune was written by Stewart for this album.
            Clay Jones' first solo album is long overdue. His involvement on the instrumental "Bluegrass '95" album helped it win the IBMA's 1996 Recorded Event of the Year award. So why has it taken a decade since then for Clay to get "Mountain Tradition" out? I reckon he's been so busy on the stage, road and in studios. I'd especially like to see him start soon on a sequel to this project that finds some less-oft-heard tunes from the large canon of material available. (Joe Ross)

No Better Place

Patuxent Music 0126
PO Box 572, Rockville, MD. 20848
TEL. (301)424-0637
Playing Time - 41:38
            Jordan Tice is a young sonic alchemist whose highly-arranged musical elixir is centered around lively flatpicked guitar. With the exception of two tracks (Cuckoo's Nest, Jean's Reel/Girls at Martinsfield), Tice also demonstrates his rugged individualism and tunecrafting skills with nine original compositions. A new acoustic pioneer with technically impressive moxie, Jordan Tice's "No Better Place" is a cut above the rest. The reason is largely because of the illustrious cast of characters who are given plenty of opportunities to strut their stuff on some difficult pieces. These players include Ron Stewart (fiddle), Mike Munford (banjo), Akira Otsuka (mandolin), Mark Schatz (bass), and Sue Raines (fiddle on one cut). Tice colors his musical canvas with paint and hues from the folk, bluegrass, and jazz palette.
            From Annapolis, Jordan Tice is a young picker just out of high school who will attend Towson State University on a full music scholarship. His tone on guitar is that of a well-seasoned, exceptional player. His sense of time, balance, rhythm and execution are extraordinary. He drives the music with his dynamic musical pronunciation, and the interplay of the veterans with him is phenomenal. Award-winning Ron Stewart plays his fiddle smoothly, lyrically and effortlessly. Sue Raines also has a silky touch on her bow for her showcased Celtic medley. Munford and Otsuka's instrumental support is collaborative and supportive in nature, flawlessly executed in their own unique styles without grandstanding. Mark Schatz is right on the money with his bass notes, whether they are plucked or bowed. The title cut which closes the album is a guitar and bass duo featuring a tuneful conversation between Tice and Schatz.
            Schatz, from Boston, Philadelphia, Nashville, and now Annapolis, has played bass with Tasty Licks, Spectrum, Tony Rice Unit, Bluegrass Album Band, Tim & Mollie O'Brien, Flatt Heads, & Nickel Creek. The 1994 & 1995 IBMA Bass Player of the Year also plays clawhammer-style banjo that imparts a bit of old-time flavoring to "Cuckoo's Nest" & "Wicker Basket." Sleepy Valley Ranch in Paoli, Indiana is Ron Stewart's home. Before becoming one of bluegrass music's top session men, he's worked with Curly Seckler, Gary Brewer & the Kentucky Ramblers, Little Creek, Petticoat Junction, Lynn Morris Band, & now J.D. Crowe & the New South. In 2000, Stewart won IBMA's Fiddle Player of the Year award.
            Jordan Tice's influences include Strength in Numbers, Bela Fleck, Tony Rice, David Grier, Stuart Duncan, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer, Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett and Bill Frisell. It very possible that, with some luck and determination, Jordan Tice's name will someday be as well known as their's. Besides touring and recording with Gary Ferguson and Sally Love, Tice has performed with a bluegrass band called Foxes on the Run. His new band, based in Front Royal, Va. is called "Blue Light Special." Tice says the best way to understand bluegrass ("hillbilly music" he calls it) is just to "listen to it." The erudite music he plays on "No Place Better" will take a little more reflection and study to fully comprehend the gravity and importance of this instrumental release. (Joe Ross)

7/19/05 release
Clouds Over Carolina

Rebel REB-CD-1801
PO BOX 7405, Charlottesville, VA. 22906 OR
TEL. (352)795-7518
Playing Time - 40:06
            Songs - If You Only Knew, Never Meant To Be, Sunday Silence, Freight Train, We Live In Two Different Worlds, Don't Be Careful What You Wish For, Down Where The Still Waters Flow, Burnt Rice, Clouds Over Carolina, Rainy Day People, You're Not A Drop In The Bucket, Little Maggie
            The opening cut, Larry Rice's "If You Only Knew," brings back memories of another milestone --Tony Rice's seminal Cold on the Shoulder album. Fact is that the Rice Brothers have had significant impact on bluegrass music over the years. The Rice Brothers (Larry, Tony, Ron and Wyatt) were from Virginia &North Carolina, but they grew up in California. Their father played bluegrass with The Golden State Boys (with Vern and Rex Gosdin.) As early as 1963, Larry, Tony, and Ron had a group called The Haphazards.
            "Clouds Over Carolina" is a solo project which most prominently features the oldest of the Rice Brothers, Larry, mandolin player, lead singer and songwriter. Besides the opener and the title cut, Larry also penned Don't Be Careful for What you Wish For, and the snappy instrumental Burnt Rice. It's a treat to see him joined by his brothers Tony (guitar) and Wyatt (guitar), along with Rickie Simpkins (fiddle), Ronnie Simpkins (bass), Sammy Shelor (banjo), Frank Poindexter (dobro), and Jeff Parker (harmony vocals). Some of their covered songs come from Elizabeth Cotton, Fred Rose, Pete Kuykendall, Gordon Lightfoot, and others.
            Back in the 1960s, Larry played in a Southern California band called Aunt Dinah's Quilting Party, and in 1969 he began his pro career with J. D. Crowe's "Kentucky Mountain Boys." In 1975, Larry joined the Dickey Betts Band. He retired from music for several years, but returned to record multiple solo albums, a Rice Brothers album, and to form The Larry Rice Band. He has recorded and performed with brother Tony, Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson as "Out of the Woodwork" or "Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pederson."
            I believe that this is Larry's fourth solo album. His first was Mr. Poverty on the King Bluegrass label. Nearly a decade has passed since his last solo album. Growing up out west gave the Rices considerable leeway to experiment and push the bluegrass envelope into certain uncharted waters. On one hand, this project gives us a traditional standard like "Little Maggie," but it also shows more adventurous tastes with the likes of Gordon Lightfoot's "Rainy Day People." The newer songs sit comfortably between those that give a nod to bluegrass music's forefathers. I must say, however, that "You're Not a Drop in the Bucket" doesn't seem quite the same without the bass plunking the proverbial drop at the appropriate points in the chorus. While Larry is the center of attention on this project, he's joined by some of bluegrass' elite, and the result is striking. (Joe Ross)

Blue Moon of Kentucky: A Tribute to Bill Monroe

Maple Street Music MS-1300-2
3016 Cages Bend Road, Gallatin, TN. 37066
TEL. (866)238-3508
Playing Time - 41:40
            SONGS - 1) Blue Moon Of Kentucky 2) Footprints In The Snow 3) John Henry 4) Uncle Pen 5) Kentucky Waltz 6) Road To Columbus 7) Crying Holy 8) Bluegrass Breakdown 9) My Rose Of Old Kentucky 10) Swing Low Sweet Chariot 11) Jerusalem Ridge 12) Molly & Tenbrooks
            Mike Scott hails from Wautaga, Tn., but he now lives in Gallatin, Tn. With over thirty years of professional bluegrass experience, this gifted, distinguished banjo-player is a perfect choice to spearhead an instrumental tribute to the music of Bill Monroe. In 1972-1973, Scott formed his first band, the Rocky Mountain Boys. Since then, he's played with the Tennessee Bluegrass Four (74-77), Cumberland Mountain Boys (78-79), Carl Story & the Rambling Mountaineers (80-82), Jim & Jesse & the Virginia Boys (82-86). In 1986, he formed Mike Scott & The All American Band. In 1995, he began working with Danny Davis & the Nashville Brass. In 2002, he joined Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition (as well as performing with Danny Davis & his own band).
            Bluegrass fans appreciate the instrumental magnificence of the genre. While all but three or four of the twelve tracks on "Blue Moon of Kentucky" are typically performed with singing, Mike Scott and his pals give us a novel concept album of picking them all as instrumentals. Besides Scott, the guys trading one break after another are Bryan Sutton (guitar), Mike Compton (mandolin), Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), and Ben Isaacs (bass). No slouches need apply! With reputations as some of the best instrumentalists in the business, these impressive talents have already locked in their places on the bluegrass family tree. But will you miss vocals on this project? I'm most comfortable with their highly-charged instrumental versions of Kentucky Waltz, Road to Columbus, John Henry, Bluegrass Breakdown, and Jerusalem Ridge. The other song choices seem to also succeed as instrumentals, but I find myself wanting to belt out the words on Blue Moon of Kentucky, Footprints in the Snow, Crying Holy, Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Molly & Tenbrooks. Some listeners will clearly miss lyrics. All I can say is "Get Over It!" This is a tastefully-rendered CD of hot breaks for some favorite Bill Monroe classics, and I think the Father of Bluegrass would've been pleased to hear them. The project is on the Maple Street Music label, a Nashville-based independent founded in 1996, to preserve America's traditional music heritage. (Joe Ross)

7/12/05 release

Lost Highway B0004706-02
Playing Time - 35:53
            Songs - Do You Mind Too Much If I Don't Understand, How Long is Forever, I'm a Worried Man, The Harder They Come, Something to Think About, Sitting In Limbo, Darkness on the Face of the Earth, One in a Row, I've Just Destroyed the World, You Left Me a Long, Long Time Ago, I Guess I've Come to Live Here, Undo the Right
            Ten years in the making, Willie Nelson (and 17 other musicians) fuse country and reggae sounds into an enticing and powerful concoction. But you've got to wonder why the record execs kept a lid on this music for nearly a decade? With rhythms to dominate the dancehalls and juke joints, Willie jumps right into the popular music style of Jamaica with largely original music he composed or co-wrote with others like Ray Price or Hank Cochran. A couple songs from Jimmy Cliff (The Harder They Come, Sitting in Limbo), and one from Johnny & June Carter Cash (I'm a Worrried Man) round out the set. All are presented with reggae's characteristic chopped guitar or keyboard emphasizing the off beats. I wonder how Bob Marley would like this? I think he'd Be Happy!
            What's the origin of this musical style? Mento, the island's raggedy calypso style, originated in the 1950s. In the early 1960s, we started hearing about ska, a shuffling hybrid of mento and R&B. As ska became influenced by American rock in the late 1960s, some called it "rude boy" music for the street anarchists who followed the music. Reggae emerged as a popular influence on world music in the 1970s, largely thanks to its talented superstar Bob Marley who was also a powerful moral authority when the U.S. was at war in Vietnam. The word "reggae" might come from the patois "streggae" (rudeness) or perhaps "regge-regge" (quarrel). Toots (Frederick) Hibbert who wrote "Do the Reggay" once said the term is merely descriptive, meaning simply "regular." Toots makes a special guest cameo appearance on Willie's album at track 3, "I'm a Worried Man." Toots, you may remember, gave us a successful reggae cover of John Denver's "Country Roads," and his "True Love" album release even featured an appearance of Nelson.
            Reggae was influenced by Rastafarianism, a cult belief that racial harmony wouldn't work and that blacks should return to Africa. The Rastas were ascetic, vegetarian and peaceful. They also had an affinity for powerful ganja as an aid to meditation. The best songs that work for Willie Nelson are those with hard-hitting social messages that speak from the heart of the proletariat, such as "The Harder They Come" and "I'm a Worried Man." A catchy song like "Sitting in Limbo" has potential to become a reggae classic.
            "Countryfarianism" could be the moniker for Willie's new, hypnotic, bass-dominated sound. He still focuses on making a statement with his music, and he reinvents some of his classics like "One in a Row," "You Left Me a Long Time Ago," and "Darkness on the Face of The Earth." It makes sense that Willie chooses Jamaica's shuffling "country" music style to infuse these chestnuts with new ingredients of repose and consciousness. Willie's relaxed vocal delivery is perfect for the spiritual essence of this new blend that will send lightning bolts striking through the followers of both genres. (Joe Ross)

8/16/05 release
Telluride to Tennessee

Everette Family Records MLG2-51357
Email OR
Playing Time - 43:10
            Songs - 1. Greener Pastures, 2. My Train Of Thought, 3. Hillbilly at Heart, 4. Sin City (With Chris Hillman), 5. Kick Up The Dust, 6. Telluride To Tennessee, 7. Long Time Gone, 8. Fork In The Road, 9. He's Back And I'm Blue(grass), 10. I Couldn't Love You Anymore, 11. Lonesome City, Pop. 1, 12. Bop Shebang, 13. That's The Way Love Goes
            Dyann and Michael Woody (The Woodys) prove that they have myriad influences from country to folk, bluegrass to rock. The singing duo use an acoustic format with drums to present ten originals out of the total baker's dozen. "Telluride to Tennessee" enlists the support of some notable musicians from both the bluegrass and country-rock genres. the features Chris Hillman, Herb Pederson, Gretchen Peters, Pat Flynn, Al Perkins, Ronnie McCoury, Larry Atamaniuk, Mike Compton, Scott Vestal, Tammy Rogers and others. Fats Kaplan plays accordion and tin whistle on the Cajun-flavored "Kick Up the Dust." One of the best originals for bluegrass bands to cover is "Hillbilly at Heart."
            Appealing primarily to fans of the Americana format, these songs will find their way to the airwaves of non-mainstream stations that simply like well-executed music with a bite. The Woodys were voted the top country vocal duo at the International Country Music News Awards in Belgium. They've also won an ASCAP songwriter award.
            "Telluride to Tennessee," the Woodys' third release, varies the cadence between songs like the wistful country ballad "Long Time Gone" and "He's Back and I'm Blue." The latter was a hit for the Desert Rose Band in 1988. They clearly have their pulse on a new type of country music that is both funky ("Fork in the Road"), nostalgic ("Sin City"), sweet ("I Couldn't Love You Anymore"), and witty ("Bop Shebang").
            The Woodys are now well-connected to the Nashville music scene, and their approach combines the pastoral with the raucous for a entertaining set with even a few classic country and bluegrass overtones. Their expressive vocals are never overshadowed by their sidemen. Born to sing, Dyann and Michael first met at college in Colorado. She was in all-woman R&B show band before moving to Los Angeles to work as an actress. She moved to Nashville in 1993. Michael had already located there in 1985 and was chasing success as a songwriter. The two were married in August 1993. With the help of producer Brian Ahern, their career as a duo was launched. With a number of albums and other recording projects under their belts, The Woodys are now well-established as the dazzling singing duo that they are. (Joe Ross)

Release 7/12/05
Hide Head Blues

Sugar Hill Records SUG-CD-4004
PO Box 55300, Durham, NC 27717
Playing Time - 35:20
           SONGS - 1. The Hide Head Blues, 2. Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar, 3. Pick Along, 4. I Started Loving You Again, 5. Standing In The Need Of Prayer, 6. Cowboys And Indians, 7. Theme Time, 8. Black Mountain Blues, 9. Guitar Rag, 10. Temperance Reel, 11. Daddy Frank, 12. The Old Hen
           Jim Mills' "Hide Head Blues" features his four original prewar flathead 5-string Gibson Mastertone banjos from the 1930s and 1940s. As Jim notes, he has its own peculiarities such as string tension, tuner ratio, action, neck contour, tone, volume and sustain. Two are equipped with the original 1930s Joseph Rogers calfskin heads which provide the full, rich, optimum tone that old banjos are noted for. For the project, Mills chose material from a wide range of sources such as The Delmore Brothers, Merle Haggard, Bill Emerson, Earl Scruggs, and Merle Travis. Central to every song is the hard-driving and tasty banjo as Mills demonstrates the instrument's applicability in such genres as old-time, classic country, blues, bluegrass, Gospel and even Celtic genres.
           The title cut was written by Mills. Three numbers includes vocals, with Mills singing with Paul Brewster, Dan Tyminski, Don Rigsby or Barry Bales. Besides the lead vocals, Mills recorded thumb-style guitar picking on "Guitar Rag," using electric guitar which he hopes the bluegrass community won't hold against him. Tyminski sings lead on "Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar" and "Standing in the Need of Prayer." With more instrumentals to meet his fans' demands, Mills chose to record a neglected Earl Scruggs favorite, "Pick Along," as well as Bill Emerson's "Cowboys and Indians." Mills had learned the latter piece as a teen, but he hadn't played it much because he didn't know many guitar players able to accompany it.
           The top Nashville-area session bluegrass instrumentalists include Dan Tyminski (guitar), Barry Bales (bass), Cody Kilby (guitar), Stuart Duncan (clawhammer banjo, fiddle), Adam Steffey (mandolin), and Andy Leftwich (fiddle). The music throughout this project is tight, well-arranged and a joyous listening experience. The sheer power of Mills' flathead banjos is truly impressive, especially when played so masterfully by a minstrel of his caliber. (Joe Ross)

Bluegrass Up Ahead!

Arrandem Records AR-160
PO Box 160474, Nashville, TN. 37216
TEL. (615)513-8620
Playing Time - 14:40
           Songs - Two Hands on the Wheel, Boxcar Door, Going Back to Old Virginia, Sound I Hear, Gallatin
           I first heard of this band when their cover of Nancy Pate's "Two Hands on the Wheel" was included on Prime Cuts of Bluegrass' Volume 75. The members of this young Nashville-based quartet may only be in their twenties, but their splashy music is indicative of their many years of bluegrass involvement. Chris and Casey Henry are brother and sister; their parents are Red and Murphy Henry. For years, they played as a family band (Red and Murphy and their Excellent Children) and recorded a couple albums together. Now, Casey (banjo) and Chris (mandolin) have teamed with Amanda Kowalski (bass) and Tyler Grant (guitar). Casey sings "Sound I Hear" with an old-timey flair in her voice, while Chris' lead vocals have a softer edge on a song like his original "Boxcar Door." He also composed the feisty instrumental closer, "Gallatin," which moves lickety-split to this 15-minute album's early conclusion. A full-length CD is expected by the end of 2005.
           Casey put out her first banjo CD entitled "Real Women Drive Trucks" about 2000. After moving to Nashville in 2001, she played with Uncle Earl, Jim Hurst Band, June Carter Cash, and Tennessee Heartstrings (releasing "New Strings, New Hearts" in 2004). Holding a degree in English and Women's Studies from the Univ. Of Va., Casey has been published in several music magazines. Chris started playing mandolin and guitar before he was a teen. After relocating from Virginia to Nashville in 2003, Chris worked with Dave Peterson & 1946. His album of original and Monroe tunes is due to hit the streets soon.
           Amanda Kowalski graduated from the Wheeling Park, W.Va. bluegrass program, and she and Casey both played together in the all-female old-time band Uncle Earl. Amanda has also worked with Adrienne Young, Keith Little and Patty Mitchell, Roland White Band, and Abigail Washburn. Hailing from San Diego, Tyler Grant has eclectic musical interests from classical to reggae, and he holds a college music degree from the California Institute of the Arts. Tyler has toured with Adrienne Young & Little Sadie, April Verch, and Abigail Washburn.
           Casey and Chris and the Two-Stringers serve up an enterprising an energetic performance. These kids are full of grassy gumption, and this 5-song project is a great showcase of their high potential and a clear indication of their bright future as bluegrass musicians. Expect to see them at a festival near you after they hit the road full-time. (Joe Ross)


Old Line Music 0904
16801 Swanson Road Spur, Upper Marlboro, MD 20774
TEL. (301)627-8330
Playing Time - 47:50
           Songs - 1. The World is Waiting for the Sunrise 2 Heartaches 3 Wheels 4 Hungarian Gypsy Dance 5 Stars and Stripes Forever 6 Big Hillbilly Breakdown 7 Scott Joplin Medley 8 Butterfly Bounce 9 Red Wing 10 Dixie House Rag 11 You Tell Me Your Dream 12 Opus #5 in G for Strings 13 Black Mountain Rag 14 San Antoinio Rose 15 Centipede Shuffle 16 Wait 'til the Sun Shines Nelly
           A delectable collection of banjo-centric instrumentals, "Sunrise" will have you whistling or humming along before the third track cues up. A generous 16-track project that emphasizes favorite old-time melodies, it reminds us that the banjo is one happy instrument when flawlessly picked by an expert like Ray Hesson. The instrumental collaboration also showcases some exquisite accompaniment from Mike Auldridge (dobro), David Grier (guitar), Chris Walls (bass), Chuck VanMeter (guitar), Wayne Taylor (guitar), Marc MacGlashan (mandolin), Lenny Whitehead (mandolin), Akira Otsuka (mandolin), Mark Baker (dobro) Sue Tic (fiddle), and Jordan Tice (guitar). Guitar credited to "Bone Spoonwell" is actually being played by Ray Hesson. Liner notes offer a few sentences about each of these guest artists. However, one write-up is sorely missing. Just who is this melodic-style banjo player, Ray Hesson? Apparently, he's played the ol' five since a young age. He plays in a band occasionally but is more likely to be seen as a festival spectator or banjo contest competitor. Ray won one of the top prizes at Winfield, Ks. in 1994.
           Hesson shows clear mastery of the banjo, and he is very confident and comfortable playing such classics as The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise, Hungarian Gypsy Dance, a Scott Joplin Medley, Stars and Stripes Forever, San Antonio Rose, and Wait 'til the Sun Shines Nelly. These are difficult tunes, folks! Hesson attacks them with a lyrical bounce that is sheer delight. Of special note are Hesson's own originals, Centipede Shuffle, Big Hillbilly Breakdown, Butterfly Bounce, and Opus #5 in G for Strings. These give the rest of the band a good workout. Another standout on the project is "Dixie House Rag," written by D.C.-area picker Keith Arneson.
           Ray Hesson is a champion picker, and this CD was a labor of love for him. While having some health problems, Hesson considers himself a "closet picker" but still manages to get out and play in a "smoky biker bar or something similar" now and then. His third album, "Sunrise," is a real treat and worthy instrumental addition to the collections of fans of accurate melodic playing. I still recall the feeling when I first heard Bill Keith's banjo work many years ago. With some good distribution of his eclectic and impeccable music, Ray Hesson's notoriety could have just as significant of an impact on banjodom. (Joe Ross)

Time & Again

Gulfwind Records, no number OR
TEL. 615-825-0019
Playing Time - 20:33
           SONGS - 1. Time and Again, 2. I Still Need, 3. Touchdown, 4. Breathe, 5. Kiss Me, 6. Taking Time
           Maggie Austin's singing bursts with pep! Her debut 21-minute EP captures her sweetness of tone and purity of vocal sound on five originals and one cover ("Breathe" done by Faith Hill). Austin's contemporary approach to country also showcases some unidentified veteran instrumentalists who exhibit plenty of musical moxie. These sidemen know how to lay down riffs that enhance her vocals rather than overpower them.
           While Austin's music has a progressive sound, she sticks a little closer to the traditional end of the spectum with her songs' themes. The title cut, "Time & Again," has lyrics about never-ending love and a pop-influenced melody embellished with piano and synthesizer. "I Still Need" provides an engaging twist to another common country music theme. "Touchdown" may have the best hook with its analogy of love to football and snappy beat. "Kiss Me" offers some simple advice to get through the toils of life. "You better show me it's forever this time," she sings. The closer, "Taking Time," incorporates nice musical dynamics and electric slide guitar into the song's arrangement and genesis.
           Maggie Austin is the supporter of Cell Phones for Soldiers. The program accepts used cell phones to be recycled. The money made from recycling is then used to purchase phone cards for soldiers overseas. Maggie heard about the program on the news and was pretty impressed that a couple caring 13-year-old kids from Mass. came up with the idea. Maggie donates $1 from the sale of each "Time & Again" CD on the CDBaby website, and 25 cents for every download from Mperia. The calling cards help soldiers to keep in touch and save money.
           Maggie Austin is a farmgal and horse enthusiastic who hails from rural Pennsylvania. She says, "My love of country music was born out of my love of country life." As a singer, she's now building an international following and seeing her songs chart. Her music demonstrates considerable talent and individualism. I'd like to see a full length album from her real soon. (Joe Ross)

release 7/19/05
Always Never Enough

Rebel REB-CD-1811A
PO BOX 7405, Charlottesville, VA. 22906
EMAIL OR (615)321-1383
Playing Time - 42:43
           This group's second release on the distinguished Rebel Records label came to my attention when I heard the title track (written by Tim Stafford and Steve Gulley) as the lead off song on Volume 75 of Prime Cuts of Bluegrass. The Kenny & Amanda Smith Band have a mellifluous bluegrass sound that varies quick-paced romps with beautiful and emotionally-rendered ballads.
           Kenny Smith's rock solid guitar work with the Lonesome River Band from 1995-2001 twice led to his winning the IBMA's "Guitar Player of the Year" award. Smith's solo project, "Studebaker," showcased his songwriting abilities and talented wife's soulful singing. A few years have now passed since Kenny and Amanda Smith turned plenty of heads with their gem, "Slowly but Surely" (Farm Boy FBR-1001), that included band members Ronald Inscore, Jason Moore, Steve Huber, and Ron Stewart. It helped formulate the band's original, contemporary sound characterized by beautiful vocals, expert picking, solid arrangements, excellent repertoire, and high recording quality. Kenny and Amanda won the IBMA's Emerging Artist of the Year Award in 2003, and they released their second album, "House Down the Block," in January 2004.
           The band has had a couple personnel changes. Whiz banjo-player Steve Huber is still with the Smiths, but "Always Never Enough" introduces Jason Robertson (mandolin) and Alan Bartram (bass). Robertson is young player with a very tasty and clean, crisp sound which I personally would've liked strengthened in the mix. Also a quality songwriter, Bartram penned "She‘s on my Mind." Although a minor criticism, I still believe that this band's sound would be enhanced with some fiddle and/or dobro in a few spots. Their choice of material, on this project particularly, begs for some incorporation of these instruments. As did their "House Down the Block" release. However, I can also understand and fully appreciate the artists' own personal vision and desired signature sound to instead emphasize vocals, banjo, guitar, and mandolin as the primary vehicles for their musical expression.
           The Kenny and Amanda Smith Band's "Always Never Enough" offers good harmony, straight-ahead picking, and very solid song selection with thoughtful messages and varied tempos. While Kenny, a decent songwriter himself, didn't pen any of the numbers, the band draws material from some favorite sources -- Tim Stafford, Becky Buller, and their own Alan Bartram. They also like to cover some country classics, in this album's case it's Webb Pierce and Mel Tillis' "A Thousand Miles Ago." The album closes with a song that connects all their bluegrass dots to the past, Carter Stanley's "Our Last Goodbye." It's an interesting arrangement that modulates to a different key and which characterizes their sound -- fluid picking, spiritually-tinged harmonies, and high amperage in their musical currents. (Joe Ross)

On the Rise

Lonesome Day Records LDR-007
143 Deaton Road, Booneville, KY. 41314
TEL. (606)398-2369
Playing Time - 39:24
           SONGS - 1. This Old Martin Box 2 PawPaw Taught Me 3 The Next Big Thing 4 The Crime I'm Guilty Of 5 Cold Kentucy Night 6 He Arose 7 I keep Callin' 8 Sling Blade 9 The Old Time Preacher Man 10 Modern Day Outlaw 11 Far Away From Home 12 Holy Manna 13 Big Wheels Turnin'
           "On the Rise" marks the third highly successful release from Blue Moon Rising, a lively Tennessee-based bluegrass group. This emerging band only has about five years under their belts, and their 2002 "Where Wood Meets Steel" CD (Crosscut CR 1133) brought the national spotlight in their direction. Now, "On the Rise" is sure to launch them to an even higher level of international attention and acclaim. BMR is Chris West (guitar), Keith Garrett (mandolin, guitar two tracks), Randall Massengill (tenor vocal, guitar one track), Justin Jenkins (banjo), and Tim Tipton (bass). Jenkins' banjo-playing shows his strong influence of the styling of J.D. Crowe. BMR also added guitarist/tenor singer Randall Massengill within the recent past. Randall spent 9 years playing guitar and singing with the bluegrass gospel band, New Road. On this project, the band's third album, guest dobro-player Randy Kohrs joins in on three song, while award-winning fiddler Ron Stewart provides just the right touch on seven tracks. Jenkin's and Garrett's original instrumental "Sling Blade" gives all the picks a chance to shine. Stewart also engineered this album.
           Like "Where Wood Meets Steel," this album emphasizes originals, mostly written by band members. Chris West has a flair for songsmithing, and he contributes some fine material to the bluegrass canon. Tipton and Garrett also get involved in the songwriting. It's a good team and collaborative approach to build the band's peerless sound. Lead vocals are also passed around between Garrett, West and Massengill. The band's quartet is featured on "Holy Manna," with Jenkins handling the baritone vocal harmony. This album offers plenty of highlights, and a radio programmer can't go wrong by airing any of the songs. Some personal favorites are Modern Day Outlaw, PaPaw Taught Me, The Crime I'm Guilty of, I Keep Callin', and He Arose.
           I like the many diversified and sundry influences in this band's music. It's tricky to write, arrange and record a healthy body of original material that reflects both a traditional consciousness and contemporary innovativeness. The creativity and aptitude of Blue Moon Rising gives them a unconditional and thoroughly enthralling sound. Bluegrass fare with significant flair! Based on their high potential and cohesive sound, they've got my vote for emerging artists of the year. I predict that it won't be long before they're headlining the biggest bluegrass festivals in the world. (Joe Ross)

Grandma's Songs

Lonesome Day Records LDR-008
143 Deaton Road, Booneville, KY. 41314
TEL. (606)398-2369
Playing Time - 37:01
           The Boohers are a captivating family band that makes their debut on Lonesome Day Records with "Grandma's Songs" which is actually the group's fourth album overall. Planning their lives around their music, The Boohers also have the tenacity and persistence to make some big waves. It's so nice and refreshing to see a family band with such a sincere fondness for bluegrass, and one that is so resolute in their goal to succeed in a very competitive business. The Boohers are Lora Booher (guitar), Gary (banjo, guitar), Joseph (mandolin), and Jamey (bass). All four sing although liner notes don't mention who's doing what when. It's clear, however, when Lora is singing lead, and she has a splendid voice of breathtaking ability. Guest artists include Troy Engle (fiddle), along with Ron Block (led guitar on "Linville Train"). From N.E. Tennessee, The Boohers hail from an area with such a rich musical heritage that it's known as "The Bluegrass Heartland."
           Prior to "Grandma's Songs," the family band put out a well-received gospel project entitled "There's a Miracle Everywhere You Go." These good Christian folk sing and play songs that are close to their hearts and express messages emphasizing their own ideals. Four songs (including the title cut) on "Grandma's Songs" were composed by Dixie and Tom T. Hall. Others come from the pens of Lorraine Jordan, Becky Buller, Ron Block, Mark Brinkman, and A.P. Carter. Of special note are The Boohers' own songwriting abilities. Gary wrote "Moon on the River" and "Linville Train." The former is a sad song of lost love whose memories are kept alive with the moon's reflections. The latter is a steamin' instrumental full of locomotive compushency. Gary and Joseph collaborated on the closer, "Home with the One I Love," which has similarly hustling tempo as "Linville Train" but adds a message about the joys of being homeward bound.
           The Boohers are a very talented family that has a unique knack for successfully balancing their multi-faceted musicality. The juxtaposition of their plaintive, expressive songs with their dazzling displays of lightning-fast playing provide us with a special treat. "Grandma's Songs" is simply an exhilarating and brilliant work. (Joe Ross)

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