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Upated: October 31, 2006
ACOUSTIC ENDEAVORS - On A Farm
ASTROGRASS - Newgrass from New York
BLIND CORN LIQUOR PICKERS - Anywhere Else?
THE BROMBIES - Live at the Spitting Llamas Bluegrass Bar
BISCUIT BURNERS - A Mountain Apart
BLUE HIGHWAY - Lonesome Pine
THE BOYS FROM INDIANA - Good Time Blues
CAPTAIN T (Tom Hunnicutt) - The Hunnicutt Collection
GREG CLARKE - Solo
EDDIE COLLINS - Golden Wings
MIKE COMPTON and DAVID LONG - Stomp
THE COTTARS - Forerunner
DAUGHTERS OF BLUEGRASS - Back to the Well
DEAD MEN'S HOLLOW - Wither's Rocking Hymn
CASEY DRIESSEN - 3D
GRAY SKY GIRLS - Self-titled
JEREMY GARRETT & GLEN GARRETT - Bluegrass Gospel 2005
THE GIBSON BROTHERS - Red Letter Day
J.T. GRAY - It's About Time
GREASY BEANS - Busted
TONY HOLT and the WILDWOOD VALLEY BOYS - Daylight's Burnin'
BUDDY JEWELL - Tales of the New West: Songs of the Coreys and Dennis Kahler
MIKE JONES - Ginny's Calling
LORRAINE JORDAN - Road Trip for the Lord
THE KICKIN GRASS BAND - On The Short Rows
JOHN LOWELL & BEN WINSHIP (Growling Old Men) - Occupational Hazards
CLAIRE LYNCH - New Day
JOHN McCUTCHEON - Mightier Than the Sword
MISTY RIVER - Midwinter: Songs of Christmas
MISTY RIVER - Willow
MONROE CROSSING - The Happy Holidays
MOUNT ZION - My Old Friend
BOBBY OSBORNE & The Rocky Top X-Press - Try a Little Kindness
PINE MOUNTAIN RAILROAD - Heartache & Hope
BRAD PAISLEY - Time Well Wasted
DAVID PETERSON & 1946 - In the Mountaintops to Roam
JOE ROSS - Festival Time Again
JOE ROSS - The Spirit of St. Louis
DEAN SAPP & Harford Express - I Can Hear The Blue Ridge Calling Me
MARK SCHATZ and FRIENDS - Steppin' in the Boiler House
SKYLINE DRIVE - Leavin' Town
FERRELL STOWE - Stobro's Blues
MARTY STUART - Live at the Ryman
SUSHI & GRAVY - Takeharu Kunimoto and The Last Frontier
CHRIS THILE & MIKE MARSHALL - Live Duets
JIM VAN CLEVE - No Apologies
APRIL VERCH - Take Me Back
THE DOC WATSON FAMILY - Tradition
WEST OF EDEN - Four
GORDON WRIGHT - Straight from the Heart
Training Techniques (DVD/Booklets/Tapes)
Band In A Book: (3)
BLUEGRASS BANJO Tunes and Techniques taught by Tony Trischka
Bluegrass Guitar: Know The Players, Play The Music
Bluegrass Picker's Tune Book
CLASSIC BLUEGRASS MANDOLIN taught by Jesse McReynolds (DVD)
Complete Country Guitar
Country Swing Back-up Guitar
Easy Flatpicking Guitar Arrangements...
Flatpicker's Guide To Better Playing
Flatpicking the Blues by Brad Davis
Cody Kilby, Brad Davis, Tim May: Live In Kansas City
New Directions In Flatpicking: From...
Pick Power! Right Hand Workout for Speed, Volume...
String Band Classics (Guitar) Transcribed by Dix Bruce
String Band Classics (Mandolin) Transcribed by Dix Bruce
Super Bluegrass Banjo Picking Techniques - Taught by Alan Munde
Super Mandolin Picking Techniques - Taught by Joe Carr
The American Fiddle Method - Volume 1 (Cello)
The World's Hottest Fiddlers Transcribed by Drew Beisswenger
GRAY SKY GIRLS -
American Melody AM-CD-5123
P.O. Box 270, Guilford, CT 06437
(203) 457-0881 or (800) 220-5557
EMAIL Phil@americanmelody.com OR email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
www.grayskygirls.com OR www.americanmelody.com
SONGS: You're Running Wild, Sea of Heartbreak, Texas Rain, Daisy, Shady Grove, Sylvie, You Are My Sunshine, Hard to Love You, Just Like Home, Bury Me Beneath the Willow, Alaska, Can't Look Away, Golden Slippers, Oh Susannah
The Gray Sky Girls (Naomi Sommers and Lisa Bastoni) met in 2004 when a Somerville, Ma. punk rock dive decided to branch out and host a short-lived folksingers' open mic. Discovering that they had much in common (love of traditional music, vegetable juice, oat bran, Bob Dylan, and having no middle names), they decided to form an old-time country "slowgrass" duo. The singer/songwriters are proponents of a simple, basic approach that emphasizes close vocal harmonies with organic, earthy perspectives. While singing in close harmony like a couple of mountain songbirds, their rustic instrumental work (on guitar, mandolin, banjo, flute) works fine to complement their folksy song selection. Their subtlety becomes their strength. The result is very personable and soothing music that is full of charisma. Traditional sensibilities draw on repertoire like Oh Susannah, Golden Slippers, Bury Me Beneath the Willow, You Are My Sunshine, and Shady Grove. Their melodic rendition of "Sylvie" is quiet and soothing, practically classifying as a lullaby.
On a more contemporary vein, the girls with a shared affinity for organic, dried mango also present three originals apiece. Whether singing emotionally-wrought sentiments ("Hard To Love You" and "Can't Look Away", a soldier's nostalgic longing for home ("Just Like Home", or about abandonment, uncertainty and insecurity ("Texas Rain"). The Gray Sky Girls have a knack for songcrafting in a concise, straightforward, understandable style. For example, Lisa Bastoni's "Daisy" paints a vivid portrait of carefree happiness with a greasy-haired spring wildflower in overalls. Naomi Sommers' "Alaska" is a comforting tale of wanderlust that also captures the duo's pioneering spirit. I'd like to hear more songs about the characters they meet on their itinerant journeys, playing at folk festivals, coffeehouses, or busking in subways. Or perhaps even a song about the lonesome, swooping swallows that they brought home on their forearms from a Kansas tattoo parlor.
Both Lisa and Naomi have released previous albums, and their self-titled debut album is on Phil Rosenthal's American Melody label. Both have been recognized as up-and-coming folk artists. Naomi is a 2004 Kerrville, Tx. Folk Festival New Folk finalist, and Lisa was featured in the 2002 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artist Showcase. The Gray Sky Girls toured the midwest for two weeks in 2006, and they are now planning a west coast in early 2007. Groups don't need a lot of hot, flashy licks to build a signature sound, become highly sought after, and build a legion of fans. In harmony with nature, the Gray Sky Girls' heartening music is very inviting for audience participation too. Their youthful exuberance and boundless enthusiasm will take them far. (Joe Ross)
Joe Ross -
Festival Time Again
Zephyr Records 0429
170 Loredo Drive, Roseburg, OR. 97470
www.cdbaby.com/jross3 OR www.talentondisplay.com/joerosshome.html
Playing time: 46:16
Joe Ross, best known for his contributions to bluegrass in written form, has a genuine way with
words. With over 1,200 published features and reviews during the past three decades, his
insightful and thoughtful observations have graced the pages of many publications all over
Festival Time Again, the all-original music of this multi-talented artist features
sounds of traditional bluegrass along with many other diverse influences including
some Irish flavored tunes, jazz, Americana, gospel and even gypsy sounding music.
To those of us who are looking forward to the festival season, this title means
lots of bluegrass, good friends and good times. This music is just that-happy sounding
fun music. "Good Deeds," a funky sounding song with an island beat appeals to
the good side of all of us. A cut Joe calls "HotQua Nights," inspired by the
music of Django Reinhardt, follows with a gypsy flavored funky fun song.
Another highlight, "My Home In Old Virginia" sung by James King gets the sound
right back to roots bluegrass with great vocals and a old style shared banjo and
dobro break. Besides The James King Band on three cuts, other great musicians
helping Joe include Ronnie Stewart, Scott Vestal, Tim Crouch, Bryan Bowers,
Radim Zenkl, Al Brinkerhoff, and others.
Whenever an album crosses boundaries and groups play different styles, the risk
is always of losing their identity, never really landing in one area, and having
a hard time finding their place with fans. Of course, the good thing is to
those of us who like different genres of music this is a special treat as these
guys really entertain. On this project, Joe mixes it up well, and the
results seem well worth the risk. There is something for the traditional
fans to enjoy and for the more adventuresome. An awesome musical experience!
(Johnny Pearce, staff writer, Bluegrass Now magazine)
Joe Ross -
The Spirit of St. Louis
Zephyr Records 0430
170 Loredo Drive, Roseburg, OR. 97470
www.cdbaby.com/jross4 OR www.talentondisplay.com/joerosshome.html
Playing Time: 39:48
There's a lot to like about this latest effort from Joe Ross. Eleven new original songs cover
everything from stirring Gospel, to songs about logging, Mom, Oregon (where Joe calls home),
love, even fowl, and, as the title implies, Charles Lindbergh's epic flight across the Atlantic.
Al Brinkerhoff's melodious resophonic guitar kicks things off very appealingly on the lively
"The Logger's Song," vividly illustrating the life of an Oregon woodsman. "The River In
Oregon" is a tribute to the rivers and tributaries, "the lifeblood of the land - please
take care of them," Joe writes in the liner notes. "One Legged Turkey," a clever,
upbeat instrumental, was written in memory of an actual wild turkey that hung
around for a while on the roof of Joe's home. "Mother's Songs" is quite emotive;
a beautiful piece that Joe says always choked him up as he sang it. Recorded
with the fine Missouri band Cedar Hill, the cut features Mel Besher in a first-rate
bluegrass tenor lead vocal backed by Lisa Ray on harmony vocal. The one traditional
in the collection, "St. Anne's Reel," is lovely with Joe on hammered dulcimer and
mandolin, Bryan Bowers on autoharp, and Radim Zenkl on pennywhistle. "The Church Bell
No One Hears" and "His Hand Is Divine" are two very well-crafted Gospel pieces,
the latter featuring some excellent fiddle work by Ronnie Stewart.
Again Joe composes in a nice array of styles - the very bluesy "Streamliner," Calypso on
"The River In Oregon," and driving bluegrass. And as usual, he's assembled a fine line up
musicians quite equal to the task; the likes of Randy Kohrs, James King, Adam Haynes,
Kevin Prater, Tim Crouch, and Scott Vestal contribute masterfully on various cuts.
The word sure seems to have gotten out among his peers that Joe is a talent to be
reckoned with; it's more than about time this notion catches on with the listening
public and bluegrass radio. (Joe Falletta, staff writer, Bluegrass Now magazine)
Gordon Wright -
Straight from the Heart
No label, No number
Playing Time 31:24
From Ontario, Gordon Wright is a bluegrass musician who has a special place in his heart for
original gospel songs, in an old-time bluegrass style, that celebrate the spirit of God. In 2003, he
met Ron Clark, a talented harmony singer and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass,
fiddle). The two seemed destined to cross paths for a specific reason to create this album as part
of their musical ministry. With songs primarily written by Wright in the first three months of 2005,
the duo then arranged and recorded this set in Clark's home studio in March of 2005. In fact, I'm
told that Wright is so prolific a songwriter that he has written a total of 74 songs during the past
year and a half!
"Straight From The Heart" doesn't have the slick production qualities of a major label, but it does
present unpretentious, heartfelt songs that hold special meaning in the messages. Wright's lyrics
are direct and to the point, and the duo's rhythm is strong and steady. A simple and basic approach
can create strong, memorable pieces, yet it is the lyrics that must touch a person's emotions for a
song to fully succeed. If covered by a top-name bluegrass gospel group, some of Wright's songs have
the potential to create a long lasting impact. His best ideas appear in those songs that provide
direction to us in a turbulent, chaotic world. For that reason, I discovered the most inspiration in
"Take the Royal Road," "Do You Take Your Bible," "I'm Telling You," and "We Should Pray For Our Dear
Children." (Joe Ross)
Sushi & Gravy -
Takeharu Kunimoto and The Last Frontier
Shami Records 1003
Playing Time 38:19
As a young "navy brat" growing up in Japan, I often discovered such cross-cultural delicacies as
gravy rice, curry rice, squid pizza, or french fries with gravy. "Sushi & Gravy," however, is one
item I never concocted, but it was only a matter of time before someone mixed up an appetizing
batch. Leave it to shamisen-player Takeharu Kunimoto and The Last Frontier (Aaron Jackson, J.P.
Mathes, Ken Thomas, Dan Boner). Joined by Raymond McClain (fiddle, clawhammer banjo) in a varied set
recorded after the group's 2005 Japan tour, the unique band demonstrates an open-minded willingness
to incorporate Eastern and Western sensibilities into their bluegrass, instrumental and original
music. Kunimoto's first instrument was actually mandolin, taken up thirty years ago after seeing
Bill Monroe. In 2003, the Japanese musician and storyteller attended East Tennessee State University
where he joined the Bluegrass Pride Band. In 2004, The Last Frontier formed and released
"Appalachian Shamisen." Over in Japan, Kunimoto is both preserving and pushing tradition as a
rokyoku ballad singer who tells historical vignettes, accompanied by shamisen. The innovator
incorporates elements of blues and rock music as he explores and revitalizes this traditional art
form in his country.
The fretless shamisen only has three strings strung over its parchment-covered soundbox, but
Kunimoto-san is a master at finding a way to fit into a bluegrass context. Purely Japanese, the
shamisen first appeared in the sixteenth century. Now played with a large plectrum, the earliest
shamisen could have been bowed. It's the quintessential all-purpose Japanese instrument,
indispensable to theater, parties, geisha, folk and classical music. Because of the instrument's
versatility in Japan, Kunimoto proves that it can also find acceptance in Oriental bluegrass. The
shamisen's voices range from robust percussive propulsion ("Tears of the Samurai") to lyrically
sweet vocalizing with a feminine touch ("Chinese Caravan"). The latter is a favorite. Four seconds
later, Kunimoto is singing a fun, rousing original "A-Jyanaika" that reminds me of rowdy street
musicians called "chindonya." The song's title means "Take it easy," and is based on an original
"A-Janaika" song dating to about 1867 when the Japanese were nervous about changes in their country,
earthquakes, tsunami, flood and other natural disasters. "A-Janaika" performed with a folk dance (or
parade) helped the people to think positively.
The band loses some balance in their fastest pieces that push and challenge each other ("Gonna Paint
The Town"), but Jackson & Mathes' "The One Who Leads Me Home" is a pleasurable gospel experience.
Burning original instrumentals like "Hikyaku's Love" and "Nanny Goat" keep the melodies simple,
direct, with solid rhythmic thrust.
This album has a distinctive native sound and Japanese character, and the band's Zen-like wisdom
emphasizes that there is much joy and fun to be found in each fleeting musical moment. Kunimoto
fully realizes the many emotions of his instrument, and his rokyoku storytelling will no doubt now
also include some hot bluegrass licks and phrasings to further thrill his enthusiastic Japanese
audiences. (Joe Ross)
Flatpicking the Blues
by Brad Davis
Mel Bay 2242
23-track CD and 42-track DVD
www.melbay.com OR www.flatpick.com
"Flatpicking the Blues" (with both a CD and DVD) shows how to incorporate a blues feel into our
repertoire, specifically flatpicking tunes. Brad Davis defines the blues by concentrating on
scales, rhythms, chord progressions, standard blues licks and phrases. He explores the styles of
Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and even Bill Monroe. Thus, he illustrates how
many genres of music (bluegrass, folk, rock) have influences of the blues. The DVD shows how to
play several different arrangements of 12-bar blues rhythm. Davis then utilizes blues scales to
improvise over the chord progression. His step-by-step method is straightforward and easy to follow.
With the written examples in the book, a student would then practice with the tracks on the audio
CD. It was a good idea to also present ear training lessons. With a solid understanding of the
elements of the blues, a student musician will become a better improvisational player. Bluegrassers
will especially be pleased because Davis illustrates and teaches "bluesy" arrangements of a number
of standard tunes (Nine Pound Hammer, Lonesome Road Blues, Salt Creek, John Hardy). "Petticoat," a
traditional blues vocal tune is also taught. Brad Davis has recorded or toured with Sweethearts of
the Rodeo, White Water, Marty Stuart, Steven Seagal, Billy Bob Thorton, Daisy Dern, Forester
Sisters, Earl Scruggs and Sam Bush. Brad's own solo album, "Climbin' Cole Hill" was released on
Raisin' Cain Records, and he is the inventor of The Brad Bender for bending strings on the guitar.
Bluegrass Picker's Tune Book
compiled by Richard Matteson, Jr.
Mel Bay MB-20233
Richard L. Matteson Jr. is a dedicated author and teacher, most known for his books, articles and
workshops on fingerstyle guitar. From Winston-Salem, N.C., the president of the Piedmont Classic
Guitar Society is also an active performer and director of guitar studies at Winston-Salem State
University. He created The Bluegrass Messengers as a vehicle for his students to gain performance
experience. Seeing a need for a songbook that includes notes, lyrics, chords and standard notation,
Matteson compiled over 200 favorite bluegrass and gospel songs. Some are also considered old-timey
(Hog-Eyed Man, Girl I Left Behind Me, Sally Ann, Arkansas Traveler, Skillet Good and Greasy).
Matteson even includes his own "Bluegrass Boogie." The Bluegrass Picker's Tune Book easily meets a
need for repertoire, emphasizing many songs that date back to the turn of the century and including
info on their origin, dating and references for recorded versions. Large print for the lyrics also
make them easy to read. While some are certainly included (e.g. Goin' Down This Road Feelin' Bad"),
the many hits of Bill Monroe, Stanley Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs, and other bluegrass luminaries are
noticeably absent. Matteson says that it was difficult just to pick 213 songs, and he may produce a
supplemental volume. (Joe Ross)
Band In A Book: Bluegrass Vocals
Band In A Book: Bluegrass Instrumentals
Band In A Book: Gospel Vocal Tunes for Bluegrass Ensemble
by Steve Kaufman
www.melbay.com OR www.flatpik.com
Years ago, a friend of mine taught "Beginning Bluegrass Band" at a local community college. There
were a number of bands that subsequently formed as a result of his efforts. Imagine yourself with a
classroom full of beginning and intermediate bluegrass musicians ready to jam and learn songs
together. "Band in a Book" would be the perfect textbook to help you organize the disparate group
and present a curriculum that will meet everyone's needs. The bound book contains a "conductor's
score" with all of the band instrument parts in both standard notation and tablature. In some cases,
two scores are shown to differentiate between those instruments typically using capos in contrast to
those that do not. Individual instrument scores removable from the book are available for lead
guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, banjo, and mandolin/fiddle. The beginner-level solos would certainly
assist an entire group in need of some organizatin and direction. Band in a Book's "Bluegrass
Vocals" includes Banks of the Ohio, Footprints in the Snow, John Hardy, Lonesome Road Blues, New
River Train, Roll On Buddy, Sitting on Top of the World, Tom Dooley, Way Downtown, and Worried Man
Blues. The "Bluegrass Instrumentals" book has Bill Cheatham, Cindy, Cripple Creek, Cumberland Gap,
Down Yonder, Old Joe Clark, Red River Valley, Soldier's Joy, Turkey in the Straw, and Wildwood
Flower. Finally, a book of "Gospel Vocal Tunes" includes Amazing Grace, Angel Band, Bury Me Beneath
the Willow, Cryin' Holy Unto the Lord, I Am a Pilgrim, I'll Fly Away, Old Rugged Cross, What a
Friend We Have in Jesus, When the Saints Go Marching In, and Will the Circle Be Unbroken. The only
weakness seen is that in the case of the two sets of vocal material, there are no scores available
for the four vocal parts (bass, baritone, lead, tenor). "Band in a Book" would certainly help a
group to become instrumentally solid, but they might still be left struggling to figure out their
lead and harmony singing.
Steve Kaufman, the only three time winner of the National Flatpicking Championship in Winfield,
Kansas (78, 84, 86), is one of the more prolific and astute authors for Mel Bay publications. His
"Band In A Book" series will be welcomed by beginning bluegrass ensembles, band workshops, and
multi-instrumentalists wanting to explore various instruments. (Joe Ross)
Complete Country Guitar
Taught by Joe Carr
Mel Bay MB95615DVD
All three volumes of Joe Carr's 1995 "Complete Country Guitar" lessons are now available on DVD.
Volume one covers major chords, scales, Nashville numbering system, 1-4-5 progressions, and picking
techniques. For the latter, Joe quickly demonstrates upstrokes, downstrokes, alternating pick
direction, plucking strings all at once, popping (or chicken pickin'). Volume two addresses
harmonized scales, turnarounds, pentatonic scales, and new chords and endings. Volume three
introduces more intermediate techniques such as string bends, pedal steel intros and endings, Chuck
Berry rockabilly sounds for leads, and special effects (volume swells, harmonics, and using the
echoplex with 1-second delay in the style of Albert Lee). Unlike some other instructional material
that shows views of both right- and left hands, this DVD focuses on one or the other. Carr's is
particularly effective in teaching licks and patterns, something of great use to guitarists who
desire to go beyond just techniques. His approach no doubt stems from over two decades as a
successful music instructor at South Plains College in Levelland, Tx., as well as his authoring over
20 books or videos for Mel Bay Publishing about playing guitar, mandolin, ukelele, fiddle or banjo.
"Complete Country Guitar" covers many bases in less than three hours. Fundamentals of chords,
scales, and flatpicking techniques are essential. However, it's also nice that attention is given to
implementation and application of the ideas with rhythm and charts to play along with. This lesson
gets high marks for introducing pedal steel licks, special effects, and various country lead guitar
styles. Of course, each of these topics could be an entire DVD lesson of its own so Joe barely
scratches the surface. But he does stimulate considerable curiosity about them for further
exploration. (Joe Ross)
Cody Kilby, Brad Davis, Tim May:
Live In Kansas City
Flatpicking Guitar Magazine
Recorded December 18, 2004 at Jim Curley's Mountain Music Shoppe in Shawnee, Kansas, this concert
presents solos, duos, and trios by three flatpick guitar masters. Each performer has impressive
credentials and experience. A guitar, banjo and mandolin champion, Cody Kilby has been a member of
Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder since 2001. Originally from Texas, Brad Davis has played with The
Forester Sisters, Marty Stuart, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, Billy Bob Thornton, Earl Scruggs, and Sam
Bush. Tim May has worked with Pat Flynn in the band Crucial Smith. These pickers present some more
standard numbers like Angeline the Baker, Lonesome Fiddle Blues, and Uncloudy Day. Most of the
concert, however, is an eclectic and enjoyable mixture of originals that also showcase their talents
as songwriters. I was particularly fond of Brad's "Cypress Walls," Tim's "My Heart's An Open Door,"
and Cody's "Song for Sophie." A few of the vocal numbers have tenor harmony on choruses (courtesy of
Brad or Tim), but it was sadly missing in Brad's fine song "All I Need To Know" that also
demonstrated his patented string-bending invention known as the Brad Bender. He jokes about having
to "have a gimmick to keep up with the other two guys" and having to be "crazy or plumb nuts to play
with guys like Sam Bush." The talented trio's strength is their instrumental prowess, and it's also
a treat to hear Cody play banjo or mandolin ("Lacrosse" and "Ain't That Just Like Love") and Tim
pick some propulsive banjo on the newgrassy "Big Timber." This generous DVD produced by Dan Miller
(of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine) offers 18 tunes. Some good close-up videography occasionally shows
both right and left hands of the musicians so there are also educational and instructional benefits.
I experienced some difficulty getting back to the DVD's main menu with my remote, but this was
remedied by just unloading and reloading the disc. Closing the project is the bonus of the
commercial video shot of Brad Davis' "I'm Not Through Loving You Yet." All in all, having "Live in
Kansas City" available on DVD is a real gift because it captures some special moments when these
three consummate players presented an evening of musical magic. (Joe Ross)
Pick Power! Right Hand Workouts
for Speed, Volume and Control
Taught by Paul Mehling
110 Minute DVD, includes music and tab
Professional musician Paul "Pazzo" Mehling is a founder of the Hot Club of San Francisco, a group
known for its fine gypsyjazz music in the style of Django Reinhardt. Years ago, when Mehling visited
the Django Festival in France, he noticed some others whispering about his playing during jam
sessions. He discovered that it was because his solos were not being heard so he obtained some
advice from other gypsy-swing players there and then proceeded to retrain himself to incorporate a
"radically different" guitar-playing technique using bent wrist at a 45 degree angle. Using this
approach will result in improved control, power, tone and speed. Mehling points out that these
exercises are for both hand and head because mental thought is also tantamount to good playing.
Mehling is a very personable, articulate and knowledgeable instructor. The nearly two hours of
instruction are graduated in difficulty and include such things as strums, vibrato, tremolo, single
string techniques, chromatic exercises, string crossing, and sweep picking. Advanced techniques
address legato, double down, and subdividing. All are excellent "keys" to good playing for more
advanced guitarists. A committed guitarist practicing diligently two or three times daily with Paul
(for at least 20-30 minutes at a time) will greatly improve their pick power. Not only will one's
instrument sound louder and with better tonality, but you'll notice an ability to play faster (when
needed) and with greater expression, authority and dynamics. Paul also shares interesting
information about his guitars, strings and picks. Mehling's group has released nine CDs, and I would
further recommend that, in conjunction with this DVD, you also study his most recent recorded music
to fully appreciate the potential of learning his powerful techniques. (Joe Ross)
New Directions In Flatpicking:
From Bluegrass to European Dance Tunes
Taught by Beppe Gambetta
90-minute DVD, includes music and tab
From Italy, Beppe Gambetta originally trained as a classical musician, but he converted to flatpick
guitar after hearing bluegrass. While also very accomplished as a fingerpicking guitarist, this DVD
presents six eclectic tunes for flatpickers ranging from Hungarian and Italian pieces (Czardas,
Iride) to reworked renditions (in DADGAD tuning) of American fiddle tunes like Old Joe Clark,
Soldier's Joy and Salt Creek (that Beppe calls "Slow Creek). The founding member of the Italian band
"Red Wine" has a very relaxed communication style that succinctly focuses on the relevant, important
information needed to learn the tunes taught.
Beppe's playing on his Taylor guitar can be quite inspiring because of his innovation and
creativity. In fact, he says that the most important lesson is "to be personal Š be unique." For
that reason, his romantic "Slow Creek" calls for two strings to be re-tuned before he demonstrates a
cross-picking technique. "Iride," a mazurka (in _ time) by Italian composer Pasquale Taraffo, dates
back to the turn of the 20th century and will challenge even advanced players with its use of
triplets. Beppe cautions us to "start slower and with preliminary exercises." Another European
piece, "Czardas," requires the guitarist to speed up each time through the song "until the dancers
are falling to the floor." Besides his witty advice of drinking 6 or 7 espressos, Beppe does
emphasize that the secrets for playing fast are to start slow, practice exercises with hammer-ons
and pull-offs, and mentally concentrate on giving power to the left hand. A few of the songs are
accompanied by rhythm guitarist Artie Traum, and the chords for those tunes are also provided in the
music/tab booklet. Two of the pieces taught (Iride, Mediterranean Dance) can be heard on Gambetta's
"Good News From Home" album (GLCD-2117). He closes the DVD with his performance of the title cut
from that album. Gambetta is an artist who has achieved excellence in his field. We thank him for
sharing some of his song arrangements, and we'll work on the homework assignment he gives us to "be
a teacher of yourself as it's an important part of learning." Thanks to his inspiration, the next
time we meet I hope to show him my very own DADGAD arrangement for "Sally Goodin." (Joe Ross)
Country Swing Back-up Guitar
Taught by Nick Forster (with Tim O'Brien on fiddle)
60-minute DVD, with chord charts
Originally released on video in 1992 (but now available on DVD in 2006), Nick Forster's "Country
Swing Back-Up Guitar" is a straight-forward approach that demystifies the unique style for
accompanying western swing or Texas fiddle tunes. Forster, of course, played electric bass in the
ground-breaking bluegrass group, Hot Rize, while they were together from 1978-90. We were treated to
his swinging guitar when the entertaining band's alter-ego group would appear from the back of their
bus. When Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers would take the stage, Nick was known as Wendell
Mercantile on the six-string. The keys are to provide a moving bass line and to give the backup a
percussive bounce by dampening the strings and eliminating or minimizing sustaining notes. Forster
teaches some basic music theory about the notes that make up chords, how chords get their names, and
how to make your own chords. Some charts come with the DVD. In the finest form of guitarists like
Eldon Shamblin, Hank Garland or Jimmy River, a country swing chord progression is demonstrated at
various tempos for the fiddle standard "Sally Goodin." The same progression in the key of E is
taught. Chord shapes in the key of F are shown for their application to such songs as "Deep Water"
and Bob Wills' "Brain Cloudy Blues" which almost entirely uses 7th and 9th chord voicings. It is
important for guitarists to understand how to play in closed chord positions so they can be
transferred to other keys on the fingerboard. With the addition of moving bass lines and the
percussive effect from dampening strings, you'll be ready to win the accompanist award at the
national old-time fiddlers contest in Weiser, Idaho. (Joe Ross)
Easy Flatpicking Guitar Arrangements:
A Song for Every Holiday
Taught by Steve Kaufman
80-minute DVD, with music and tab
Three time National Flatpick Guitar Champion Steve Kaufman knows that guitarists like having "a song
for every holiday." In this lesson that was originally released on video in 2000 (but is now
available on DVD), Steve teaches eleven songs for various special days from Valentine's Day to New
Year's Eve. The majority are in the key of C, but a couple others take us into the keys of D or F.
Emphasizing his technique of strumming through chords only up to the song's melody notes but not
past them, Steve demonstrates an easy method to provide both rhythm and melody. The ear hears the
highest tone in chord's voicing. Therefore, this is good direct approach to learn songs. On the
songs for Hanukkah (Dayenu, Who Can Retell?), we're shown how to break out of the chord occasionally
and how to provide light strums to fill gaps with time and chord coloring. The videography is very
professionally done, but Steve's loose wrist watch does provide a slight annoyance to the viewer
trying to concentrate on the multiple screens illustrating both the right and left-hands. Adding
holiday songs to one's repertoire is a wise thing to do. It's also good practice for learning new
licks, chord shapes, phrasings and patterns. The songs taught include Let Me Call You Sweetheart,
When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Dayenu, America the Beautiful, Battle Hymn of the Republic, We Gather
Together, Who Can Retell?, Winter Wonderland, Jingle Bells, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and Auld
Lang Syne. (Joe Ross)
A Flatpicker's Guide
To Better Playing
Taught by Russ Barenberg
90-minute DVD, with music and tab
Russ Barenberg, originally from Pennsylvania, is known as an eclectic guitarist familiar with
bluegrass, jazz, folk, cajun, celtic, carribean and latin elements. Originally released and titled
"Acoustic Guitar Musicianship" on video in 1989, this DVD emphasizes tone, timing, control, rhythm
and improvisation for flatpick guitarists. Russ covers very fundamental concepts for getting a big
open sound from one's guitar, as well as the best sound textures and shapes possible. Reinforcing
the importance of personalized musical expression, Russ addresses such concepts as where you play on
the fingerboard, dynamics, ornamentation, syncopation, vibrato, damping, and pick direction. His
originals "For J.L." and "Cowboy Calypso" incorporate many of these elements. Barenberg is a master
at using slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs (in a tune like "Prince Charlie" learned from a Cape
Breton fiddler) to give emphasis, shape, flow to a song's melody. A contradance tune, "Dominion
Reel," illustrates a backbeat pulse. "Oh Susanna" was a good choice of tunes to demonstrate
improvisation and how to compose variations that add texture to a melody's phrasing. Russ closes
with the significance of letting your ideas come out before summarily rejecting them. Let melodies
grow naturally, and get in touch with your own ideas by listening and experimenting. The 90-minute
lesson also includes some music and tab. (Joe Ross)
MARTY STUART AND HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES
Live at the Ryman
Universal South Records B0004961-02
Fletcher, Van - email@example.com>
Van Fletcher Sr. VP/GM Universal South 40 Music Square West Nashville, TN 37203
Playing Time - 42:42
It's been a number of years since I caught Marty Stuart live at a bluegrass festival at the Frontier
Ranch near Columbus, Ohio. At the time, I thought his show was a little too country with its
electric guitars and drums, but he was still very well received by the large crowd in attendance.
This live bluegrass album is a very welcome acoustic treat that takes the consummate entertainer
back to his professional bluegrass roots that first began after he heard Bill Monroe & The Sullivan
Family at the Natl. Guard Armory in Jackson, Alabama in 1970. By 1972 (at age 13), the Mississippi
native was playing mandolin and lead guitar with Lester Flatt & the Nashville Grass. Lester
affectionately called him "Little Marty Stuart." After seven years with Lester, he spent six with
Johnny Cash. Marty's also worked with Bob Dylan, Crystal Gayle, Anne Murray, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl
Jackson, The Sullivan Family, Travis Tritt and many others.
Since joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1992, you might catch Marty with his own band, with "The Opry
Bluegrass Band" (with Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill & Earl Scruggs), or with the old-time
"Tennessee Mafia Jug Band." The versatile Stuart has found his niche on Hillbilly Rock Road that
traverses both bluegrass and country territory. On this album, his signature "Hillbilly Rock" closes
the set that took place on July 24, 2003 at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Marty had
just finished touring the nation with his "Electric Barnyard Tour," and he'd somewhat forgotten that
he'd agreed to doing a bluegrass show at the Ryman. No matter because fiddler Stuart Duncan,
banjo-player Charlie Cushman, dobro-player Josh Graves, and emcee Eddie Stubbs were only a few phone
calls away and more than willing to join Marty's Fabulous Superlatives with Kenny Vaughan (guitar),
Harry Stinson (snare drum), and Brian Glenn (bass). Marty admits to not having the time to rehearse
much or get serious about anything so the group agreed to pick and sing "marquee level songs with a
built in fun factor." It wasn't planned for the sold-out concert to be recorded, but after the fact
Marty felt that it was magical from the first note to the last. Thus, it was decided to share it
with us on CD. Maybe that's why "Live at the Ryman" follows so closely after his "Soul's Chapel" and
"Badlands" album releases since the summer of 2005.
"Live" conveys a great deal of bluegrass spirit and drive. Often, the very best 'grass is played in
jam sessions, and these Nashville cats knew exactly how to light the fire. That's where chutzpah
kicks in. Marty was clearly in charge, directing the arrangements, and encouraging his sidekicks.
The real treat is in hearing the individual instrumentalists tear up standards and impart their own
personalities to the likes of Orange Blossom Special, John Henry, Shuckin' the Corn, Train 45, and
The Great Speckled Bird. Some of Stuart's hits such as "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' Anymore" and
"Hillbilly Rock" are given hard-drivin' bluegrass treatment. Great pickers also know how to impart
drive to slower-tempo'ed tune, and mandolin players should really enjoy Marty's licks on "No Hard
Times Blues." I was surprised that the liner notes don't credit Marty with any vocals. The notes are
remiss in not acknowledging songwriters. A few little things aside, "Live at the Ryman" is a
sturdy, confident project with raw energy and brash attitude. Marty and his buds keep the bluegrass
coming at full throttle. Kudos to Les Banks for a fine job with recording this show. (Joe Ross)
BLUE HIGHWAY - Lonesome Pine
PO Box 7405
Charlottesville, VA 22906
Playing Time - 43:30
SONGS - In The Gravel Yard, Lonesome Pine, He Walked All The Way Home, Blue Ridge Mountain Girl,
Some Day, Cold Frosty Morn,Before The Cold Wind Blows, The Rounder, Between The Rows, Flannery's
Dream, Last Dollar Blues, Two Coats, It's A Long, Long Road
"Lonesome Pine" is a collection of 3-5 cuts apiece from three Blue Highway albums on the Rebel
label: It's A Long, Long Road (1995), Wind To The West (1996), Midnight Storm (1998). So this
compilation of previously released material is a fine "Best of" retrospective for the band from
Johnson City, Tennessee that performed its first gig on New Year's Eve in 1994. It's great to see
internationally-renowned bluegrass groups as prolific as Blue Highway releasing projects with their
best hits. Blue Highway's original lineup included Tim Stafford (guitar), Wayne Taylor (bass), Shawn
Lane (mandolin/fiddle), Tony Brown (banjo/fiddle), and Rob Ickes (dobro). Brown doesn't appear on
this album, as Jason Burleson took his place and plays banjo or mandolin on these cuts. In 1996,
Blue Highway won IBMA awards for "Emerging Artist of the Year" and "Album of the Year" (for "It's a
Long Long Road"). In 1997, they won the IBMA award for "Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year" for
the song "God Moves in a Windstorm." I wish that song would've been included in this set of hits. In
1998, Burleson left the band and was replaced by Tom Adams who also doesn't appear in any of these
cuts. Burleson returned to the band two years later.
Over the years, Blue Highway has carved out their own niche in bluegrass. Their musical vision has
always incorporated accessible melodies, bright lyricism, and interesting dynamics. They can't go
wrong with songs like "Blue Ridge Mountain Girl." Taylor's, Stafford's and Lane's songwriting
abilities are showcased. Ickes and Burleson have also penned some groovy instrumentals, but none are
included in this set. Instead, they choose the old-time "Cold Frost Morn" and rootsy "Flannery's
Dream" for the instrumental offerings here. The band has a side with considerable emotional depth,
with moving songs like "Some Day" and "Before the Cold Wind Blows." The former, arranged a cappella,
shows clearly how splendid their vocalizing can be. The latter, along with the title cut, are both
Wayne Taylor originals and are among the band's most requested numbers. Since this CD features
previously released material, I wish that the producers would have given us just a bit more than a
43-minute set. I would have lobbied for inclusion of some other originals such as Taylor's "Keen
Mountain Prison" and Stafford's "Find Me Out on a Mountain Top." Being from Oregon, I've always
liked Stafford's song called "Clear Cut," another hit that isn't included here. Jack Tottle has
contributed a fair amount of material to Blue Highway's repertoire, and I was glad that they
included one of his to close the album.
No slouches on their instruments, the guys in the band are award winners. All told, they've released
6 albums, been nominated for a Grammy, topped the Bluegrass Unlimited chart, won a Dove Award and 11
IBMA awards (either as a band or individually). Blue Highway boasts an impressive track record as a
contemporary bluegrass band. "Lonesome Pine" only tells part of the story with its documentation of
the wave they rode in that time period from 1995-1998. All three of the individual albums sampled
were given my highest marks in the past. However, being a compilation, I'm giving this CD a "B+"
only because I simply think it should have included about 17 more minutes of their fine music.
"Lonesome Pine" is a very good sampler and great introduction to their music. This 13-track
reasonably-priced sampler could very well lead you to purchase all three of the albums from which
the cuts are taken. (Joe Ross)
CAPTAIN T (Tom Hunnicutt)
The Hunnicutt Collection
The Arkansas Years, - Part One, The Natural State Song
White Swan Records
PO Box 20, Williford, Ark. 72482
Tom Hunnicutt - firstname.lastname@example.org
Playing Time - 42:39
Tom Hunnicutt (Captain "T") hails from a small town in northern Arkansas that is only 67 miles from
the home of Jimmy Driftwood. It's no wonder that this current "Arkansas Folk Music Ambassador" wrote
one of his songs, "Mountain View," to honor the memory of Jimmy and his hometown. In fact, all of
Hunnicutt's songs are about Arkansas and his life experiences including service in Vietnam as a
Marine. Besides playing guitar and singing, Captain "T" also plays the jaw harp like Driftwood used
to do on occasion. For instrumental support, Tom enlisted the inimitable Tim Crouch on guitar,
mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and rhythm drum. The Arkansas state champion fiddler fills the country,
folk and bluegrass soundscapes with highly accomplished musicality that complements Tom's downhome
vocals. The twin fiddles on "Joanie" are perfectly alluring for this slower country number. Doug
Driesel also showcases his solid abilities on bass guitar and as the harmony vocalist. A bluegrass
arrangement of "The Marines' Hymn" features Ernie Lewis and Kenny Walters.
Captain "T" is interested in getting his music more widely heard, and a couple of his songs ("Spring
River Eulogy" and "Chasing The Fiddle") have been featured on Volumes 80 and 81 of the Prime Cuts of
Bluegrass samplers. I enjoyed hearing his stories and visualizing this Arkansawyan's images of home.
Folks from that region should especially enjoy this minstrel's uplifting statements about the "land
of plenty, land of awe" called Arkansas. Hunnicutt is trying to get the State of Arkansas to make
"The Natural State Song" the first state song with that image. Jimmy Driftwood's music eventually
became marred by over production that included continual snare drumming and slick Nashville
harmonies. Hunnicutt wisely keeps his music more minimalist, and it radiates with a nostalgic glow
that emphasizes his love of homestead, hearth, family and God. (Joe Ross)
JIM VAN CLEVE - No Apologies
Rural Rhythm RHY-1029
PO BOX 660040, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA. 91066-0040
www.ruralrhythm.com OR www.hollerbackpr.com
Playing Time - 44:52
Fiddler Jimmy Van Cleve has made quite a bluegrass name for himself playing with Doyle Lawson,
Ric-O-Chet, Lou Reid & Carolina, Rambler's Choice, and Mountain Heart. The latter group, formed in
1998, won IBMA's Emerging Artist of the Year Award in 1999. Now, on his debut solo album "No
Apologies," Van Cleve has the support of his current bandmates and other bluegrassers of
incomparable talent. The result is supreme 'grass that hits you like a runaway train. The musical
thrust of "No Apologies" is simply hard-charging intensity and soulful loveliness that epitomizes
the bluegrass spirit. Emphasizing their instrumental and melodic mettle, the formidable pickers
treat us with snappy bursts of rhythm, hot licks and consummate radiance.
The artful approach of "No Apologies" has alluring je ne sais quoi (a quality hard to describe) as
it covers a variety of territory. Whether your cup of tea is expressive new acoustic and
reverberated pieces like "Highlands" and "Grey Afternoon," or the more traditional sensibilities of
a very accessible and expressive "We Can't Be Darlings Anymore," Van Cleve and company show that
their music can be both inspired and inspiring. All this from a 26-year-old! On this project, the
fiddler also wears the hats of lead singer, harmony vocalist, producer, arranger, and composer. Van
Cleve solely penned or contributed as a co-writer to six of the eleven tracks. Jim even displays
some luminous vocal quality on "Way It Always Seems To Go," his debut as a lead singer. Written by
Dennis McEntire, the barn-burning "Let The Big Dog Eat" has been getting considerable airplay. And
if you don't think these guys can pick fast, then buckle up your seatbelts and give a listen to the
closer, "Train 45."As a producer, Van Cleve partnered with Mark Bright to create an inspirational
pop-influenced "Scars, " sung by Sonya Isaacs with seductive charm. I like the variety; some others
may feel a little uneasy at those points in the set with disparateness between songs. Besides the
members of Mountain Heart (Adam Steffey, Clay Jones, Jason Moore, Steve Gulley and Barry Abernathy),
other top-notch musicians making appearances include Rob Ickes, Bryan Sutton, Ronnie Stewart, Ronnie
Bowman and Sonya Isaacs.
This is a highly energetic and entertaining disc that is deliriously fun and full of kick-up-your
heels inspiration. This album is truly a crowning milestone for the eclectic and masterful Jim Van
Cleve. (Joe Ross)
DAUGHTERS OF BLUEGRASS
Back to the Well
Blue Circle Records BCR003
daughtersofbluegrass.com OR www.musicshed.com
Playing Time - 42:12
In the excellent opening song, "Back to the Well" (written by Lorraine Jordan & Dixie Hall), the
daughters of bluegrass sing about having a story they must tell, and thanking their mothers for
paving the way for them. The title track, on Prime Cuts of Bluegrass' Volume 80, achieved the top
three position among reporting DJs who listened to that volume. This album project, produced by
Lorraine Jordan and Dale Perry, is the sophomore release from an assemblage of 18 women in the
bluegrass community. The first release, "Daughters of Bluegrass," hit the streets in 2005 on the CMH
label and struck gold with a nomination for IBMA's Recorded Event of the Year Award.
"Back to the Well" will certainly be met with similar accolades for its mellifluous music from
Lorraine Jordan, Gena Britt, Mindy Rakestraw, Frances Mooney, Donica Christensen, Jeanette Williams,
Valerie Smith, Becky Buller, Beth Lawrence, Julie Elkins, Angela Oudean, Michelle Nixon, Dale Ann
Bradley, Heather Berry, Megan McCormick, and Vicki Simmons. Besides showcasing the superb
songwriting abilities of Dixie Hall and Louisa Branscomb, there are also original offerings penned
by Buller, Jordan, and Nixon. The contributors for each song are listed, and a paragraph of
biographical information is provided for each of the 18 women involved. Bluegrass music continues to
grow, and the featured artists are a testament to the wide-ranging interest in the music - the women
hail from North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, Minnesota, Kentucky, New York, and other states. Of
course, there are plenty of fine women bluegrass musicians further west too.
"Back to the Well" has many brilliant moments that revolve around sweetly wistful remembrances such
as "Fools Gold," as well as some spirited numbers like "Prisoner Song" and "Grass Angels" that
provide plenty of opportunities for the pickers to display their solid chops and understanding of
the genre. Both traditional and contemporay stylings are included. Sparer settings are chosen to
lend immediacy to story songs like "Never Made it Home" and "Pocket Knives & Fiddle Tunes," while a
robust old-time flavor is imparted to Buller's "Come on Down the Mountain." This reviewer imagined
hearing a few of the more thoughtful or tranquil numbers embellished with the resophonic guitar of
perhaps Sally Van Meter, Cindy Cashdollar or another woman of similar caliber. One song example is
Timothy Tew's (Gena Britt's husband and Dobro-player in her band) song, "Still Feel the Nails," that
is very pleasantly arranged with guitar and fiddle fills but could've used perhaps a tad more. I did
enjoy hearing Heather Berry's autoharp in the mix of the "Picture of Jesus."
Throughout this very enjoyable project, the vocals are expressive, winsome and warm. And the
instrumental work displays clarity, freshness and vigor. For their next release, planned in 2008 on
Blue Circle Records, I'll boldly recommend that these bluegrass descendants offer up some more fast
and fiery barn-burners to really shake things up. the challenge, of course, being to do so without
compromising their alluring femininity. (Joe Ross)
TONY HOLT and the WILDWOOD VALLEY BOYS
PO Box 7405
Charlottesville, VA 22906
www.rebelrecords.com OR www.wildwoodvalleyboys.net
1 Daylight's Burnin' (3:07) 2 Silver Ghost (3:24) 3 North of the Carolinas (3:09) 4 I Aint' Leavin'
(2:57) 5 Sweet Maggie Belle (3:49) 6 I'll Cry Like a Baby (2:17) 7 What Happened to Ann (2:55) 8
Boilermaker (3:55) 9 Cousin Russell (3:00) 10 When the Warden Turns the Key (2:50) 11 Feeling Blue
(2:52) 12 Old Granddad (2:22)
Playing Time - 36:37
From Indiana, guitarist/lead vocalist Tony Holt and the Wildwood Valley Boys
continue to carry on the bluegrass family tradition of the legendary Boys from Indiana. Tony is the
son of Aubrey Holt, who wrote eight of the twelve cuts on this project. Tony wrote the closer, "Old
Grandad," and other songs were penned by Sterling Whipple, Brian Leaver, and Tom Holt. Aubrey Holt
sings tenor. The rest of the Wildwood Valley Boys are Evan MacGregor (fiddles, viola, baritone
vocals), Jake Brown (mandolin), Matt Despain (dobro), Brian Leaver (banjo, lead guitar), and Paul
Priest (bass). Apparently, the band has undergone some personnel changes since their last project,
"Songs fromWildwood Valley," but they still sound very cohesive with their instrumental and vocal
arrangements. In fact, since the Wildwood Valley Boys released their first album for Rebel Records
in 1999, they've had many personnel changes, but they haven't lost any momentum. For their second
album in 2000, "I'm a Believer," they reverently presented some soul-stirring bluegrass gospel. On
this latest project, I think their new personnel actually step it up a notch in the instrumental
This 12-track project is now the fifth album from the band, and it shows that they've achieved an
even greater level of experience and maturity. It builds on their formula for success that revolves
around fresh traditional-sounding material, well-blended vocals, and unpretentious yet solid
instrumental prowess that stays close to the melodies without grandstanding. Anything but trite,
these songs appeal to staunch traditionalists who have certain expectations and enjoy powerful
images or messages in their bluegrass music. The tempos and rhythms are varied, and each song has a
contemporary personality of its own built on strong traditional foundations. "Daylight's Burnin'" is
a lively number with some shuffling fiddle work. Recalling precious old memories is the theme of
Aubrey's nostalgic ¾-time songs about Maggie Belle and Ann. "Cousin Russell" is a ballad that
recalls younger days when the boys were learning to pick bluegrass and listening to the Opry on
daddy's crystal set. "Silver Ghost" is a spooky song of a train without an engineer or crew. The
personal tribute to "Old Granddad" is a sweet thoughtful remembrance. Brian Leaver's "Boilermaker"
is a rhythmically enticing and expressive instrumental that gives each musician a chance to showcase
their picking abilities. Their slower tempo'ed and more evocative songs, like the sad "When the
Warden Turns the Key," are their forte. Tony's smooth vocal delivery conjures many images, such as
this convict's dark cell and his last lonely mile. "North of Carolina" and "Feeling Blue" get the
toes tapping. Overall, I would've enjoyed hearing a few more songs like "I Ain't Leavin'" on this CD
to shake things up a bit. To burn a little more than daylight, a couple up-tempo pieces at full
throttle would've proven that this formidable band can be as inspired as they are inspiring.
"Daylight's Burnin'" has expressive vocals, sparkling solos, and well-tailored harmonies. Their
traditional approach to the music, coupled with new original material, demonstrates that Tony Holt
and the Wildwood Valley Boys know how to entertain bluegrass fans. (Joe Ross)
THE BOYS FROM INDIANA
Good Time Blues
Playin Time - 36:23
Good Time Blues, Headin' South, Atlanta Is Burning, How Will I Explain About You, These Memories Of
Mine, My Night To Howl, Lady Of The Lake, Feeling Blue, The Sad Wind Sighs, The Girl In The Blue
Velvet Band, Play Hank's Song Once Again, My Red River Home, You Can Mark It Down, Little Community
With ten out of 14 numbers penned by Aubrey Holt, how can someone not like the bluegrass sounds of
The Boys From Indiana on this sampling of five albums originally released from 1974-77? And, for
good measure, we even get to hear them pick a couple Bill Monroe classics (Little Community Church,
How Will I Explain About You). Brothers Aubrey and Jerry Holt, and their uncle Harley Gabbard, used
to sit around as a family listening to The Grand Ole Opry on their battery-powered radio. Harley
once made a fiddle bow from an elm branch, and he obtained hair for it from a cousin's horse. By the
50s, Aubrey and Harley were working as "The Logan Valley Boys." After some stints playing country
music, they decided that bluegrass music was their music of choice because "you can play bluegrass
to people who listen to the music."
Shortly after The Boys From Indiana formed in 1973, they were at the top of the bluegrass game.
Called "The Top Show Band in Bluegrass Music," their entertaining style and many original songs
covered much ground from the annals of bluegrass and country music history. Kentuckian Noah Crase
plays exceptional banjo, and his advice was always that timing is the most important thing with
music. Noah had worked with Jimmy Martin and Bill Monroe. Paul Mullins was a well-known DJ and
fiddler in Ohio who had worked with the Stanley Bros., Charlie Moore/Bill Napier, and The Goins
Bros. On his WPFB radio show, Mullins used to refer to the group as "that wild bunch of boys from
Indiana." By the mid-70s when this material was released, the band was known as "The Boys from
Indiana with Paul Mullins and Noah Crase" to recognize the individual experiences and
accomplishments of band members. The collection of this legendary band's early recordings on the
King Bluegrass label also feature Frank Godbey on mandolin and Don Edwards on bass.
Besides entertaining and original material, The Boys from Indiana had that great bluegrass drive.
They also concentrated on presenting strong trio harmonies. They also had a lot of fun. That, in
turn, caused their audiences to have fun also. They frequented the Grand Ole Opry, and their tragic
ballad about a young newlywed Civil War soldie facing death ("Atlanta is Burning") was always a
crowd-pleaser there. In 1988, they performed at the White House for President Ronald Reagan. In
1989, they were proclaimed official Ambassadors of Bluegrass by Governor of Indiana. In 2003, Harley
Gabbard sadly died on December 29. The rumor is that Rebel may also put out another album of Boys
from Indiana material later released on Old Heritage Records. There's also talk of a book, written
by Aubrey, that will be full of hilarious Harley Gabbard stories.
In the meantime, enjoy this album. Being that it's reissued material, I'd sure like to see more than
36 minutes worth. I sure wish that Rebel would've included the title cut from their 1976 "One More
Bluegrass Show" album. That song, written as a tribute to Bill Monore, also became a trademark theme
for them to convey their strong work ethic,life on the road, and unfaltering dedication to
bluegrass. Partly promotional but also because it was what they were about, the words "One More
Bluegrass Show" were painted on the side of their bus. When this music was first released, these
boys had deep roots. Thirty years hence, the roots just seem that much deeper. Let's just imagine
this set of music as "one more bluegrass show" of the highest quality from this consummate group.
CASEY DRIESSEN - 3D
Sugar Hill SUG-CD-4016
TEL. (615) 525-5303
Playing Time - 56:13
"3-D" is a most appropriate title for Casey Driessen's solo project that showcases his great depth
and comfort with multiple musical dimensions from many genres. Born in Chicago, this young man of 27
is a grad with honors from the Berklee School of Music, and his music tells me that he's a young
innovator with plenty of raw energy and a brash attitude. He hasn't gotten so far out there that I'd
call him an impudent, irreverent or disrespectful whipper-snapper. Instead, his creativity emits
infectious spunk on complete reinventions of some traditional fiddle tunes (Jerusalem Ridge,
Sugarfoot Rag, Snowflake Reel, Done Gone, Cheyenne, Sally in the Garden), as well as plenty of his
own surreal and evocative compositions. Based on the old-time "Cumberland Gap," a new tune emerges
called "Gaptooth." You may not even recognize the heads of some of the original tunes when they're
presented as fiddle and drum duets. The results elevate Casey's status as a visionary who
communicates a respect for traditional music in his own uniquely personalized manner with syncopated
rhythms and improvisation. Multi-tracking his 5-string (or electric) fiddle creates some deliriously
fun polyphonic sprees. Does he get a little too far out there and away from the original melodic
inspiration at times? OK, maybe just a tad.
There are beautifully melancholic (and melodic) moments in "2 A.M.," and there's soulful loveliness
in a piece like "Cliff Dweller's Slide." Driessen sings Sugarfoot Rag, Country Blues and Footsteps
So Near. The equalization of his vocals is minimalist, and that adds to the overall mystery. The
latter number, originally done as a waltz by Hot Rize, is actually a rawboned conversation between
just Casey's fiddles and vocals. For "Country Blues," the instruments were tuned down for a little
extra grit and growl. Darrell Scott provides vocal harmonies on two pieces, and like the lead vocals
they are fairly understated.
Most of Casey's offerings have percussion (Jamey Haddad) and bass (Viktor Krauss). A few incorporate
Darrell Scott's electric guitar, Tim O'Brien's bouzouki, Jerry Douglas' dobro or lap steel, Bela
Fleck's banjo, or Jason Lehring's programming. I kind of missed Bryan Sutton's guitar-playing who
was a key component of the touring 2005 trio of Driessen, Fleck and Sutton while back. Linus
Nagel-Driessen provides vocals on "Good Boy Blues." That 3-minute one-take closer is indubitably for
the dogs - Linus is a Staffordshire Terrier, and he really howls, in bluesy call-and-response style,
to Casey's fiddle and looped mandotar. Linus has a great sense of rhythm and almost steals the show,
but Linus and the rest of us won't forget that Casey is the master ... and also becoming truly known
as one of the big dogs in Nashville. (Joe Ross)
MARK SCHATZ and FRIENDS
Steppin' in the Boiler House
One Camp St., Cambridge, Mass. 02140
Playing Time - 50:37
With a very nice combination of both boisterous and some more restrained music, Mark Schatz' second
solo album demonstrates the great discipline that this purveyor of neo-traditonalism has. Best known
as a bass player (he won IBMA's 1994 and 1995 bass player of the year awards), Schatz is also at the
top of the game with his proficient clawhammer banjo technique of striking downward on the strings
with the back of one's fingers or nails. Generically also called "frailing," the result is what Pete
Seeger once called a "bumm-titty bumm-titty" rhythm in his book on how to play the 5-string banjo.
When you bring your thumb in to start picking a string other than the fifth to squeeze in additional
eighth notes, then you technically get "clawhammer" or "double-thumb frailing."
Whatever you want to call the playing, the eclectic Mark Schatz (now in Nashville by way of
Pennsylvania and Massachusetts) has created a set of affable music that deeply taps his many roots
and personal experiences. For example, Mark's first band was a folk dance group called Mandala, and
the accomplished dancer serves as musical director for the dance troupe Footworks and even performed
in 1996 with the Riverdance show. For a musician of his caliber to so fully understand the dance
tradition results in the music being that much more cohesive and in touch with its roots. Lively
numbers like "Stay All Night," "Rig Root" and "Last Gold Dollar" will definitely put spirit into
your feet. The latter features Tim O'Brien's mandolin and vocals. Beautifully expressive moments are
captured in waltzes like "Black Mountain Aire" and "Eileen's Waltz."
Schatz has also played bass with contemporary and stellar bluegrass, new acoustic, and Americana
acts like Tasty Licks, Spectrum, Tony Rice Unit, Bluegrass Album Band, Tim and Mollie O'Brien, and
Nickel Creek. Thus, this album taps his experiences to give us an evocative score, both earthy and
ethereal. "Cajun Stomp" captures a natural born earthiness. Near the mid-point of the set, "Season
of Joy" transports us breezily into a more reflective mood. The title cut, "Steppin' in the
Boilerhouse," establishes an alluring, almost funky, groove in the piece that was originally
composed to inspire some cloggers. Mark's hambone break is a brilliant and witty ending to the
piece. A stylistic departure into high-stepping and melodic newgrassy territory features Tim
O'Brien's mandolin and Jerry Douglas' Dobro on "Calgary." Accompanying Schatz on all tracks are
Missy Raines (bass), Jim Hurst (guitar), and Casey Driessen (fiddle). They're rock solid, given
plenty of chances to shine, they all display virtuoso acoustic musicianship. Hurst sings "The
Devil's Game," a song with blues and rock foundations that establishes a nice groove. Stuart Duncan
(fiddle) and Bela Fleck (mandolin) also make some fine appearances on the CD. Some of you may
remember that Schatz, O'Brien, Douglas, and banjoist Charlie Cushman had a just-for-fun band in 1998
called "The Flatt Heads." So I feel that another strength here is that the artists'long aquaintance
and enduring friendships translate into warm, conversational musical arrangements.
I've heard the clawhammer-style of banjo also referred to, in some local or regional contexts, as
rapping, beating, thumping, knocking, flailing, trashing, clubbing or even gun-hammer. Schatz's
wildly thrilling ride shows us this technique are all these and more, especially when he presents
more melancholic or contemporary moods on a self-penned piece like "The Falling Waters of Arden." To
truly describe Mark Schatz' inspired banjo-playing and music, I think I'll simply defer to how Uncle
Dave Macon described the technique ... racking, rocking, whomping. I'd merely say that Schatz really
knows how to "frame the banjo." (Joe Ross)
SKYLINE DRIVE -
424 Hanover Pl., Ridgeway, VA. 24148
Playing Time - 49:41
Skyline Drive is a solid regional group from the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Roanoke, Va. and Greensboro, N.C. They present classic, gospel and original bluegrass with a relaxed sparkle that is friendly and intimate. Their debut album, "Leavin' Town," provides a nice showcase of the band's musical interests and talents, featuring various lead singers on a diverse set of material. The band includes Ron Wright (mandolin), Belinda Wright (bass), Danny Triplett (guitar), Rick Berkhead (banjo), and Darren Davidson (fiddle). The disc suffers from a few forgettable tracks such as "Tall Grass Blues" and "Sawmill Hill," original instrumental filler that is just too commonplace. However, their voices rise above the routine on their a cappella gospel quartet, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." Their most memorable moments are with more uptempo original songs written and sung by Ron Wright. His expressive vocals convey a warm, conversational style on enticing numbers like "I'm Going Back to the Blue Ridge Mountains" and "Mary-Ann" Typically, Ron's lead vocals are sandwiched by Belinda's tenor and Danny's baritone. Darren's affable lead on "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive" finds both harmonies stacked above him. Belinda sings lead with enthusiasm on "There is a Time" and "Life Railway to Heaven," but her delivery suffers a tad from being a little too rhythmic and predictable. Skyline Drive's instrumental accompaniment is raw, rootsy, and full of down-home flavor. Staying within their respective comfort zones, the musicians give us pleasant breaks and fills. Unfortunately, they occasionally are a bit disappointing and lackluster. Even so, Skyline Drive has some bright lights in their music that will bring them plenty of offers to play in the North Carolina and Virginia area. "Leavin' Town" will also get their music around, garner some regional airplay, help them build a fan base, and provide a wonderful curio for family and friends. (Joe Ross)
Super Mandolin Picking Techniques -
Taught by Joe Carr
Mel Bay MB95998DVD
#4 Industrial Drive, Pacific, Mo. 63069
Playing Time - 30 minutes
Mel Bay's "Super" series includes a number of DVDs (or tapes) that quickly and efficiently cover basic ground. After getting in tune, Joe Carr demonstrates various picking exercises for the beginner. Building off the A-scale, the DVD shows the right hand strokes, but there is no separate view of the left hand notes. That's OK because the tablature clearly shows where to fret the instrument. However, the tab didn't come with the lesson. Instead, you download the free instructional booklet, as a PDF file, at www.melbay.com/DVDBooklets. That will necessitate your having Adobe or some other similar software capable of reading PDF files. Working with a metronome, Carr's exercises (like "quarters and eights" and "shuffle") are good, standard fare for a mandolin workshop. Pay attention to his down picking, alternating, or combination methods as they form the basis for bluegrass mandolin. He also shows a few techniques for crosspicking. Carr serves on the bluegrass and country music faculty at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. He has a number of instruction books available, and this one covers the very basic elements to get started. (Joe Ross)
Super Bluegrass Banjo Picking Techniques -
Taught by Alan Munde
Mel Bay MB95995DVD
#4 Industrial Drive, Pacific, Mo. 63069
Playing Time - 30 minutes
Alan Munde's crisp and clean banjo style is always a treat to hear. He immediately establishes a good rapport with the beginner by illustrating his right hand position and demonstrating how to pick against the strings for maximum tone. The remainder of the 30-minute tapes introduces five key rolls - square, forward, forward-reverse, Foggy Mountain roll, and an advanced Foggy Mountain roll. Some examples of variations are also tab'ed out and clearly shown with dual screen views. There's a lot that can be done with these building blocks of bluegrass banjo. The free instructional booklet for this DVD is downloaded directly at www.melbay.com/DVDBooklets A native of Oklahoma, Alan Munde has a relaxed and personable manner that is not intimidating to beginners despite his great talent on the five-string. Since 1986, Munde has taught bluegrass and country music full-time at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. (Joe Ross)
Bluegrass Guitar: Know The Players, Play The Music
By Sid Griffin & Eric Thompson
Backbeat Books, 600 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA. 94107
151 pp. with 51-track CD Spiral w/CD
15 color, 15 B&W photos ISBN: 0-87930-870-2 $24.95
Bluegrass Guitar is subtitled "know the players, play the music." The first 79 pages of this spiral-bound book (to get to "know the players") have some interesting narrative and history about, as well as photos of Mother Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Clarence White, Norman Blake, Tony Rice, Bryan Sutton, and others. Author Sid Griffin outlines the evolution of the flatpicking style by documenting the influences and motivations of these fundamental players. Much optimism for the future is delineated in the section entitled "why bluegrass is growing," and Griffin boldly states that "bluegrass music via the guitar … has reclaimed its place in the world." Griffin's performing experience includes bluegrass (The Coal Porters), alt-country (Western Electric, Godfathers the Long Ryders). A documentary script writer for BBC Radio, his 2004 "Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel" aired to much critical acclaim, and he's currently working on scripts about The Carter Family and the history of southern country music.
The "play the music" instructional component of "Bluegrass Guitar" was provided by Eric Thompson, a well-known guitar teacher, workshop leader, and performer with such groups as Bluegrass Intentions, Blue Flame String Band, Todalo Shakers, Aux Cajunals, and Kleptograss (a band that "steals" from various other genres). Thompson's 64 pages (and the accompanying CD) start by introducing basic rhythm patterns. Then we can hear and practice along to licks and runs from Charlie Monroe, Lester Flatt, Jimmy Martin, Edd Mayfield, Red Smiley, The Carter Family and others. The understated guitar breaks for "John Hardy" and "Sad and Lonesome Day" emphasize elegance and efficiency. Flatpicking is introduced with the old standard "Bile them Cabbage Down," and crosspicking is addressed with the straightforward melody for a favorite, "Bury Me Beneath the Willow." One of Thompson's fortes, flatpicking fiddle tunes take us into the territory of Soldier's Joy, Forked Deer, Sally Goodin, Paddy on the Turnpike, Kennedy Rag, Bill Cheatham, Blackberry Blossom, and Dusty Miller. Finally, Thompson demonstrates how to pick breaks to bluegrass songs.
This collaboration between a Brit and American truly does show that bluegrass guitar has a worldwide following. An offering in Backbeat's Fretmaster series, "Bluegrass Guitar" is a thoughtful treatise that should increase public consciousness about the instrument and its role in the genre. (Joe Ross)
String Band Classics (Guitar)
Transcribed by Dix Bruce
Mel Bay Publications, #4 Industrial Drive, Pacific, Mo. 63069
87 pp. $19.95
SONGS - Been All Around This World, Carroll County Blues, Dance All Night, Devilish Mary,Fire on the Mountain, Free Little Bird, Goodbye Miss Liza, Gypsy Girl, Hawks and Eagles, Lee Highway Blues, Meeting in the Air, Money Musk, My Dixie Darling, Old Jimmy Sutton, Pig Ankle Rag, Sleeping Lulu, Tater Patch, There's More Pretty Girls Than One, Way Down the Old Plank Road, Way Out There, Who Broke the Lock, Wild Bill Jones, You Ain't Talkin' to Me
If you want to easily play along with the old-time mountain music of the Highwoods String Band, this book includes the standard music notation, tablature, chords and lyrics for 23 classic tunes from their "Feed Your Babies Onions" album on Rounder Records. This Mel Bay publication, written by Dix Bruce, is remiss is not including some information about the band. It would have been interesting for Bruce to examine and relate his own observations about the guitar-playing of The Highwoods' Doug Dorschug, who isn't even acknowledged in this material. John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers once attributed Dorschug's powerful playing to an element of ragtime that "lent even more character to an already potent musical sound."
Dix Bruce does include notes about each song, their arrangements, and guidance on playing them. And you get the CD with the book. Tunes like There's More Pretty Girls than One, Money Musk, Devilish Mary, Fire on the Mountain, Lee Highway Blues, and others have become standard old-time repertoire. Three of the CD's tracks will require you to re-tune to play along as the band is not in standard pitch. Bruce points out that the band may have tuned to each other by ear, they may have intentionally tuned up a half step for a "brighter" sound, or the album's producer may have sped up the master tape to achieve the same result. Full of exuberance, old-time string band music is typically learned by being passed down orally from generation to generation. "String Band Classics," takes a different and more modern approach of giving us each old-time tune to learn for less than a $1 apiece. Quite a deal, I'd say! (Joe Ross)
String Band Classics (Mandolin)
Transcribed by Dix Bruce
Mel Bay Publications, #4 Industrial Drive, Pacific, Mo. 63069
85 pp. $19.95
San Francisco musician Dix Bruce is comfortable with many styles of music, and he's a good music transcriber. With Walt Koken's and Bob Potts' spirited twin fiddles in The Highwoods String Band, Dix had to pick the dominant melody to write in standard notation and tablature. Also including chords and lyrics, "String Band Classics" gives you everything you quickly need to learn these 23 tunes. The Highwoods String Band was together from about 1972-78, and their generous, somewhat wacky, "Feed Your Babies Onions" album is included as part of this instructional material. The album could have been subtitled "it's all about fun." Having fun, pure and simple, was their simple formula for drawing fans to the music. Koken was known to encourage others to "do it yourself, unplug it, and take it home." Besides Koken and Potts, the classic album on Rounder Records also featured Mac Benford on banjo, Jenny Cleland on bass, and Doug Dorschug on guitar. While there's nothing included in the book about this seminal old-time revival band and the original sources of these tunes, we have to appreciate The Highwoods' entertaining repertoire that drew material from the likes of Uncle Dave Macon, Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers, Georgia Yellow Hammers, Grayson and Whittier, Narmour and Smith, Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers and others. A couple of the tunes ("Free Little Bird" and "Lee Highway Blues") were likely learned from Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley, and "Been All Around This World" could've come from Joe Val's rendition on the Rounder label. All in all, these "Fat City Favorites" are ones that every old-time mandolin picker should know.
A little research indicates that "Fat City" was the name of the San Francisco group that Potts, Benford and Koken formed in the late-1960s after their respective bands (All-Skate, Dr. Humbead's New Tranquility String Band, and Busted Toe Mudthumpers) broke up. The California, New Jersey and New York natives built themselves a large fan base that enjoyed their infectious music and wild, humorous on-stage antics. A 1971 appearance at the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. increased their visibility. Relocating to Ithaca, New York in 1972, the Highwoods String Band formed when Doug Dorschug and Jenny Cleland were added. After road weariness and family responsibilities led to their disbanding, Benford fronted The Backwoods Band, Mac Benford's Old Time Band and The Woodshed All-Stars. Walt Koken released a couple solo banjo albums in the 1990s.
An old-time fiddler in Weiser, Idaho once told me that the reason we feed a baby onions is so that we can easily find him in the dark. Pick up this book and CD of The Highwoods String Band's music, and you'll be very comfortable playing these raucous classics in the dark as well. (Joe Ross)
The World's Hottest Fiddlers
Transcribed by Drew Beisswenger
Mel Bay Publications, #4 Industrial Drive, Pacific, Mo. 63069
56 pp. $12.95
This music came to me for review without the benefit of the accompanying CD by the same name ("The World's Hottest Fiddlers") that was released by CMH in July, 2002. All of the fiddle tunes on the album, except one ("Dueling Fiddles"), are transcribed in detail for this book by Drew Beisswenger of Missouri State University. Drew seems to have done a fine job, but even he notes that "even the best transcription cannot capture every nuance of the music." He transcribed the album by slowing it down to half speed. He doesn't include bowings or hand positions, but he does indicate slurs where notes seemed to be joined by a single bow stroke. The improvised segments and ornaments were also transcribed. I appreciated Drew's inclusion of a few sentences about each fiddler. Benny Martin and Johnny Gimble are the most prominently featured on the project with three tunes from each. The 17 tunes span a considerable variety from old-time (e.g. "Sally Ann" fiddled by Kenny Baker) to bluegrass ("Orange Blossom Special" bowed by Steve Thomas), western swing ("Beaumont Rag" as sawed by Johnny Gimble) to songs ("Blue Moon of Kentucky" played by Benny Martin). Other highlights include the twin fiddling parts for Benny Martin and Buddy Spicher's "Down Yonder," and both twin fiddle parts for Johnny Gimble's "Black and White Rag." Eleven other tunes feature fiddlers Barbara Lamb, Mike Hartgrove, Glen Duncan, Sonny Mead, Ramona Jones, Paul Warren, and Fiddlin' Red Herron. With the exception of a couple (Lamb's "Ramblin' Man" and Duncan's "Hotel California"), the tunes are pretty classic favorites for jamming. If you read music and have a copy of this album, then these transcriptions will certainly be welcome material for enjoying and learning the techniques of these masters. Having standard music notation available for a classic fiddle album like this will certainly allow for the proliferation of these tunes. I just wish that the CD would have also been reproduced and included with the book. (Joe Ross)
The American Fiddle Method -
Volume 1 (Cello)
By Brian Wicklund and Faith Farr
Mel Bay Publications, #4 Industrial Drive, Pacific, Mo. 63069
www.melbay.com OR www.brianwicklund.com OR www.farrpublications.com
64 pp. $24.95
From Minneapolis, Brian Wicklund was blown away, as a third grader, when he
first heard fiddling. The multi-instrumentalist taught school for awhile but eventually decided to make a career in music instruction, touring, performing, and recording. You may recall that he played with the bluegrass group Stoney Lonesome for seven years from 1987-94 and with The Judith Edelman Band from 1997-2000. In 1999, Wicklund received a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship Grant. He created "The American Fiddle Method" to develop a quality, organized, and comprehensive instructional music program that now includes books for fiddle, viola, cello, piano and mandolin. All of the respective books have the elementary tunes in the same keys, and the page numbers all coincide with the same ones in the fiddle book. In this enchanting cello book, I was also impressed at their inclusion of a separate table which has the same tunes from the table of contents rearranged into an "order of difficulty" sequence. The classic tunes include Angelia Baker, Arran Boat Song, Boil 'em Cabbage Down, Bonaparte's Retreat, Buffalo Gals, Camptown Races, Cindy, Crawdad Song, Cripple Creek, Girl I Left Behind Me, Grandfather's Clock, Old Joe Clark, Red Haired Boy, Red Wing, Shortnin' Bread, Soldier's Joy, Turkey in the Straw, and a few more. Various fundamental techniques taught include practice tips, positions, fiddle tune parts, introductions, slurs, bowing, staccato, double stops, slides, and beginning backup. For this book, Brian collaborated with cellist Faith Farr who performs with the Minnesota Sinfonia and teaches at MacPhail Center for Music.
I'm certain that classical music teachers will find the user-friendly "American Fiddle Method" to be a great motivational tool for student orchestras that need some fun diversions for their amusement, pleasure and entertainment. The most effective learning is that which is fun and inspirational, and Wicklund's well-paced method relies on a combination of ear training and sight-reading. Tune variations show how they can serve as a basis for improvisation. Ensemble skills are taught with chords and lyrics, basic music theory, and demonstrations of such skills as backup and lead playing. Nicely illustrated by Gary Meader and Brian Barber, the book also includes a word game, a review chart, and information on how to arrange the tunes. The accompanying CD has a band playing and singing the tunes. The cello is in the stereo's right channel, so a student can adjust the balance far left and play along with the band. (Joe Ross)
CLAIRE LYNCH -
One Camp St., Cambridge, Mass. 02140
www.rounder.com OR www.clairelynch.com
Playing Time - 42:06
Claire Lynch has carved out her own niche in the bluegrass and acoustic music field. The New York native, who relocated to Alabama at age 12, emerged on the bluegrass scene in 1974 when The Front Porch String Band (originally called "Hickory Wind") was formed in Birmingham. That was her beginning. She and her husband Larry, an accountant, disbanded the group in 1980 to start a family.
Another "new day" occurred when a reorganized Front Porch String Band toured again from 1990 to 1997, the year that Claire won the IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year Award. Claire's vocal presence is also noteworthy on various others' albums from such artists as John Starling, Dolly Parton, Kathy Mattea, Emmy Lou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Pam Tillis and Patty Loveless. The mature and soulful singer keeps good company.
"New Day" is Claire's sixth solo album and represents another refreshing new journey for the petite woman with big voice. She now surrounds herself with some folks who are far from everyday average pickers. Lynch's hypnotic voice seems perfectly balanced with the praiseworthy support of Jim Hurst (guitar, vocals), David Harvey (mandolin, vocals) and Missy Raines (bass). Depending on the song selection that ranges from blues to ballads and bluegrass to swing, we also hear the able assistance of Charlie Cushman or Alison Brown on banjo, Stuart Duncan or Andrea Zonn on fiddle, Rob Ickes on dobro, and Larry Atamanuik on drums. Their buoyant groove makes for a pleasant ride.
Their repertoire comes from a variety of sources but always accentuating accessible melodies and bright lyricism. The opener, "Be Ready To Sail," reveals much emotional depth. "Train Long Gone" is a very catchy ditty. The funky beat of "Up This Hill and Down" conveys strength. A sensual midtempo swing number, "Fallin' in Love," is breezily romantic. A message of hope and inspiration is key to one of her Claire's own collaborations with Pat Alger called "Long After You're Gone." A savy uptempo bluegrass number, "Leavin' on that Evening Train," comes from the pen of Scott McAleer, a songwriter whose material is getting recognition as a result of being featured on recent albums from The Greasy Beans. Claire Lynch boasts an impressive track record, and she closes this album with a song, "I Believe in Forever," that epitomizes the spiritual glow that radiates from her entire performance. (Joe Ross)
DAVID PETERSON & 1946 -
In the Mountaintops to Roam
PO Box 68197, Nashville, TN. 37206
Playing Time - 47:41
With all the various contemporary and stylistic departures appearing in bluegrass music, it is always a treat to hear a band that conjures shades of the genre's exciting roots. David Peterson and 1946's signature elements include those that characterize the heart and soul of traditional bluegrass music. There are vibrant vocals sung with uplifting spirit ("Bluebirds are Singing for Me"). There's emotional realism in the lonesome messages (David's original, "In the Mountaintops to Roam"). There are twin and triple fiddles ("You'll Find Her Name Written There" and "I'll Still Write Your Name in the Sand" and "A Good Woman's Love"). There's gospel fervor ("Prayin' Shoes"). Peterson also does a credible job with a classic country novelty number ("The Golden Rocket"). And let's not forget the downhome grit and authentic enthusiasm of the traditional bluegrass sound ("In Despair" and "Red Rockin' Chair"). Peterson sings with a rich, distinctive timbre, and the song arrangements feature solos, duos, trios and a quartet on material from Mac Wiseman, Delmore Brothers, W.C. Handy, Hank Snow and, of course, Dave's own pen. A soothing "Put Me on the Trail to Carolina" even features some yodeling in harmony. This album has more originals than any other that David has done.
Born and raised in Massachusetts, David was first introduced to bluegrass by the deacon at his family's church. While pursuing a career as a minister in Texas, David eventually was called by music, he released a gospel CD entitled "Jesus Use Me," and his 1995 move to Nashville launched his pro career. The band was formed in 1999, and their debut album was self-titled as "David Peterson & 1946." Their "Howling Blue Winds" project was a landmark album that showcased their formidable sound. Being nominated for IBMA's Emerging Artist of the Year Award was a feather in their caps. The band received the sponsorship of Gibson Original Acoustic Instruments, and they also provided the music for a nationwide Pringles Potato Chip ad campaign. The fiddlers really make this album, and those contributing include Aubrey Haynie, Buddy Spicher, Stuary Duncan, Michael Cleveland, Casey Driessen, and Aaron Till. David is also instrumentally joined by Charlie Cushman (banjo), Mike Compton or Mickey Boles (mandolin), Rob Ickes (dobro, Wabash Avenue guitar), and Kent Blanton (bass). Harmony vocalists include Mickey Boles, Larry Marrs, and Shelton Feazell. Cushman, Boles and Blanton are all regular members of 1946. Aubrey Haynie was a founding member of the band, but he is no longer a regular member.
David Peterson & 1946 have a big musical vision, and their engaging songs are traceable to a specific era of bluegrass spark. While their music may seem derivative, they also have their own distinctive, moving, and entertaining original style. This band deserves a lot more exposure. (Joe Ross)
THE BROMBIES -
Live at the Spitting Llamas Bluegrass Bar
3464 Adina Dr., Los Angeles, CA. 90068
www.thebrombies.com OR cdbaby.com/cd/brombies
Playing Time - 43:19
1. We're Findin' Our Way Back Home, 2. Anywhere Is Home When You're With Me, 3. Little, Bitty Piece of God, 4. Midnight Blues, 5. I Call Him Honey, 6. Water Into Wine, 7. Bar-b-que, 8. Reprise/We're Findin' Our Way Back Home, 9. It's Better to Have Loved & Lost, 10. Mcphearson's Reel, 11. Restin' in Your Arms, 12. Escondido, 13. For My True Love, 14. Closer to the Throne,
15. Reprise/We're Findin' Our Way Back Home
Neither recorded "live" or in a bar, this album is a varied and richly rewarding project that introduces The Brombies, a Los Angeles group that features Jo Ellen Doering (guitar, vocals), George Doering (mandolin, vocals), Doug Livingston (dobro) and Pete Harrison (bass). Guest fiddler Gabe Witcher appears on over half of the tracks. Jo Ellen and George have been making music together for over 25 years, and their first band was formed in 1989.
The Brombies give us 15 exhilarating contemporary originals that were inspired by the bluegrass of Bill Monroe, Stanley Bros., Flatt & Scruggs, and others. There's no denying the excitement on the bluegrass-flavored "Anywhere Is Home When You're With Me" and "For My True Love." Both could have been enhanced with some banjo. Since recording this album, they have informed me that
there is now a banjo player in the band. The Brombies sing their gospel numbers like "Water into Wine" and "Closer to the Throne" with truth, never losing sight of faith, hope and "everlasting eternity." They create love songs with many moods. The Doerings evoke shades of the Louvin Brothers with an original like "It's Better to Have Loved and Lost." "For My True Love" is one for all their nieces and nephews. "Anywhere is Home When You're With Me" emphasizes the "sweet harmony" they sing together. "I Call Him Honey" is a touching and loving message between Jo Ellen and George, known to each other as "honey" and "sweetie pie."
In a similar vein, "Restin' in Your Arms" is a simple, conversational sentimental statement of romanticism. "Bar-B-Que" is a clever novelty tune with a lilting melody that doesn't seem to suffer from the band's absence of five-string banjo. Two of the songs, "We're Finding Our Way" and "Little Bitty Piece of God," were chosen for performance at the 2005 IBMA Songwriters' Showcase. The only instrumental offering, "McPhearson's Reel," was written for the sound track of a documentary called "Adventures of the Old West." Being from California gives the group the freedom and license to explore other genres such as slow swing ("I Call Him Honey"), and even something as disparate as Mexican Mariachi sounds ("Escondido") showcasing the Doering Clan Fiddles (Susan, Michael and Mark Doering).
I enjoyed The Brombies' album for three primary reasons. First, they create a friendly and relaxed sparkle with their original music. Secondly, while their bluegrass foundation on the CD is without banjo and only highlights vocal duets, their sheer creative audacity is typically crafty californian. They build upon their band's strengths, arrangements, and their own enlightened perspective. Finally, their messages are uplifting, and occasionally humorous, expressions of affirmation and romanticism. The Brombies have an ingenious design and vision for their music. They play many festivals in southern California and will be attending the IBMA festivities again this year. Perhaps we'll see them again as part of the songwriters' showcase there. (Joe Ross)
BLIND CORN LIQUOR PICKERS -
Blind Corn 1105
PO Box 150391, Nashville, TN. 37215
Playing Time - 43:39
1.Bad Tom Smith, 2. Hi-Ball on a Roll-By, 3. Little Enis, 4. Europe on $15 a Day, 5. Puttin' Up Hay, 6. River of Blazing Bourbon, 7. Eyes of Dawn, 8. The Grindstone, 9. Once in a Lifetime, 10. Anywhere Else, 11. Field Cred, 12. 8-Ball
The "slamgrass" of the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers is a slamdunk success for those who enjoy a musical fusion supercharged with bluegrass and rockabilly spirit. Purists will have a harder time tuning into and appreciating their songs about working, drinking, and traveling. The band has some fanciful moments, but the album lacks genuine show-stoppers that reach real awe-inspiring heights. However, they come close with the opener, "Bad Tom Smith," about a real bad man and his appointment with the hangman. "Hi-Ball on a Roll-by" has a unique flair for a train song. Similar to Yonder Mountain String Band, my guess is that the band is quite loud and successful working a youthful crowd into a frenzy at a live show. At blindcorn.com, you can sample some of their live performance from their October, 2005 appearance on Red Barn Radio.
From Lexington, Ky., this quirky quartet has the support of Grammy-winning
producer Bil VornDick for a two-album deal. On a positive note, "Anywhere Else?" remains true to working class sensibilities with plenty of up-tempo down-home flavor and playful arrangements. Without any fiddle or dobro featured, the band depends on Joel Serdenis' mandolin, Todd Anderson's bass, Travis Young's banjo and Tom Fassas' guitar for their rhythmic drive and melodic propulsion.
The band's eccentricity is their redeeming value. "Bad Tom Smith" tells the story of a murderer in eastern Kentucky who confessed to some of his crimes as he was on the scaffold ready to be hung in 1895. With its boogyin' and swinging beat, "Little Enis" is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Elvis the Pelvis' twin brother. Anderson's walking and slapping bass lines make some outlandish musical statements. "Europe on $15 a Day" and "Puttin' Up Hay" are earthy compositions with copious amounts of paradoxical humor. The whimsical "River of Blazing Bourbon" refers to a "twenty foot tidal wave of whiskey" that rolls into town. I'm not sure if there's an implied and novel analogy to alcohol abuse, or if the Liquor Pickers are just simply declaring their affinity for bourbon, booze, bongs and buzz. "Once in a Lifetime" is a cover from the Talking Heads.
The most enlightening song about these guys, however, and their sardonic sense of humor is "Field Cred." Self-admitted "bluegrass wannabes," they sing "ain't got the country credibility to pen a bluegrass song." Now things become a little clearer. The mu-grass (aka mutant grass) of BCLP harnesses energy from their other musical influences. They seem about a quarter each alt-country, Texas outlaw, folk-pop, and bluegrass. With a little infectious punk spunk and rousing rockabilly thrown in, the result is some lively numbers that surely will put some spirit into a youthful crowd's feet. I like their raw energy and brash attitude. I wonder if they drink Red Bull. (Joe Ross)
GREASY BEANS -
Double Ought DO-041
825-C Merrimon Ave., Box 347, Asheville, NC 28804
Charley@greasybeans.com OR email@example.com
Playing Time - 37:32
SONGS - Cain and Abel, Country Song, Busted, Betty Jane's Mule, Good Bye My Love, On My Mind, Just The Other Day, Don't Know If I'll Stand the Pain, Hey Senorita, Raleigh Dormin (Lament For Pete), Truly True
The music of the Greasy Beans is pretty slick, but I sure wish they would've lubricated their songs with a little fiddle or dobro also. If bands are going to choose a bluegrass format for their original acoustic music, then go all the way. Get down! Get glaborous! Now I have nothing against the fine, smooth picking of Josh Haddix (guitar), Charley Brophy (mandolin), Danny Barnes (banjo), and Keith Lowe (bass). I just hear their greasy music more enhanced with some hot, slippery resophonic guitar or slimy fiddle. Maybe they could've called on a former bean, Cailen Campbell on fiddle. Charles Brophey's old-timey instrumental "Betty Jane's Mule" just brays for this kind of embellishment. Although not credited as such, I wonder if that is Haddix and not Barnes who is frailing the banjo on this one as I understand that Josh is a pretty decent clawhammer banjo player.
While all the band members are credited with vocals, liner notes don't identify who is singing when. The most prominent lead singer displays plenty of melancholy. If you don't mind a few wavering notes, then a solo songs like "Good Bye My Love" and "Truly True" are wistfuly expressive. Their gifted tunesmith friend, Scott McAleer, had a hand in writing these two, as well as three other, songs. Personally, I found more vocal radiance from the Greasy Beans in their carefully cultivated "On My Mind" and "Cain and Abel" with their straighter and narrower bluegrass sensibilities. Jenny Benford also appears as a guest vocalist, my guess as a harmony singer on "Just the Other Day."
"Busted" is this touring band's third album, following their "Real Live Music" project that was engineered by Grammy-winning producer Bil VornDick. "Busted" was produced by Danny Barnes and recorded by Garey Shelton in Seatlle, Wa. The band's strength is their emphasis on original compositions. In the 2-chord opening ballad, "Cain and Abel," Cain kills Abel with a .44 gun. I could hear the Nashville Bluegrass Band covering a tune like that. At track three, the title number written by Ty Gilpin is a bluesy tale about wearing out the old highway to get one's baby back.
They also convey a type of vocalizing that is also kind of appealing as a result of its very lack of polish. The core of the band, Haddix and Brophey, have picked together for 12 years since they formed on the campus of Warren Wilson College. I enjoyed their breezy jaunts through midtempo arrangements that share guitar and mandolin passages. Spare setting can lend more immediacy to story songs like "Hey Senorita." Besides touring, the Greasy Beans have also performed several seasons of traditional music with ballet as part of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's "Under Southern Skies: An Exploration and Celebration of the South" in collaboration with North Carolina Dance Theater. Greasy Beans are prominently featured in a piece entitled "Shindig." Currently touring with Greasy Beans are Brad Hutchison (banjo) and David Brown (bass).
Greasy Beans might tell us that they want their music to be left more organic. But I would counter that it will be around longer, be more accessible, and make more of an impact with a few preservatives. The band from the mountains of Asheville, N.C. shows some clear potential, and I'd just like to see them package their music with some more coloring and spirited and rootsy old-time spunk. While they like taking bluegrass down roads less traveled, I think they're on to a good thing. Just as when they were matched with ballet, the band gives us an "alt-grass" product that presents considerable fascination and intrigue. (Joe Ross)
JOHN LOWELL & BEN WINSHIP (Growling Old Men) -
www.johnlowell.com OR www.kanesriver.com
Playing Time - 52:56
SONGS - Rake and Rambling Blade, Weary Day, Old Black Coat, Road Agent's Lament, Georgia Buck, Callin' Like the Wild Things Do, Billy Taylor, Blackberry Rag, Peg & Awl, East Virginia Blues, Crooked Jack - Tarbolton Reel, Last Hill Before Home, Somewhere Down The Road, Hobo's Lullaby
Also known as The Growling Old Men, guitarist John Lowell and mandolinist Ben Winship recorded "Occupational Hazards" over the course of three weekends at Ben's own backyard studio affectionately called The Henhouse. They noticed that many of their songs had to do with occupations (or avocations) often fraught with risks. Realizing that "peril makes for good song fodder," this thematic set of traditional and original folkish fare features two-part harmonies backed by mandolin and guitar. Lean settings lend an immediacy to the story songs, whether they be a cover from the Delmore Brothers ("Weary Day"), Lowell's wistful "Road Agent's Lament," or Winship's affable "Old Black Coat" and "Last Hill Before Home." Their roots-based and raw-boned folk music makes for a compelling set that emphasizes plaintive story songs. John wrote "Road Agent's Lament" a number of years ago. He's an avid student of old west history so many of his songs touch on that theme.
Playing bluegrass together in the band Kane's River for several years has allowed them to understand each other's muse and vision, but this isn't bluegrass. No banjo and fiddle here. However, these neofolk traditionalists have a knack for understanding and harnessing the heart and sentiment of the American musical spirit. I especially enjoyed the precise imagery that the duo can create with only 14 strings and two voices. Their straightforward stories or simple declarations about life and work are interweaved with some country blues (Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Callin' Like the Wild Things Do"), Celtic flavors ("Billy Taylor" and "Crooked Jack"), a lullaby ("Hobo's Lullaby"), and rootsy picking ("Blackberry Rag"). All in all, the songs have a seductive and relaxed charm, and the two troubadours bring out their soulful beauty.
Winship and Lowell sing with smooth, leisurely phrasing. They pick with precision and carefree excitement. Their rendition of "East Virginia Blues" may be one of the most mellow and restful versions I've ever heard. In a handful of tunes, Winship's octave mandolin imparts an evocative mood. Some trivia about Ben is that he took second place in the 1989 National Mandolin Championships in Winfield, Ks. As one small suggestion for some enhancement on "Occupational Hazards," it might have been nice for him to pick some of that old-time banjo that he can do so well. And, some trivia about John Lowell from Montana is that he's worked with the bands, Wheel Hoss, Deep River and Loose Ties before joining up with Kane's River.
Although John Lowell's "Somewhere Down the Road" is a new tune about returning home, it's the same kind of vivid and resonant music that folks have made for generations on their front porches. The song came out of a particularly fun tour with Kane's River, and John clearly conveys that traveling around and playing music with friends is a good thing. A nice thing about two masters playing stripped-down arrangements is that it gives listeners a set full of understatement, thought, and intimacy. Winship's Snake River Records label also distributes the albums of Loose Ties (that Ben played with from 1986-96) and his celebrated solo album, One Shoe Left. (Joe Ross)
FERRELL STOWE -
http://www.ferrellstowe.com OR www.cdbaby.com/cd/ferrellstowe
Playing Time - 34:42
SONGS - 1. Stobro's Blues, 2. Two Coats, 3. I Must Tell Jesus, 4. Making Believe, 5. Mary, Did You Know?, 6. Carroll County Blues, 7. Next Door In Heaven, 8. Precious Memories, 9. Wayfaring Stranger, 10. Jewels
Although it was 1928 when the Dopera Brothers first created the Dobro guitar, it was the mid-1950s when Flatt and Scruggs really started to popularize the instrument with Buck Graves' inclusion in the band. As a result, their bluegrass was smooth and impressionable. Now, with his Harlow resonator guitar in hand, Ferrell Stowe (aka "Stobro") captures his own carefree, restful, and comfortable sound. "Stobro's Blues" and "Carroll County Blues" and "Wayfaring Stranger" have some evocative melodic licks, and the unhurried renditions of various gospel tunes are also great showcases of Stowe's skill. Coupled with the vocals of Toni Otts, Stephen Mougin and Rick Otts, Ferrell's guitar on his own composition, "Next Door in Heaven," makes a powerful statement. Same goes for the vocal trio of Randy Kohrs, Stephen Mougin and Glenn Lawson on "Making Believe," and of Lowell Appling and Kevin Schults on "Two Coats."
Mike Scott's banjo only appears on one track (the opening title cut), and it is relegated to a subordinate role in the mix. I actually thought the guitar was a little too heavy in that mix. The album, however, settles into a nice relaxed groove with the help of such splendid and experienced musicians as Stephen Mougin (guitar, mandolin), Jesse Cobb (mandolin), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle), Dennis Crouch (bass), Tim Crouch (fiddle, mandolin), Dave Maraville (guitar), Ron Pennington (mandolin), and others. Tim Crouch's triple fiddles on "Precious Memories" are especially noteworthy. It can also be a bit tricky to properly mix and equalize the sound of the resophonic guitar. Stobro's album does a commendable job of capturing the highs and lows of the instrument to give it a full-bodied richness, intensity and flavor.
In his liner notes, Randy Kohrs acknowledges that Stowe was a mentor from the first time he heard him, and Kohrs was "consumed with his brilliance and uniqueness." Originally from Lebanon, Missouri, Stobro now makes his home in Nashville. He's performed with many great bluegrass acts, done a great deal of session work, has five albums out, and is a multiple award winner from SPBGMA. Through the years, Stowe has played with a very young Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill, Josh Graves, Jerry Douglas, Randy Kohrs, James Price, The Sidemen, Dierks Bentley, John Prine and Susie Boggus. One of Ferrell Stowe's five albums is called "Homage" and is a tribute to Uncle Josh Graves, one of his own mentors. Graves was in the audience at the Station Inn in Nashville on 12/6/05 when this CD was released. Stowe's poignant playing will no doubt inspire another generation of resonator guitarists. His bluesy and expressive techniques are definitely worth checking out, if you haven't already done so. (Joe Ross)
LORRAINE JORDAN -
Road Trip for the Lord
3751 Junction Blvd., Raleigh, NC 27603
Playing Time - 35:23
SONGS - 1. Dancing With The Angels, 2. Lessons of the Book, 3. Soldier's Farewell, 4. He's My Rock, 5. I Like The Old Time Way, 6. To Be Near Mom and Dad, 7. Jesus Teach Me To Pray, 8. I'm Ready To Go, 9. Jesus Hold My Hand, 10. Road Trip For The Lord, 11. His Name Is Jesus, 12. Amazing Grace
When I heard Lorraine Jordan's solo debut, "Mandolin Rose," a few years ago, I concluded that this consummate performer and songwriter was ready for emergence into the national bluegrass spotlight. She has the necessary skill, personality, energy and charisma to go far. "Road Trip for the Lord" is a very pleasant bluegrass gospel project that presents a large body of new material in an old-styled way. "The Soldier's Farewell" recalls the days of brother duets like the Blue Sky Boys, and "He's My Rock" incorporates some tasty fingerpicked guitar into the arrangement. "Jesus Hold My Hand" has the gospel feeling and spirit that will surely elicit a rousing crowd response in live performance. Their leisurely, yet masterful, approach to bluegrass gospel music may best be captured in the band's quartet rendition of "I Like the Old Time Way." Even Lorraine's notes about this song emphasize, "I like the old time worship of the Lord and the old time songs."
Half of the songs on this album were penned or co-penned by Jordan, an accomplished songwriter. The title cut is a slow song of longing for home and family but reinforcing her desire to be out on the road picking and singing for the Lord. "Jesus Teach Me To Pray" is a ¾-time song written after 9-11. "Lessons of the Book" was gospel winner at Merlefest's Chris Austin songwriters contest.
Hailing from North Carolina, Jordan formed the band Carolina Road in 1998 that was nominated for an IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year Award. The band was also a finalist for Vocal Group of the Year and Entertaining Group of the Year at SPBGMA. On this album, mandolinist/vocalist Jordan is very ably assisted by Tim Massey (guitar, bass, vocals), Dale Perry (banjo, vocals), Kim Gardner (dobro), Dewey Brown (fiddle), and Jamie Dailey (vocals). The playing and singing are first-rate.
There's plenty on this inspired and inspiring album to enthuse fans of old-style bluegrass gospel who also like a few new twists. The set is a nice combination of old favorites and new originals. Lorraine and her band are booked by Tom West & Associates (firstname.lastname@example.org), and they'd be great to hear on a Sunday morning gospel show. (Joe Ross)
BUDDY JEWELL -
Tales of the New West: Songs of the Coreys and Dennis Kahler
Corey Productions, no number
147 W. Rt. 66 636
Glendora, CA. 91740
Playing Time - 40:38
With over 25 years of songwriting experience, brothers Arthur and Alton Corey also pen tunes with Alton's wife (Sharon), Arthur's wife (Margie), and long-time friend David Kahler. This 2003 release entitled "Tales of the New West" is a nice showcase of their abilities. Well-known Nashville-based tenor vocalist Buddy Jewell was enlisted to sing the songs, and he's got the perfect voice for this material. He's a former Nashville Star winner. Musicians and arrangers contributing to this project include Marty Rifkin, Denny Martin, Steven Cooper, Ed Tree, Joey Scarbury, Eddie Cunningham, and C. Girard. Guitars, bass and drums are supplemented with fiddle, dobro, mandolin, and pedal steel.
The Coreys' eclectic country set covers many bases. While some of the songs are more memorable than others, they are very deserving of being recorded by top name country artists and heard by larger audiences. A song like "Oh, Justine" might have just started with some potential melody and a snippet of lyric, but hard work and collaboration eventually saw it to final completion. "Parrothead Paradise" incorporates some Jimmy Buffett touches, while "Rosa Danced" was written in a Marty Robbins vein. Some western swing sensibility is built into "Mama Della," based on a poem written by Sharon as a teen growing up in Corpus Christy. The song was a quarterfinal winner in the American Song Contest in the late-1970s. "One Time We Cared" started as a song written about Art's father and his grieving about the passing of Art's mother. Says Art, "We brought in Dennis Kahler, and the song changed for the better by Dennis making the tune commercial. Dennis is the best for when we have written ourselves into a corner and need to get out!"
Dennis did the same thing with "Come Back Angel."
Stories are paramount to having a good song. "Pancho Villa's Gold" tells one about an unholy trio who searched for the treasure like they were insane until they discovered its truth. The Corey's positive song about Howard Hughes, "Silver Wings in the Stars," was submitted for consideration in Martin Scorsese's film The Aviator, but the music director was only interested in period material from the 30s and 40s.
"I Get the Bird" is a novelty tune about breakup and who gets the flamingo in the yard. The references to a "pink bird on a stick" and his momma's dying words ("Son, you get the bird!") emphasize the importance of catchy hooks in country music. Art told me that to date, that "silly little novelty tune" is the one that many people remember about this album. "Cold & Lonesome Life" was the very first country song they ever wrote, a simple and traditional-sounding three chord diddy that works because of its simplicity and conversational tone. "The Downtown Matinee" is a great closer for this album of original songs because it's a personal statement about the Coreys growing up in the 50s near Pomona, California and their close life-long relationship. Their successful songwriting is documented proof of it. Their younger days certainly might have been characterized by "ridin' and ropin', and all of that kid stuff," but today the Coreys are tunesmiths who are demonstrating considerable aptitude for their craft. They are in the process of a follow-up CD, "Tales Of The New West II," another collection of both up tempo and ballad material. (Joe Ross)
DEAN SAPP & Harford Express -
I Can Hear The Blue Ridge Calling Me
MasterShield Old Train OTM-0502
www.mastershieldrecords.com OR www.deansapp.com
1723 W.Pulaski Hwy., Elkton, MD. 21921
EMAIL: email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com
Playing Time - 38:44
SONGS - 1. Widow's Eyes, 2. Going To California, 3. Little Churches, 4. I'm Thinking Of You Little Darling, 5. I Can Hear The Blue Ridge Calling Me, 6. Something About Homemade Biscuits, 7. Leaving Carolina, 8. The Old Altar, 9. Even Steven, 10. Stop, And Smell The Roses,11. Elkton Knights, 12. When The Angels Come For Me
Based in Maryland, Dean Sapp formed his first band in 1969 and has released many traditionally-based albums since 1987 with lively instrumental work and balanced vocal harmonies. With a large amount of original material, their eleventh release has six songs from Dean and two songs written by his brother Ben. "Elkton Knights" was written by Dan Curtis, the band's mandolin player from Baltimore, who succumbed on January 15, 2006 at age 71 to an illness called Crutchflied Jacobs. The band's bass-player, Darin Hirschy, and his wife, Tammy, document the story of their move from North Carolina to Maryland in "Leaving Carolina." Two additional numbers come from the pens of Jerry Don Martin and Dixie Hall.
The bluegrass community has taken note of Dean Sapp's songwriting. His 1997 release, "The Night the Titanic Went Down," resulted in an invitation to the ten-day Ausgrass ‘98 Festival near Sydney, Australia. Dean also appeared in the Songwriter's Showcase at IBMA's World of Bluegrass. Many of Sapp's songs are inspired by experiences in life or dreams. And I enjoyed Ben's instrumental, "I'm Thinking of You Little Darling." The band plays a variety of family venues, and they've also backed up Mac Wiseman, Bill Grant and Delia Bell, and others on occasion. Besides their original material, the band keeps Dean Sapp's bassy lead singing in the forefront. Like their last release, "Coal Black Gold," this new project was recorded at Dixie and Tom T. Hall's Studio in Franklin, TN. The Halls and Sapp have known each other and respected each other's music for many years. After Sapp repaired Hall's Gibson F-5 Lloyd Loar mandolin, the band was invited to stay with the Halls when they played the Station Inn in Nashville a few weeks later. Dixie Hall's "Something About Homemade Biscuits" acknowledges that the band's favorite kind of songs are story songs like this one.
Dean Sapp's musical family roots go back to Virginia and North Carolina, where he started playing guitar at age six, seeing all the famous bluegrass musicians touring the area, and playing in bands with his uncles, Sonny and Johnny Miller. Besides guitar, Dean has also mastered banjo, mandolin, dobro, and bass. Dean is sole owner of "Dean Sapp's Music Store" located in Elkton, Md. where he gives lessons on all bluegrass instruments, buys and sells instruments, and repairs guitars. "I really do live for bluegrass music," he once said. Besides Sapp's guitar and vocals, this album features The Harford Express sound of Dan Curtis' mandolin, Ben Sapp's banjo, and Darin Hirchy's electric bass. Tim Graves guests as dobro player on a few cuts, and he particularly complements a slower number like the ¾-time "The Old Altar." The band now has Baltimore dobro player Russ Hooper and mandolin player Bobby Van Hoy. The band's collaborative result is a warm sound and feeling. Their charm is based on moving songs reminiscent of bluegrass music's bygone days, and not trying to over-produce them. (Joe Ross)
EDDIE COLLINS -
Playing Time - 39:35
SONGS - Anyway You Can, Golden Wings, He Was Good, Until Someone Was You, Burning in the Flames of Love, Hey Little Suzie, Norman's March, Troublin' News, Banjo Picker's Fantasy, All Roads Lead to You, Janey's Story, Home on the Old Bayou, With a Little Bit of Love
Based in Austin, Tx., Eddie Collins is an accomplished singer and multi-instrumentalist. "Golden Wings" features 13 of Collins' originals along with his banjo, guitar, mandolin and bass playing. Other instrumentalists who help out include Danny Barnes (guitar), Michael Austin (clarinet), Mark Rubin (tuba), Mike Montgomery (fiddle), Dawn Biega (cello), Paul Sweeney (mandolin), and Sharon Starrett (pennywhistle). Harmony vocalists include Sarah Jarosz, Mary K Isaacs, Will Walden, Jeffrey Tveraas, Seela, and Doug Taylor. The tunesmith's liner note for the first song, "Anyway You Can," admits "Yep, no banjo and it ain't bluegrass, but a fun tune nevertheless." Collins clearly intends this project as an enjoyable showcase for his eclectic songwriting that covers many bases. His preferred musical style incorporates elements from the genres of folk, country, and bluegrass to some extent. There's even some Tex-Mex and Cajun influence here! Unconstrained by self-imposed boundaries of form or content, Collins simply gives us thoughtful arrangements for his creations. For example, "Norman's March," an instrumental inspired by the picking of Norman Blake, has cello, whistle, guitar and banjo to recreate the Civil War era. Some of Collins' songs are more striking than others. The content of some (e.g. "Hey Little Suzie") could have called for a different kind of arrangement with hard-edged vocalizing, and his bluegrassy "All Roads Lead To You" comes off as a little cautious and methodical. Eddie's smooth, deliberate delivery works best on the midtempo'ed ballads like "Banjo Picker's Fantasy" or the folksy and uplifting "With A Little Bit Of Love." His song of young love, "Janey's Story," shows that Collins is an accomplished storyteller, but the song would have benefited from a bridge or recurring instrumental melodic riff.
Teaching and performing throughout Central Texas, Eddie also was often seen on the syndicated "Texas Music Café" television show. Besides starting the 5-String Quarterly, he has written many articles and instructional materials for banjo and guitar. Collins offers frequent workshops and was featured in the May 2002 issue of Banjo Newsletter. His four other albums are either with his band, The High Stakes Rollers, or feature him as a soloist. Check out his website (www.eddiecollins.biz) for song samples and lyrics from "Golden Wings," or for information on Eddie's instruction books and workshops. (Joe Ross)
Newgrass from New York
Smoggy Borough Records SBR-001
Playing Time - 40:41
SONGS - 1. Flash Flood, 2. Riding With Private Malone, 3. Always/never, 4. Seven Ways to Ride the Subway, 5. The River in the Valley, 6. The Highwayman, 7. The Tv Set
Astrograss, a quartet of educators from the Brooklyn, NY area, describe their acoustic music as "newgrass, bluegrass and inter-galactic post-prog alt newrage." The band formed in 2003 when guitarist/vocalist Jordan Shapiro enlisted the assistance of Tim Kiah (bass, vocals), Alan Grubner (violin), and Dennis Lichtman (mandolin) to play original music that he had written. The fusion of their experience from rock, blues, jazz and classical backgrounds resulted in Astrograss' unique sound of sophisticated, earnest music. While clearly not bluegrass, I was hoping for more from them that was memorable or thought-provoking. I discovered some passages with fervent instrumental presentation but wasn't particularly moved by their messages or vocals. There was some tendency for overplaying by Grubner, but that may just be an element of this musical style. As a strength, their arrangements incorporate various rhythms, dynamics, improvised segments, and recurring riffs. Astrograss also pulls covers from the likes of Jimmy Webb and Guns n' Roses.
Jordan Shapiro moved to New York in 1999 after graduating from the University of Michigan where he studied jazz and improvisation. Alan Grubner graduated from Dartmouth College with honors in music, and continued graduate studies in jazz performance at Berklee College of Music and the Boston Conservatory. The adjunct professor of violin and improvisation at Five Towns College also appears as a featured artist and educator at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and London's Symphony Hall. A native of Boston, mandolinist Dennis Lichtman graduated from the Hartt School of Music where he studied clarinet. Tim Kiah, from Newton, Ma., graduated from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. All of the Astrograss members have played or currently perform in different New York ensembles that feature bluegrass, jazz-funk, 80s pop-rock, instrumental electric jazz-rock, prog-rock, rock-metal-dub-hop, avant-improv, and Frank Zappa tribute music. Given some fine tuning and maturity, the music of Astrograss may achieve an even more cohesive signature sound - one that is truly celestial, stellar or heavenly, characteristic of their moniker. In the meantime, I sense that they are still orbiting and trying to further define their sound.
Astrograss also has a set for children, presenting "folksy stuff by Pete Seeger and his ilk, plus original songs featuring the poetry of Shel Silverstein." A 17-minute "Astrograss for Kids" extended play demo features five songs such as Homework Machine, With His Mouth Full of Food, and Dirtiest Man in the World. Their interactive performances for kids might also include dance contests, sing-alongs, and songwriting to expose children to exciting music in a fun, memorable way. Astrograss for Kids has been presented at various cafes, clubs, schools, and other venues. (Joe Ross)
J.T. GRAY -
It's About Time
Station Inn Records S100101
402 12th Ave. S., Nashville, TN. 37203
jtgray.com OR stationinn.com OR stationinnrecords.com
Playing Time - 40:26
SONGS - 1. You're Running Wild, 2. Are You Missing Me, 3. Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On, 4. Hard Hearted, 5. Give This Message To Your Heart, 6. Where The Sould Of Man Never Dies, 7. I Told The Stars About You, 8. Truck Drivers Queen, 9. Please Search Your Heart, 10. Footprints In The Snow -- Bonus Tracks (Recorded Live Backstage at The Station Inn, Nashville, TN): 11. Mind Your Own Business, 12. Love Me Darling Just Tonight, 13. My Baby's Gone
J.T. Gray may be best known as the hard-working owner of Nashville's renowned Station Inn. He has recorded and toured with the likes of Jimmy Martin, Vassar Clements, Sullivan Family, Tom T. Hall, Boys from Shiloh and his own Misty Mountain Boys (who were featured in the Robert Altman movie called "Nashville.") J.T.'s contributions to bluegrass earned him an IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award in 2003. "It's About Time" is a CD that is definitely long overdue as a showcase of J.T. Gray's expressive singing and rock-solid rhythm guitar playing. His tenor voice and the harmonies soar in a classic way that recall bluegrass and country music's bygone days of yesteryear.
If one is going to cover these great song classics, one must have a strategy in place to do them as well, if not better, than the originals. Besides emphasizing classic harmonies, this treasure chest of bluegrass includes some stellar talent -- Bobby Nicholas, Terry Eldredge, David Talbot, Shad Cobb, Josh Ulbrich, and Andy Hall. J.D. Blair adds brushes to a few cuts, and engineer Kurt Storey plays second fiddle on "Send Me The Pillow." Gray, Nichols and Eldredge all sing lead and harmony vocals, and it would've been nice if the CD jacket had listed who was singing the parts on each song. It's a very pleasant trip down nostalgia lane. J.T. admits, "We're not breaking any ground with this one, we're just giving the fans exactly what they wanted." That's a modest statement from the man who was born in Mississippi, worked in Chicago, and has called Nashville home for many years. In reality, songs like "You're Running Wild," "Truck Driver's Queen," and "I Told the Stars About You" capture a very special place in our hearts, and they are a nostalgic collection of bluegrass days of yore. The CD also includes three live tracks from the Station Inn - "Mind Your Own Business," "Love Me Darling Just Tonight," and "My Baby's Gone." J.T.'s music isn't dated; it's just classic. (Joe Ross)
CLASSIC BLUEGRASS MANDOLIN
taught by Jesse McReynolds (DVD)
75-minute DVD or VHS, Includes music + tab book
Catalog Code: DVDMCRMN21
It's a treat to get a 75-minute lesson from one of bluegrass music's finest instrumentalists. Entitled "classic bluegrass mandolin," this 75-minute lesson (originally recorded in 1989) would have been more aptly named "crosspicking." The most renowned purveyor of that style is of course Jesse McReynolds. With relaxed and personable manner, McReynolds starts by demonstrating his own composition, "Ridge Runner." Although in the key of A (Jesse's favorite for crosspicking), it may have been better to start the lesson with the second tune, "Banks of the Ohio," as that standard is more familiar and can be played without ever breaking your roll. A conversation with Sam Bush covers how Jesse first got started "playing backwards." Jesse talks about his influences (Bill Monroe, Blue Sky Boys, Earl Scruggs, Hoke Jenkins), and mandolin set-up. It's interesting that Jesse's strings sit wider apart than normal on the very high elevated bridge on his Stiver rosewood mandolin. We even get a laugh when shown his double-jointed thumb and crooked little finger.
The DVD offers a menu to quickly access the songs or 37 individual chapter locations. Besides crosspicking, the Grand Ole Opry member (since 1964) also briefly covers chord formations, exercises, variations, endings, backward rolls and his unique method for splitting strings. The songs presented include "Ridge Runner," "Banks of the Ohio," "Dill Pickle Rag," "Farewell Blues," and "Snowbird." Views of both right and left hands are shown as McReynolds plays them up tempo, slowly, broken down by section, or with variations. Sam Bush admits, "Crosspicking is absolutely the hardest thing for me to do on the mandolin." This lesson is best for intermediate and advanced players who already have good technique and knowledge of their instrument. "Classic Bluegrass Mandolin" will help you enhance your playing with crosspicking and more. (Joe Ross)
Tunes and Techniques taught by Tony Trischka
90-minute DVD or VHS, Includes tab book + practice tracks
With David Grier (Guitar) and Andrea Zonn (fiddle)
Catalog Code: DVDTRIBJ21
Geared for intermediate players, "Bluegrass Banjo Tunes and Techniques" focuses on Scruggs style techniques, but it also will help you develop some additional repertoire. With good insight from Tony Trischka, numerous techniques and subtleties are demonstrated. Tone, time and taste are emphasized. The lesson, originally recorded in 1991, is well organized on DVD with a menu to all songs presented and 41 chapter points that are easily accessible. "Weeping Willow Tree" illustrates differences between Earl Scruggs and Don Reno's breaks that were learned from a 1958 duet presentation of the song. "Liza Jane" emphasizes the concept of leaving space in a song to highlight its melody.
With some simple positions for the left hand, Trischka shows how various right hand rolls and techniques can embellish one's playing. This lesson is best for those who have been playing awhile. Trischka quickly covers troubleshooting problems in one's playing such as leaving out notes, buzzing, gaining speed, and thumping the banjo's head. Other items covered include rolls, chokes, slides, timing, syncopation, improvisation, intros, endings, chord inversions, and back-up techniques. Along with David Grier on guitar and Andrea Zonn on fiddle, Tony demonstrates trio arrangements for each tune. Both Zonn and Grier take breaks on John Henry, John Hardy, Nine Pound Hammer, Cross-Eyed Cricket, Liza Jane, Weeping Willow Tree, Bluegrass Blues, Little Maggie, Leather Britches, and Soldier's Joy. The latter introduces the D-tuning. The only problem noted in the accompanying tablature booklet is that the backup demonstrated for "Nine Pound Hammer" is not provided.
A dedicated banjo teacher, Tony has written six books for Oak Publications and has led many banjo workshops. He is an excellent teacher who is very knowledgeable and motivational. The 90-minute lesson also includes "Homespun Practice Tracks" with the back-up for all tunes taught on the DVD. These give you the chance to get practiced up before heading for your nearest jam sessions or live gig. (Joe Ross)
GREG CLARKE -
1723 SW Marigold, Portland, OR 97219
www.gregclarkemusic.com OR www.cdbaby.com/cd/gregclarke
Playing Time - 43:49
Songs - 1. Georgie Buck / Skillet Good and Greasy, 2. Wild Rose of the Mountain / Little Rabbit,
3. Lady Hamilton / Big Footed Man in a Sandy Lot, 4. Days of My Childhood Plays, 5. The Cuckoo,
6. Fontaine's Ferry / Stranger on a Mule, 7. Tough Luck, 8. Monkey on a Dog Cart, 9. Spring of '65 / Molly's Tune, 10. The Baltimore Fire, 11. Black Jack David, 12. Sally Ann Johnson / Rocky Mountain,
13. Whiskey Seller, 14. Old Ebenezer Scrooge, 15. My Clinch Mountain Home
I still recall those days in the 1970s when Greg Clarke was a solid cornerstone in Dr. Corn's Bluegrass Remedy, a band based in Portland, Or. At the time, he provided solid banjo and mandolin contributions to their hard-driving sound. Now, his long overdue solo debut album captures the eclectic versatility of this multi-instrumentalist and singer whose roots are deep in both bluegrass and old-time music. Clarke plays mandolin, fretless banjo, fiddle and guitar. There's no question that recording or performing as a soloist requires a fair amount of chutzpah. Greg rises to the challenge, and his courageous selections include 15 tracks, about a third of which are presented just as instrumentals on either mandolin or fiddle.
When singing, Greg's strings of choice for accompaniment appear to be his fretless banjo. "Tough Luck," "Black Jack David," and "Whiskey Seller" are examples of this. To record the former, a song from Tom Ashley, Clarke restrung the banjo with heavy strings and tuned the instrument to a D-tuning. "Black Jack David" is a well-known ballad with many forms. Clarke prefers the one from The Carter Family. "Whiskey Seller" was learned from an album put out by Tom Paley and The New Lost City Ramblers. His second choice of instrument for accompanying his singing is guitar. "Days of my Childhood Plays" and "The Baltimore Fire" were learned from Mike Seeger and Charlie Poole, respectively. The sole offering that includes fiddle and vocalizing is the medley of "Wild Rose of the Mountain" and "Little Rabbit."
A Portland native, Clarke started playing old-time and bluegrass music in the early 1960s. He is very proficient on many instruments, and he has a solid and entertaining repertoire under his belt. Besides playing solo, he plays in duo (Sammons and Clarke) and trio configurations (The Greg Clarke Trio). He's a dedicated song-carrier who is helping to keep this style of music vibrant and alive in the Northwest. (Joe Ross)
CHRIS THILE & MIKE MARSHALL -
PO Box 55300, Durham, NC27717
www.sugarhillrecords.com OR www.nickelcreek.com OR www.mikemarshall.net
EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org OR Publicity@sugarhillrecords.com
Playing Time - 53:00
SONGS - Shoulda Seen it Comin', Byron's, Carpathian Mt. Breakdown, I'd Go Back if I Could, The Only Way Out, Hualalai, J.S. Bach Dm Gigue (from solo Violin Partita #2), Joy Ride in a Toy Car/Hey Ho, 'Til Dawn, Sedi Donka, Tanja
With Mike Marshall in the left speaker, and Chris Thile in the right, "Live Duets" captures two virtuoso mandolin masters at work. After the opening cut of their composition, "Shoulda Seen It Comin'," we can hear one of the players comment, "We're gonna have fun tonight!" And that is no doubt why this record was made … for us to enjoy the fun and energy of their 16 strings in consummate performance. After the second cut, Mike says, "This is fun!" Based on their power and strength, the dynamic duo could very well be two super heroes in disguise. This sequel to their successful 2003 collaborative effort, "Into the Cauldron," takes us into some similarly adventurous territory. To these guys, Mandoville has no city limits. Four cuts feature one of the guys playing mandocello, and one of those (Thile's "Hualalai") actually has Marshall on both mandola and mandocello.
There are a couple ways to tune into the music of this indefatigable duet. One is to listen very intently to appreciate the sensational musical telepathy and groove happening between the two. Mandolin players might want to follow this course. Another approach is to merely relax and let the notes and rhythms casually weave their way through a Zen-like atmosphere in search of truth and understanding. To me the players' minds seem clear of all limitations as they strive for oneness in their music. They realize that there's really only one way that they can collaboratively succeed - and that is along a musical path that is straight, open, wide, and free of obstructions. A traditional Bulgarian tune, "Sedi Donka," begins with Thile demonstrating the complicated rhythm to the audience ... long, short, short, long, short, short, short, short, long, short, short. The song's genesis includes aqueous improvisation and tremolo built around the tune's unique melody.
Through invisible, their sound does have much color like a kaleidoscope. Marshall and Thile use their instruments in much the same way that Monet and Piccasso used paintbrushes. The juxtaposition of one's notes with the other's creates each piece's coloring. Notice how their sonic colors work together to produce feelings. I was very happy to see a delicate piece like Marshall's 2-minute "'Til Dawn" breathe some slower air into the overall set. With high musical intellect, good ears, and considerable sensitivity, the duo works well together to create nuance and significant emotional content. Check out their musical canvas to discover the special quality of their sound. As with most live albums, applause between songs can be a little annoying. (Joe Ross)
MIKE JONES -
Beaten Tracks Records 1001
P.O. Box 7551, Macon, Ga. 31209
EMAIL email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Playing time - 38:51
SONGS - 1. John Henry, 2. On And On, 3. Ginny's Calling, 4. Do You Ever Think Of Me,5. Count On You 6. Those Memories Of You, 7. Gone Home, 8. If I Should Wander Back, 9. Five Pounds Of Possum, 10. Foggy Mountain Top, 11. Darling Corey, 12. Worried Man Blues, 13. The Water's So Cold
Performing in central Georgia, Mike Jones attributes his parents' singing and grandfather's banjo-playing for his avid interest in bluegrass music. Born in Virginia but raised in North Carolina, Mike's father was also the choir director at the little country church they attended. Vocalist Jones loves to sing bluegrass standards, and his daughters gave him some time at his cousins' Blueridge Recording Studio (Luray, Va.) as a Christmas present. Jones' vocal delivery is strong, robust and pleasant. The title cut, "Ginny's Calling," is one of two Mike Jones' originals and tells a story of a lonesome lakeside wind calling his name like a love of long ago once did. Jones' other original, "Count on You," has a nice hook about only being able to count "two achin' arms and one big broken heart." Jones also added a third verse to T.W. White's novelty number, "Five Pounds of Possum." Jones' verse is about missing the possum, slamming on his brake light, spinning his truck around, steering more to the right….just to put five pounds of possum on his table tonight. "Foggy Mountain Top" wasn't the greatest selection to follow this song in the set because of their similarities in tempo and melody.
Jones enlists instrumental support from Jerry Jones (bass), David Belshan (rhythm guitar), Will Parsons (banjo, guitar), Doug Bartlett (fiddle), Megan Gregory (fiddle), Aaron Jackson (mandolin, guitar), Steve Acord (mandolin), and Andy Leftwich (fiddle). Harmony vocals are sung by Scott Linton, Jerry Jones, and David Belshan, another transplanted Virginia who Jones met after his relocation to Georgia about 15 years ago. Liner notes don't clearly indicate who is playing or singing on which numbers. The title cut from "Ginny's Calling" was featured on the Prime Cuts of Bluegrass, Vol. 75 and received airplay on numerous radio stations (country and bluegrass) in at least five states and Canada. Mike has been very happy with the attention that the CD has received, and he's been booking gigs around southeast Georgia and North Carolina. Going full time, he plans to cover at least the Atlantic seaboard by the fall of next year. Mike Jones' solo album will be a nice keepsake for his family, friends and audiences. I'd like to see him put added emphasis on his originals on future releases. An album of all originals, for example, could really get folks in the bluegrass community to sit up and take notice of Mike Jones, a solid singer and songwriter. You can visit his website at www.bluegrassmike.com. (Joe Ross)
BOBBY OSBORNE & The Rocky Top X-Press -
Try a Little Kindness
One Camp St., Cambridge, Mass. 02140
Playing Time - 39:05
Originally from Hyden, Ky., mandolinist Bobby Osborne's musical career began over fifty years ago (in 1949) with banjo player Larry Richardson, Charlie and Ray Cline in a group called The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. He would've been about 18 years old. By 1953, Bobby and his banjo-playing brother, Sonny, were working with Jimmy Martin. With Red Allen singing lead, the Osborne Brothers formed their own band in 1955 and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1964. Bobby's tenor and then his high lead vocals got folks to really sit up and take notice. So did his instrumental talent on the mandolin, a personalized style based largely on single-line melodies after he had learned to play electric guitar and fiddle at an early age. Bobby doesn't like to hear guys get completely away from the melody and just play a bunch of notes. Fast forward through about forty years of hits, awards, and even some controversy about electric instruments, we are now treated to Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press' debut release on the Rounder label. Following surgery on his shoulder, Sonny no longer plays banjo or tours extensively.
The project's diverse material is drawn from an interesting variety of sources - Jake Landers, Carter Stanley, Hazel Dickens, Bill Monroe, Bailes Brothers, as well as Kris Kristofferson, Bobby Austin, Bill Anderson, and Paul Simon. The juxtaposition of the traditional and contemporary has always been a stamp of the Osborne sound. Eddie Stubbs' 11 pages of liner notes make reference to their trademark commercial, radio-friendly, strong material. This project balances new material with songs that have been around for decades. I especially enjoyed the Bobby Osborne/Pete Goble 1971 composition (until now unreleased) called "It's Gonna Be Raining ‘Til I Die." Bobby's "Rocky Top X-Press" demonstrates his fluency in the string language of mandolinese, and Glen Duncan's twin fiddles and Dana Cupp's banjo really supercharge the instrumental. The Bailes Brothers' "We're Living in the Last Days Now" is a beautiful and inspirational song with a message as relevant today as it was when written decades ago. Besides Duncan and Cupp, other instrumental support is rendered by Daryl Mosley (bass), Bobby Osborne Jr. (rhythm guitar), and Tim Graves (dobro). Harmony vocals are sung by Duncan and Mosley, although Josh Turner's "Long Black Train" features five voices in the full-bodied background vocals. Over the years, the Osborne sound and arrangements were built largely around the high lead being featured in contemporary country songs. While their complex trios used ideas borrowed from pedal steel or elaborate and flashy endings, you'll find them a little more conservative on "Try A Little Kindness." The trios in the more traditional "The Fields Have Turned Brown" and "Mansions for Me" are actually among my favorites here. Bobby once admitted that it is his singing that got him to where he's at. And while folks rave about Bobby's powerful vocalizing on this album, don't overlook his solid mandolin playing.
"Try a Little Kindness" shows that 74-year-old bluegrass pioneer Bobby Osborne has no immediate plans to retire, and he continues to cultivate his polished music. Bobby feels that he's singing better now than he has in ten years. With fine singing and playing, this album continues to build the reputation and legacy of Bobby Osborne as singer, mandolinist, teacher and entertainer. (Joe Ross)
THE COTTARS -
One Camp St., Cambridge, Mass. 02140
Playing Time - 43:55
Whether playing their native Cape Breton or as far from home as Japan, The Cottars are received with enthusiastic audiences who clap, sing, and stomp their feet. The two brother/sister pairs are only in their teens, but their music is indicative of a group with many years of experience. The MacGillivray and MacKenzie familes met at a festival in Cape Breton in 2000. Within six months, the four kids (Fiona and Ciaran MacGillivray, and Roseanne and Jimmy MacKenzie) were performing as The Cottars, a term that refers to the Scottish peasants and laborers who arrived in Cape Breton between 1793 and the 1840s as a result of the Highland Clearances. Things have happened fast for The Cottars since then. They've toured with The Chieftains. Besides winning the 2003 Best New Artist honors at the East Coast Music Awards in Nova Scotia, it was there that Rounder Records' Ken Irwin found them "striking," "rootsy," and Fiona's voice full of "emotion and purity." And Rosie really has the Cape Breton style fiddling down. The four play piano, guitar, electric guitar, whistle, bodhran, accordion, fiddle, percussion, and tenor banjo. They all read music, as well as play by ear. Recorded in both Cape Breton and Nashville with production assistance of Allister MacGillivray and Gordie Sampson, respectively, "Forerunner" also has guest artists who add bass, bouzouki, guitar, piano, drums, percussion or cello. With the exception of guest vocalist Jimmy Rankin on "Atlantic Blue," liner notes don't indicate exactly who's playing when.
The Cottar's set on "Forerunner" ranges from the opening delicate song (Karine Polwart's "Waterlily") to a more commercial closing cover of Tom Waits' "Hold On." Other contemporary renderings come from Sinead Lohan ("Send Me A River") and Canada's Ron Hynes ("Atlantic Blue"). They also cover Waits' dramatic "Georgia Lee" at mid-set. Their repertoire also has plenty of supercharged instrumental medleys incorporating jigs, polkas, hornpipes, strathspeys, and reels. Whether slow or fast numbers, they have been arranged with verve and intensity. If Celtic-based music has an equivalent of bluegrass music's Nickel Creek, then it is likely The Cottars. Their musicianship, charisma, exuberance, sheer force and powerful energy will take them far. It will be interesting to see what directions they take. Their style and influences indicate that the four young folks have four feet in tradition and four feet in the future. They've already grown considerably in musicianship, are building a large fan base, and I see "Forerunner" as an exceptional harbinger of even greater things to come. (Joe Ross)
THE KICKIN GRASS BAND -
On The Short Rows
No label, no number
PO Box 37039, Raleigh, NC 27627
TEL. (919)637-4083 OR (919) 795-8776
EMIAL email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Playing Time - 42:50
SONGS - 1- Lay Down Your Weary Load, 2- On The Short Rows, 3- Cloverleaf, 4- Dear Sarah, 5- Change Your Mind, 6- Molly, 7- Fairest Rose, 8- When My Days Are Full Of Sorrow, 9- Pot Liquor, 10- Hello It's Me, 11- Rock Island Line, 12- Ain't Got Nothin', 13- Grandfather's Clock
The five musicians who kick grass on this project include Ben Walters (banjo), Patrick Walsh (bass), Matt Hooper (fiddle), Lynda Wittig Dawson (guitar), and Jamie Dawson (mandolin). Akin to their song and the "Pot Liquor" that remains after boiling a large kettle of collard greens, Kickin Grass fuses their old-time and bluegrass sensibilities in a simmering cauldron of healthful and nourishing music. The band formed to accompany the Apple Chill Cloggers in Chapel Hill, while Walsh was using pickup musicians for gigs under the Kickin Grass band name. Lynda was enlisted to bring some powerful original material and vocalizing to the collaboration. From Alabama, banjo-player Ben Walters was found studying linguistics and music at UNC-Chapel Hill, and North Carolinan Matt Hooper had studied classical violin and played with a country band called Dakota Rain. In fact, Lynda also played with a country roadhouse group called The Kydells, and they have an invigorating, lively bluegrass sound that also taps into their understanding of folk, old-time and country music. Their first album was called "Backroads," recorded with the $2,000 prize for being named the 2003 Best Band In Raleigh competition.
The set on this, their second album, incorporates considerable dynamism, and their large body of original material is a definite strength. At times on the faster numbers, they push and challenge their instrumental abilities. Also, their best lead vocals are presented by Lynda, on her original country numbers like the title cut, "Ain't Got Nothin'," and "Change Your Mind." Those songs are the memorable ones and characterize Kickin Grass' signature sound, especially with Rick Keen's guest dobro-playing. The seductive "When My Days Are Full of Sorrow" was wisely arranged with guest Gil McNeill's clawhammer banjo. "Molly" demonstrates Lynda's ability with a mysterious, lofty, uptempo number. Jamie's and Patricks' lead vocals are pleasant enough but nothing special, but they work on a novelty number like Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line" or those with a hook like "On the Short Rows." The album also has faster pieces such as "Fairest Rose," "Dear Sarah," "Hello It's Me" and the instrumental "Pot Liquor."
On an impulse, the band picked up a 32-foot long shuttle bus off Ebay for $4,000, and they hit the road. After the bus' transmission went out a month later, the rig was sold. Despite hasty decisions like that, Kickin Grass shows that they've put considerable thought into their music. With a little more attention to detail, they'll be ready for trips even further afield from their North Carolina home. They're serious about their music and want to introduce it to new audiences. They just plan to be who they are, be true to themselves, and to keep at it. Like family, they enjoy each other's company, and that will work in their favor. (Joe Ross)
WEST OF EDEN -
Box 5015, 40221, Gotenburg, Sweden
EMAIL email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Playing Time - 41:38
Eden is a paradise full of joy and happiness. Due west of Eden, you will find the well-produced and arranged original music of this group from Sweden that has developed a personalized signature contemporary folk sound with Celtic and soft rock expression. Lead vocalist Jenny Schaub has silky smooth delivery that immediately enraptures us. This band has abundant talent, and Martin Schaub's singing on "My Kind of Town" is also an aural treat. I'd like to hear him sing more than three on the next album. West of Eden's songs like "Auburn Skies," "The Words I Forgot to Say," "True Believer," "Time," and "Ghost of You" are innovative, imaginative, lyrical, melodic, and inspirational. While often sad or incorporating nostalgic musings, the pensive messages are evocative and thought-provoking.
The band's electric guitar, fiddle, drums, and keys are supplemented with a full string section arranged and conducted by band member and multi-instrumentalist Martin Schaub. The full-bodied robust string ensemble is almost too much on "Immortal," and it might have been nice to include a couple more lean, raw-boned arrangements (without percussion and string section) on "Four" for a little contrast. Sung by Martin, "Could Have Been" appears at track ten, and it is a mellow, reflective composition in this vein. Smart move! Guests also add bass throughout, as well as whistle, banjo, dobro, or sax in spots.
"Four" has very strong material and musicianship that crosses the bridges between genres. While Celtic-based, their vision is simply to present quality music with broad appeal. It's also music to contemplate. Apparently still self-released independently, I would hope that record labels are sitting up and taking notice of West of Eden's musicianship, messages and, I dread to say it, commercial appeal. But that is a bottomline in a cut-throat, ruthless and competitive music industry. They have been together since 1995 and are deserving of a larger audience for their original music. They have a seductive kind of charm. While many of their songs "deal with how time inevitably leaves us behind," I hope that West of Eden's music isn't soon forgotten. At present, their albums can be ordered at cdon.com, tayberry.com, or at westofeden.com. (Joe Ross)
JOHN McCUTCHEON -
Mightier Than the Sword
EMAIL email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Playing Time - 56:20
Track Listing: 1. Our Flag Was Still There (Barbara Kingsolver & John McCutcheon), 2. La Mujer de Don Miguel (Carmen Agra Deedy & John McCutcheon), 3. Claudette Colvin Goes To Work (Rita Dove & John McCutcheon), 4. Good Ol' Girls (John McCutcheon, inspired by Lee Smith), 5. Dead Man Walking (John McCutcheon, inspired by the book by Sr. Helen Prejean, 6. Cultivo una Rosa Blanca (Jose Marti & John McCutcheon), 7. Harness Up the Day (Woody Guthrie & John McCutcheon), 8. Single Girl (Lee Smith & John McCutcheon), 9. Sail Away (John McCutcheon, inspired by Carmen Agra Deedy's "Yellow Star"), 10. Old Cap Moore (Woody Guthrie & John McCutcheon), 11. Para Mi Corazon Basta Tu Pecho (Pablo Neruda & John McCutcheon), 12. It's the Economy, Stupid (John McCutcheon, inspired by Wendell Berry's "Jayber Crow"), 13. Jaber Crow's Silly Song About Jesus (Wendell Berry & John McCutcheon), 14. Ode to Common Things (John McCutcheon, inspired by Pablo Neruda's "Ode To Common Things")
On "Mightier Than The Sword," McCutheon's focus is powerful messages. For inspiration, he collaborates with Barbara Kingsolver, Lee Smith, Wendell Berry, Carmen Agra Deedy, and Rita Dove, as well as posthumously with Woody Guthrie. Multiple Grammy nominee McCutcheon's 29th album is a voracious reader who spent many hours at his local public library. He considered books as his "refuge and launching pad," and he had found "a horizon of unending pleasure and passion." It was inevitable that the imagery and themes he encountered in books would eventually show up in his songs. "Dead Man Walking," for example, was written in 1994 immediately after being inspired by Sr. Helen Prejean's book of the same name. McCutheon composed the melody and a chorus for Guthrie's "Old Cap Moore, " a vignette originally written in 1949 when Guthrie and family were living on Coney Island. Guthrie's lyrics for "Harness Up The Day" were found in the Guthrie Archives in 2005.
Songs are also literary works, and the challenge was to put to music the words or inspirations of celebrated authors, a former U.S. Poet Laureate (Rita Dove), children's author (Carmen Agra Deedy), folk singer (Woody Guthrie), Nobel Laureate (Pablo Neruda), and Cuba's national poet (Jose Marti). The 14 songs are mostly given intimate settings, and their messages call for contemplation and deliberation. Such reflective material is often slower-tempo'ed, and it might have enhanced this project to pen a few more up-tempo pieces for additional contrast. Lyrics (including English translation for "Para Mi Corazon Basta Tu Pecho") are included in the CD's jacket. The words for "It's the Economy, Stupid," cover 4 pages in the booklet, and the song is an interesting, almost free-form kind of profound statement. The album's closer holds one of his wisest statements as McCutheon sings an ode to common things … simple, small and good. As he states, "I might forget them if I would not pause each day and thus attest, I am a man uncommonly blest." Books and music could also be viewed as common things, but they hold great joy for those who explore them, capture their soul, and document their more uncommon intellectual depth of feelings or meanings. (Joe Ross)
ACOUSTIC ENDEAVORS -
On A Farm
Common Folk CD-0003
PO Box 12541, Roanoke, Va. 24026
Playing Time - 48:54
The Acoustic Endeavors seed was planted in 1991 when Warren Amberson (bass, mandolin, guitar) and Kelly Green (guitar) met at a festival in Iowa. Warren had finished a stint in the Army (where he'd played with the U.S. Army Bluegrass Band in Europe), and he was touring the U.S. with his German bluegrass band, Foreign Affairs. In 1992, Warren and Kelly put a band together in Tennessee where the two of them attended the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass Music Program. Originally with Glen Rose and Tommy Austin, the band went on to win fourth place at the 1994 SPBGMA band contest. The following year, Acoustic Endeavors won the South Carolina Pizza Hut regional championship. Over the years, others who have played or recorded with the band include Tim Laughlin, Amanda Mathis, Tommy Morse, Ernie Power, Randy Utterback, Greg Honeycutt, and John Golden. Previous album projects include Coming of Age, Sneak Preview, and Coming of Age…Again (a re-issue of the initial album with two additional tracks). Now based in Roanoke, Va. since 1997, Warren and Kelly welcomed Dewey Peters (guitars) in 1998, John Lawless (banjo) in 2000, and Billy Hurt (fiddle) in 2003.
"On A Farm" has been more than three years in the making, and the album contains 16 songs written by Amberson or Green. Both of them are excellent lead vocalists also. "True Love Takes Two" is a collaborative effort of both songwriters with former bandmate (until 2003) Greg Honeycutt. Of the vocal numbers, many are striking because, in fine bluegrass form, they flow smoothly with clear messages and fairly uncomplicated chord structures. The songs draw you in, develop a message or story, and then end effectively. On a beautiful love song like "To You I Wed," the lyrics immediately grab your attention. Guest Jerry Wood's twin fiddle is a nice embellishment for this song that states "on this special say, I'll say I do." Their hooks are straight forward but still catchy and easily remembered without being over-complicated. Another example is the simple phrase "done me wrong, she's up and gone, and left me here to hoe this row alone." A sincere, subtle and respectful gospel message is imparted in "Over in Heaven's Skies." Their two instrumentals ("Berkley's Bottom" and "Young William") give everyone a piece of the picking action and a chance to shine, and my only suggestion here might have been to equalize the guitar and mandolin breaks for a little more punch and intensity. With contemporary flair, Acoustic Endeavor's "On A Farm" is a very refreshing and warm-hearted experience. (Joe Ross)
MIKE COMPTON and DAVID LONG -
Acoustic Disc ACD-63
PO Box 4143, San Rafael, CA. 94913
www.acousticdisc.com OR www.mikecompton.net OR www.bigevemusic.com
INFO: email@example.com (Shari) or Tel. (615)525-5303
Playing Time - 59:57
David Long hails from Pittsburgh, Pa. and says his mandolin influences are Frank Wakefield and Mike Compton. In 2001, he joined The Wildwood Valley Boys. He's also worked with Karl Shiflett's Big Country Show. Mike Compton is a native of Meridian, Miss. (Jimmie Rodgers' homeplace). In 1970, his first pro job was with Hubert Davis and the Season Travelers. From 1984-1988, Mike was an original member of the Nashville Bluegrass Band. He left the band after sustaining injury in a serious bus accident. In 1991, he recorded and toured with guitarist David Grier. In 1995, Compton joined Chris Jones' band, the Night Drivers. In 1996, he joined John Hartford's touring "String Band" and worked with him until his death in 2001. In 2000, Mike performed on the soundtrack to the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" movie and appeared on the Down from the Mountain tour and album. He was one of the "Soggy Bottom Boys." In 2001, Mike returned to the Nashville Bluegrass Band (replacing Roland White).
David Grisman refers to David Long and Mike Compton as "talented kindred spirits" who have chosen to use Bill Monroe's mandolin style as their springboard into both old and new, fertile territory. The musical tangents include some journeys into blues, ragtime, minstrelsy, gospel and old-time fiddle tunes. Four of the 17 pieces are performed solo by Mike or David, while the rest are duets that use mandolin, mandola, guitar or octave mandola. Some of my favorite renderings are with Mike's octave mandola and David's mandolin. These include Ashland Breakdown and Big Indian Blues.
While drawing heavily from a traditional and Monroe repertoire, the playful album also includes compositions from each of the featured artists, such as Compton's "Big Indian Blues" and "Black's Run" and Longs' "January Nightmare." Both collaborated to pen "Centipede Hop," and its humorous intro has the musicians telling how both of them wrote separate tunes with similar melodies, chords and tempos. We speculate that this tune was the ultimate result when both played their respective tunes together. Within the hour-long set, about 14 minutes have vocals. Mike sings solo on "How You Want it Done?" Three pieces have some nice duet vocals -- "Mississippi Bound," "Every Humble Knee Must Bow," and "The Old Ark's A Movin'." I would've enjoyed a few more vocals on the project, but one interesting contrast occurs on "Black's Run" with the octave banjo mandolin being Mike's instrument of choice.
Recorded live to two tracks, their vision was to capture flavors of the southern music that Monroe might have listened to. I never tire of hearing Bill Monroe's originals, and the rest of the material on "Stomp" is just as exhilarating. Compton's title cut is an octave mandola solo with plenty of bluesy notes and downstrokes. Presented in raw-boned fashion, these tunes will help us better understand the roots of bluegrass. The album would also be a worthwhile investment for players of the eight strings who are looking for material to increase their repertoires. Without much guitar, and no banjo or fiddle, in the mix, "Stomp" is an interesting concept that establishes a likable groove with a maximum of 16 strings being picked at any one time. (Joe Ross)
PINE MOUNTAIN RAILROAD -
Heartache & Hope
TrakTone Records CD-2567
McBee Marketing Solutions, 2813 Fawn Ridge Lane, Knoxville, TN 37938
EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org OR FasTrakProductions@yahoo.com OR email@example.com
Playing Time- 41:50
SONGS - Laura Jean, Beyond The Rain, White Lightning Strike, Old Bryson Station, Sinner's Lament, Powder Brown, Fly Away, Hazel Creek Train, Butter On The Biscuit, Dine With The King, Brother Noah, TN Pride Grand Ole Opry Theme
After showcasing at the 2002 IBMA World of Bluegrass, Pine Mountain Railroad's 2003 release, "The Old Radio," (CMH Records) charted nationally. The band was a Top 5 nominee for both the 2003 and 2004 IBMA's Emerging Artist of the Year Awards. Now on TrakTone Records, the band has some new personnel. Gone are Jimbo Whaley, Danny Barnes and Clint Damewood, while long-time members Bill McBee (bass) and Kipper Stitt (banjo) remain. Since the band's 1998 inception by Pine Mountain near Pigeon Forge, TN., there have actually been a total of 15 members of PMRR. The latest reinvention of the Pine Mountain Railroad sound is most apparent in their vocals, with guitarist Jerry Butler singing lead and mandolinist Cody Shuler singing tenor. Stitt handles baritone, McBee adds bass vocals, and Matt Flake is the band's new award-winning fiddler. Prior to age 18, Flake won guitar, mandolin, and fiddle contests in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. He's now about to turn 20 and has a long, outstanding music career ahead of him.
PMRR's new sound lacks some of the hard edge of the earlier configuration, but a more leisurely winsome approach at times still offers plenty to thrill traditional bluegrass fans. Their 2003 album reflected their emergence as a national touring band with a traditional sound. While maintaining that focus, the vocal quality has changed. Their harmonies blend better, and their lead vocalists seem more emotive and mindful of how their inflections and stylistic interpretations best reflect the lyrics' mood and message. Jerry Butler is particularly poignant on a couple he wrote, "Fly Away" and "Brother Noah," as well as Kipper Stitt's "Laura Jean," a sad tale about an 8-year-old girl who lost her life when hit by a car.
Their music selection showcases the many talents within the group and demonstrates their comfort with many stylistic interpretations within the sideboards of bluegrass. While some have characterized their sound as "country," this album indicates they perform material from a much-broader musical spectrum. On "Heartache & Hope," their sixth album overall, the influences of Flatt & Scruggs are apparent, but so are those of gospel, western swing, and country balladry.
As instrumentalists, the band has matured and improved their musical chops. Stitt's instrumental "Butter on the Biscuit and Jelly on the Side" is particularly full of get-up-and-go. The band's unpretentious acoustic country and folk overtones are most apparent in Mark Brinkman's "Beyond the Rain" and Tony Rackley's "Sinner's Lament." A couple other gospel numbers, "Fly Away" and "Dine With The King," have inspirational messages, while "Brother Noah" bursts with pep as the band's quartet sing with enough energy and enthusiasm to last for forty days and nights. Cody Shuler sings his own "Hazel Creek Train," a ballad that picks up the pace as it tells of a group of loggers finding gold and meeting a terrible fate. The album closes with the theme song for Odom's Tennessee Pride Real Country Sausage. Since 2001, the band has been the official bluegrass band for that product, and Pine Mountain Railroad's rendition of that song is played on radio commercials airing during the Grand Ole Opry.
While Kipper Stitt is also an excellent resophonic guitarist, those duties are ably handled by guest Matt Despain on this album. Other guests include Shad Cobb (fiddle), Sutart Duncan (fiddle), Larry Atamanuik (percussion), Ben Isaacs (vocals), Sonya Isaacs (vocals), Larry Odom (voice-over announcer), Missy Raines (bass), and Walter Riverwood (cowbell). Produced by Missy Raines, this album was recorded at The Rec Room Studio in Nashville with recording engineer Ben Surratt at the control panel.
Pine Mountain Railroad's appealing and varied sound continues to build a legion of fans. Their goal is still to "take a part of the Great Smoky Mountains to folks who may never get to experience them." Their Fedora hats alone make a succinct statement that this dapper band is one-of-a-kind. The set on "Heartache & Hope" reinforces that this stylish band is unique. For that reason alone, we give thanks because bluegrass, in general, could be rather boring if every band sounded exactly like Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. (Joe Ross)
MONROE CROSSING -
The Happy Holidays
c/o Art Blackburn, 17625 Argon Street NW, Ramsey, MN. 55303
Tel. (763)213-1349 EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org
Playing Time - 41:53
SONGS - O Come All Ye Faithful, Christmas Time's A-Comin, The Happy Holidays, Christ Was Born In Bethlehem, Heed His Father's Call, Holly Jolly Christmas, Angels We Have Heard On High, Christmas Time Back Home, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/Jerusalem Ridge, Silver Bells, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem, Up On The Housetop, What Child Is This?, Auld Lang Syne
Monroe Crossing is a fine bluegrass band that calls Minnesota home. On their many indie albums, I've enjoyed their adventurous and creative approach to acoustic music. Monroe Crossing has kept a fairly constant lineup despite the 2004 departure of banjo-player Graham Sones. Jeff Whitson now plays the five-string in the band that also includes Lisa Fuglie (fiddle, mandolin), Art Blackburn (guitar), Matt Thompson (mandolin, fiddle) and Mark Anderson (bass). All but Jeff sing on this delightful album which celebrates the spirit of sharing seasonal music and joy.
Their 15 songs in the set include an eclectic mixture of traditional, contemporary, and original material. Every holiday album should have some Christmas carols with new, fresh arrangements. Monroe Crossing certainly doesn't disappoint us in this regard, and an exceptional instrumental take is given to "Angels We Have Heard On High." The twin mandolins exquisitely breathe new life into this standard carol. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is given an upbeat jazz-like treatment that undergoes a genesis into "Jerusalem Ridge." When Monroe Crossing takes off on a snappy 4/4 arrangement of "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear," it reminded me of the energy one might find in Reno and Smiley's bluegrass repertoire.
There is some country and bluegrass fare like "Christmas Time's A-Comin'" and "Christmas Time Back Home." The latter is attributed to John Duffey. A splendid song for bluegrass arrangement is Johnny Marks' "Holly Jolly Christmas," which became a big hit for Burl Ives when he sang it the 1965 movie, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Another winner is their version of "Silver Bells," which showcases Lisa Fuglie's breathtaking vocal abilities and Matt Thompson's engaging mandolin.
To truly emphasize their innovative individualism, Monroe Crossing wisely wrote a couple very special holiday songs for this album, "The Happy Holidays" and "Heed His Father's Call." The former, written by Mark and Lisa, is a call to lay down burdens, spread good cheer, and connect with traditions during the holidays. Mark Anderson's "Heed His Father's Call" provides some deliberation about the sacrifice of God's only Son for our salvation. Although nicely adorned with four of Nick Wroblewski's woodcut prints, the CD jacket could have been enhanced by including lyrics for their two originals. They are, however, available on their website. "The Happy Holidays" is a pleasant collection of musical jolliness and merriment that "yule" certainly enjoy. It's an album that will fill your holiday season with plenty of good cheer. (Joe Ross)
MISTY RIVER -
Midwinter: Songs of Christmas
Misty River, PO Box 5482, Eugene, OR 97405
EMAIL Carol Harley
Playing Time - 40:02
SONGS - All That I Want, Back Home, All Through the Night, Cradle Hymn, In the Bleak Midwinter, Beautiful Star of Bethlehem, What Child Is This, Don't Take Down the Mistletoe, Silent Night, Empty Christmas Stocking, Peace, Merry Merry Christmas
Remember when, before 1980, that every major artist had a Christmas album? Then, record labels and radio programmers cut back on holiday music. Fortunately, the dearth only lasted about a decade before Christmas music experienced a major resurgence. With the 2004 release of Misty River's "Midwinter," Santa's reindeer and elves have much to rejoice. My favorite Christmas albums have a healthy dose of angelic singing, sparkling instrumental work, and meditative messages. Misty River succeeds on all counts, with their lovely and creative works that twinkle like colorful lights on a Christmas tree.
Guitarist Doug Smith offers some buoyant lead work on "All Through the Night" and "What Child is This." If I'd been producing "Midwinter," I might've recommended a few additional seasonal instruments in the mix. For some reason, I just heard a song like "Cradle Hymn" embellished with the likes of perhaps some hammered dulcimer, concertina, whistle and/or flute. There's a story behind this beautiful song that was learned from a Seeger Family holiday recording. Misty River dedicates the song to Eva and Nina, twins born prematurely to well-known Northwest musician Leah Larson. While Eva lived only a few short weeks, she will be forever remembered as they sing "Hush my babe, lie still and slumber…all the angels guard thy bed…."
When one listens to "Midwinter," we become akin to close friends of the four women in the band. Their confident voices immediately command our rapt attention. The surprise treats in our stocking, however, are the four notable originals on this album. Perhaps it was a band-imposed homework assignment, but it's an exceptional statement about the band members' creative energy in that each of the four contributes an original self-penned song. Laura Quigley's "Back Home" is an enchanting ballad with a nice melodic bounce. Chris Kokesh's "Don't Take Down the Mistletoe" just reinforces why she is an award-winning songwriter. "Peace," composed by Dana Abel, is a call to children for a coming together beyond the horizon. Carol Harley's "Merry Merry Christmas" is the one-minute a cappella closer with their wishes for your good health, long life, happiness, and holidays filled with cheer. "Midwinter" is an album with warm and pleasant sounds for a fireside Christmas with your families and friends. (Joe Ross)
DEAD MEN'S HOLLOW -
Wither's Rocking Hymn
5746 Union Mill Road, PMB 155, Clifton, VA. 20124
www.deadmenshollow.com OR www.acousticamericana.com
Playing Time - 4:43
Recorded for inclusion on the 22-track Hungry for Music, Vol. 8 compilation album of Washington, D.C. area music (see www.hungryformusic.com), "Wither's Rocking Hymn" is a beautiful and earthy 5-minute lullaby with splendid vocal harmonies accompanied primarily by guitar, bass and fiddle. "Sleep Baby Sleep" are the recurring lyrics that lull us into a state of soothing relaxation. Dead Men's Hollow hails from N. Virginia, Maryland and D.C. Calling their music Acoustic Americana, they incorporate elements of old-time, bluegrass, southern gospel and country blues into their sets. Dead Men's Hollow takes their name from an area near Arlington, VA. where saloons, pawn shops and houses of ill repute flourished in the aftermath of the Civil War. Citizens traveled in well-armed groups to pass through there safely. A band since 2003, the members now include Belinda Hardesty, Caryn Fox, Mike Clayberg, Bob Pierce, Amy Nazarov and Marcy Cochran. Emphasizing three-part female harmony vocals backed by acoustic stringed instruments, I appreciated their Christmas single as a musical gift of the season. (Joe Ross)
MOUNT ZION -
My Old Friend
44 Three Springs Loop,Long Lane, MO. 65590
TEL. (417)345-4140 or 1-(877)570-8126
EMAIL Russ Weeks email@example.com
Playing Time - 41:12
From Missouri, Mount Zion is a bluegrass gospel band that covers many of the
predominant themes found in religious music today: individual salvation, life's rocky journey that all Christians must endure, and the good Christian's "action orientation" that suggests we must work hard to gain God's grace. Most impressively, Mount Zion keeps their singing and instrumentation solidly grounded in tradition.
Mount Zion is Russ Weeks, Steve West, Tyler Weeks, and Dan O'Callaghan. Roger Matthews has apprarently departed the band since their debut release, "Still He Came," a couple years ago. Mount Zion provides a particularly good outlet for showcasing the multiple and exceptional talents of long-time bluegrass musician Russ Weeks who plays guitar, mandolin, fiddle and sings the lead vocals. Russ also solely wrote five of the songs on "My Old Friend." Their evocative original material, while mostly at slower to moderate tempos, is clearly one of the band's strengths. Russ Weeks and Steve West collaborated together on "The Answer Will Be There," a ¾-time duet with guitar and mandolin that reminds me of the Delmore Brothers. Another guitarist in the band, Dan O'Callaghan has been playing since age 9. For this project, he wrote "Land of the Lost," with its poignant advice about how to avoid eternal damnation in Hell. Other splendid gospel songwriters featured here and associated with Weeksman Publishing include Doug York, Fanny Crosby, Jimmy Davis, Rusty Goodman, and Hubert Smith. York provided the title cut which reminds us not to lose touch with Jesus.
Steve West (banjo, tenor vocals) has been performing for over 40 years in Central Missouri. Russ' son is bass-player and singer Tyler Weeks. He may only be a teenager, but his bass or tenor vocals sit nicely in the Mount Zion harmony mix. The band's gospel quartet is most impressive on the a cappella number, "Zion's Hill," an excellent choice for a group called Mount Zion. I also enjoyed their song composition and arrangements that often incorporate phrases and responses.
Ingenious and creative, Mount Zion provides us with a set of inspiring music that keeps the focus on their profound gospel messages. Skilled picking and proficient vocals round out their sound that is well-received at churches and festivals alike. (Joe Ross)
BRAD PAISLEY -
Time Well Wasted
Info: Jane Grimes
Playing Time - 65:41
With much of Brad's original material, splendid vocalizing and excellent guitar playing, "Time Well Wasted" is a great addition to this West Virginian's musical canon. It also includes his latest hit, "Alcohol," recorded with live audience. The "medicine and poison to help you up or make you fall" that wry-witted Paisley sings about might also just be an appropriate analogy for the many moods and emotions that he can convey with his songs. "She's Everything" and "Love is Never-Ending" are strong love songs on the album. The album's opener, "The World," is a fresh outlook about how one's undying commitment and devotion can make another feel important, special and needed. "Easy Money" is a somewhat autobiographical account of the various band members who used to work as roofer, truck driver, salesmen, garbage man and hot dog stand operator.
Besides featuring many superior instrumentalists in the idiom, the cornerstone of Paisley's music is his lyrics. He finds ways to engage and draw us in with multiple catchy hooks and messages that often both humorous and powerful. "You Need a Man Around Here" shows that he's pretty perceptive when he sings about a woman's place needing a bass on the wall, beer, Maxim and Field & Stream magazines, and someone to kill the spiders.
Brad offers some rousing collaborations. With Alan Jackson, "Out in the Parking Lot" is a Guy Clark/Darrell Scott song about partying on the fender of someone else's truck at the local honky tonk. In the gospel vein, "The Uncloudy Day" only spans 53 seconds, recreates a scratchy LP sound, and serves as the prologue to a song with Dolly Parton. She contributes her defining harmony vocals to the reflective "When I Get Where I'm Going," about what's ahead on that evergreen shore, a home where no storm clouds rise. "Time Warp" is a barn-burning instrumental that allows many of the stellar accompanists to shine. The CD features players Jim "Moose" Brown, Ben Sesar, Kevin "Swine" Grantt, Justin Williamson, Randel Currie, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton and others. A host of vocalists also appear. On the bonus closing track, "Cornography," we hear fun narrative with Little Jimmy Dickens, George Jones, Bill Anderson and Dolly Parton. At first, I questioned the rationale for ending the album with this "corn," but then I realized it as his offbeat way to pay respect to these Grand Ole Opry greats. If the sketch annoys you, just skip the last track.
"Time Well Wasted," Paisley's fourth album, has an eclectic and unique way of appealing to a very wide audience. Part singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and humorist, Brad Paisley has produced an album that has mainstream sensibilities and strong, personalized signature sound and personality. For those who don't believe in Brad, they can "kiss his backstage pass." (Joe Ross)
MISTY RIVER -
Misty River, PO Box 5482, Eugene, OR 97405
EMAIL Carol Harley
Playing Time - 51:30
SONGS - Green Eyes, When I Go, Kathy's Song, Homegrown Tomatoes, The Cuckoo, Shady Grove, These Are My Mountains, Box of Lace, Blue-Eyed Boston Boy, Tammany Hall, This Town, Bright Morning Stars, Willow, Baird's Lullaby
Misty River's Americana music has acoustic tints of Celtic, old-time, folk, country and bluegrass. As a sequel to their live album, "Willow" has engaging arrangements of five originals and nine others. Haunting aires, mournful ballads, and winsome lullabies might first appear to be their greatest strength. However, the mists rise when the four talented women transition from their leisurely approach to spiritually-tinged uptempo material such as "Homegrown Tomatoes," "The Cuckoo," and "Shady Grove." The latter includes some rousing twin fiddling and tastefully rendered key changes. Their standard instruments of choice are guitar, banjo, fiddle, accordion and bass. In their own personalized approach, "Willow" also incorporates some percussion, mandolin, shakuhachi, and uilleann pipes. The production and recording assistance of Billy Oskay (bigredstudio.com) becomes apparent in certain songs.
The band includes Carol Harley (guitar, banjo, mandolin, ukulele), Chris Kokesh (fiddle, guitar), Dana Abel (accordion, piano), and Laura Quigley (bass). All four impart both lead and harmony vocals to the mix. In fact, the majority of their songs with singing incorporate 3- or 4-parts to the choruses, and they have become a key component of Misty River's rippling current. Their masterful guests include Rob Schnell, John Reischman, Hanz Araki, Doug Smith, Billy Oskay, Greg Clarke, and Tom Creegan. If there's one slight misstep on "Willow," it is the heavy double mandolin in the mix of "Tammany Hall," an instrumental with both Harley's and Clarke's mandolins. While the technique certainly imparts rhythmic intensity, it becomes a bit overbearing.
The first half of "Willow" blossoms with their covered material. When Misty River chooses repertoire, they look to the great songs of Kate Wolf ("Green Eyes"), Dave Carter ""When I Go"), Paul Simon ("Kathy's Song"), Guy Clark ("Homegrown Tomatoes"), as well as some traditional favorites. Despite the genres they draw from, their technique is to look for introspective singer/songwriter material. By the second half of this set of music, the album evolves into a very strong presentation of Misty River's original material that is both entertaining and very listenable. The finest moments occur in Chris Kokesh's trademark songs, produced with evocative messages that feature her lead vocals with nicely-blended harmonies. The title cut is rendered so mournfully that the "Willow" truly begins to weep. Accompanied by only accordion, pipes, whistles and bowed bass, the result is one that oozes with expressive emotion. Misty River's 4-part a cappella rendition of "Bright Morning Stars" is also mighty powerful. The closer, "Baird's Lullaby," written by Dana Abel, is a quiet little lyrical piece full of nature's imagery and optimism. This album is certainly not a sleeper. "Willow" is deserving of much acclaim, high recommendation, and widespread circulation. The four songbirds that flow along Misty River are similarly deserving of considerable recognition and success. I sometimes wonder why some major Americana music label hasn't picked up this band that has been around for about a decade touring, recording, writing, entertaining and …. winning. (Joe Ross)
BISCUIT BURNERS -
A Mountain Apart
Indidog Records IDR5077
Swannanoa, NC 28778
EMAIL Joe Dendy firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Playing Time - 49:19
SONGS - Ridgeway Backroads, Laurel Grove, A Mountain Apart, Hera Lynn, Off to the Sea, Pinchtown Hop, Don't Leave Me Feelin' Blue, Donna Rose, Stone Grey, The Hatching Season, Harriet's Flog, Sweet Whiskey
The Biscuit Burners continue to demonstrate a fluency in the contemporary string language of their North Carolina home. Their "Fiery Mountain Music" album, 2004 IBMA showcase, and many appearances got many folks talking about this young hardworking quartet that emphasizes old-time sounds with contemporary sensuality. Their modern responsiveness allows us to welcome them with open arms. Our reception of their independent music must acknowledge the band's strong originality.
They manage to burn their biscuits with exquisite resophonic guitar, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, clawhammer banjo and acoustic bass. Mary Lucey and Shannon Whitworth sing in an intriguing style not too dissimilar to Gillian Welch's. On this album, I wish that a slightly greater emphasis would've been given to banjo. In "Off to Sea," resonator guitarist Billy Cardine demonstrates his technical mastery of the 5-string. A little known fact is that Bill Cardine taught himself the banjo because he thought this song needed some banjo. He had never really played banjo much prior to this recording session so that is no doubt why it is a little sparse. Also, Shannon Whitworth has proven that she has a wonderful interpretive knack with clawhammer banjo, but it doesn't really talk much here. When it does, such as on her own "Donna Rose" and Mary Lucey's "Stone Grey," it's fairly laid back in the mix for rhythmic fill. On the other hand, Cardine's and Bletz's fingers on the dobro and guitar emit blue flames and fiery sparks throughout the project.
The band members wrote all the songs but one (Bob Shuey's "Pinchtown Hop.") Their stories have a traditional and mountainous flair about home, heartache, rambling, drinking and characters encountered on their journeys. "Sweet Whiskey" gives new definition to darling, drink and dobro. The title cut by Lucey is a tale of two women neighbors whose men joined opposing sides in the Civil War. The instrumental numbers like Cardine's "The Hatching Season" and "Harriet's Flog" are interpretive jaunts through some powerful and adventurous dobro and guitar improvisations. Formed in early 2003, The Biscuit Burners are also burning rubber on the highways to get their name and music out there. Their strong work ethic is paying off as more and more people are becoming familiar fans of their spirited, infectious music. And the band is doing it all with no mandolin, fiddle, and minimal banjo (although, since the release of this album, the band has picked up mandolin player John Stickley.) On a 49-minute album, I was apprehensive at first about whether they'd be able to keep my attention throughout. The fact is their biscuits get cooked right to tasty perfection. These innovative traditionalists have created a new type of mountain music that is very intriguing. (Joe Ross)
THE DOC WATSON FAMILY -
One Camp Street, Cambridge, Mass. 02140
Info@rounder.com OR email@example.com
Playing Time - 46:48
With very unpretentious authenticity, "Tradition" was recorded by Ralph Rinzler and Daniel Seeger in 1964 and 1965. Besides featuring Doc himself, this remastered album (previously released as Rounder-0129) has an interesting mix of solo, duo and trio offerings with Doc's wife Rosa Lee Watson, father-in-law Gaither Carlton, cousin Dolly Greer, cousin Tina Greer, brother Arnold Watson, son Merle Watson, and others. As song carriers, the extended family kept their mountain music vibrant. In finest folkloric tradition, songs commonly shared among family and friends would be passed down through many generations.
Nine of the 24 offerings on "Tradition" are simply presented as unaccompanied vocals. Many of the other songs are only accompanied by guitar, banjo or fiddle. With the exception of "The Faithful Soldier," don't expect any vocal harmony. And don't expect all the fiddling or singing to be perfectly in tune either. That's how they keep it gleefully rustic and down-home mountainous. However, there are plenty of joyful surprises to cherish. "Reuben's Train," for example, has the twin banjos of Arnold and Doc frailing along to Gaither's sawing on the fiddle. Gaither doesn't sing much, but when he does on Pretty Saro, Little Maggie, and Jimmy Sutton, he demonstrates the heartfelt charm of a true hillbilly musician.
The Rounder label is to be commended for the reissuance of this significant and important traditional mountain music. The songs represent a special chapter in this family's musical heritage. View the 47 minutes as a timeless gift of songs, ballads, and instrumentals. Copious liner notes from A.L. Lloyd and Ralph Rinzler speak to the objectives of the record as a sampling of local tradition and as an illustration of a family's music. Doc's repertoire represents the three strands of traditional folk, rural professional, and even a commercial sense that grew from the former and other genres. Thus, we are given a sense of lineage and able to explore the roots of Doc Watson's legendary music. Sung and re-sung again, the songs have a lasting and immortal kind of effervescent quality.
Rinzler's notes say that some of the tunes at these mid-60s sessions had rarely been heard outside of the extended family circle. Youngsters and old timers alike came to listen and show appreciation during the recording in the sitting room at Doc's house. Now, with this re-release on CD, folks of all ages can again relax and delight in the Watson Family's traditional music treasure chest. (Joe Ross)
THE GIBSON BROTHERS -
Red Letter Day
Sugar Hill SUG-CD-4002
PO Box 55300, Durham, NC 27717-5300
www.gibsonbrothers.com or ww.sugarhillrecords.com
Playing Time - 49:56
SONGS: 1. Lonesome Number One, 2. Walking With Joanna, 3. One Raindrop, 4. Red Letter Day, 5. The Barn Song, 6. I Got A Woman, 7. We Won't Dance Again, 8. Sam Smith, 9. What A Ways We've Come, 10. As Long As There's You, 11. The Prisoner's Song, 12. If I Were You, 13. One More Try, 14. Twenty-One Years, 15. It's All Over Now
Bassist Mike Barber's involvement with Eric and Leigh Gibson as co-producers of this project might have led to the somewhat heavy bass in this album's mix. Because the Gibsons walk on both bluegrass and acoustic country roads, it was probably mixed this way to simulate a more country-like sound full of the low-end audio spectrum. Eric plays banjo and guitar; Leigh plays guitar. In keeping with their signature sound, vocals emphasize brother duet arrangements. Interestingly, Andrea Zonn guests as the harmony singer with Eric on his self-penned "We Won't Dance Again."
The 15 songs on "Red Letter Day" include five originals and ten others from Kieran Kane, Chris Knight, Bruce Robison, Ray Charles, Mark Howard & Kay Susan Taylor and others. Besides Zonn, other guests include Ronnie McCoury (mandolin, mandola), Jason Carter (fiddle), Marc MacGlashan (mandolin), Sam Zucchini (percussion), Russ Pahl (steel guitar, Wah guitar, dobro), Josh Williams (mandolin) and Clayton Campbell (fiddle). When songs include both mandolin and percussion, I listen carefully to ascertain if there are any conflicts. On "The Barn Song," "As Long As There's You," and "One More Try," we find that MacGlashan and Zucchini complement each other nicely, largely as a result of MacGlashan's use of tremolos and fills. The former and latter were both written by Leigh Gibson.
In their earlier days, the Gibsons believed that "less is more," and sparse arrangements weren't including fiddle or mandolin. After their first album on the Big Elm label in 1994, they signed with the Hay Holler label. Winning the 1998 IBMA Emerging Artist Award, the brothers contracted with Ceili Records. In 2003, we were treated to their first Sugar Hill Records release (Bona Fide - SUG-CD-3965) that offered 9 songs written or co-written by one or both of the Gibsons. Now, the brothers who were raised on a dairy farm in upstate New York have another great release under their belts. There's a little less of their own original material on their second Sugar Hill release, and I wish their little sis might've been invited to sing harmony again. However, their repertoire continues to characterized by very strong material, many songs that have hard-hitting stories to tell or paint vivid portraits of people. The Gibson Brothers fuller and more abdominal brand of bluegrass might be a bit heavy on the low-end, but that gives it both full body and mental capacity. "Red Letter Day" is a superlative and authoritative statement of their explosive sound. (Joe Ross)
JEREMY GARRETT & GLEN GARRETT -
Bluegrass Gospel 2005
No label, no number
firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com
Playing Time - 37:21
SONGS: Goin' Up, After A While, This World Is Rocking, If Jesus Comes Tomorrow, One More Bridge, Satisfied, Were You There, Precious Lord Take My Hand, Visions Of Mother, Whosoever Will, Gonna' Lay My Heavy Burdens Down, I Will Arise And Go To Jesus
Father and son Glen and Jeremy Garrett were prominent members of the fine touring band from Idaho called The Grasshoppers that formed in 1994. A few highly-acclaimed albums and band contest wins (Pizza Hut Showdown and Rockygrass Festival) are that band's impressive legacy. In 2002, the Garretts relocated to Nashville. Throughout their "Bluegrass Gospel 2005" album (which is only available at their website or via County Sales), Jeremy does a masterful job on the fiddle, and Glen plays a bit of guitar and bass. However, the set is first and foremost an articulate and profound study in bluegrass gospel singing. While one or both of the Garretts are prominent in all but one vocal arrangement (Brittany Bailey's solo on "Were You There"), there are many other singers also featured in the trios and quartets. Jeremy sings various parts; Glen has a stalwart bass voice that even leads the quartet on Theodore Sisk's "After a While." Alan Bartram and Audie Blaylock may sing more than some others, but the Garretts' vocal companions also include Ronnie Bowman, Chris Jones, Alicia Nugent, Cia Cherryholmes, Brittany Bailey, Garnet Imes Bowman, Stephen Mougin, Ned Luberecki and Alice Vestal. Passing around the lead vocal duties and having many different vocal stackings give this CD much diversity. There's also an impressive contingent of instrumental supporters -- Jim Hurst, Wyatt Rice, Jesse Brock, Andy Hall, Jesse Cobb, Patton Wages, Andy Falco, Chris Eldridge, Chris Pandolfi, Ned Luberecki, and Jon Weisberger.
An entertaining set of spiritual music, much of the material comes from old shape note songbooks and has never been recorded before. What makes this album a cut above the rest is the variety in arrangements. There's a good portion of full 5- or 6-piece ensemble sounds that mainly appear in the first 2/3 of the set. Then, the album also incorporates three a cappella quartet numbers, and another three quartets with only the sparse guitar accompaniment of Jeremy Garrett, Wyatt Rice or Jim Hurst who does a particularly fine job on "Gonna' Lay My Heavy Burdens Down." All six of these quartet offerings feature different lead vocalists.
A graduate of the South Plains College (Levelland, Tx.) bluegrass and country music program, Jeremy Garrett was named 1996 bluegrass male vocalist of the year there. After his stint with The Grasshoppers, Jeremy gained more pro experience (touring and/or recording) with The Chris Jones Coalition, Justin Carbone, Andy Hall, Slipstream, and Ronnie Bowman and The Committee. This background, combined with this successful gospel project, tell me that Jeremy (and his father too) have very bright futures ahead of them as Nashville-based bluegrass musicians. (Joe Ross)
APRIL VERCH -
Take Me Back
One Camp St., Cambridge, Mass. 02140
Info@rounder.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
www.rounder.com OR www.aprilverch.com
Playing Time - 52:44
"Take Me Back" gives April Verch plenty room to strut her stuff as she journeys on both traditional and contemporary roads. Written by Julie Miller, the title cut allows April's captivating vocals to speak to removing some of the weight from her shoulders. By track two (the nearly 6-minute "Grand Slaque"), we hear an entire different side of April - that of lyrical fiddler in the finest French Canadian tradition with notes that bounce like ping pong balls. A step dancer herself, her fiddling is "reel-y" enjoyable. The set makes a contemporary turn with Claire Lynch and Missy Raines' "All in a Night" that incorporates drums and electric guitar. Another instrumental, "Monarch," is a jazz composition that wafts like a butterfly in a summer breeze. Thus, these four numbers alone show what we're in for on the entire album - many adventurous jaunts. Musically moving hither and thitherward, April demonstrates great versatility and skill. Some listeners, however, may find the set's flow a bit disjointed or lacking coherence due to the broad spectrum covered.
April Verch really likes to mix it up a bit. Her displays of both virtuoso musicianship and pleasant vocalizing are best for those with eclectic musical preferences. "I Still Cry" is a remarkably powerful slow love song. What large jumps we make to the aural experience of "Eclipse" (fiddle and piano bursting with pep), to "Bride of Jesus" (slow mournful singing), to "Loggers in the Short Grass" (another very danceable instrumental). Texas fiddling styles are captured in "Tennessee Wagoner," that shares breaks with guitar, piano, and even string bass. "Cruel Moon" is another slower song with dreamy electric guitar, and the set's transition to a more lilting instrumental "Seven Years" works well. "Tom, Brad & Alice" demonstrates old-time sensibilities as the fluid fiddle and frailing banjo speak to each other. "This Ottawa Valley," is a fun closer in ¾-time that pays tribute to her home and incorporates the sounds of a party going on at the recording session.
Produced by Dirk Powell and recorded in Louisiana, "Take Me Back" shows that April Verch is a musician of many talents and interests. Performing since a kid, April is the first woman to win both the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddle Championship and Canadian Open Fiddle Championship. She was only 14 (in 1992) when she recorded her first solo album. On the Rounder label, "Verchuosity" (2001) and "From Where I Stand" (2003) featured old-time, Brazilian, and contemporary music. "Take Me Back" has even greater eclecticism as some of Verch's previous work didn't include as much singing. Verch's extensive interests and abilities make this a very impressive album. It's a commanding statement of her individuality. Akin to the well-rounded and discriminating nature of Americana music, I'd have to say that April Verch's musical expedition is into new, refreshing and similar territory - let's just call it "Canadicana" for lack of a better term. (Joe Ross)
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