Joe Ross' Home Page -- The Joe Ross Band (with appearance schedule)

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Upated: March 10, 2007

MURIEL ANDERSON - Harp Guitar Christmas
RILEY BAUGUS - Long Steel Rail
BAWN in the MASH - Welcome to the Atomic City
LEON BIBB & ERIC BIBB - Praising Peace: A Tribute to Paul Robeson
STEVE BONAFEL – Feuds & Fridays!
DALE ANN BRADLEY - Catch Tomorrow
DAVID BROMBERG - My Own House/You Should See the Rest of the Band
BRESSLER BROTHERS - 40 Years of Memories and Grass
JOHNNY BUSH – Kashmere Gardens Mud
SAM BUSH - Laps In Seven
CADILLAC SKY - Blind Man Walking
CASEY & CHRIS and the TWO STRINGERS - Get Along Girl
JOHNNY CASH – Ultimate Gospel
CEDAR HILL – Portrait of a Song: The Drasco Sessions
CEILIDH MINOGUE - self-titled
CELTIC WOMEN FROM SCOTLAND - Songs of Love & Reflection
THE CIRCUIT RIDERS - Let the Ride Begin
THE CLIFFHANGERS - On The Edge: Traditional Old-Time Fiddle Tunes
JACK COOKE - Sittin' On Top of the World
J.D. CROWE & THE NEW SOUTH - Lefty's Old Guitar
THE COUNTRY BOYS – Sing Bluegrass and Gospel
MITSUKI DAZAI – Autumn: Music for Solo Koto
DUHKS - Migrations
EMMONS SISTERS - Possibilities
EMMONS SISTERS - Turning Point
DAVE EVANS - Pretty Green Hills
FABULOUS BAGASSE BOYZ – Not Yer Daddy's Bluegrass
RAYMOND FAIRCHILD - Smoky Mountain Christmas
PETER FELDMANN & THE PEA PATCH QUINTET - Grey Cat on the Tennessee Farm
JOHN FLYNN - Two Wolves
FRITTS FAMILY - One More Mountain
FROM THE HEARTLAND - Lift Me A Little Higher
CLARENCE GREENE and TONYA LOWMAN featuring Jeff Sommerow - Don't Forget Me
CHRIS HENRY - Monroe Approved
DONNA HUGHES – Gaining Wisdom
ELANA JAMES - self-titled
RICK JAMISON – The Magic Hour
KACEY JONES - sings mickey newbury
LAST TRAIN HOME – Last Good Kiss
LAURIE LEWIS & The Right Hands - The Golden West
DEBRA LYN - I Can't Remember to Forget You
GEORGE McCLURE - Playboy Swing
THE DEL McCOURY BAND - The Promised Land
McCOY GRASS - The Best Is Yet To Come
ANAIS MITCHELL – The Brightness
MONTANA MANDOLIN SOCIETY - Dance of the Sandhill
MOUNTAIN MUSIC MACHINE - The Human Condition ...
NORTH CREGG - The Roseland Barndance
ELLIS PAUL - Essentials
JOHN PRINE & MAC WISEMAN – Standard Songs for Average People
MARTY RAYBON – The Grass I Grew Up On
DON RIGSBY & Midnight Call - Hillbilly Heartache
ROADSIDE CAFÉ - Grand Opening
IVAN ROSENBERG - Clawhammer and Dobro
DARRELL SCOTT - The Invisible Man
VALERIE SMITH & LIBERTY PIKE - Wash Away Your Troubles
SPECIAL CONSENSUS – The Trail of Aching Hearts
STAY TUNED - Self-titled
STEVE STERN – Steam Powered Stern
JIMMY STURR - The Greatest Hits of Polka!
TRENT SUMMAR & The New Row Mob - Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
TANGLEWEED - Where You Been So Long?
ANDY THORN - Bolin Creek
TIME FOR THREE - We Just Burned This For You
TOWN MOUNTAIN - Original Bluegrass and Roots Country
DRUHA TRAVA - Good Morning, Friend
TWO TONS OF STEEL – Live From Gruene Hall
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Celebration of Life: Musicians Against Childhood Cancer
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Feel Like My Time Ain't Long: An A Cappella Gospel Collection
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Harlan County USA: Songs of the Coal Miner's Struggle
VARIOUS ARTISTS - MORE ULTIMATE PICKIN' The Best of Instrumental Bluegrass
VARIOUS ARTISTS - North To Ontario
VARIOUS ARTISTES – No. 1 Scottish: Traditional Music from the RSAMD
VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Arkansas Traveler: Music from Little House on the Prairie
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Viva! Terlingua! Nuevo! Songs of Luckenbach Texas
THE WILDERS - Throw Down
WINDY CREEK - Take Me Back to the Mountains
BILL YATES & FRIENDS – The Country Gentlemen "Tribute"

OSBORNE BROTHERS – In Concert at Renfro Valley (DVD)

The Magic Hour

Circus Dog Records, No Number
920 Litchfield Ave., Sebastopol, CA 95472
Playing Time – 60:00
       Rick Jamison, a California - based bluegrass musician, isn't compelled to constrain his contemporary offerings to the more traditional stylings of the genre. Rather, he incorporates melodies, tempos and chordal progressions that work well with his folksy and amiable voice. It's kind of nice to hear the II, VII and various minor chords along with the I, IV, and V that more typically characterize bluegrass. The senior writer and editor with a Silicon Valley software company also knows how to work the lyrics in a song to convey emotional messages and feelings. Jamison has taken to releasing an album per year for the last three years, and the reason that he's been so prolific in recent times may be best captured in his sentiments of "Time Marches On." He's obviously seizing the moment to plug his material, and I can relate to Rick's expressive verse that "Once this day is done it's gone forever, to join a thousand years of yesterdays, memories are the keepsakes and the treasures." In much the same way, the hour's worth of originals on "The Magic Hour" is a musical token and gift to us.
       While some songs have more appeal than others, a true bluegrass fan can't bemoan his title cut that exclaims "The music makes us smile and clap our hands, In the company of other bluegrass fans, The music carries all of us away, In the magic hour that ends a perfect day." In a more serious and emotive vein, Jamison's love songs ("The Best In Me" and "Time For Goodbye") may actually convey the best of the songcrafting within the artist who also happens to be a painter. The latter song , sung by Erik Thomas as a duet with Megan Lynch, asks the inevitable questions "Is it time to start all over? Is it time to say goodbye?" The musical tone painter also has a witty side as his "Bugged & Bothered" speaks to various insect infestations (ants in my pantry, bedbugs in the bed, a moth that ate my sweater, and gnats around my head) that lead to infatuation for another. A more traditional bluegrass band might want to consider covering songs like "A Bank Too Far" and "Not Tonight" that keeps the lyrics straight - forward, honest and conversational.
       Rick Jamison plays guitar and sings most lead vocals. He's assembled a crackerjack lineup of collaborators with California connections who include Dave Richardson (banjo), Erik Thomas (mandolin), Megan Lynch (fiddle), Rob Ickes (Dobro), and Cindy Browne (bass). All but Ickes and Brown provide vocals. The stellar musicians best display their chops in the instrumental "Crunch Time." Dave Richardson spent five years playing with the Don Ho Show in Hawaii in the late - 1970s before moving to Monrovia, Ca. and getting established with the California bluegrass scene with the band, Bluegrass West. Erik Thomas, a founding member of the group Due West, has played with an eclectic bunch including Mickey Gilley, Elvin Bishop, David Grisman, Rob Ickes and Tony Trischka. Also a member of Due West, eclectic acoustic bassist Cindy Browne is well - grounded in jazz, classical and ethnic folk music, but she holds a Masters Degree in Music and easily adapted to bluegrass. She currently teaches music at Las Positas College in Livermore, Ca. Raised in Redding, Ca., Megan Lynch has won many national and state fiddle contests. Now based in Nashville, her personalized fiddling can be heard with 3 Fox Drive, Blue Moon Rising, Chris Jones, Chris Stuart, Copper Canyon and others. From Millbrae, Ca., Rob Ickes now lives in Nashville also. The multi - year IBMA Dobro Player of the Year has toured with Tony Furtado, Todd Phillips, Weary Hearts, Lynn Morris Band, Alison Krauss, Blue Highway, Three Ring Circle and others.
       Because one objective of "The Magic Hour" is to help plug Jamison's songs, it's helpful that the lyrics and chords for all but the closer "Cedars and the Pines" are on - line at While Rick has two other albums out (with his band Copper Canyon), this solo debut is my first introduction to his singing, playing and songcrafting. Now I feel a little more familiar and acquainted with the man. If you like your bluegrass with some folk flavorings, you'll also enjoy the musical encounter as Rick tells tales, expresses emotions, and perhaps most importantly paints pictures with his lyrics and melodies. His songs are every bit as vivid and impressionistic as Jamison's oil on canvas (Where the Mountains Meet the Sky) that graces the inside of the CD jacket. (Joe Ross)

The Trail of Aching Hearts

Pinecastle PRC-1156
PO Box 753, Columbus, NC 28722
Playing Time 35:58
       By the time a band has made 13 albums over a span of 32 years in existence, they have a pretty darn good feel for what their sound and recipe for success are. They know what works and doesn't. Special Consensus' first ingredient is driving banjo - centric material that allows them to demonstrate their flexibility, creativity and eclecticism with three lead vocalists and solid instrumental prowess. From Chicago, 5 - string picker Greg Cahill formed the band back in 1975. Highly respected by his bluegrass peers, Cahill has another hat to wear since 2006 as IBMA's President and Board Chairman. Ron Spears joined up in 2004. In more recent times, experts like guitarist Justin Carbone (originally from New Jersey) continue to reinvigorate the Special Consensus sound. Justin's involvement in their "Everything's Alright" album project helped propel that effort to a Top Ten placing in Bluegrass Now's best of 2004 list. This album also features a couple songs from the repertoire of his previous group called The 2nd Edition.
       Special Consensus' recent successful albums have songs from mandolinist Ron Spears ("I'd Like To Wander back To The Old Home" and "Lift Your Voice in Prayer"), as well as a Celtic - flavored piece ("Josie's Reel"), original instrumental ("Burns Breakdown"), something from the traditional bluegrass canon (Roy Acuff's "Branded Wherever" that was recorded by Flatt & Scruggs), and compositions from contemporary tunesmiths ("Ten Mile Tennessee" and "Rich Man's Coal" and "The Road To You").
       Special Consensus also looks for repertoire from other genres that can be ‘grassed up. Take "Down The Trail of Aching Hearts," for example, from Hank Snow's classic country volume. A song that was sung by Marty Robbins, "The Shoe Goes On the Other Foot Tonight," serves as their new regular bass player David Thomas' recording debut as a lead vocalist. A band member since 2006, Thomas hails from Alabama. Or another unique highlight is what has become a signature tune for Special Consensus - - Irving Berlin's classic jazz standard, "Blue Skies." Last but certainly not least, the band's award - winning formula incorporates some key guests to embellish their sound in places. These hired hands include stellar Arkansas fiddler Tim Crouch, talented Dobro - players Rob Ickes and Phil Leadbetter (one cut apiece), and skilled bassists Tres Nugent and Tim Dishman. It's Dishman who get the nod to take a grooving bass break in "Blue Skies." Nugent had been a regular band member but moved back to his Louisiana home to spend more time with family.
       The band has a well - established track record of getting songs into the bluegrass and gospel charts, and their albums are among the genre's top recordings. I expect this release to garner just as much notoriety and fame. In a nutshell, it is their aptitude and diversity that make them very appealing to a broad population base. Cahill's Irish ancestry and their regular tours to the U.K and Ireland have also won them a legion of fans across the pond. (Joe Ross)

The Country Gentlemen "Tribute"

Mastershield, 021
6683 Vista Heights Road, Bridgewater, VA 22812
Playing Time – 35:02
       SONGS - Redwood Hill, The Secret of the Waterfall, Remembrance of You, East Virginia Blues, Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp, I'll Break Out Again Tonight, Little Bessie, The Young Fisherwoman, Walking Down The Line, Heaven, Two Little Boys, Blue Ridge Mountains Turning Green.

Sing Bluegrass and Gospel

Hay Holler HH - CD-1374
P.O. Box 868 · Blacksburg, VA 24063
Telephone (540) 552-7959
Playing Time – 44:33
       SONGS - Redwood Hill, A Place Prepared For Me, I Shall Be At Home With Jesus, Memory Of You, Little Bessie, I Will Trade The Old Cross For A Crown, Bringing Mary Home, One Kiss Away From Loneliness, Lord Don't Leave Me Here, I'll Talk It All Over With Him , Come And Sit By The River, April's Green, Some Day, When I've Traveled My Last Mile, Walking Down The Line
       It's interesting that two recent bluegrass releases, Bill Yates' "Country Gentlemen Tribute" (on the Mastershield label) and The Country Boys' "Sing Bluegrass and Gospel" (on the Hay Holler label), both cover the same three songs on their respective albums. The songs in common are Redwood Hill, Little Bessie, and Walking Down The Line. Both albums actually chose "Redwood Hill" (written by Gordon Lightfoot) as their set opener. This reinforces the great impact that the seminal material of The Country Gentlemen has had on many subsequent bluegrass units. Perhaps it's because the songs are nostalgically soothing and fit the bluegrass repertoire like a pair of old shoes. Bill Yates was directly involved with the late Charlie Waller for 18 plus years, and his entire album is a tribute to capture and recreate the former band's sound. The Country Boys, on the other hand, are a North Carolina traditional group with over three decades of experience that simply loves the Country Gentlemen's repertoire (they also cover "Bringing Mary Home" and "Come and Sit by the River") while also incorporating a healthy share of bluegrass gospel. As a result, the common ground in both projects is the expression of honor, praise and respect in more ways than one.
       Bill Yates spent many years playing bass for The Country Gentlemen, but on this tribute album he only sings (lead and harmony). The bass playing is left to Dave MacGlashan. To recreate the historic sound, the SPBGMA Preservation Hall of Greats member assembled some other excellent musicians too Mike Phipps (lead and harmony vocals), Darren Beachley (guitar, lead and harmony vocals), Dave Propst (mandolin, lead and harmony vocals), Kevin Mallow (fiddle), Scott Walker (banjo), and Mark Clifton (resophonic guitar). These guys are well - known on the eastern seaboard as members of such fine groups as Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, The Shenandoah Blue Band, and Jay Armsworthy & Eastern Tradition. With four lead and harmony vocalists on the album, it certainly would have been nice if liner notes had indicated who is singing what. However, it is apparently Mike Phipps who provides the stellar vocalizing reminiscent of Charlie Waller's. Mastershield Records confirmed that it is Mike Phipps singing most of the lead on the project. Yates and Friends succeed in depicting both sound and psyche of the pioneering Country Gentlemen. While some may argue that it's the original releases that were most pivotal to the genre, it's also beneficial to revisit that same material with a new updated cast of musicians using contemporary recording technology to recreate a sound from decades before. Another volume is hopefully in the works for future release.
       The Country Boys may be best known as a regional band in their neck of the woods, but they display a solid foundation that capitalizes on their collective strengths. Their tempos are a tad more relaxed than Bill Yates', and their presentation is more methodical. Also in comparison, The Country Boys have more flavoring of old - time mountain rusticity, primarily a function of their vocals and J. A Midkiff's fiddling. The "Sing Bluegrass and Gospel" album also features a number of lead singers – guitarist Johnny Joyce in that primary role for six numbers including most of the Country Gentlemen covers. Bassist Don Clifton also sings lead on six songs, mostly gospel. For some pleasant variety, it's a welcome treat to hear mandolinist Kevin Easter on "I Will Trade the Old Cross for a Crown," and banjo - player Tim Bowman sings lead with a copious amount of enthusiasm and energy on both fast and slow songs, "I'll Talk It All Over With Him" and "April's Green." The Country Boys clearly have a lot of entertainment value, and they seem very content to thrill audiences with music and ministry at fiddlers conventions, festivals, churches, private parties and front porches. While not planned as a commercial venture, The Country Boys' album is one that will bring much pleasure and joy as we simply appreciate their genuine, sincere and comforting approach to bluegrass and gospel. While neither The Country Boys nor Bill Yates seem to be striving for great commercial success with their albums, it's certainly heart - warming and reassuring to know that there are bluegrass groups like them. (Joe Ross)


Hay Holler HH - CD-1375
P.O. Box 868 · Blacksburg, VA 24063
Telephone (540) 552-7959
Playing Time – 42:53
       The Virginia Ramblers have been "Movin' On" with their bluegrass for many decades, especially since three of them (guitarist/singer Charles Frazier, bassist Donnie Shifflett, mandolinist Jeff Vogelgesang) performed as part of Alvin Breeden and The Virginia Cutups. Frazier spent 27 years in that band; Shifflett 14; Vogelgesang 13. When banjo - player Breeden retired, the trio became the Virginia Ramblers, and Zack Deming was added shortly thereafter into the mix. A Michigan native, Deming had moved to California where he played banjo and built Santa Cruz guitars. About 2003, he relocated to Virginia build Stelling banjos and was soon picking his own traditional Scruggs - based five - string style with King Wilkie. Rounding out the set on this self - titled project, guest Jim Skelding brings some very solid bow work on his fiddle although he isn't heard on every cut.
       A robust set from the Virginia Ramblers includes strong original material (Wind in the Pines, Pleasant Hill, Sabryn Renee, Daddy's Grave), traditional classics (Hey Hey Hey, Let's Part the Best of Friends) and driving instrumentals (Movin' On, Spanish Two - Step). Charles, Jeff and Donnie have an auspicious trio that yields bountiful rewards. Carefully cultivated into various vocal arrangements, their most evocative moments occur in songs like "O Lord" and "First Fall of Snow" where Charles' high lead is matched with the low tenor and baritone of the other two. It's also a joy when Charles sings a loving tribute to his grand - daughter "Sabryn Renee" or a solo vocal patriotic rendition of "God, Please Protect America." Their original murder ballad, "Wind in the Pines," that closes the album seems to lose some feeling of the storyline by simply being presented at too fast a tempo. In other words, some deeper emotion could have been drawn out of the poignant tale by slowing down the arrangement.
       The Virginia Ramblers' radiant yet rustic approach to traditional bluegrass makes their music very accessible. Their repertoire is clearly an affable mix of crowd - pleasing songs that have found them festival bookings from Virginia to California. With roots that run deep, their compelling music provides assurance that traditionally stylized bluegrass with its conventional sideboards can also tap an inspiring amount of creativity and bracing perspectives too. (Joe Ross)

On Fire

Hay Holler HH - CD-1378
P.O. Box 868 · Blacksburg, VA 24063
Telephone (540) 552-7959
Playing Time – 37:37
       SONGS - Cold Rain, Down In Caroline, Hicker Nut Ridge, Memories, I Am Ready, On Fire, Mother's Prayers Were Not In Vain, Bringing In The Georgia Mail, The Rose Will Bloom Again, When I Receive My Crown, Let Her Go, God Bless Her, Old Old House, Tallahassee, Plant Some Flowers By My Grave
       Two years have past since Big Country Bluegrass released "Waiting at the Homeplace" (Hay Holler HH - CD - 1368), and I must admit to being very pleased with their 2006 release (their ninth overall I believe) entitled "On Fire" that features a number of new personnel in their lineup. Originally formed in the late - 1980s, the band is still anchored by Tommy Sells (mandolin), Teresa Sells (guitar, vocals), Billy Hawks (fiddle, vocals), and Alan Mastin (bass). The six - piece Big Country Bluegrass now also includes Jeff Michael (guitar, fiddle, vocals) and Ramona Michael (banjo, vocals). Back in the 1990s, Jeff had played fiddle for nearly five years with the band. Jeff and Ramona impart lively spirit and vigor to the music that has always been formidable. Creating a traditional Virginia and North Carolina mountain sound that is honest and direct, Big Country Bluegrass stresses good rhythm, tone and timing. While their instrumental work is tasty, it is really their heartfelt vocals that stand out to put them a notch above the rest. When Jeff's strong lead vocals are paired with Ramona's and Teresa's harmonies we are given a sparkling trio that is brilliantly expressive. I like the sound of a stellar male lead vocalist with two female harmonies above. Thus, songs like Cold Rain, Down in Caroline, Memories, Bringing in the Georgia Mail, and Let Her Go God Bless Her are the defining moments on this project. We're also treated to the band's quartet when Billy Hawks' bass is heard on Jeff's two original gospel numbers, "I Am Ready" and "When I Receive My Crown." There are other fine arrangements too. Jeff's solo renditions of "Old Old House" and "Mother's Prayers Were Not in Vain" are very alluring, as is Jeff and Ramona's duet in "Plant Some Flowers By My Grave." The band's two instrumentals in the set (On Fire, Tallahassee) shake things up even more with their veritable bluegrass sound.
       While the band primarily plays in the southeastern U.S., Big Country Bluegrass is deserving of a much wider hearing. Besides powerful original material, they tap into the songs of Charlie Monroe, Aubrey Holt, Louvin Brothers, Bill Monroe, George Jones, William York, Ron Sweet and others. The song, "Mother's Prayers Were Not in Vain," is pure music from the true vine and homeplace. The song's composer, Estil Ball, lived only about 30 miles from Galax, and the wonderful fingerpicking guitarist and his wife Orna were recorded by Alan Lomax as early as 1941. Estil passed away in 1978, but bands like Big Country Bluegrass know about their music's roots. As I've said before, Big Country Bluegrass is as big as life itself. Their music is straight - up - and - down, and that's a very good thing for our considerable listening pleasure. (Joe Ross)

Alone With Forever

Steeltown Records 0127
PO BOX 9627, Knoxville, TN. 37920
TEL. 865-771-2173
Playing Time – 35:28
       During their nine years in existence, Pine Mountain Railroad has released seven albums. And what's very gratifying is that each one has its own distinctive allure, charisma and personality. While the band has had personnel changes over the years, they consistently produce professional contemporary bluegrass that has won them considerable recognition from the International Bluegrass Music Association, California Bluegrass Association, and others who know what elements are needed to produce quality music. The latest new direction for the band is to become a six - piece unit with Cody Shuler (mandolin), Bill McBee (bass), Matt Flake (fiddle), Mark Cable (guitar), Eli Johnston (guitar), and Elmer Burchett (banjo). All band members contribute vocals, and they also continue to emphasize sturdy original material. Besides the one - minute theme from their sponsor (Odom's Tennesse Pride), their only covers on this project are Wilma Jo Tomblin's "Two Shoes," James Shuler's "Heaven's Greeting," and one of my favorites (that always reminds me of Jim & Jesse) – Hod Pharis' "I Heard the Bluebirds Sing" sung here with spirit as a trio and shared breaks built around the chorus.
       The original songs on "Alone With Forever," presented in a warm, conversational manner, recall sweetly wistful remembrances and nostalgically - tinged memories. Their musical moods are varied, largely as a result of having four gifted lead vocalists. The mournfully sweet vocalizing in "Awful Lonesome Train" is a personal preference. Pine Mountain Railroad tastefully renders moderately tempo'ed pieces that are unpretentious. They earn accolades for their arrangements that enhance rather than overpower. It's radio - friendly material for bluegrass programs with an acoustic country bent. It would be striking to hear these consummate pickers and singers occasionally turn up the throttle to inject their music with even more energy and really shake things up. Perhaps some of that could have been remedied by including a hard - driving instrumental in the set. (Joe Ross)

Gaining Wisdom

Rounder 11661-0554-2
Playing Time – 43:36
       SONGS – 1. One More Time, 2. What I'm Looking For, 3. Father Time, 4. Time After Time, 5. Scattered To The Wind, 6. Not Anymore, 7. Sad Old Train, 8. Find Me Out On A Mountain Top, 9. Bottom Of A Glass, 10. Letters, 11. Too Many, 12. Hold On, 13. Where Are You Darlin'?, 14. Talking To The Wind
       Heralded as one of the best new singer - songwriters in bluegrass, Donna Hughes' debut on the reputable Rounder Records label is a significant career milestone for the creative and talented young woman from central North Carolina. When I first heard her independently released albums years ago, I knew she was inspired, motivated, and headed for great success. She just needed the right amount of luck. Enter guitarist Tony Rice who also heard "something that was down to earth, with a definitive southern flavor to it….that implied a broader, more adventurous approach." This album, produced by Rice, includes four new arrangements of original songs that Hughes previously released on her own "Same Old Me" project. Eight additional originals are on this "Gaining Wisdom" album, along with two covers ("Time After Time" and "Find Me Out On A Mountain Top").
       As I've said before, Donna's songs have potential to become contemporary bluegrass, acoustic country or folk hits. Classically trained on piano, Hughes also has a strong affinity for bluegrass music. She has performed with regional bands, Wildwood and Different Directions. Her adorned and relaxed presentation is incorporated with the modern instrumental consciousness of such stellar acoustic technicians as Tony Rice, Tim Stafford, Rob Ickes, Mike Bub, Sam Bush, Ron Stewart, Wyatt Rice, Bryn Davies, Rickie Simpkins, Wayne Benson, Scott Vestal, Kati Penn, and Obil Perez. To accompany her dreamy singing, we hear harmonies from Carl Jackson, Alecia Nugent, Sonya Isaacs, Mary Chapin Carpenter, John Carroll, Kati Penn, Rhonda Vincent, and Lona Heins. This is a very impressive cast that infuses her music with a great deal of enchantment. Hughes writes and sings moving and sensitive personal songs with a relaxed, refreshing, contemporary flair. Introspective themes of lost love, sorrow, longing, heartache, and optimism are covered.
       In her song, "Letters," Donna admits to having a lot to say in correspondence with her grandmother, and it becomes apparent that dreams and aspirations are in the Hughes' family. "Where Are You Darlin'?" is a tale of anguish in which she sings, "Along with all my dreams/I can't go on, I can't go back." And the song "Too Many" expresses "I just can't love you anymore." Four of the tracks provide nice showcases for her piano playing, with the lean arrangement of "Talking to the Wind" being a particularly unique and lyrical way to end this euphonious album with a nod to her own Native American ancestry. (Joe Ross)


Legacy 88697-06686-2
Playing Time – 48:56
       Sparks are bound to fly when two Grammy Award winners get together for a musical collaboration. Pianist Hornsby and multi - instrumentalist Skaggs build an interpretive bridge into adventurous Americana territory. First, there are the diverse roots and influences that each brings to the table. Second, there is the strong original material that each contributes. Finally, there is the instrumental cohesiveness of Skaggs' regular Kentucky Thunder band members. Sung by Skaggs or Hornsby, the songs don't necessarily strive for arrangements that emphasize vocal harmony. Rather, they tend to impart rhythmic intensity and the unique instrumental flair of various genres. This is largely the result of the musical union of piano (and even some minimal organ) with the likes of banjo, mandolin, accordion, fiddle, guitar, bass, jaw harp, resonator guitar, drums and more. It's a fascinating mixture that conveys energy, velocity and excitement. If one questions the appropriateness of piano breaks in hoedown music, then you need to hear "Sheep Shell Corn" to prove that it can be successfully done. Hornsby has a best - selling 4 - CD product out called "Intersections," and Hornsby and Skaggs have taped a "Crossroads" show for Country Music Television (CMT). So, in a sense this album reinforces their enthusiastic intent to provide strong cutting edge music that fuses pop and bluegrass in a place where different genres meet amiably.
       Hornsby's reinvented hit "Mandolin Rain" makes reference to the bluegrass band that "takes the chill from the air ‘til they play the last song," but the song is light years from your daddy Bill Monroe's bluegrass. Ricky Skaggs' instrumental "Stubb" offers spicy Cajun flavoring. The CD jacket includes lyrics for all of the songs. With "The Dreaded Spoon," who would've thought an entire song could be written from a kid's perspective about having to share his ice cream and cookies with the old man? The references to the "flash of a knife" and "jumpsuit of pain" in Hornsby's melodic "Crown of Jewels" indicates that he's telling a story of murder, deceit and downfall. The storyteller's "A Night on the Town" is a ballad that sets the stage for a showdown between some country and city boys that also leaves a scar. Skaggs' major contributions come in the way of arrangements for "Across the Rocky Mountain" and "Hills of Mexico." While both are seminal, this album is an interesting dichotomy to the old - time brother duet country music that Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice put out in 1980. Various forks in the road over the course of three decades can lead musicians in many directions.
       Sonic alchemy such as this calls for cross - fertilization and transmutation between genres. Under the right circumstances, alchemy can also yield gold. Besides a few traditional offerings, the set also includes some interesting material from Gordon Kennedy/Phil Madeira and James Johnson/Alonzo Miller. From the former, "Come on Out" is a call to take control of your own fate by reaching for the sky, and the arrangement features Kennedy's resonator guitars. From the latter pair of songwriters, "Super Freak" (originally sung by Rick James) is certainly a wild and kinky way to close the album with a tale about a special kind of band groupie who likes incense, wine and candles. John Anderson's ad-lib vocals lay right in alongside Hornsby and Skagg's. Overall, the collaboration of Skaggs and Hornsby is a memorable one that is full of musical individualism, provocation and moxie. (Joe Ross)

MORE ULTIMATE PICKIN' The Best of Instrumental Bluegrass

Pinecastle PRC-1160
PO Box 753, Columbus, NC 28722
Playing Time 64:27
       SONGS - Pretty Little Indian, Little Darlin' Pal of Mine, Whiskey Before Breakfast, Last Night's Fun, Big Sandy River, Boys of Blue Hill, Daley's Reel, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Woodchopper's Reel, Temperance Reel, Closer Walk With Thee, Cattle in the Cane, Katy Hill, John Henry, Stoney Point, The Waltz You Saved for Me, Goodbye Liza Jane, Fire on the Mountain, Little Beggar Man (Red Haired Boy), Amazing Grace
       For a solid hour's worth of instrumental bluegrass, Pinecastle Records' second volume in their "Ultimate Pickin" series is sure to please. Their first 20 - track compilation from previously released albums was put out in 2005. Now, "More Ultimate Pickin'" samples additional cuts from instrumental projects that hit the streets between 1995 - 2001, along with vocal - less cuts from three other releases associated with the label (from Kristin Scott Benson, Phil Leadbetter, and Bobby Osborne/Jesse McReynolds). There's a nice variety of slow and fast pieces, all with the standard bluegrass instrumentation of fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, resophonic guitar, and bass. Don't worry about there being anything out of the ordinary…just relax and enjoy the crisp tone, quick - paced romps, Celtic flavorings, and spiritually - tinged offerings. In total, twenty - six different musicians contribute their proficient licks, but those who appear most prominently are Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Scott Vestal (banjo), Jeff Autry (guitar), Wayne Benson (mandolin), Barry Bales (bass), Clay Jones (guitar), Rob Ickes (resophonic guitar), Rickie Simpkins (fiddle), and Adam Steffey (mandolin).
       Between 1995 - 2001, there were seven annual albums released of instrumental bluegrass. Interestingly, six of the 20 cuts on "More Ultimate Pickin'" were drawn from the original "Bluegrass ‘95" release that was originally recorded and intended to be a solo project for guitarist Clay Jones. When Jones went to work in a non - music field, the project was almost shelved until banjo - player Scott Vestal convinced the label executives to go ahead and put it out for the original collaborators to sell at their shows. That CD, and the other six in the entire series, are gifts of gorgeous instrumental moods. "Ultimate Pickin" and now "More Ultimate Pickin'" are both recommended as the albums of choice to sample 40 total tracks from Pinecastle's instrumental archival library. (Joe Ross)

Playing Time – 25:16
       Formed in 2003, Boulder Acoustic Society's sound has been evolving for four years, but they continue to focus on one goal – keep their audiences smiling with music that touches and energizes them. The band's seed was first planted when Kailin Young (fiddle) and Brad Jones (guitar) got together to jam on street corners in Boulder, Co. Within a few months, Aaron Keim (bass, ukelele, steel guitar) was in the band. By early 2004, Scott McCormick (accordion) was invited to develop the band into a "neo - acoustic" quartet with plenty of roots music sensibilities. Boulder Acoustic Society (or just "BAS" as they're affectionately known) have released two albums prior to "Now." They tour far and wide and even took second place at the 2006 Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Contest.
       At only 25 minutes, "Now" is a tad short, but it's still a nice showcase of their musical diversity. A classic jazz standard like "Lullaby of Birdland" sits comfortably into a repertoire that also includes the likes of Latin (Tico Tico), original (Daddy's Got A Jake Leg, Hatchback Blues), and traditional (Gospel Plow, My Bucket's Got A Hole In It). Originally written by Maori composer Maewa Kaihau about 1920, "Now is the Hour" became more than just a New Zealand folk song when Bing Crosby recorded it in 1947. "Tico Tico" is arranged for two ukeleles and fiddle. "Does it Really Matter" is a pleasant instrumental offering that also includes Greg Schochet's mandolin. The four primary band members share lead vocalist duties, but it is Aaron Keim who does the majority of lead singing. If there's one disappointment, it's the scarcity of harmony vocals until the closer, "My Bucket's Got A Hole in It," that has a party - like atmosphere with the quartet embellished by Greg Schochet (banjo mandolin), Ryan Drickey (fiddle), Scott Higgins (washboard), Brett Billings (harmonica), and Ellen Yong and Rhonda Smith (vocals).
       I enjoyed hearing the versatile ukelele used prominently in string band music of this rootsy type. The positive instrumental mix imparts a sense of luster and charm. Whether playing jazz, swing, blues, ragtime, jug band or original music, the Boulder Acoustic Society simply illustrates a healthy respect and fondness for it all. Boundaries imposed by the various genres don't constrain them. String chameleons have broad - based musical interests, and I sense that their prime directive is to present an eclectic set that entertains. BAS' diversity is the glue that binds their identity together. I wouldn't say they're particularly twisted, but they do like new interpretive twists. As a result, their young fans in the audience are tuning in and making connections with the impressionable music that is largely from another bygone era. (Joe Ross)


Hay Holler HH - CD-1375
P.O. Box 868 · Blacksburg, VA 24063
Telephone (540) 552-7959
       SONGS - Train 45, Six Hours On The Cross, Country Boy's Going To Move On, Wait A Minute, Duelling Banjos, Country Poor And Country Proud, Rawhide, I Know You Rider, Tennessee, Doin' My Time, I've Got My Future On Ice, He Will Set Your Fields On Fire, Lost To A Stranger, Grandfather's Timepiece, I'm Working On A Building, I'm Gonna Go Home, Momma's Gonna Pray , Hickory Wind , Ruby, Heaven
       The first things we notice about The Bluegrass Brothers are the energy, passion and seriousness with which they play bluegrass. This DVD was recorded on their first visit to the 2005 South Carolina State Bluegrass Festival in Myrtle Beach. The event was promoted by Norman Adams, and the audio for this DVD was taken directly off the sound board engineered by Gene Daniels. The Virginia - based family band includes brothers Robert (banjo) and Victor Dowdy (bass), Victor's sons Steve (guitar) and Donald (guitar), and Brandon Farley (mandolin). The band formed in 1992, Steve joined in 1998, and Donald and Brandon are recent additions since 2005. At the time, Donald was only 18, and Brandon was 19. Apparently, Brandon also fiddles, but that isn't included as he'd broken a string on his instrument that weekend. While Victor handles most lead vocals, all members but Farley contribute to the singing. Occasionally, on some choruses, Victor jumps up to tenor harmony while Steve sings lead. Alternating between fast and slow songs, the band organizes their entertaining sets to emphasize their varied repertoire. The band works around three mics, and their breaks primarily feature proficient banjo and mandolin, but solid guitar and bass breaks also occur periodically.
       Some of this well - rehearsed band's primary influences include Jimmy Martin, Seldom Scene, Country Gentlemen, Osborne Brothers, Randall Hylton, and others. While they seemed a little stiff and nervous at the beginning of the DVD, they start to relax and smile a bit by the time "Dueling Banjos" rolls around. Later in the program, on "Grandfather's Timepiece," the antics of Victor and Steve trading bass and guitar to take bass breaks is a novelty. Written by Randall Hylton, "Country Poor and Country Proud" is a crowd - pleaser, as are some of their uptempo and gospel offerings too. The band specially worked up Gram Parsons' "Hickory Wind" as a tribute to the tall pines, oak trees, and friendly festival crowd they encountered in South Carolina. "I'm Gonna Go Home," written by Victor, is presented a cappella to showcase The Bluegrass Brothers' gospel quartet. Donald steps up to the mic to sing "Lost to a Stranger." After the closing numbers (Rawhide, Ruby) in both sets, they received encores and played "I Know You, Rider" and "Heaven," respectively. Victor's emcee work is minimal but comes across as warm, personable and conversational. The camera work of Brance Gillihan and David Wells is good with both close - ups and distance shots of the band that dresses in ties, blue jeans and Stetson hats. The DVD's menu includes the concert, song - by - song selection, and a short 4 - minute visit with the band (accompanied by "Wait A Minute") at their record table following the show….the place where they're most carefree, comfortable and smiling after they've won over the South Carolina crowd with their engaging and entertaining bluegrass. (Joe Ross)

In Concert at Renfro Valley (DVD)

Pinecastle PRC-0107 DVD
PO Box 753, Columbus, NC 28722
       SONGS - 1 The Fastest Grass Alive, 2 Doin' My Time, 3 Me and My Old Banjo, 4 Medley: My Favorite Memory / You Win Again / Today I Started Lovin' You Again, 5 Foggy Mountain Rock, 6 Kentucky, 7 Rocky Top, 8 One Tear, 9 Bluegrass Melodies
       The Renfro Valley Barn Dance has a long, exciting history of nearly 70 years. After radio broadcasts from Ohio in 1937 - 38 over station WLW, the show took up permanent residence in late - 1939 in the big barn in Renfro Valley, Kentucky. It was ten years later (1949) that Kentuckian Bobby Osborne began his long - tenured career in music with The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. Sonny Osborne joined the group a year later (1950) at age thirteen. When The Osborne Brothers were recorded at the Renfro Valley Barn Dance on August 6, 1992, they had already been members of the Grand Ole Opry for nearly three decades and "Rocky Top" had been the designated state song of Tennessee for almost ten years.
       While this concert was previously released on video in 1997, it is now available from Pinecastle Records on DVD. Besides Sonny (banjo, gitcho, vocals) and Bobby (mandolin, vocals), the rest of the band was the late Gene Wooten (Dobro), Terry Eldredge (guitar, vocals), David Crow (fiddle), and Terry Smith (bass). From North Carolina, Wooten would have just joined the Osborne Bros. in 1992, and they were clearly enjoying his presence with them on stage. Wooten went on to win SPBGMA's Dobro Player of the Year in 1994. An 18 - year - old David Crow, a Florida State Fiddle and Mandolin Champion, would have also just joined up with the Osbornes in 1992. He had moved to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt University a year before this concert was recorded. From Indiana, Terry Eldredge had previously played with Lonzo & Oscar, and he was appearing on the Grand Ole Opry before he was even old enough to vote. Terry's tenure with The Osborne Brothers spanned the period from 1988 - 2000. He'd began with them as their bass player but switched to guitar when Terry Smith joined up.
       The professional camera work was done by WKYT out of Lexington, Ky. After opening with a couple up - tempo numbers (Paul Craft's "Fastest Grass Alive" and Jimmy Skinner "Doin' My Time"), the band settles into their musical groove characterized by sincerity, realism and showmanship. Sonny's own "Me and My Old Banjo" is a crowd - pleaser, and Buck Graves' "Foggy Mountain Rock" allows for plenty of hot licks from all the band members, including a bass break by Smith. At the midpoint, the country medley of "My Favorite Memory," "You Win Again," and "Today I Started Lovin' You Again" seemed to drag a tad, but I'm sure that they felt those numbers were right at the time as they worked the mostly older audience. Of course, "Kentucky" and "Rocky Top" were played with the former eliciting many of the crowd to stand up in pleasure and appreciation. Terry Eldredge (now with The Grascals) sang lead on Judy Osborne's "One Tear," and the band's closing number is Darrell Sadler's "Bluegrass Melodies."
       As musical ambassadors from Kentucky, The Osbornes were right on that evening and playing to a hometown crowd. While a little short, this concert is a rare treat from the annals of bluegrass and country music history. It provides clear video documentation as to why The Osborne Brothers were 1994 inductees into IBMA's Hall of Honor, only about two years after this show was recorded. (Joe Ross)

Live in Germany

Pinecastle CD/DVD
PO Box 753, Columbus, NC 28722
       CD 1: Fire on the Mountain, Walkin' the Floor Over You, Let's Be Sweethearts Again, Muddy Bottom, If I Should Wanter Back tonight, Bluegrass Melodies, Kentucky, Sunny Side of the Mountain, Listening to the Rain, Some Things I Want to Sing About, Your Love is Like a Flower
       CD 2: Katy Hill, Georgia Mules and Country Boys, Windy City, Rank Strangers, Nearer My God to Thee, Orange Blossom Special, Wreck of the Old '97, Blue Ridge Cabin Home, Midnight Flyer, Georgia Pineywoods, Tennessee Hound Dog
       DVD: Walkin' the Floor Over You, Bluegrass Melodies, Sunny Side of the Mountain, Georgia Mules and Country Boys, Nearer My God to Thee, Kentucky, Tennessee Hound Dog, Faded Love, Ruby, Rocky Top
       Kentuckian Bobby Osborne began his music career in 1949 with The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. Sonny Osborne joined the group a year later at age thirteen. When The Osborne Brothers played Streekermoor, Germany on July 30, 1989, they had already been members of the Grand Ole Opry for 25 years and "Rocky Top" had been the designated state song of Tennessee for five years. Thus, these legendary bluegrass musicians were ambassadors for the genre, and they were greeted in the small venue on a rainy Sunday night by an extremely friendly and appreciative crowd. Along with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, the band had been touring throughout Europe. The Saturday night before this show they had played Switzerland, and then a 600 - mile drive was required to reach this engagement in Germany. The CD jacket includes some interesting anecdotes and recollections such as Sonny's and Bobby's memories of traveling with Monroe.
       At the time, the Osbornes' band also included Terry Eldredge (guitar, vocals), Terry Smith (bass), and Steve Thomas (fiddle). Thomas, Eldredge and Smith would've joined up with them about 1988, a year before this tour. From Indiana, Terry Eldredge had previously played with Lonzo & Oscar, and he was appearing on the Grand Ole Opry before he was even old enough to vote. Terry's tenure with The Osborne Brothers spanned the period from 1988 - 2000. He'd began with them as their bass player but switched to guitar when Terry Smith joined up. The 1981 Virginia State Fiddle Champ Steve Thomas had previously played with Del McCoury's Dixie Pals, Jim & Jesse, Lost & Found, and The Whites. He was with The Osborne Brothers from 1988 - 91. Besides hearing all their classic favorites like Kentucky, Listening to the Rain, Georgia Mules and Country Boys, Midnight Flyer, Tennessee Hound Dog, and Rocky Top, the show offers a number of special treats for fans. I especially enjoyed twin fiddles (Sonny and Steve) on "Your Love is Like a Flower," an 8 - minute jamgrass version of "Nine Pound Hammer," Terry Smith's lead vocals on "Blue Ridge Cabin Home," and Terry Eldredge's lead vocals on three numbers (Muddy Bottom, If I Should Wander Back, Listening to the Rain).
       In 2004, the audio and video for the 1989 show were brought to the attention of Sonny Osborne and the owner of the Pinecastle label, Tom Riggs. Rather than allow the show to be sold to the Bear Family label and put out without editing and mastering, Sonny and Tom decided to work with the raw products that had been recorded on a one - track tape machine and grainy video camera. Considerable work was needed to make this 2 - CD and DVD set ready for marketing. While it still leaves a little to be desired, kudos to all those involved (like John Eberle who did the mastering) to make this a viable product. Charlie Cushman and Terry Smith overdubbed rhythm guitar and bass. Fiddler Glen Duncan was called in to fix a spot in "Nearer My God To Thee." You get the idea. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like much could be done with the video, but it still captures the energy and excitement of a live Osborne Brothers show. Although the liner notes only indicate that there are ten cuts on the DVD, it actually has 30 tracks with almost all of the songs included. I'm not sure why there is this discrepancy between the CD jacket and actual video. The DVD even includes some songs that aren't listed on the CDs such as Nine Pound Hammer, Say Ol' Man, My Favorite Memory, and Rock of Ages.
       Sonny's liner notes state "that this live show is so typical…we always tried to have fun with our music…enjoy ourselves and one another." I understand that this is just the first of several unreleased Osborne Brothers recordings that Pinecastle will put out in the future. I certainly look forward to seeing and hearing what else they find in the archives. (Joe Ross)

Standard Songs for Average People

Oh Boy Records OBR-038 OR
Playing Time – 44:57
       Legendary Nashville record producer, songwriter and engineer Cowboy Jack Clement had a definitive hand in this production by introducing Mac Wiseman and John Prine who had never met until recently. Clement has known both of the singers since the 1960s and 70s, and they developed an immediate kinship. Realizing that they both shared a similar love for classic country standards, it was decided to record a set together using material from Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, Tom T. Hall, Kris Kristofferson, Bing Crosby, Leon Payne and others. Knowing Cowboy Jack's reputation, I'm sure he had plenty of advice for this collaboration too. "A good song gets better with age," he once said. The good songs they pick include Lefty Frizzell's "Saginaw, Michigan," Charlie Feathers' "I Forgot to Remember to Forget," Ernest Tubbs' "Blue - Eyed Elaine," Leon Payne's "I Love You Because,"and Al Dexter's "Pistol - Packin' Mama," and others. Clement also once stated that "there's nothing wrong with waltzes if they're played right." Maybe that's why they close the set with "Old Rugged Cross" and then "Where the Blue of the Night."
       The top session players add a variety of instrumentation and background vocals to the mostly slower tempo'ed repertoire. Acoustic stringed instruments sit nicely with piano, organ, electric guitar, pedal steel, harmonica, accordion and drums to create a sound reminiscent of the 1950s. The accompanists include Tim O'Brien, Stuart Duncan, Kenny Malone, Charles Cochran, Lloyd Green, Dave Jacques, Ronnie McCoury, Joey Miskulin and others. Jack Clement plays Dobro or rhythm guitar on five tracks. The musical mood from yesteryear is most apparent on those seven tracks that incorporate the Carol Lee Singers' background vocals in a style of that era. Mac and John often trade off singing verses, and they even sing a few phrases in unison (a slight distraction).
       Mac and John may be getting up in their years. Mac's in his 80s now. John was diagnosed in 1998 with throat cancer, and he's undergone surgery to deal with that. There's a lot of cautionary insight in the old country songs like "Pistol Packin' Mama." However, as they sing in "Don't be Ashamed of Your Age," Mac and John remind us of an essential tenet in their lives – "Life ain't begun until you're 40, son. That's when you really start to go to town." This album is proof that little is slowing these two energetic legends down. (Joe Ross)

Kashmere Gardens Mud

Icehouse Music
Angie Carlson OR
Playing Time – 51:29
       John Bush Shinn III was born in 1935 in an "unforgiving land north of the bayou" called Kashmere Gardens in Houston, Texas. With a stained memory that still lingers in his blood, "Kashmere Gardens Mud" is the musical accompaniment to Johnny Bush's biography. The song make reference to his parents' divorce when he was just seventeen, and in 1952 he began his musical career at the Texas Star Inn in San Antonio. While the salvo written by Bush seems weak for the album's opener, it sets the stage for some grooving music that taps his honky - tonk, blues, western swing, big band, Cajun and even mariachi influences. The album shows that Bush's setbacks in life haven't slowed him down. About the time of this album's release, Johnny's autobiography ("Whiskey River (Take My Mind): The True Story of Texas Honky Tonk" co - written with Rick Mitchell) is scheduled for publication by the Univ. of Texas Press.
       While Bush may not have the vocal range he used to, the album serves as a powerful "tribute to Houston's country soul" by tapping classic country standards like Moon Mulligan's "I'll Sail My Ship Alone" and Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty" with a stellar cast of Texas musicians such Bobby Flores, Johnny Gimble, Bert Wills, Jesse Dayton, Calvin Owens Blues Orchestra, Frenchie Burke, Buddy Emmons, Brian Thomas, Floyd Domino and others. There's plenty of steel guitar and fiddle throughout, shining with luster over the rhythm foundation of guitar, bass and drums. I especially enjoyed the orchestral arrangements of "Free Soul" and "Born to Lose," both recorded at SugarHill Studios in Houston. Bobby Flores and Shane Pitsch provide a mariachi intro to Dale Watson's "Tequilla and Teardrops," that also includes Watson's vocalizing. Two songs (Pancho and Lefty, Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On) include Johnny's friend Willie Nelson. Coming off more like a front porch jam among a couple good ol' boys, the latter is a rawboned arrangement with just acoustic guitars and vocals. Johnny's affiliation with Willie goes back to the early - 1960s when Bush played drums in Willie's band, The Record Men. Then, both guys worked in Ray Price's Cherokee Cowboys. The late Floyd Tillman also sings on his own composition, "They Took the Stars Out of Heaven." A few more background and harmony vocals would've enhanced the set. Eddie Noack's "These Hands" begins with an excerpt of the original 1955 recording by Smilin' Jerry Jericho. Johnny's hands may be getting calloused and aged, but his music still wins our hearts. Track 13, Johnny's self - penned "I Want a Drink of that Water" includes some unison singing with his brother, Rev. Gene Shinn. Track 14 is a reprise with instrumental snippets from all the songs on the album. Track 15, a 3 - minute bluesy number, is a bonus that isn't even mentioned in the CD jacket.
       Once dubbed "The Country Caruso," Bush's biggest challenge in life first hit him in 1972 when he started to experience a tightness and raspiness in his voice. Being dropped by the RCA label and an addiction to Valium followed. Six years would pass before he was properly diagnosed with a rare condition called spasmodic dysphonia that causes the vocal cords to have uncontrollable spasms. His hit song "Whiskey River" (covered by Willie Nelson) brought regular income, and Bush also continued to perform. Radical exercise techniques helped him make a comeback with music. After a western swing project in 1994, he released a number of albums from 1998 - 2001. In more recent years, botox injections into the vocal cords have also helped him cope with spasmodic dysphonia.
       Like a chapter in a Steinbeck novel, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame legend's life was changed forever years ago as a kid when he was first bitten by the bug to be a singer and performer. I get the impression that he's a fighter and refuses to throw in the towel…the type of affable guy who loves to be entertaining on stage. In fact, he's become a role model and inspiring mentor to younger musicians who can relate to his strong affinity for singing and performing. This album will only serve to reinforce his solid place in Texas' classic country music history. (Joe Ross)

Steam Powered Stern

No Label, No Number OR
Playing Time – 31:39
       Originally from West Virginia, Steve Stern played many coffeehouses and clubs in the 1970s. He formed his New Anthem Band in 1986. With Laurie Cackowoski in a group called "Guns & Garters," Steve played around Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio before relocating to Nashville in 1993 to follow his muse as a songwriter. Some of his previous compositions have brought him considerable notoriety and visibility. "The Harley Anthem" (later renamed "The Biker's Anthem") brought him many gigs at motorcycle rallies. Today he rides a 1984 Harley Electra - Glide. In the mid - 1970s, "The Steel City Blues" became a standard for many Pennsylvania blues bands.
       In this set of originals, Stern hopes that each and every one of us will hear at least one song that will brighten the day, or maybe even define one's life. With sentiments largely inspired by his wife and three children (ranging in age from 5 to 19), Stern weaves his lyrics and melodies into pleasant, easygoing tunes like "Let's Talk About Love" or "Light the Candle" that incorporate influences from the bluegrass, country, western swing and folk genres. A broad base of experience is apparent in his eclectic set. Stern attributes a variety of influential artists for their encouragement Merle Haggard, John Hartford, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Benson, David Bromberg, and Doc and Merle Watson.
       I always enjoy hearing songwriters impart emotion and feeling by singing their own compositions. Steve tells his stories in a genial manner, and his messages grow on you with repeated listens. Songwriting is a learned skill, and the album demonstrates the development of his aptitude over the years. Opening with an earlier bluegrass composition, "Walkin' Through the Country" was co - written in the 1970s with Kevin ‘Hod' McLaughlin. The lyrics are a little leaner and more simplistic than his more recent messages. "Country Morning" incorporates some vivid imagery of the hustle and bustle of family life around dawn on the farm. "Biscuits and gravy and we're good to go!" A pleasant bridge is built to track 3, "Hallowed Ground," that depicts the songwriter's conflict of being on the road yet always searching for that sacred place to call home. With more country flavorings, that and other pieces incorporate Kenny Malone's percussion and Pete Finney's steel guitar. Guitarist/singer Stern enlisted proficient instrumentalists to be a part of the album's New Anthem Band – Mike McAdam and Van Manakas (acoustic guitar), Dave Roe (bass), Barbara Lamb (fiddle), Charlie Cushman (banjo), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), and Randy Kohrs (Dobro).
       Of special note are the harmony vocals provided by Lisa Aguilar whose smooth, silky voice softens some of the rougher, robust edges of Stern's. "I Know How To Love" has a nice call - and - response vocal arrangement that would make for a charming song for a couple to sing on their wedding day. "You light a fire in me when I see you smile…" In a similar vein, "Love You Tonight" and "Heaven on Earth" convey one's affection, sincerity and passion for another. The latter song (as well as "Let's Talk About Love") were co - written with Darren Haston. "Two Girls Play the Spoons" is a catchy tale, based on a true life experience from 20 years ago, about "two pretty girls a - spoonin' through the middle of the night." I've never cared much for the "strange metallic tapping" of spoons, but the novelty tune has a pleasant bluegrass groove and references to the genre even if spoons are typically frowned upon among the majority of bluegrass jammers.
       In one of his songs, Steve Stern admits that he's been around the block a time or two. At age 43, he even underwent open heart quintuple by - pass surgery in 1997. But now he's got a new album out, and he's anxious to present his originals with his Nashville - based band that includes Rebecca Baumbach (fiddle), Rick Otts (banjo), Bob Grant (mandolin), Caleb Mundy (bass), and Ferrell Stowe (Dobro). Lisa Aguilar will appear with the band at some engagements. I'm sure that Steve's live shows will be fun, entertaining and full of fresh and interesting material … just like this album. Read more about Steve Stern at (Joe Ross)

Last Good Kiss

Red Beet Records RBRCD003
PO Box 68417, Nashville, TN. 37206 OR
Playing Time – 48:47
       Last Train Home continues to ride the wave. While based in the Washington area, they won a dozen WAMMIEs (Washington Area Music Awards) and has built both a solid reputation and fanbase over the years. Last Train Home's latest eclectic alt - country effort (their fourth album overall) includes eleven originals, ten by guitarist/vocalist/frontman Eric Brace and one penned by guitarist Steve Wedemeyer. The band has been cranking out the tunes for about ten years, and Brace relocated to Nashville in 2003. Delivering a confident and personalized roots rock sound, Last Train Home also includes Jen Gunderman (keyboards, accordion, percussion), Jim Gray (bass), and Martin Lynds (drums, percussion). Jen and Martin contribute background vocals. Also appearing in the mix are Kevin Cordt (trumpet), Claire Small (backing vocals on "The Color Blue"), and Tom Mason (banjo on "You").
       The title track opens the set with a desire to move on beyond broken hearts and promises despite the availability of one "last good kiss." The set makes a dynamic segue to melodic electric guitar riff of "Flood," a song about being carried away on the rising tide of love. A poignant ballad with acoustic overtones, "Anywhere But Here" expresses the yearning to find new direction. In fact, many of Brace's sentiments are about his optimistic needs, wishes and dreams, through thick and thin, always trying to keep an upbeat attitude despite adversity and rejection. Gunderman's accordion gives the band a distinctive Texas border sound, and my guess is that they're building a legion of fans in the Lone Star State at roadhouses and dance halls where they perform. The 5 - minute "Go Now" and 7 - minute "May" express some of Brace's most pensive and reflective moments "be brave enough to let it all in, always give more than you take." Putting these two relaxed songs back-to-back at the midpoint of the set creates a whole different mood, one that is captivating but some may feel is enervating and causes the set to lose some of its energy. I hope that lyrics for their songs will be uploaded soon to the band's website because listeners need to contemplate and reflect upon them. The second half of the set make some clear and convincing statements, but I felt some additional background vocals would have sweetly embellished choruses on songs like "I'm Coming Home," "Kissing Booth," and "Marking Time." The combination of percussion, trumpet and Claire Small's vocal backing make the album's unique closer, "The Color Blue" awash with an impressionistic azure character that leaves us feeling in high spirits and content with the overall set. (Joe Ross)


Red Beet Records RBR-001
Playing Time – 45:57
       SONGS - See What Love Can Do, My Baby's Gone, Close the Door Lightly, Last Train From Poor Valley, Bonaparte's Retreat, Nevertheless, Are You Missing Me, Maybe Tomorrow, Dear One, Carolina Star, Are You Wasting My Time, Guess My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own, I Wish You Knew, Going Up Home to Live in Green Pastures
       Aiming for new heights in the Americana market, The Skylighters have the necessary luminescence to go far. The also have the ability to see through and beyond any perceived or self - imposed ceiling in the music market. With solid footings in multiple genres, the ensemble is a collaboration of three members of the Nashville - based group Last Train Home (Eric Brace, J. Carson Gray, Martin Lynds) with mandolinist Jimmy Gaudreau and pedal steel guitarist Mike Auldridge. Brace's expressive lead vocals are warm and good - natured, and they wrap agreeably around the breaks, fills and vocal harmonies provided primarily by Jimmy and Mike.
       The Skylighters' likable repertoire draws upon both successful established oft - recorded hits and balances them with more obscure songs. Clearly fans of The Louvin Brothers, the band covers four of their songs. An appetizing and spirited rendition of Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart's "Bonaparte's Retreat" gets the toes tapping. Another favorite is Jim Croce's "Maybe Tomorrow" that incorporates the piano of Jen Gunderman who also flavors "Carolina Star" with some laid - back accordion. That Hugh Moffatt composition is also given a slightly different mood with the use of Gaudreau's mandola. While the steel and mandolin are integral elements of their band sound, some diverse guest instrumentation is always a wise move for greater attention - grabbing variety in a 45 - minute set. A heavier drum track and Gaudreau's electric guitar seem problematically overbearing for "Dear One," but another listener might actually like this more raucous rendition. While I love the classic country wail of pedal steel, I personally found some of the more acoustic numbers with Auldridge's resophonic guitar to be satisfying treats for a little change.
       I was impressed by the band's interest in songs from various decades. Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar's "Nevertheless" (a hit for Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee) dates to 1931. Eric Andersen first released "Close The Door Lightly" in the mid - 1960s, and I think Norman Blake and Tony Rice released "Last Train to Poor Valley" about 1990. Eric Brace's bluegrassy murder ballad "See What Love Can Do" also appears on Last Train Home's 2003 "Time and Water" release and is a warning to any father who stands in the way of true love.
       The Skylighters have songs that impart ample variation in tempo, tones and rhythms. "Going Up Home To Live In Green Pastures" closes the album on spiritually - tinged note. Given the great potential and proficiency of this group, I hope they'll dig even deeper into the archives for lesser known western swing, jazz, bluegrass, blues and classic country numbers. They're building a musical vision together, and a combination of their innovative nimble - fingered musicianship coupled with a strong belief in their own ideas could lead to some real cutting - edge contemporary sounds that both recall a bygone era and offer new originals with that classic sound. I can hardly wait to hear their next volume. (Joe Ross)

Not Yer Daddy's Bluegrass

TEL. 225-752-6543
Playing Time – 46:46
       In their CD liner notes, the Fabulous Bagasse Boyz extend special thanks to Spongebob Squarepants (yes, the cartoon character) for his "infinite wisdom, advice and ongoing inspiration." That alone may give you a hint about this Louisiana - based trio that takes its name from that fibrous part of sugar cane or sugar beets that is left after the juice has been extracted. The Fabulous Bagasse Boyz don't live in a pineapple under the sea, but they certainly have a lot of fun and serve up plenty of nonsense. At the same time, their seventeen tracks aren't so crazy that they encourage you to drop on the deck and flop like a fish. When they play a standard number like "Hot Corn, Cold Corn," they emphasize the former. The Boyz are simply a good - time band that is entertaining for their irreverence and attitude that don't necessarily strive for a flashy, conventional approach to bluegrass. Heck, didn't Spongebob once say, "Imaginaaaaaation makes a rainbow"? Another favorite quote from the character is that "some day, with a little luck, and a tiny pinch of magic, all your dreams will come true!" That may very well be the underlying tenet for these Boyz.
       The FBB consists of Rex Hall (guitar), Willi Sager (bass), and Hans "Fritz" Mayers (banjo, mandolin). You can tell they really enjoy playing together and singing in harmony. For something really off-the-wall, perhaps they should work up a bluegrass version of Spongebob's theme song. They do, however, cover eclectic material from such diverse sources as Johnny Nash to Dave Akeman, John Hartford to Mark Schatz, Bill Bryson to Pete Goble, Townes Van Zandt to William Shively. There are also a number of traditional instrumental tunes featuring primarily banjo breaks with solid rhythm accompaniment. Mayers does a particularly fine job on "Lost Indian," which they also list as "Disoriented Native American" and end with a whoop. "Calgary" also has plenty of drive. "Wilson's Clog" is one you don't often hear on banjo. Mayers' mandolin makes only an understated appearance in a few places like Roy Maples' gospel piece "I Am, I Was, I Will." On their future projects, it would be nice to hear some more mandolin, as well as perhaps some guests on fiddle and/or resophonic guitar. Almost all of their songs are concise and succinct, each coming in at three minutes or less. I understand that their infectious repertoire at live shows is even more varied with songs from Elvis, Gershwin, Everly Brothers, Village People, and others. They also display a Spongebob donation box with a caveat "the sooner the box fills up, the sooner we'll stop playing and you don't have to listen to us anymore."
       The spirited band formed in 2002, and their notes state that "there was much consternation from all corners as this axis of goobers ... came together with the sole purpose of humiliating the musical world with their slip - shod musicianship and annoying arrangements." It's refreshing that "Not ‘Yer Daddy's Bluegrass" doesn't take itself too seriously. Their first album is referred to as a "disc of vexation," but it's really not so annoying or distressing. Their music is full of banjo - centric fun, enthusiastic vocals, and down - home excitement. It's very animated hydrodynamically designed music that would make Spongebob proud, and The Fabulous Bagasse Boyz aren't even above calling themselves goof y goobers. With a fast - moving stageshow that incorporates strong comedy, I'll bet they're hits at regional fairs, quirky festivals, and rowdy clubs … especially when Annoy Squidward Day rolls around every year. (Joe Ross)

Autumn: Music for Solo Koto

North Pacific Music NPM LD 029
PO Box 82627, Portland, OR. 97282
TEL. 800-757-7384
Playing Time – 1:02:06
       The refined elegance of Mitsuki Dazai's "Autumn: Music for Solo Koto" is a pleasure to behold. Mitsuki Dazai, a graduate of Japan's renowned Kunitachi College of Music in Tokyo, majored in vocal performance in the Western Classical tradition. However, she also was drawn to the non - western traditions of Eastern Europe, Middle East and Asia that eventually led Mitsuki on a circuitous route to a discovery of traditional Japanese music and koto, a thirteen - string plucked zither of Paulownia wood with movable bridges under each string. She studied traditional koto music at the Ikuta School. Inspired by the cultural veneration for this instrument, she next pursued advanced studies in contemporary koto music at Sawai Sokyokuin, with instruction by modern koto Master Tadao Sawai and world - renowned Kazue Sawai.
       "Autumn" is Dazai's first solo album and has over an hour's worth of classical and modern pieces. Typically, both types are composed in slow, moderate and fast tempi. To our western ears, classical pieces appear to have no melodic line because of their meandering, contemplative notes built around pentatonic scales. For me, a standard traditional work like "Rokudan" (meaning "six sections") represents the innermost soul and being of Japan itself. Composed in 1953 (only about 3 years before his death), Michio Miyagi's "London no Yoru no Ame" (Rainy Night in London) demonstrates why Miyagi gained worldwide notoriety after releasing his music in the 1930s and later. After losing his sight as a child, he went on to compose more than 500 pieces, improve the instrument, and invent kotos with additional strings for more dynamic expression. Compositions by Tadao Sawai (1937 - 97) and Hikaru Sawai (1964) are splendid selections that convey images of birds in flight, clouds, cherry blossoms in spring, and the shadows of life itself. The title cut (in three movements) was penned by Tomas Svoboda (1939), a noted Czech composer who relocated to the U.S. in 1964 and taught at Portland State University (Oregon) for nearly three decades. "Autumn" was commissioned in 1982 by the late koto master Yoko Ito Gates. Of special note on this project are the two self - penned pieces by Mitsuki Dazai entitled "Breeze" and "Sky High." Her string bends, plucks, strums and other techniques in "Breeze" capture the inspiration she felt on the windswept beaches of Costa Rica. Married to a retired airline pilot, Mitsuki Dazai has spent considerable time in the air but now calls Oregon her home. Like a hawk surveying the land, "Sky High" evokes the joy of soaring independently and discovering new destinations. The album was recorded over a six month period n 2006 at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.
       For me, "Autumn" is a sound poem with many verses inspired primarily by the elements of nature. In the hands of master instrumentalist Dazai, the koto pulls us in, plays on our emotions, and leaves us to reflect with greater awareness of both the subtlety and uniqueness of each fleeting moment. Mitsuki's special quality of sound is obviously the result of having highly proficient technical skills, a good ear, much sensitivity, and a thorough knowledge of how to present the nuances and colors of sound. She realizes that sound is much like paint with varying colors, and Dazai uses her instrument as the paintbrush. The entire set is very colorful due to the sound's tone and the relationship of the notes to those around them. Successive tones in musical space stimulate imagination and create melodic illusions. Mitsuki's musical notes offer both bright and dark sounds, and her sonic colors collaborate to produce feelings and emotions. Mitsuki's touch is as delicate as an eye surgeon's, and the emotional content of her solo recording debut on koto has great sensory and emotional impact. "Autumn" Music for Solo Koto" is a joyful experience. (Joe Ross)

Feuds & Fridays!

One Iota Publishing, No Number
TEL. 859-468-3773
Playing Time – 41:28
       "Feuds & Fridays!" features ten contemporary bluegrass originals and two covers presented by Steve Bonafel, a vocalist from northern Kentucky who I first heard with his band, One Iota, a few years ago. The band showcased at the 2006 IBMA Trade Show & Convention. The band's upbeat and comforting 2002 CD is called "Never Grow Old." In 2004, Bonafel released a debut solo album of originals called "Dream Catcher."
       On this latest project, Steve wrote all of the songs except "Big Spike Hammer" and "Think it Over." Bonafel's got some charming material, and he has a pleasant tenor that imparts plenty of feeling and sentiment to his stories and messages about life's adventures, journeys and characters. With "all the Kentucky news that's fit to print," the album's stories are like an 1888 newspaper put to music. Singing with the emotion of an imprisoned Kentucky moonshiner's perspective, "Shiner's Lament" expresses "I wish I was home, and I never saw that still!" after a young man is murdered. The song is a true story about Steve's great uncle. Written after performing for the death row inmates at Eddyville, Ky. maximum security prison in 2004, "The Ballad of Roseanna McCoy" is also a true story that describes one key episode in the long - running feud between the Hatfields and McCoys in Big Sandy River Valley. The vocal harmonies of Melissa Conway, Paul Brewster, and Carly Pearce embellish the choruses that are sung as duets. The swingy and melodic "Wish You'd Go Away" is arranged simply with solo vocals in a crystalline statement about moving on. "The Old Stick" is given similar treatment with character, content and concision.
       Bonafel's lyrics make clear statements, but his music carries creative messages of its own. Good rhythms and pretty melodies make his songs really work. Their stellar interpretation is also the result of having an instrumental cast consisting of Andy Leftwich (mandolin, fiddle), Rob Ickes (Dobro), Cody Kilby (guitar) and Dave Pomeroy and Berry Bales (bass). Bales played the slow songs, and Pomeroy is the bassist on the fast songs. Producer Andy Leftwich was eager to enlist members of "Three Ring Circle" (a "jamgrass acoustic power trio" with Ickes, Leftwich, Pomeroy) to assist. "Never Saw Sara Alone" is about a boy's regret at losing a popular girl. Steve likes writing in ¾ - time, and "Big River Dream" has a sweet aesthetic.
       Another of Bonafel's pieces in ¾ time, "Working Man's Prayer" is a witty call for justice, focus, wealth and happiness in life. You're sure to grin when his call to the Lord includes the suggestion of "when the fires of Hell are stoked good and hot, would you give ol' Bin Ladan a call?" Bonafel shows that he has a knack for communicating heart to heart, soul to soul, and without any filters that limit his expression. I'm sure that his own talented band (One Iota) covers them well in live performance also as part of their goal to present refreshing and innovative material that is both fun and reflective. (Joe Ross)

Wow Baby

Upper Management Music 7002-20-06-001
1713 Gap Creek Road, Elizabethton, TN 37643
TEL. 615-574-1116
Playing Time – 36:12
       SONGS - Wow Baby, In The Pines (featuring Keith Williams), Billy in the Low Ground, Blue Kentucky Girl (featuring Sally Sandker), Leather Britches, Hard Living (featuring Rhonda Vincent & Sonya Isaacs), Waltz For Mom and Dad, Rag Time Annie, Kansas City Kitty (featuring Buddy Spicher, Buck White & Bryan Sutton), I'm Waiting To Hear You Call Me Darlin' (featuring Marty Stuart & Bobby Osborne), Fiddler's Dream, Softly And Tenderly (featuring Keith Williams)
       The phenomenal Hunter Berry is first and foremost a fiddler of the highest degree. The 4 - time SPBGMA Fiddler of the Year has also been nominated twice for IBMA's Fiddle Player of the Year. From the town of Elizabethton in the hilly region of upper East Tennessee, some might think this musician's musician was born with a fiddle in his hands. Seems that he actually learned to play the spoons at age four, and Hunter was sawing the strings by age nine. Taught by Benny Sims and David Yates, the prodigy progressed quickly. Now, when Hunter gets the rosin flying, it's easy to mistake it for smoke in his fiery playing.
       The reputation of this young phenom spread like wildfire, and Hunter was invited to join Doyle Lawson's band when he was only in 8th - grade. His parents had to reluctantly defer Hunter's acceptance until arrangements were made so that he could quit school and get his G.E.D. So, at age 17, Berry became a professional musician touring with Quicksilver. The gig, which lasted for nine months, taught the young fiddler much about discipline. On this debut album, Hunter's first employer is featured as the principal mandolinist (six cuts), and Lawson sings tenor harmony on the closer "Softly and Tenderly." In January, 2002, another chapter in Berry's musical career was about to be written when he joined hard - working Rhonda Vincent and The Rage (replacing fiddler Michael Cleveland). In a song she co - wrote with Terry Herd, Rhonda sings the lead vocals on "Hard Living."
       Perhaps most impressive is that fact that Hunter Berry understands his role as song carrier, one who not only comprehends the importance of folkloric tradition but also the need to keep it vibrant and alive. Some might argue that old - time fiddle tunes like Billy in the Lowground, Ragtime Annie, or Leather Britches are overdone war horses. However, in the hands of Berry & Friends, tasty new renditions are baked to perfection. The core group of accompanists enlisted for the project includes Tony Rice (guitar), Doyle Lawson (mandolin), Ronnie Stewart (banjo), Darrin Vincent (bass). Arthur Smith's "Fiddler's Dream" is a hoedown we don't hear quite as often, and Hunter imparts sweet Texas - style bow work to the proceedings. Always an entertaining crowd - pleaser, his western swing arrangement of "Kansas City Kitty" also has drums (Tom Roady), piano (Buck White), and second fiddle (Buddy Spicher). Bryan Sutton's jazzy guitar break shines. Hunter's own triple fiddles embellish "In the Pines" and "Blue Kentucky Girl." Of special note are his own two originals, "Wow Baby" and "Waltz for Mom and Dad," the latter arranged without banjo. If fiddling is major part of this CD, so are the bluegrass songs that are so capably performed with guests like Dan Tyminski, Marty Stuart, Bobby Osborne, Adam Steffey, Jason Carter, Sally Sandker, Sonya Isaacs, Keith Williams, Randy Kohrs and others.
       The gifted Hunter Berry is only 22 years old, and he's already hanging with bluegrass legends and at the top of the bluegrass game. A bright, fulfilling career ahead will yield many bountiful musical rewards for us too. Hunter's well on his way to becoming a fiddling legend in his own right. (Joe Ross)

The Grass I Grew Up On

No label, No number
320 Spurr St., P.O. Box 740009, Tuscumbia, AL 35674
Playing Time – 38:33
       SONGS - Highway Headed South(To Dixie), Alone With You, I Can't Even Walk(Without You Holding My Hand), Shenandoah Saturday Night, The Nerve, That Home Above, The Water's So Cold, Sit Down(And Pray), Standing Tall And Tough, The Fuss, Roustabout
       As a kid, Marty Raybon was bit by the bluegrass bug ... in a big way. Former Shenandoah lead singer Raybon was raised on bluegrass, and he’s never let the music flee from his heart. Marty cut his teeth on bluegrass as part of his family band (American Bluegrass Express) with his father and two brothers. About 1985, the seed was planted and cultivated for Marty’s Alabama-based popular country group, Shenandoah, which had a number of hits. Despite his many country music awards, the soulful singer felt a strong calling to honor the Lord, as well as to play that type of joyous acoustic string music that continued to burn in his heart. With Marty playing rhythm guitar, Full Circle has released three albums of traditional bluegrass and gospel music, and “The Grass I Grew Up On” came out about the same time that his country project (“When The Sand Runs Out”) also did. Thus, Marty’s expressive messages are finding its way onto both bluegrass and country radio airwaves.
       Truly a band with camaraderie, Full Circle includes Shane Blackwell (lead guitar), Ashby Frank (mandolin), Glen Harrell (fiddle), and Edgar Loudermilk (bass). On banjo, Patton Wages plays for most of this album, but he’s decided to spend more time with his family and working as a land surveyor. Full Circle’s five-stringer is now Derek Dillman, formerly a Sunny Mountain Boy with Jimmy Martin, who appears on one track (Standing Tall and Tough). The set’s guests include Andy Hall (Dobro) and Tim Raybon (harmonies). Andy’s involvement seems rather minimal, but his Dobro presence is a nice aural flavoring in “Dixie in my Eye.” Like Marty, these boys all grew up on ‘grass too. A fine guitarist, Blackwell started learning mandolin at age seven and picked with his father’s group, “Curtis Blackwell and the Dixie Boys.” One of the band’s younger members, Ashby Frank plays mandolin with verve and creativity. He has a solo project out on Blue Road Records entitled “First Crossing.” With fiddler Glen Harrell, Ashby penned an instrumental “The Fuss” for this current album. Playing guitar since age 10, Glen picked up the fiddle at 14 and performed regionally with the bands, Perfect Timing and Steel Faith. Another band member with bluegrass running through his veins is bassist Edgar Loudermilk, who started playing guitar and mandolin in his family’s band at age 9. Prior to Full Circle, Loudermilk and Blackwell both played in a group called Carolina Crossfire before Edgar joined Rhonda Vincent and the Rage for a short period in 2002. A stellar songwriter, he’s releasing an album of his originals in 2007. Finally, Derek Dillman’s father owns Bean Blossom Bluegrass Park in Indiana, and Derek was playing banjo by age 12. Working with Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys for three years until Jimmy's passing, Derek is clearly a young up-and-coming talent to be reckoned with who also has the right attitude and bluegrass in his blood.
       From the opening salvo of hotly plucked mandolin in Porter Wagoner’s “Highway Headed South (To Dixie)” to the closing statement in the classic, “Roustabout,” this album is full of drive, intensity and impeccable timing. Marty can remember when he first heard many of these favorite songs. Porter’s television show when Flatt and Scruggs appeared, an Osborne Brothers or Jim & Jesse LP, or a bluegrass festival attended in the 1970s or 80s. As an example, Faron Young’s hit, “Alone with You,” was also on Jim & Jesse’s “Superior Sounds of Bluegrass” album and got plenty of spins on the Raybon household’s turntable. His faith-based devotion is most apparent in “I Can’t Even Walk (Without You Holding My Hand)” and Paul Williams’ “Standing Tall and Tough.” While liner notes only credit Marty and Tim Raybon with singing, “That Home Above” and “Sit Down (and Pray)” are presented with multiple voices a cappella. Bobby Braddock’s “The Nerve” expresses gratitude to God, as well as to paternal and maternal relations for life, knowledge, good times and love. After hearing The Bluegrass Tarheels at a Florida bluegrass festival in 1974, Raybon bought a record and learned the crowd-pleasing “The Water’s So Cold” that moved him so that day.
       Marty Raybon associates himself with a number of young, energetic musicians who share his avid enthusiasm for bluegrass. Individually, the band members seem to have charm, conviction and integrity that complement their talent. Collectively, the group is informal, relaxed, and works well together. While presenting cohesive charismatic songs, they also have fun. Perhaps most importantly, the partnership exhibited on this strong project solidifies the clear musical vision that Marty & Full Circle have established. That strategic foresight capitalizes on the bluegrass music that has circulated freely in their veins since childhood. Marty’s a devoted supporter and big promoter of the music, and he’d like to transfuse others with his affinitive and affective bluegrass disposition too. Back to his musical roots, Marty’s carrying them on. (Joe Ross)

Live From Gruene Hall

Palo Duro PDR-4005
PO Box 810, Ooltewah, TX. 37363 TEL. (866)PALO-DURO OR OR OR OR OR OR
       AUDIO CD (playing time – 1:00:55): 1. Diddly Daddy, 2. Maybe I, 3. Sedated, 4. Love Is Here To Stay, 5. Unglued, 6. Vegas, 7. You Know, 8. Heartache, 9. Stinkin Drunks, 10. King Of A One Horse Town, 11.Havana Moon, 12. Two Tons Of Steel, 13.You Didn't Know Me, 14.Red Headed Woman, 15.Ice Cream Man
       VIDEO DVD: 1: Intro, 2: Vegas, 3: Unglued, 4: Maybe I, 5: Love’s Here To Stay, 6: Sedated, 7: Ice Cream Man, 8: Baby You Got Me, 9: You Know, 10: King Of A One Horse Town, 11: Stinkin’ Drunks, 12: Little Pig, 13: Your Kiss, 14: One More Time, 15: Credits, 16: On The Bus (Documentary), 17: Your Kiss (Director’s Cut), 18: Red Hot (Director’s Cut)
       Two Tons! Two Tons! With that exclamation to fire up the crowd, lead vocalist Kevin Geil and his buddies launch into a feisty hour-long set of country rockin’ mostly original songs about ramblin’, lovin’ and partyin’. Since the release of “Vegas,” their first release on the Palo Duro label but eighth album overall, the band named for Geil’s restored '56 hardtop Cadillac has further solidified their place and reputation in the Texas music scene. Originally known as The Dead Crickets until 1996 (to honor Buddy Holly’s inspiration), Two Tons of Steel is making history in an appropriate place, Gruene Hall, the oldest continually running dance hall in Texas that was built in 1878. Little did the German immigrants who established the community near New Braunfels realize that their hall would help launch the careers of such notable acts as George Strait, Jerry Jeff Walker, Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen, and Hal Ketchum. Over the decades, the town has had its ups and downs as the cotton business, good fortune, boll weevil, and Depression all had their impact. A band’s historic evolution has its highs and lows also. Two Tons of Steel is currently on the upswing, with strong label support and a meteoric rise to international fame helping them to thrive and prosper. Just like Gruene Hall’s owner Pat Molak revitalized and helped breathe new life into the town since 1975, the band is breathing new life into Texas music. And the town, record label and band are all doing it while preserving authentic, genuine Lone Star spirit and flash that ignite glowing embers from pioneer days past.
       Besides Geil, these other countrybillies include Dennis Fallon (electric guitar), Ric Ramirez (upright bass), Chris Dodds (drums), and Texas Steel Guitarist Hall of Fame member Denny Mathis (steel guitar, Dobro). Ramirez and Dodds sing harmonies, and Ramirez even slaps out a break on his dawghouse in the song, “Two Tons of Steel.” Guitarist Kevin Geil composed the songs for the majority of this set, and he shows a knack for writing successfully with both classic country and honky-tonkin’ sensibilities. “Heartache” and “Stinkin Drunks” illustrate his affinity for well-worn musical topics, while his songs like “Unglued,” “King of a One Hores Town,” and “Havana Moon” provide glances through more contemporary lyrical window panes. The latter is one of their few reflective ballads about longing, written during the band’s 1997 trip to Cuba. “Vegas” was written for Geil’s wife, Elena, because she loves road trips to Sin City in the desert. I’d like to see future releases from the band include the lyrics for their originals, or perhaps a website can upload Geil’s lyrics. The body of material is very popular with the Two Ton Tuesday crowd, and the regular gigs have built them a loyal dedicated following. You might slightly miss some of the added instrumentation (like harmonica, organ, or trumpet) found on some of their studio recordings, but the energy of a live show more than makes up for that. Kudos to engineer Fred Remmert for capturing a great feel with the recording and mixing.
       The covers come from Ellas McDaniel (Bo Diddley), The Ramones, Bruce Springsteen, and John Brim. Geil puts his own spin and lyric adaptation in McDaniel’s “Diddley Daddy,” and the lively crowd sings with gusto on “Sedated.” By the set’s closing numbers Geil reminds us that it takes a “Red Headed Woman” to get the dirty job done (like rotating your tires). Two Ton’s closer, “Ice Cream Man,” had been originally recorded by Brim back about 1970, but it was about twenty years later when the song was covered and made a big hit by Van Halen. With “all the flavors guaranteed to satisfy,” Two Tons of Steel has some rockin’ hot music that will keep you cool. A DVD that accompanies the package provides video documentation of the jumpin’ rockabilly jive that took place on June 28, 2005 at Gruene Hall. That would’ve been the band’s tenth year playing the annual summer music series there. That same year found them touring Europe. We already know these guys love to entertain. The DVD is a bonus that allows us to further explore and understand their raucous, rowdy ways and to watch the large all-age crowd digging it all. (Joe Ross)

The Brightness

Righteous Babe Records RBR-053-D
PO Box 95, Elliott Station, Buffalo, NY 14205
TEL. (716)852-8020 or 828-252-6300
Playing Time – 39:37
       SONGS - 1. Your Fonder Heart 2. Of a Friday Night 3. Namesake 4. Shenandoah 5. Changer 6. Song of the Magi 7. Santa Fe Dream 8. Hobo's Lullaby 9. Old-Fashioned Hat 10. Hades & Persephone 11. Out of Pawn
       From Vermont, Anaïs Mitchell is a singer-songwriter with a precociously girlish voice. A winner of the New Folk competition at the Kerrville, Tx. Folk Festival, she’s only in her 20s but has already released three albums since 2002. “The Brightness” is a debut on Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe record label. With similar tempos and melodies, Mitchell’s contemplative songs require astute listening and comprehension skills. Her lyrics need your focus and undivided attention. “Your Fonder Heart” demonstrates her wide vocal range as she sings “way over yonder I’m waiting and wondering, whether your fonder heart lies.” The album’s title is derived from the second track, “Of a Friday Night,” a ballad that is full of nostalgic imagery as it paints a picture of a time-worn town with its old poet that once knew fullness in the quarter “out in the brightness of a Friday night.” Carrying her own poetic and literary torch, Mitchell seems willing to assume various roles in the song as good time gambler, restless wife, or midnight writer if she can help revive that Friday night luster that once was. Her enthusiasm and optimism glow.
       Embellished with Michael Chorney’s melancholic saxophone, “Namesake” makes an exclamatory statement – “everybody knows you, nobody knows you, everybody knows you, I want to know you.” I view the song as a search for identity among both oneself as well as another with whom your name is shared. “Shenandoah,” one of the few tracks featuring Ben Campbell’s banjo and background vocals, relates a tale of love lost, a reckless daughter of the rolling water. Accepting loss and pain can be stressful and demanding. We cope in different ways, and “Changer” seems to just ask for a little reconciliation and understanding: “I know love is a stranger, I know that changes come, I know love is a changer.” While Anais’ mainly plays guitar and sings, this song is the only one with her piano in the mix. Other instrumentation on the project includes some understated lap steel, bass, sax, organ, drums, viola, banjo and cello. Besides three songs with background vocals by Ben Campbell, some are also sung by Miriam Bernardo.
       “Song of the Magi,” a song awash in emotion, is set in a welcoming west bank town that, because of war, evolves into a town of hope. “Santa Fe Dream” is ambient and austere in the shadows, but Mitchell conveys a pleasurable sentiment – “if it should happen, if you should turn to see, the way that moon sheds her light, on your love where she sleeps, go lay down beside her, and wonder again, that such a small window, lets so much light in.” I can sense that Anais loves to travel, and some of her inspiration comes from discoveries along her journeys. “Hobo's Lullaby” continues the album’s sleepy, lulling atmosphere, and if there’s one complaint, it might have been nice to orchestrate the set with a few moderately-tempo’ed pieces for some pick-me-ups. “Old-Fashioned Hat” is about not needing much to enjoy life and love, but the song ends on a pessimistic note that, following marriage, there will be fighting, drinking and forgetfulness. Inspired by Greek mythology, “Hades & Persephone” is presented as a conversation between the King and Queen of the Underworld. Hades obtained his queen through trickery, but Persephone seems astute enough to ask “what does he care for the logic of kings? the laws of your underworld? it is only for love that he sings! he sings for the love of a girl.” Set in New Orleans, I interpret “Out of Pawn” as a tale written from Uncle Louie’s heart and experience during the flood when it was realized that “the girl and the city were one and the same, and last call never came.”
       In lean, rawboned singer/songwriter fashion, Anais Mitchell’s alluring feminine voice is the radiant and resplendent beam in each piece. With a buoyant and feathery presentation, the troubadour provides some novel interpretive tales and twists to emotional attachment, sensitive feelings, and even controversial political issues. I was hoping to peruse her lyrics for a much better understanding of this songwriter’s muse. Instead, I’m just left with as many questions as answers. I understand that she gets considerable inspiration from “The Alexandria Quartet” (a 4-part novel series by Brit author Lawrence Durrell). She also once wanted to become a journalist. In a sense, “The Brightness” is a kind of musical diary or journal that documents her thoughts, happenings, and probably some fictional occurrences too. She writes very legibly, and I think her best Pulitzer prize-winning music may still be yet to come. (Joe Ross)

The Old Road to Jerusalem

Backcountry Music BCK-841
13774 Recuerdo Drive, Del Mar, CA. 92014
Playing Time – 42:21
       SONGS - 1. Paper Heart, 2. The Old Road to Jerusalem, 3. Stonewall, 4. Love Has No Pride, 5. Old Blue, 6. The First Train Robbery, 7. Sweet Memory Waltz, 8. Undecided, 9. Life's Railway to Heaven, 10. Pretty Little Miss, 11. Sidney the Pirate, 12. Edelweiss
       Eric Uglum’s solo debut release, Shenandoah Wind, turned heads and made a significant mark back in 2004. Now, while Eric Uglum is guitarist, mandolinist and lead vocalist on this latest album, the project is really a collaborative ensemble endeavor. It’s a recording debut for his two teenaged stepsons (Christian and Austin Ward) who perform as fiddler and bassist with Chris Stuart & Backcountry. Eric also recently joined that group (replacing Mason Tuttle). Chris Stuart sings harmony on five tracks, and others assisting include Ron Block, Janet Beazley, Bud Bierhaus, Roger Gillespie and Edwin Uglum (Eric and Stacey’s youngest son). While standard bluegrass instrumentation is used, the banjo and mandolin only make occasional appearances. The set also has flavorings of pennywhistles, drums, percussion, and even a tad of finger cymbals, viola and electric bass. Block and Uglum have been friends for many years and go back to their bands of the early-1980s, Weary Hearts and New Wine. Bierhaus can trace his musical collaboration with Uglum back to the fine band, Copperline.
       Adding to their creative Americana muse, there’s an interesting choice of not-so-standard material, much from others with California connections. An uptempo “Paper Heart” opens the CD with some fire and fury, and that song comes from singer/songwriter Patrick Brayer, who “grew up in slow motion on an egg ranch just off of route 66 in the desert town of Fontana, Ca.” Oden Fong’s “Sidney the Pirate” is a folk ballad that imparts spiritual revelation in a song written by a pastor in Huntington Beach who had been a member of Mustard Seed Faith back in the 70s. Chris Stuart has been highly praised as an award-winning songwriter, and his two contributions (“The Old Road to Jerusalem” and “First Train Robbery”) certainly don’t disappoint. The former, with excellent lyrics and fine presentation, was written by Chris while on tour in the U.K. and is about meeting his father in a dream. Chris’ “First Train Robbery” is based on an actual historical event that occurred in 1866 when the masked Reno Brothers boarded an east bound Ohio & Mississippi passenger train near Seymour, Indiana and robbed the safes. Byron Berline’s “Sweet Memory Waltz” is a pleasant offering with twin fiddles and some phrasing that reminds me of “The Waltz You Saved For Me.” Taking on classic jazz tunes (“Undecided”), favorite gospel (“Life’s Railway to Heaven”), traditional (“Old Blue,” “Pretty Little Miss”) and popular melodies (“Edelweiss”) are also in the musicians’ bag of eclecticism. Christian Ward wrote the fiddle tune entitled “Stonewall,” and the group’s cover of a hit for Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt (“Love Has No Pride”) is imparted with a relaxed folk aura embellished by Uglum’s smooth baritone vocals.
       Besides being well grounded as a musician, Eric Uglum started recording projects at his New Wine Studio in 1997. In the arid high desert of Hesperia, Ca. (between San Diego and Las Vegas), Eric, Christian and Austin have another winner in the “tone, timing and taste” department. With plenty of mood from traditional to contemporary, and Celtic to California, “The Old Road to Jerusalem” offers a musical elixir with an intoxicating effect. Yet another milestone from a well-established California musician and his family, Uglum and company’s musical fermentation is effervescent, largely due to their emphasis on both new and older acoustic spirits. This sparkling 2007 album is of a very good vintage ... with music not too dry or sweet, heavy or light. (Joe Ross)

Portrait of a Song: The Drasco Sessions

Hay Holler HH-CD-1377
PO Box 868, Blacksburg, VA. 24063
TEL. (540)552-7959 OR (636) 789-3102
Playing Time – 46:55
       SONGS – 1.Another Tear, 2. Pearl, 3. McKenna's Hoedown, 4. Mary O'Grady, 5. Let It Ride, 6. Ozark Hills, 7. Gonna Have A Time, 8. I Beg To You, 9. Four Dollar Fight, 10. Black Diamond, 11. Who Am I, 12. Piney Ridge, 13. What About You, 14. Baker, 15. Hobo's Wings
       From the Midwest, Cedar Hill was originally formed in 1967 by mandolinist Frank Ray. The band and its members are frequent Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music (SPBGMA) award winners for strong songwriting, vocal and instrumental skills. In fact, the trophy for 2007 Midwest Award for Bluegrass Album of the Year went to this recording project, as did the winning nod to Lisa Ray as Fiddle Player of the Year. On “Portrait of a Song,” Cedar Hill features Frank Ray (mandolin, vocals), Mel Besher (guitar, vocals), Lisa Ray (fiddle, vocals), Kenny Cantrell (banjo), Irl Hees (bass, vocals), and Kevin Strain (guitar, banjo). Guests with some understated contributions include Ferrell ‘Stobro’ Stowe (resonator guitar, Oahu guitar) and Robert Bowlin (guitar). Following the band’s stellar “Stories” album, this is their second release on the reputable Hay Holler label that is known for its stalwart advocacy of traditionally-based bluegrass.
       Recorded over a three-day period in December, 2005 at Raney Studio in Drasco, Arkansas, this album is also subtitled and referred to as “The Drasco Sessions.” Engineer Jon Raney did a fine job capturing the Cedar Hill sound, charm and mystique. While they have a distinctively traditional stamp, their music’s demeanor emphasizes originality. Thirteen of the 15 songs are new originals from Irl Hees, Frank Ray, Mel Besher, Kenny Cantrell, Darren Haverstick, and Thom Gardiner. Covers include Johnny & Jack’s lovingly profound “What About You,” and Red Allen’s “I Beg To You” in which Mel and Frank sing “On my knees I beg to you if I thought that it would do any good at all / I'd kiss the ground you walk upon / I know now that I was wrong to leave you all alone.”
       Cedar Hill has a knack for knowing what it takes to write great songs. Their originals have clear messages, smoothly flowing melodies, uncomplicated chord progressions, and lyrics that grab your attention. Take Frank Ray’s “Piney Ridge” and “Ozark Hills,” for example, that are also demonstrative of his songwriting development with two pieces written in 1968 and 2005. Back in 1968, Frank wrote “Piney Ridge,” and he provides the lead vocals about a place where “The tall pines grow on Piney Ridge / You can talk to the wind up there / We ain't got much on Piney Ridge / But what we got we share.” His more recent homespun composition, “Ozark Hills,” has even more and well-developed imagery with words like “From the cradle of life, many years have passed /since I sat by a campfire on a mountainside / to listen to the hounds run and the stories told / seen the diamondlike stars of an Ozark night.” Frank also wrote four other fine songs on this project. A lucky man decides to “Let it Ride” and find a fortune at the craps table based on a gypsy woman’s advice. “Gonna Have a Time” depicts an optimistic picture of that Heavenly home in Glory. Like literary works, the reverent songs about home set a stage and pull you into their stories. It’s no wonder that the band has a large legion of Missouri fans who can appreciate and relate to lyrics in the opener from Irl Hees – “Another Tear somewhere there is falling / Another heart is breaking silently for you.”
       Most appealling are the heartfelt and passionate sentiments that are expressed. Mel Besher and Billy Smith’s “Who Am I” assumes a devout tone as it recognizes that human frailties and weaknesses often lead one to question God’s direction. Ballads with evocative, loving or uplifting statements are some of my favorite songs. Darren Haverstick’s “Pearl” is a tale of time passing and affection of a man for his hunting dog. Thom Gardiner’s “Mary O’Grady” is another touching ballad with acoustic country flavorings that speak to the river of life, love, time and memories. Besides painting a beautiful portrait, the song is a sweet and fragrant “bouquet for the prettiest girl in town.” Gardiner also penned the album closer, “Hobo’s Wings,” a slow, reflective plea to be taken home. Kenny Cantrell’s instrumental, “McKenna’s Hoedown” is a tribute to his granddaughter, and Frank Ray’s “Black Diamond” weaves together the melodic fabric of mandolin, banjo, and fiddle.
       In keeping with their personalized signature sound, “Portrait of a Song” emphasizes story songs typically presented with slower to moderate tempos that allow Cedar Hill to accentuate the messages of their compelling narratives. Their songs paint pictures that dramatically describe life’s ups and downs. While life is certainly full of travails and struggles to be reckoned with, Cedar Hill doesn’t dwell on them. I’ve always appreciated Cedar Hill’s music because their messages typically resonate with consolation, inspiration, and resolve. (Joe Ross)

Ultimate Gospel

Columbia Legacy
Playing Time – 67:14
       SONGS - 1. Here Was A Man, 2. The Preacher Said "Jesus Said", 3. I Was There When It Happened, 4. Belshazzar, 5. That's Enough, 6. It Was Jesus, 7. The Old Account 8. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, 9. Children Go Where I Send Thee, 10. The Great Speckle Bird 11. He'll Understand and Say Well Done, 12. How Great Thou Art, 13. It Is No Secret (What God Can Do), 14. He Turned The Water Into Wine, 15. Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord), 16. Troublesome Waters, 17. My Ship Will Sail, 18. When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder, 19. In The Sweet By And By, 20. Far Side Banks of Jordan, 21. (There'll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me), 22. Oh Come, Angel Band, 23. Amazing Grace, 24. Daddy Sang Bass
       Johnny Cash grew up surrounded by music. The field hands sang rhythmic work songs to make the time go quicker. There was the family’s piano. On Saturday nights, they’d tune their radio dial to the Grand Ole Opry. His mother was a devout member of the Pentecostal Church of God where services incorporated music and fire-and-brimstone preaching. This CD, “Ultimate Gospel,” brings together a compilation of sacred material that can provide insight about the singer and his career on a decade-by-decade basis primarily during the 50s, 60s and 70s. By 1950, Johnny had graduated from high school and one of his first bands was “Landsberg Barbarians,” when he served in the Air Force in Germany. By 1954, Cash was back stateside in Memphis rehearsing gospel songs to play at parties and church socials. His brother Roy introduced John to two mechanics at the Chevy dealership where they worked. Both Luther Monroe Perkins and Marshall Grant had been with The Dixie Rhythm Ramblers and The Tennessee Three. The guitarist and bassist are prominently heard in the material dating from the 50s and 60s. At Sun Records, Sam Phillips didn’t forbid them to record gospel, but he did encourage the band to focus on country & western. Tracks 3 and 4 (“I Was There When It Happened” and “Belshazzar”) document some of his earliest gospel recorded in Memphis. Both songs were produced by Jack Clement, and “I Was There When It Happened” is taken from one of Cash’s first records, “Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar” put out by Sun Records in 1957. “That’s Enough” is a strong and moving selection from his 1958 record.
       In 1958, Cash’s success led to his signing with Columbia Records. With a simple handshake, producer Don Law entered the picture. Tracks 5-10 and 14-16 on “Ultimate Gospel” were originally produced by Law (and Frank Jones on the latter three) and released on six different albums (on Columbia) between 1958-64. At the time, there were many hits coming out of studios like Bradley's Barn in Nashville. For example, “That’s Enough” was taken from the 1958 LP (Johnny’s first for Columbia) called “The Fabulous Johnny Cash.” That record eventually charted at #19. The May, 1959 record “Hymns By Johnny Cash” was his second Columbia LP. We hear three songs on this collection (It Was Jesus, The Old Account, Swing Low Sweet Chariot). Johnny once said it was “the album he came to Columbia to record,” due to Sam Phillips’ reluctance to allow him to record much gospel material at Sun. By 1960, we hear a regular member of Johnny’s band (drummer W.S. ‘Fluke’ Holland) appear in the musical mix. You may recall that The Carter Family joined Johnny’s touring show in the 60s, and their backing vocals are heard in selections like “He Turned The Water Into Wine,” “Troublesome Waters,” and the others throughout the 70s. I’ve always loved their arrangement and classic presentation of “There'll Be Peace In the Valley For Me” and “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”
       While Cash had many popular country and even progressive folk hits, he’d also regularly revisit his gospel roots. Two offerings (“Daddy Sang Bass” and He Turned The Water Into Wine”) are sampled from Cash’s 1968 concept record, “The Holy Land,” with its inspirational songs and narrative based on a trip to Israel with June Carter. Carl Perkins’ “Daddy Sang Bass” was a #1 hit and the song’s lyrics mention “little brother” Jack Cash who died tragically in an electric saw accident. In 1969, Luther Perkins also passed away (in a fire), and Carl Perkins replaced him in the band. Johnny’s duets with June Carter Cash are legendary, and we are treated to a 1976 rendition of “Far Side Banks of Jordan” here.
       Johnny Cash has had many secular hits over the years. The 1980 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee also recorded a considerable amount of favorite gospel numbers during his days. Cash himself experienced poverty and later battled drug addiction, and he realized the need for a relationship with God. These songs had special meaning for him. I’m surprised they didn’t include the song, “I Call Him,” which I always considereds one of his most personally introspective pleas. Spanning over an hour, this set scratches the surface of his sacred music legacy. For those who love classic country gospel music, this album evokes a strong feeling of being close to God. The spiritual strength and comfort of these magnificent songs from yesteryear give us dear and cherished memories. They are tenderly sung with joy by Johnny Cash. Three of the cuts are previously unreleased. They include My Ship Will Sail (1974), How Great Thou Art (1981), and It Is No Secret (What God Can Do) (1981).
       We should be thankful for this wonderful compilation of songs of the spirit because making a joyous noise unto the Lord is an everlasting thing. It’s nice to know that such songs, heartwarming in their simplicity, remain popular in the hearts of good people everywhere. Cash recorded many other sacred songs, and I hope that there will be a subsequent volume of such material. Perhaps they’ll reissue “We’ll Meet Again,” the lyrics of which were printed in Cash’s funeral program. (Joe Ross)

Shacktown Road

Plectrafone Records 80302-01256-2
P.O. Box 9187, Colorado Springs, CO. 80932-0187
Playing Time – 57:51
       SONGS - 1. Shacktown Road, 2. Kindred Spirit, 3. Guitar Rag, 4. No Not A Word, 5. The Old Dobro Man, 6. Worried Blues, 7. Tom Spalias Waltz, 8. Lizzie Hubbard Blues, 9. Going To Georgia, 10. Ode To Bacom Bascom, 11. On The Banks Of Lake Ponchatrain, 12. It Must Be Jelly, 13. The Tag Railroad Rag, 14. Running Wild, 15. Times Ain't Like They Used To Be, 16. End Of The World, 17. Steel Guitar Blues, 18. The Buffalo Left Yesterday
       Between Norman, Nancy, Tut and the three other musicians on this album (Uwe Kruger, Jens Kruger, Joel Landsberg), there are 18 different instruments played. There are many guitars and mandolins, most of them dating to the early 1900s. There are newer instruments hand crafted by Taylor’s son, Mark. There’s also a mandola, cello, banjo, bass and accordion at times. The liner notes are remiss in not providing better song-by-song credits, and Tut Taylor is the only musician credited with vocals. Slight oversights and imperfections aside, “Shacktown Road” is really more about a humble attitude towards the threesome’s musical heritage ….their vision to document a “wonderful period in our lives” in sepia tone. Recorded in a little old house that the Kruger Brothers were using for a temporary studio, the songs are part of an adventurous and rustic repertoire that have characterized their musical journeys over the decades. Besides simply calling it a “thing,” Norman Blake refers to it as a “full circle trip” and “a historical piece of art” with the unique elements of “Blues, Mediterranean, Greek and Funky, Raw, Southern Country.” Probably only somewhat scripted, it would be interesting to know how this set came together other than as an idea for the three to collaborate again since the days of their 1970s seminal hit record, “Aereo Plain” (with John Hartford and Vassar Clements).
       Undoubtedly, the group demonstrates their continuing respect for traditional music and the values it imparts. The enjoyment and lessons we learn today from the older music may be, in part, a reason for its latest revitalized resurgence. Thus, “Shacktown Road” gives us rustic voices singing bucolic sentiments, and seasoned fingers playing antique instruments. While some of the countrified songs are brawnier than others, there’s ample purity and honesty throughout. The charm of a project like this is its simplicity, sincerity, and reality. More than just picking and singing together, these friends transport back to another era where the seeds of their music were planted. And musicians (and reviewers too, for that matter) didn’t take themselves so seriously then either.
       In Taylor’s narrative opener, the stage is set for the music ahead that grows in as many directions as the kudzu vines-- “Have you ever been down to Shacktown? Where they lay around all day? Eating them chocolate moonpies, and Listen to the radio play.” Including some snippets of actual Bill Monroe recordings that Tut made on an old Philco radio disc recorder in the 1940s (pictured in the CD’s jacket), we’re not totally clear what lays ahead in this nearly hour-long set. But it doesn’t take long to realize that we should just imagine ourselves sippin’ soda and listening to some front porch pickin’ at Joe Brown’s Shacktown store. With as many flavors as the Nehi soft drinks of the period, “Shacktown Road” will certainly help you find a favorite refreshing drink in your favorite flavor. The Nehi Blue Cream is the recommended beverage for pieces like “Worried Blues,” “Lizzie Hubbard Blues,” “It Must Be Jelly,” and “Steel Guitar Blues.” Apparently recorded live, the former has a few vocal shortcomings that probably should’ve been fixed. Lizzie Hubbard was a black lady near Possum Trot, Ga. who delivered babies, and she delivered Tut in 1923 in return for a “mess of collard greens.”
       For a different flavoring, grab a cool Nehi Ginger Ale to whet your appetite for more of Norman and Nancy’s duet singing on “Going to Georgia, ” “Not a Word from Home,” and “On the Banks of Lake Pontchartrain.” The latter relates the story of the flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. “Guitar Rag” relates a short story of encountering a man with a National slide guitar who taught the tune in exchange for a quarter. “The Old Dobro Man,” “Running Wild,” and “End of the World” are relaxed, leisurely melodies that pair up Tut’s resophonic guitar with Nancy’s cello (from Independence, Mo., she was classically trained and met Norman while playing in the Nashville Youth Orchestra in the early 1970s). In the reflective closing number, “The Buffalo Left Yesterday,” a little extra fizz is imparted with Jens Kruger’s accordion seasoning. A Nehi Peach might be the beverage of choice to wash down the folkstral flavorings of “Kindred Spirit” and “Tom Scala’s Waltz.” Here and there, we hear tints of the Blakes’ ‘chamber bluegrass’ sound that made their Rising Fawn String Ensemble so popular. The bark from one of Tut’s best friends, his terrier named Bascom, kicks off the instrumental “Ode to Bascom.” If some cute lyrics had been written to match, this catchy little tune could become a children’s favorite covered by Raffi and his gang. A favorite little mandolin/guitar ditty is “The Tag Railroad Rag,” a tune also released in 2001 on Norman’s “Flower From the Fields of Alabama” album. A little mandolin pick noise on the fingerboard provides a slight distraction.
       In the traditional “Times Ain’t Like They Used To Be,” Norman renders a heartfelt solo recollection of the good ol’ days as a brakeman on a southbound train headin’ for where he came from. While born in Tennessee, he grew up far out in the country (Sulphur Springs, Ga.) near the Georgia/Alabama line where the biggest happenings around town were the train depot, the steam, and the colorful locomotives. In 2008, Norman turns 70, and Tut turns 85. Like that ol’ vintage Philo radio, these songcarriers still tune in and play an authentic and nostalgic style of yesteryear’s endearing music. There might be a little static in that old radio in Shacktown, but no one seems to care much when they gather around the box for a listen on Saturday night. Wouldn’t it be great for the music if every little community gathered to pick, grin and re-create Shacktown on Saturday nights! (Joe Ross)

No. 1 Scottish: Traditional Music from the RSAMD

Greentrax CDTRAX 310
Playing Time – 53:23
       SONGS – The Tag Team Set (4.34), Jamie Come Try Me (2.41), A Mhic Iain 'Ic Sheumais (3.02), The Brides and Tartars Set (3.00), The Dowie Dens O' Yarrow (4.07), Liam's Bonnet (3.36), A Mhairead Og (2.56), Da Burn O' Cousta (2.06), Sailin's A Wearie Life (4.00), A Blast From The West (5.01), For Meg Of Abernethy (3.31), Fhir A' Chinn Duibh (3.07), Incholm (3.31), Hielan' Laddie (4.21), Whistle O'er The Lave O't (3.32)
       Recorded in 2001 and 2002, this album was originally released as the first product on the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama’s (RSAMD) own label. Now, Greentrax Records, recognizing the importance of supporting Scotland’s up-and-coming musicians of the future, has re-released this showcase for the students’ work. Brian McNeill, head of the Scottish Music Department, produced the project and appears on two tracks playing his fiddle or mandocello. Faculty members like RSAMD’s principal trumpet player John Wallace also appear in support of their understudies. Other instructors participating include Rob MacKillop (lute), James Ross (piano), Kenna Campbell (vocals), Karen Marshalsay (harps), Calum Ross (vocals), and Mike Travis (percussion). The nearly hour-long set samples the great variety in Scottish traditional music being taught – pipe band tunes, 13th-Century Celtic devotional lute music, Gaelic walking songs, border ballads, and Ceilidh dance band sets. And, of course, no collection of Scottish traditional music is complete without an offering from Robert Burns such as “Jamie Come Try Me.”
       There are many highlights on this album, and the cast is large…. certainly Emily Smith’s a cappella rendition of “The Dowie Dens O’ Yarrow” demonstrates why she won the Young Scottish Traditional Musician of the Year award. We must keep our eyes peeled (and ears tuned) for her upcoming debut solo project. Two other winners of this same award on the CD include Stuart Cassells (pipes) and Gillian Frame (fiddle, vocals). The masculine Gaelic offering of James Graham is “A Mhairead Og,” a sad tale of how an unapproving mother’s trickery led to a young man’s love lost. Other fine vocals on the album are offered by Fiona Hunter, Ishbel Munro, Findlay Napier, Gilian Frame, and others. When the RSAMD students graduate, many become professional musicians. Napier and Frame, for example, comprise half of the band, Back of the Moon. Another tale of sorrow and grief, “Fhir a Chinn Duibh” features seven vocalists accompanied only by small pipes. The students learned the music and lyrics for this track using an innovative system called HOTBED (Handing on Tradition by Electronic Dissemination) that shares song information via an on-line website and archive.
       There are so many emotions and moods in Scottish music, and we experience many here. I wish that translations for the Gaelic tales would have been included, but the liner notes are quite comprehensive in explaining each story’s basic gist and theme. There are many exceptional pipers featured on the album, and the skirl is no better presented than by Liam Brown in the strathspeys that are part of “Liam’s Bonnet.” Other pipers of note are Lorne MacDougall, Stuart Cassells, Alan Paterson, and Calum MacCrimmon. Calum plays the small pipes, and his direct relation to the hereditary pipers to the MacLeods of Dunvegan is an interesting fact that reinforces how serious these young men and women are about keeping the Scottish traditions vibrant and alive.
       Multi-instrumentalist Jenna Reid receives special accolades for not only composing her “Da Burn O’Cousta,” but also for playing the stylistic Shetland offering on fiddle, piano and accordion! I understand that Jenna is a member of the group called Filska. Other instrumental flavorings heard to varying extent on the CD are cello, clarsach, lute, mandocello, lute, bass and harp. Vocalist and cellist Fiona Hunter is now a member of the band, Malinky. “For Meg of Abernathy,” a tribute of three tunes to the first female Scottish harper, was arranged for presentation by a quintet of five women playing wire, nylon and gut-strung harps. I thought sure I heard some uncredited bass or cello in the mix of this medley, but perhaps those tones are re-created on the lower strings of the harp. To get the toes tapping with spirit, “A Blast from the Past” brings together accordion, fiddle, piano and bass. The former is superbly played by Angus MacPhail, a member of the band Skipinnish. An evocative and contemplative piano piece is rendered by James Ross for the album’s closer – “Whistle O’er the Lave O’t,” an 18th-Century melody attributed to James Bruce.
       This album is a splendid, monumental and celebratory milestone for the Academy. It demonstrates the great teamwork there, and it would be nice to see an annual album from their talented students. Besides performance, the art of recording should certainly be an important part of their training too. Apparently, they are in very good hands at the school, and Scottish traditional music knowledge and skills are also in very good hands for the future. (Joe Ross)

The Roseland Barndance

Greentrax CDTRAX308 OR
Playing Time – 40:56
       SONGS - 1. Sliabh Luachra Polkas (Untitled, Sonny Riordan's, Bill The Weaver's), 2. The Dark Eyed Sailor, 3. The Roseland Barndance, 4. The Girl From The Big House (The Girl from the Big House, The Humours of Ballingarry, Molly Brannigan's), 5. Barbara Allen, 6. Earl Mitten’s (Bridgie's Barndance, Earl Mitten's Breakdown), 7. The Humours Of Ballydesmond (The Borlin Polka, The Humours of Ballydesmond, O'Keeffe's), 8. An Raibh Tu Ag An g Carraig, 9. I'd Rather Be Married Than Left (I'd Rather Be Married Than Left, The Gleanntan Frolics, Barrack Hill, The Clare Jig), 10. Go Your Way, 11. Crehan's Reels (Crehan's, Bonny Anne, Dermot Byrne's)
       With a solid set of dance tunes and songs, North Cregg’s fourth album also is a milestone that celebrates their tenth year in the Celtic music business. As most bands with such longevity have experienced personnel changes, a few members (fiddler Caoimhin Vallely, guitarist John Neville, pianist Paul Meehan and vocalist Fiona Kelleher) have come and gone over the years since their seed was first planted in a pub session. The Irish band now consists of Christy Leahy (button box), Liam Flanagan (fiddle, banjo), Ciaran Coughlan (piano), Martin Leahy (guitar, drums) and Claire-Anne Lynch (vocals, fiddle). Martin is Christy’s younger brother who originally joined the band about 1998 for a tour to Germany. Flanagan has been with the group since 2004; Lynch since early-2006. Together, they are an inspired and energetic bunch. They owe their moniker to 5-year-member John Neville who once had to quickly respond to a festival organizer when asked for the band’s name. He thought of a tune (by uilleann piper Jimmy Morrisson) that was named for a small town in County Cork. Thus, North Cregg found its direction, although many fans now just affectionately refer to them as the Creggies.
       On this album, the title cut written by Joe Derrane, recalls some of the Irish dancehall music played by emigrants to the U.S. in the early-1900s. It’s a fine showcase for talented accordionist Leahy, while the subsequent track with a medley of jigs particularly demonstrate the fine bow work and pluck of Flanagan. “Barbara Allen” and “The Dark Eyed Sailor” are perfect ballad choices for Lynch’s gentle and alluring vocalizing. If there’s anything I miss in beautifully poignant contemporary Celtic music like this, it’s vocal harmony and perhaps some of the men singing too. A lively piano-centric set with a French Canadian flavor is “Earl Mitten’s.” Guests Dirk Powell and Seamus Burns add clawhammer banjo and spoons, respectively. Another guest joining the North Cregg on the album is upright bassist Chris McCarthy. That’s a wise move as I do like hearing some low end in Celtic music. Besides jigs and reels, some spirited sets of polkas are pure delight to liven up the party. The Gaelic offering at track 8 is dreamy and seductive as it tells the story of a banished young man’s desire to see his true love. “Go Your Way” is another hypnotic ballad, this one written by English folk singer Annie Briggs. Claire-Anne’s delicate voice is silky, expressive and enticing. I hope that the band might consider adding their songs’ lyrics to their website for further analysis.
       Recorded in Cork, “The Roseland Barndance” is an admirable addition to the band’s musical catalog. During the past decade, North Cregg has carved out their niche and built a reputation for distinctive music with both emotional depth and downhome fervor. Most importantly, their enthralling music exudes polish, stability and maturity. Touring the world, North Cregg brings their soulful stamp on Celtic music to the largest festival stages. Their previous albums include “...And They Danced All Night” (1999), “Mi Da:Za” (2001), and “Summer At My Feet” (2003). (Joe Ross)

This Old World

c/o Carol Pope, PO BOX 3161, Port Angeles, WA. 98362 OR
TEL. 360-460-1236
Playing Time ­ 46:09
       SONGS - 1 Bound To Go 2 Ain't The Buyin' Kind 3 Secret 4 Roscoe Stomp 5 Lucky Day 6 Down To The Wire 7 Shake The Barnhouse Down 8 The Old Bar 9 Fully Saved Today 10 The Farmer Is The Man 11 Sandy Boys 12 You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
       "This Old World" hastens back to less hectic and stressful days when music was primarily made on the porch or around the fireplace. The cover of Deadwood Revival's second CD sets the stage with a historic 1887 photo of Port Angeles, Wa. back when the town was striving for the social and political perfection of Utopia. Originally meeting in Atlanta, Ga. in the mid-1990s, Jason Mogi and Kim Trenerry discovered that their ideas and interests were harmonious. The duo also realized they had a powerful vocal blend accompanied with their guitar and harmonica. They decided to head to the Pacific Northwest in search of that nearly perfect lifestyle where the cows all like to milk themselves. Now, the duo also incorporates banjo, bass and percussion into their music, and Jason has taken to building banjos.
       With their travelin' shoes on and instruments in tow, Deadwood Revival opens this set with "Bound To Go," a tale of embarkation from this old world to the other side. The liner notes acknowledge banjo-player and song-carrier Stephen Wade for some inspiration. Cross-eyed Rosie's Ellie Holzemer provides some skipping fiddle to the original opener, and she appears again with vocals and fiddle in "Lucky Day," another Deadwood Revival original. In fact, their eight originals are embossed with some eclectic folk, blues, old-time and even classic country flavors. "Down to the Wire" is the most rustic and rawboned offering ­ an instrumental featuring a gourd banjo built by Jay Moschella. Then, "Shake the Barnhouse Down" forgoes banjo altogether for a guitar- centric groove that is a contemporary rendering of Saturday night in a small Tennessee mountain town. For banjo groove, the traditional "Sandy Boys" is just the ticket with additional lyrics from Mogi. There is also clawhammer and slide banjo featured in "Roscoe Stomp," Jason's homage to Roscoe Holcomb.
       Covers come from Blind Willie Johnson (Church I'm Fully Saved Today), Fiddlin' John Carson (The Farmer is the Man), and Bob Dylan (You Ain't Goin' Nowhere). Blind Willie's forte was his ability to powerfully fuse sacred and bluegrass songs. While I am more familiar with and have more of a penchant for the New Lost City Rambler's up-tempo rendition of "The Farmer is the Man," Deadwood Revival's bluesy version is quaint and pleasant. It's a sentiment that rings true today ­ "The lawyer hangs around while the butcher cuts a pound / But the farmer is the man who feeds them all." Finally, in the Dylan cover, Jason and Kim's vocal interplay would make their offering a sure crowd-pleaser at the coffee houses, bars, clubs, parties, markets, concerts, festivals they perform at. In fact, their music has cross-market potential that has allowed them to find gigs at folk, old-time, roots and bluegrass venues.
       On "This Old World," old-time and folk sensibilities are being forged into evocative new world music. Deadwood Revival isn't trying to make something out of nothing. Rather, they're on the leading edge of the resurgence and revitalized interest in old-time music. They're infusing healthy vigor, gusto and enthusiasm into their new presentation of 'old world' inspired music. I also sense that they're striving for some Utopian vision and idealism in the music too. (Joe Ross)

TRENT SUMMAR & The New Row Mob ­
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

Palo Duro PDR-1401
Playing Time - 38:26
       If you know what's best for you on a Saturday night, then you'll pick up a copy of "Horseshoes & Hand Grenades," for a driving set of Summar's rockin' country music. Actually, he calls it "farm rock," a convergence of Chuck Berry and George Jones. Full of grit, Trent incorporates strong rhythmic intensity as the foundation for his striking stories and just plain ol' fun rowdiness. The elements all lend perfectly to our listening amusement. They hit the ground with a steady gallop from the first song to the last, even with the brief eccentric punk/grunge moments in "He Stopped Loving Her Today" that will either get you frowning or smiling depending on how open-minded you are to the boys having a little fun with the country classic.
       I haven't heard the album that Trent put out in 2000 (or his 1994 "Hank Flamingo" release), but understand that it brought plenty of airplay, gig and tour offersŠeven landed him a showcase on the Grand Ole Opry. Produced by Rand Bishop, "Horseshoes & Hand Grenades" further indulges us with some eclectic alt-country instrumentalists and background vocalists. Remember the Ozark Mountain Daredevils with their blend of country rock, bluegrass, and southern boogie? Bassman/vocalist Michael "Supe" Granda was a founding member of that group. And the 1980s Atlanta-based Georgia Satellites with their Stones-like guitar grunge? Guitarist/vocalist Dan Baird was a key member of that enjoyable band. Steel guitarist Gary Morse is a regular with Brooks & Dunn. Other experienced musicians in The New Row Mob include Dave Kennedy (drums), Ken McMahan (guitar), and a host of others who appear to a lesser degree on the CD. Mike Webb's piano and B-3 organ are noteworthy.
       Besides those collaborations with other Nashville-based writers, a number of the musicians on the album co-wrote many of these songs with Summar. And you may have already heard some of the songs covered by others like Billy Currington ("She Knows What to Do With a Saturday Night"), Gary Allan ("Guys Like Me"), and Jack Ingram ("Love You"). That's a feather is Summar's cap for other up-and-coming singers to acknowledge the sturdiness of Trent's material. Without being too disparaging, I found the similarity of the beat in a few of the songs to create a modicum of banality. But, for the most part, the set progresses as a successful, raucous journey from beginning to end. Reminiscent of the Bakersfield sound, the country rock-infused groove and clever lines convey some deliriously fun messages. Some other catchy hooks, and even some rustic bluegrass flavorings, are found in songs like "Hayride," "Pink John Deere," and "Girl From Tennessee." Hitting you like an express train, "Louisiana Nashville Line" is full of steam. In "Guys Like Me," Trent sings "It's hard to find a place to play my guitar, they're trying to put an end to guys like me" and "I'd like to find a place where love surrounds me ... where you can land your dreams on solid ground." I'd say this album will fetch him plenty of fame and gigs. Trent's well on his way to landing his golden dreams on solid ground. (Joe Ross)

The Arkansas Traveler: Music from Little House on the Prairie

Pa's Fiddle Recordings PFR-0168-2
PO Box 40269, Nashville, TN. 37204
TEL. 888-573-3902 OR
Playing time - 59:59
       During her lifetime from 1867-1957, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a famous series of eight "Little House" books that trace her family's history through the west from 1867 to 1885. Published between 1932-1943, the books have become classics in American children's literature. Within her stories are references to 126 songs. There are songs from the parlor, stage, minstrel shows, church and school. Laura's guiding musical spirit was her singing and fiddling father, Charles "Pa" Ingalls. On this musical tribute, the second CD in a planned series of ten albums, we are treated to contemporary renderings of 18 of the 126 referenced songs. Recognizing the esteemed place that music-making once held within the lives of ordinary American families and pioneers, the set's producers and many participating artists are songcarriers who understand the importance of preserving music tradition. The Natl. Endowment for the Humanities has also taken note of the project, and they supported the 2005 release ("Happy Land") by including it in the "We the People Bookshelf" program that resulted in 2,000 copies to be sent to libraries throughout the U.S.
       Two tracks (The Blue Juniata, Happy Land) on this second album, "The Arkansas Traveler" were previously released on the first, "Happy Land," that title cut which appears more often in Wilder's books than any other hymn and came to epitomize family strength and opposition to unruly outside influences. Different interpretations of The Devil's Dream, The Arkansas Traveler, and Oh! Susanna appear on both albums. Rather than just instrumental, this CD has narrator Ranger Doug providing dialogue from 19th century sources with "The Arkansas Traveler." And Wilder referred to an undocumented "Devil's Hornpipe" in the book so Butch Baldassari and David Schanaufer play "Devil's Dream" at hornpipe tempo in a spare setting with only octave mandolin and dulcimer. In a similar manner, Oh! Susanna features only Alison Brown (banjo, guitar) and Andrea Zonn (vocal, violin, viola).
       In a sense, the concept albums are the books' soundtrack. Fans of the "Little House" books will especially thrill in being able to hear the music that was an integral part of pioneer life on the prairie. Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music Professor Dale Cockrell recruited well-known mandolinist Butch Baldassari to co-produce the project. Top Nashville musicians enlisted to participate include Elizabeth Cook, Riders in the Sky, Dave Olney, John Cowan, Buddy Greene, Andrea Zonn, Alison Brown, Deborah Packard, Pat Enright, Doug Green, Keith Little, Mike Eldred, Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, Judith Edelman, David Schnaufer, Mike Bub, Pat Flynn, Bob Carlin, John Mock, Butch Baldassari, Peggy Duncan Singers, Mac Wiseman, Byron House, Blair String Quartet, Jeff Black and Jeffrey Taylor. Lyrics for the songs are available at
       The result is a set of contemporary renditions of American folk music, a melting pot of hymns, minstrel show songs, spirituals and fiddle tunes. A 12-page CD booklet provides background about the songs and a few nice 1870s Currier & Ives print reproductions. One should imagine the days before radio and TV when music-making was a family activity pursued for fun, entertainment and education. For that same reason, families today will obtain plenty of enjoyment together with the rediscovery of classics, as well as new discoveries like "The Gum Tree Canoe," "Daisy Deane," "Roll On Silver Moon," "The Gypsy King," and "Bye Baby Bunting." 19th- century disc jockeys might've had program playlists that looked like these albums' repertoire. And in Wilder's books, it was always Pa's fiddle at the end of the day that helped the family get through tough times. A bonus track closes the album with a contemporary composition (by Stan Link) that brings an old singing/clapping rhyme song, "Pease Porridge Hot," back to life in our century as a perfect example of how the folklore tradition works to pass information, usually verbally, from generation to generation.
       Wilder's eight children books inspired two television series - one that ran from 1974-1983, and the other which had a limited airing in 2005. With the CDs already issued and forthcoming in this 10-album series, we can all work hand-in-hand to help kids discover a rich part of American's musical heritage and legacy. (Joe Ross)


Greentrax CDTRAX 304
Cockenzie Business Centre Edinburgh Road Cockenzie East Lothian EH32 OR OR OR OR
Playing Time - 54:18
       Ceilidh Minogue is a spirited Scottish ceilidh band that no doubt plays many weddings, parties, celebrations and other events. The experienced band can even call dances, if desired. The band members keep busy with many music-related projects from composing to arranging, and recording to touring. All tracks on their self-titled debut album are well-produced and have the core trio of Gregor Lowrey (accordion), Gavin Marwick (fiddle), and Bob Turner (piano, accordion). All but one track ("Greenhill") also have Al Morrow on drums and/or percussion. Gregor played with Black Eyed Biddy in 1988, toured the world with Davy Arthur, and was the featured box player in the hit Celtic dance show, Sheihallion, and performed with Canadian band, Clan Terra. Ceilidh Minogue's fiddler Gavin Marwick was a founding member of Iron Horse, works with various projects including Cantrip, has recorded extensively with many artists, and appeared with The Unusual Suspects. Pianist Bob Turner started his career on accordion but switched to piano, has worked with fiddler Bruce MacGregor and Neil Gow Ensemble. Drummer Big Al Morrow has played in various jazz, rock and traditional configurations. I like the way that Ceilidh Minogue brings varied music influences and experiences to the table in a collaborative fashion that has shaped their unique, overall sound. Their mission, apparently, is to simply provide alluring and inspiring instrumental dance music.
       Guitarist Duncan Finlay plays on more than half of the selections. Other selections have guest musicians like Angus Wares (guitar, mandolin, tipple), an experienced Scot musician from Dundee who is comfortable playing many types of music and who has toured Lithuanian and Latvia with accordionist Lowrey. Wares appears on four tracks, and his tipple evokes a particularly nice tonal sentiment to the album's closer, "Waltzing Matilda." Other guests include Roy Percy (bass-3 tracks), John Burgess (sax-2 tracks), and Steven Hawkes (trumpet-2 tracks). If you are looking for the full ensemble of nine, spin the 6-minute "Para Handy in New York" medley.
       Ceilidh Minogue has a healthy respect for tradition, but they are not just restating the past. Throughout this album, they display innovation with regard for the robust, strong tradition. "La Brass-thing" begins with the common "La Bastringue" but the medley evolves into high-flying creative delight. Some of their medleys have common dance tunes (e.g. Petronella, Charlie Hunter), but they then typically segue into novel territory. They also breathe new life into instrumental arrangements of two Robert Burns' songs. Of special note are some original tunes (e.g. New Moon, Blackford Two-Step, Seven Fit Tree, Greenhill, Glendevon, Ben's Frist Birthday, Back in Forth) that were composed by Marwick, Turner or Lowrey. The group is a multi-purpose one with great variety. If Ceilidh Minogue is playing at a party, you're sure that it will be standing room only, and that they will present music to please everyone in attendance. (Joe Ross)

Songs of Love & Reflection

Greentrax CDGMP 8012
Cockenzie Business Centre Edinburgh Road Cockenzie East Lothian EH32 OR
Playing Time - 65:19
       SONGS - Canan Nan Gaidheal, Hush, Hush, Whaur Dae Ye Lie?, Amazing Grace (Gaelic Psalm version), Lament For The Commandos/Dunkirk, Soraidh Leis An Ait (Farewell To The Place), MacCrimmon's Lament (MacCrimmon's Sweetheart), Braighe Loch Iall (The Braes of Lochiel), Ae Fond Kiss, Both Sides The Tweed, Fear A Bhata, Time Wears Awa, I Ho Ro's Na Hug Ore Exile (A Love Song), Auld Lang Syne
       The 14 powerful songs on "Celtic Women from Scotland" are drawn from previously released albums on Scotland's Greentrax record label. The project is subtitled "Songs of Love & Reflection" so one should expect sweetly wistful remembrances and intimate settings. All the selections are beautiful songs of love, praise, lamentation, or tribute. Four are sung in the Gaelic language including the album's opener, Catherine-Ann MacPhee's charming rendition of "Canan Nan Gaidheal" (Language of the Gael) that has become the rallying song of the Gaels. In a contemporary and emotional vein, Karine Polwart sings her own self-penned "Whaur Dae Ye Lie?," in memory of the townspeople massacred in Srebrenica, Bosnia by Serb forces in 1995. Mairi Campbell sings a popular Dick Gaughan song, "Both Sides The Tweed," wit optimism for good future relations between England and Scotland. There are two selections (Ae Fond Kiss, Auld Lang Syne) drawn from the repertoire of Scotland's national poet and bard, Rabbie Burns. I was a tad disappointed that none of the women chose an offering from another famous Scottish composer, Lady Nairne.
       Other hypnotic and defining voices on the CD include those of Lynn Morrison, Karen Matheson, Isla St. Clair, Ishbel MacAskill, Heather Heywood, Alyth McCormack, Sheena Wellington, Mairi Campbell, Mairi MacInnes, Alison McMorland, Margaret Stewart, and Gill Bowman. All of the women has expressive, enticing vocals, and you'll want to explore more of their music on the albums sampled. It would have been nice for the CD jacket to credit the accompanists on each piece. All in all, this generous hour-long set has some splendid, albeit plaintive, folk ballads about affection, devotion, and contemplation. Because there are so many beautifully melancholic and emotional moments, I was only able to listen to these tracks in numerous sittings. (Joe Ross)

Into The Fire

Monroe Crossing MC-1206
17625 Argon Street NW Ramsey, MN 55303
TEL. (763)213-1349 OR
Playing Time - 47:55
       SONGS - Into The Fire, The Touch of God's Hand, Just a Closer Walk with Thee, One Life, A Mother's Last Words to Her Daughter, The Old Cross Roads, Oak Grove Church, He Did Rise, Orphan Girl, Satan's Jeweled Crown, Who's That Knockin' At My Door, Standing In the Need of Prayer, The Far Side Banks of Jordan, Shut Up In the Mines at Coal Creek, Get Thee Behind Me
       Minnesota-based Monroe Crossing is apparently on a schedule to release at least one new album annually. In 2004, we were treated to a live album, "On the Road," and in 2005 we enjoyed "Somebody Like You" and their seasonal project, "The Happy Holidays." The band now has a new banjo player (Jason Ericsson) who joined up in May 2006. The rest of the band remains the same -- Lisa Fuglie (fiddle, mandolin, guitar), Art Blackburn (guitar), Matt Thompson (mandolin) and Mark Anderson (bass). Fuglie and Blackburn handle lead vocals. Matt Thompson is the third voice on trios. Mark Anderson sings bass on the two quartets ("He Did Rise" and "Standing in the Need of Prayer").
       Recorded live, with no overdubbing, into a single mic, "Into The Fire" is this hard-working band's seventh album overall (and second all-Gospel project, the other being "Then Sings My Soul."). They selected the songs because these are the ones that move them emotionally, spiritually and/or musically. Repertoire is drawn from Terry Smith, Pat Enright, Gillian Welch, Bill Monroe, Don Reno, Ronnie Bowman, Hazel Houser, and other sources. The title cut, penned by Lisa Fuglie, was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 letter from Birmingham jail that cited the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in support of civil disobedience when confronted with unjust laws. "When those who wield the power say you must do that which goes against our God, don't be afraid, you are not alone. Have faith, even as you go into the fire." One of their audience favorites, Mark Anderson's "He Did Rise," features twin mandolins (Fuglie and Thompson) and the band's quartet on a happy, joyful message celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. The album closes with "Get Thee Behind Me," a lively song from another Minnesota songwriter, Mary Henderson. Besides a few notes about each selection, the CD jacket provides the lyrics for the two originals from band members.
       Monroe Crossing has considerable courage to record an entire gospel recording "live in the studio." It's certainly a worthy testament to the band's cohesion, as well as their love of gospel feelings and messages. I commend them for their well-rehearsed sound. Apparently, the band is not presenting their music as part of a ministry. They recognize that the messages can vary among listeners, and their gospel music speaks to all in different ways. (Joe Ross)

Old Windows

Out West OWP 12004
Playing time - 33:09
       SONGS - My Little Girl In Tennessee, Ashes of Love, Bury Me Beneath the Willow, Lonesome Pine, I Still Miss Someone, I Saw The Light, Orphan Girl, Think of What You've Done, Are You Teasing Me, Jesus Savior Pilot Me
       The nice thing about the bluegrass community is that there are niches for everyone involved with the music. California-based Windy Ridge is a quartet that acknowledges their strength comes from their kinship, camaraderie, chemistry, and love of the music. Windy Ridge is Tim Bryant (guitar, mandolin), Cary Jones (bass, mandolin, fiddle), Frank Bayuk (resophonic guitar) and Claire Wagner (banjo). In this set of classic jam favorites, they work collaboratively to let each band member grab a share of the spotlight. As an example, their set features each band member assuming lead vocalist duties on a few numbers apiece. I think my favorite on the album is their rendition of "I Saw the Light" because this is their one quartet number and because every member gets a piece of the action in the breaks. Claire's singing and banjola on Gillian Welch's reflective "Orphan Girl" is another favored choice. Windy Ridge chose "Old Windows" as the title for their album because their goal was to "take a look back at some old gems, well-recorded and well-liked in the bluegrass genre."
       Originally from Wisconsin, Frank Bayuk developed his love for bluegrass as a child, but he didn't take up playing the music until 1996. It wasn't long before he was in his first band, Appalachian Echoes. Claire Wagner, a California native, took up guitar 25 years ago and then the banjo and mandolin later in life. Her previous bands have included Appalachian Echoes, Diamond Lane/the Cowbelles, and the Praise Band. Also a California native, Tim Bryant played rock and roll in high school, but he found his true calling as a initial member of The Bluegrass Brethren that has produced a number of CDs. Cary Jones hails from Oklahoma, studied music at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, and played from 1985-1992 in Southern Express. He then became a member of Montana-based band Catawaler Creek.
       Windy Ridge delivers a lesson about the good-time nature, connection, and fraternity of bluegrass music. These are four friends working together in a confident, genial and self-assured manner. While they're not out to win Grammy Awards, their affinity for bluegrass is very apparent. They like being on stage, want to entertain, and want to convey their love of the bluegrass and gospel music. I understand that there are some songwriters in the band, and I look forward to hearing some "new windows" from their own pens. In the meantime, "Old Windows" will provide an introspective glance through the band's pane into the hard-hitting emotions, sentiments and feelings of traditional bluegrass. As such, the CD will make a likable souvenir for friends, new and old alike, after one of Windy Ridge's cheery and affable live shows. (Joe Ross)

Good Morning, Friend

Compass 7-4434-2
916 19th Avenue South, Nashville, Tn 37212
Playing Time - 46:18
       SONGS - Good Morning Friend, Ring Them Bells, What It Is, Hold On, Fall Farm, Sitting On Top of the World, The Holy Wells of Old Ireland, Ossian, Goin' to Acapulco, The Speedway at Nazareth, Caurea, Bad Moon Rising, When Death Does Us Apart, Lily of the West, Nobody Loves Anybody Anymore
       Czech this out! The international appeal of bluegrass music is far-reaching, and there are a number of fine groups in the Czech Republic who can relate to the acoustic nature, themes and broad appeal of the genre. It does seem that the further a group is from Appalachia, the more eclectic and independent their musical amalgamation becomes. Druha Trava (translation: "Second Grass") provides an enthusiastic grassified spin to tunes from Johnny Cash, Mark Knopfler, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, John Fogerty, Peter Rowan and Kris Kristofferson. Add in an original song ("When Death Does Us Apart") and a few of their own instrumentals ("Fall Farm," "Ossian" and "Caurea") and you've got a unique blend of music with Slovak, Moravian and Czech dialects. Actually recorded in April, 2004 and then released in their country on the Universal label, "Good Morning, Friend" was then released in the U.S. in 2006 when Compass Records decided to put it out. Compass had previously distributed their Czechmate, New Freedom Bell, and Piece of Cake projects in the U.S. about 1999.
       Mandolinist and vocalist Robert Krestan's full-bodied, gruff voice sounds a bit weather-stained. But despite his raspiness, he provides a certain gusto to lines like Johnny Cash's "Yes I'm feeling like a million since I've got you livin' in." European audiences are not necessarily looking for that "high, lonesome sound" in their bluegrass, and Krestan's multi-year wins of "Male Vocalist of the Year" (Banjo Jamboree Festival), "Country Artist of the Year" (Czech Music Academy), and "Best Male Vocalist" (Bluegrass Association of the Czech Republic) prove that. His gruffgrass vocals are complemented by some excellent banjo, guitar and Dobro instrumental work courtesy of Lubos Malina, Emil Formanek, and Lubos Novotny. Malina also provides some refreshing whistles to the Celtic-flavored "Ossian," and clarinet to Dylan's "Goin' To Acapulco." The band's solid bass lines are provided by Petr Sury. Guests provide background vocals, harmonica, violin, resoradio and vibratongue (whatever those last two are). Druha Trava has collaborated on recording and touring with Charlie McCoy on numerous occasions, and his harmonica is a welcome addition to the mix of six tracks. It would've been nice to hear more of Stano Paluch's fiddle than just on the three cuts including him. I was also a tad disappointed that the mandolin is relegated to a rather minimal role on the CD.
       Druha Trava dates back to 1991 when Krestan and Malina left the band known as Poutnici. Within a year, the new group had won a Czech "Band of the Year" Grammy. Over they years, they've done considerable recording and touring, sometimes singing in their native Slavic language and sometimes including a drummer. From 1993-97, Druha Trava toured the U.S. acoustically. From 1998-2001, they toured with a drummer. Beginning in 2002, Druha Trava again began touring the U.S. as an acoustic band. Their varied presentations indicate their diversity and open-minded attitude towards finding their own niche. The all-acoustic and all-English elements of "Good Morning, Friend" will help them to continue building their American fanbase among aficionados of their new acoustic music with interpretive twists.
       Druha Trava proves its familiarity with straight-ahead bluegrass ("Sitting on Top of the World"), but they tend to show more of an affinity for strong and evocative singer/songwriter fare from country and folk tunesmiths. While the contemplative lyrics are certainly interesting, the presentation of them occasionally feels like they are missing some of the relevant emotion needed to convey the sentiments. A reflective song like Dylan's "Ring Them Bells," for example, requires a philosophic air as it concludes, "Oh the lines are long, and the fighting is strong, and they're breaking down the distance, between right and wrong." Some enigmatic songs come from the pen of Mark Knopfler. With its references to Edinburgh and Charles Dickens characters, I believe that "What It Is" was written to evoke an environment with historical impressions and ambiance from another time and place. "Speedway at Nazareth" builds an analogy between CART racing and life -- "And the raceways were the battlefields and we fought Œem all the way." We learn from mistakes in life, and if we can get it perfectly right, success will be right behind. Maybe this is a perfect anthem for Druha Trava that is chasing their dreams.
       The band shows a lot of optimism, perseverance and dedication even when they're touring far from their European homeland. With Tom Waits' "Hold On," the message conveyed is "When it's cold and there's no music / well your old hometown is so far away / but, inside your head there's a record that's playing, a song called hold on, hold on, you really got to hold on Š. " Although they've already accomplished a great deal, Druha Trava is evidently focused on even greater heights. While Kristofferson's "Nobody Loves Anybody Anymore" is more about love, I'm sure the band can relate to the greater message of "And if it don't come easy now, It ain't worth fighting for." The entertaining band seems to succeed best when they're exuberantly "Goin' on the run, Goin' down to see some girl, Goin' to have some fun." (Goin' to Acapulco). Now isn't that what music should be all about? Besides proficient musicianship and simply having fun, their strengths are clearly their confidence and composure with music that knows few boundaries. (Joe Ross)

Grey Cat on the Tennessee Farm

Hen Cackle HC-504
Post Office Box 614, Los Olivos, Ca. 93441
TEL. (805) 688 9894
Playing Time - 46:48
       SONGS - Intro, 2 Old Plank Road, 3 Jordan Is A Hard Road, 4 Take Me Home Poor Julia, 5 Rabbit In The Pea Patch, 6 Roll Down The Line, 7 I'm Goin' Back To Dixie, 8 Grey Cat, 9 Bull Moose, 10 John Henry, 11 Kiss, 12 Johnny Gray, 13 Rye Straw, 14 King David, 15 Rise When The Rooster Crows, 16 Deer Chase, 17 Forked Deer, 18 Sail Away Ladies, 19 Outro
       The first major star of WSM's Grand Ole Opry, Uncle Dave Macon (1870-1952) "The Dixie Dewdrop" (from Smart Station, Tennessee) once introduced "Coming Around the Mountain" by asking, ŒWell, Buddy, How you feeling? Feeling Right. Well, if you ain't right, git right, and let your conscience be your guide. Because I'm going to play with more hetergeneous, constopolitan, double flavor and unknown quality than usual. Make it light on yourself." With a similar mindset and sure to get you smiling, Peter Feldmann & the Pea Patch Quintet's album is a strong bluegrass tribute to the old-time songs of Uncle Davy. Bluegrassers should take note of how well these kinds of songs adapt to the genre. Rather than some half-baked folk revivalist effort, the songs were conceptually arranged with bluegrass instrumentation, in fact a few banjos, as well as a variety of vocal stackings. I'm sure Uncle Dave would be proud of the "little hot runs on the banjo" (some with touches of harmony), along with all the other fine musicianship here.
       There's also plenty of quaint advice on the CD too. In "Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel," for example, "I don't know but I believe I'm right, the autos ruined the country, let's get back to the horse and buggy, and try to save some money." Not such a bad idea, I'd say, especially if you live in So. Cal.! One of the spoken narratives from Uncle Dave's own commentaries declares, "King David and King Solomon lived merry, merry lives for they had many many wives, but when old age overtook them, they became very calm, King Solomon wrote the proverbs and David wrote the Psalms."
       Hot dog, buddy let's go! Whether singing about rabbits, dogs, deer, moose, cats, kittens, cattle, horses, hogs, sheep, ducks, geese or roosters, Feldmann has a genial barnyard manner. He also plays his Everett Kettler mandolin or clawhammer banjo (on "Deer Chase") with cool confidence and composure. Inspired by that "Rabbit in the Pea Patch" [eating all day], the accomplished quintet includes Dan Crary (guitar), Bill Bryson (bass), Wayne Shrubsall (clawhammer banjo), Dennis Caplinger (5-string and 6-string banjo) and Byron Berline (fiddle). Bryson even plays some clawhammer gourd banjo too on the intro and outro that open and close the project. Even though some of the musicians were not initially that familiar with Uncle Dave's music, they took right to it as if they were from "the land of hog and hominy, pumpkin and possum, and where whiskey is made out of corn, and women don't smell like talcum powder." Who would've thunk that these guys are from California? Actually Feldmann was born and raised in Switzerland and didn't emigrate to the U.S. until after World War II. His love for old-time and bluegrass music was cultivated as a radio show producer, record label manager and bluegrass performer (with The Very Lonesome Boys).
       Feldmann's goal was to capture some of the excitement that Uncle Dave produced in his 1927 New York session with his band, The Fruit Jar Drinkers. There are solo, duo, trio and quartet vocals, as well as a couple old-time fiddle tunes (Rye Straw, Forked Deer). Peter and the Pea Patch Quintet energetically recorded as a group with little overdubbing or multiple takes. Or are they known as the "Grey Cat Quintete" as spelled out on the back of the CD? Song-by-song musician credits are not in the CD jacket, but you can find them on-line. To help preserve Uncle Dave's music, I'd also recommend that Peter upload the lyrics he sings, especially for novelty tongue-twisters like "Deer Chase." I wonder how much the folkloric process has resulted in alteration of Macon's original lyrics over the years.
       You can tell that these guys had a frolicking, fun-filled, festive time making this earthy album. They keep the offerings up-tempo, and the down-home ambiance fits the songs like a glove. While the vocal range required of a song like "Johnny Gray" challenges Peter a tad, it's nearly impossible to listen to romping songs like "Roll Down the Line" or "Old Plank Road" or "Take Me Home Poor Julia" without tapping toes or singing along. While many have similar tempos and joyous sentiments, the former is probably one of my favorites because it has plenty of shared instrumental breaks and quartet singing. With 14 songs and 5 brief narrative commentaries, the CD re-creates a set of music as Uncle Dave might've played it.
       In the early-1920, Macon was over 50 years old when the advent of trucking forced him into a career change from mule-drawn freight delivery to entertainment. He claimed to know nothing about the "scientifical parts of music," but he could certainly play. Macon made nearly 200 recordings, and Feldmann & Co. barely scratch the surface of his repertoire. While they concentrate on those best adapted to bluegrass, it would've been nice to include more from his gospel (e.g. "Just One Way to the Pearly Gates"), blues (e.g. "Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy"), and novelty (e.g. "She's Got the Money, Too") favorites. Perhaps a second volume is forthcoming. We can only hope. A portion of the album sales goes to the Macon Family to help preserve his Murfreesboro, Tn. gravesite. If you miss hog, hominy, pumpkin and red gravy, then I'm sure that Uncle Peter Feldmann (a kind of Uncle Davy reincarnated) would love to sell you a copy of this album. (Joe Ross)

Monroe Approved

Arrandem Records AR-180
PO BOX 160474, Nashville, TN. 37216
Tel. 615-513-8620
Playing Time - 42:19
       SONGS - The Indians Are Coming, James River, Paddy on the Turnpike, Listen to the Lonesome Train (Boxcar Door), Gallatin, Monroe Approved, King David, Red's Zeppelin, Better Late, Farewell to Long Hollow, Whitfield Breakdown, Bed on the Floor
       Chris Henry started playing mandolin when he was just nine. A few years later, he took up guitar. By age twelve, Henry was playing, touring and recording with his parents' bluegrass group, Red and Murphy & their Excellent Children. Bill Monroe once heard Chris playing "Rawhide" backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, and the Father of Bluegrass proceeded to put his hat on Chris' head and clog around the room. Thus, the seed for "Monroe Approved" was planted. After moving to Nashville in 2003, charismatic Chris spent a season playing with Dave Peterson and 1946. Now, his solo debut project presents a set of traditional, original, Bill Monroe, and even a Woody Guthrie/Sisco Huston song, "Bed on the Floor." Chris Henry demonstrates his talent with mandolin and guitar, as well as a lead and harmony vocalist ("Listen to the Lonesome Train").
       A strong proponent and advocate of Monroe-style mandolin, Chris shows that he has strong mastery of the bluesy scales, hammer-ons, pull-offs, downstrokes, and other techniques that Bill used to evoke so much tone and emotion from his 8-stringed instrument. The ancient tones may be best captured in the traditional "Paddy on the Turnpike," but there are numerous other fiery moments in this album. "James River" was nicely arranged for some hot melodic licks to be traded between Charlie Cushman's banjo, Jason Carter's fiddle, and Chris' guitar and mandolin. Another highlight is the twin mandolins with mandola featured in "Farewell to Long Hollow." That cut features well-known Nashville multi-instrumentalist John Hedgecoth on banjo, who's also seen around town with the Nashville Jug Band, Nashville Mandolin Ensemble and Butch Baldassari Trio. Baldassari co-produced this album, and he appears on that same cut.
       Chris Henry also invited some of his family, mentors and other friends to participate. Casey Henry, Alan O'Bryant, or Charlie Cushman pick banjo with precision and fire. Chris says his father Red Henry's "Red's Zeppelin" is his favorite tune. Presumably inspired by guitarist David McLaughlin, "King David" features David's lead guitar work. Chris appears on half of guitarist/vocalist Adam Olmstead's own debut album, and he repays that unpretentious performer by having him sing and play the closing number, "Bed on the Floor." Other guitarists who appear on the album include Roland White, Ronnie McCoury, and Robert Bowlin (the 1979 national guitar champion). Besides Casey Henry, multi-year IBMA bass player of the year Mike Bub lays in that solid low end foundation and cornerstone for each tune. The title cut, an 8-minute medley of three tunes, is a bit problematic due to its length and the overuse of Monroe's voice mixed in from Homespun Tapes' "The Mandolin of Bill Monroe" instructional material. The hidden bonus track that appear when all is picked and done turns out to be Frank Wakefield's "Catnip."
       There's much to like about this pleasant and delightful album. The "Monroe Approved" stamp comes with down-home good-time quality assurance. While Bill is gone, I'm sure that Chris and his friends fully certify and warrant this musical undertaking. Mando fans will find the originals to be quite charming. Assertive but still somewhat playful, Chris Henry picks and sings with substance and charm. The various musicians all work well together, and the album emits an air of amiable geniality that characterizes the kinship of family and friends. Just as Bill Monroe was known as "Big Mon," we may some day know Chris Henry as "Big Hen" if he keeps producing music like this. (Joe Ross)

My Own House/You Should See the Rest of the Band

Fantasy 9572 and 9590
Playing Time - 1:17:55
       Medley My Own House:(My Own House (Me Ain Hoose)/Hangman's Reel); Medley Don't Let Your Deal Go Down (Don't Let Your Deal Go Down/Roanoke/Possum Up a Gum Stump/Mississippi Sawyer); Early This Morning, Sheebeg and Sheemore, Cocaine Blues, To Know Her Is to Love Her, Georgia on My Mind, Chump Man Blues, Kitchen Girl, Spanish Johnny, Black and Tan, Lower Left Hand Corner of the Night, Key to the Highway, Helpless Blues, Sharon, As the Years Go Passing By, Solid Gone, Medley Yankee's Revenge: (Leather Britches/The Red-Haired Boy/Teetotaler's Reel/The Wind That Shakes the Barley/Drowsy Maggie)
       This is classic David Bromberg that brought back great memories for me because my bluegrass band at the time (High Mountain Ramblers) had to open once for David's band at a large park near Portland, Or. about 1978. We had fun and did pretty well for a young bluegrass group! All of the material on this album was recorded during the 1978-79 timeframe. Of the cover are David's two dogs, Bertha D. Blues and Bessie Mae Moocho (they'd been "lead and rhythm puppy" on his previous "How Late'll Ya Play 'Til?" LP for the Fantasy label base din Berkeley, Ca.)
       Tracks #1-12 were released on the "My Own House" LP (Fantasy 9572), and tracks #13-18 were on his "You Should See the rest of the Band" (Fantasy 9590) LP. The first 12 tracks have David (guitar, fiddle, vox), George Kindler (fiddle, mandolin), and Dick Fegy (mandolin, fiddle, banjo). Nice sparer, acoustic sound on a variety of traditional tunes, Blind Blake's "Early This Morning" and "Chump Man Blues," old-timey "Kitchen Girl," bluegrassy "Roanoke," Celtic "Sheebeg and Sheemore," and original "Lower left hand Corner of the Night." And of course, one of David's trademark songs, "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down."
       Tracks 13-18 incorporates acoustic & electric instruments (courtesy of David, Dick and George), along with horns (Peter Ecklund), trombone (Curtis Linberg), sax/flute/clarinet/pennywhistle (John Firmin), accordion/organ (Garth Hudson), Hugh McDonald (bass), Lance Dickerson (drums). Nice rendition of Bill Bill Broonzy's "Key to the Highway." A couple grooving originals too with "Helpless Blues" and "Sharon" and "Solid Gone." The 10+ minute version of "Sharon" didn't do a whole lot for me. All the material was remastered for CD in 1999 by Kirk Felton. The fiddle tune medleys are always fun, and fortunately they move through them at a fast clip to give us tracks not lasting more than 5-6 minutes each. Otherwise, I might've felt like I was fireside at a bluegrass festival about 2 A.M. with all the fiddlers running on auto pilot.
       I've always enjoyed David's eclectic and talented approach to music, as well as his ability as a showman and entertainer. His solo, small group and 'big band' music from the late-70s was exhilarating. When David performed solo, he billed himself as Le Grand Fromage (Big Cheese). His band toured heavily at the time. Interesting that about this time, Pollstar listed Bromberg as the No. 1 club act, and James Brown was No. 2. George Kindler died in a motorcycle accident before the second album on this CD ever came out originally.
       After a long hiatus, it's also great to hear that David is out touring again either solo, with a band, or backing up the Angel Band (that includes his wife Nancy Josephson). Also, on 2/26/07 David's first studio recording in 17 years ( w/ 16 songs from various genres) entitled "Try Me One More Time" will be released through Appleseed Recordings. The project features David and his guitar recorded live. (Joe Ross, staff writer, Bluegrass Now)  

Snarf Records CD-8203
PO Box 685335, Austin, TX. 78768
Playing Time - 40:24
       SONGS - 1 Twenty-Four Hours a Day 2 One More Night 3 Oh, Baby 4 Goodbye Liza Jane 5 All the World and I 6 Run Away with Me 7 Eva's Waltz 8 Down the Line 9 I Got it Bad (And That Ain't Good) 10 Silver Bells 11 The Little Green Valley 12 Memories of You 13 I Don't Mind
       Elana Fremerman is originally from Kansas. In search of her muse, she's now living in Austin and is known as Elana James. Beaming with irresistible, savory music, Elana's debut comfortably presents original songs alongside classic jazz and western swing standards. All have straightforward stories and simple declarations. The ten-year member of the Hot Club of Cowtown was invited to join Bob Dylan's group shortly after the former disbanded. She covers Dylan's hit that was originally released in the 60s, "One More Night," and she's clearly ready for the light to shine on her. Building off her previous body of recorded work, Elana's music radiates with plenty of seductive charm, confidence and composure. It's nice to see the skillful musician making the big leap to being a full-fledged soloist in the spotlight. It's obviously a kind of liberating experience for her. Six of the CD's cuts are her own self-penned original songs demonstrating her proficiency as both musician and lyricist. Her challenge is to make the set sound both new and old alike, and Elana has that special knack that will surely bring much continued success. One of the youngest inductees into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, Elana is happeningŠ.probably because she sings and plays with so much fervor and infatuation. She's got it bad, and luckily for us that's good!
       Whether bowing her "Eva's Waltz" or vocalizing Eubie Blake's big 1940s hit "Memories of You," she connects the dots from past to present. She's blessed with a Midas touch on her violin that moves effortlessly from note to note throughout the album. Actually, she prefers to be known as a "fiddilist." With a standard like "Silver Bells," she and Johnny Gimble do some expressive twin fiddling in harmony before embarking on some brief but fiery improvisations. Recording with James on his 80th birthday, Gimble also plays his electric mandolin on "Goodbye Liza Jane." Besides Gimble, other instrumental support on the album comes from Beau Sample (bass), Dave Biller (guitar), Luke Hill (guitar), Joe Kerr (piano), Bruce Brackman (clarinet), and Mark Hallman (brushes). Sample also contributes some harmony vocals.
       James' voice is lovely, limpid and even somewhat exotic on her leisurely rendition of Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" and "I Don't Mind." The latter is a very pleasant song that we just don't often hear covered as frequently as Duke's bigger hits. While some may perceive her lyrics as a tad novice ("Run Away With Me") when laid out alongside words from the likes of famous lyricists, I feel that Elana holds her own with some splendid musical vignettesŠ."oh baby, take me by the hand, help me understand." She writes with more traditional sensibility than with some contrived or modernistic approach that attempts to push boundaries of the genre she's playing. "Twenty-Four Hours A Day" opens the project with a jumpin' groove, and her own harmonies on "All The World And I" are more winsome, old-time and folky. The latter song was inspired from a biography about A. P. Carter as she sings "when all the flowers grow up, it's you they want to be." What a feather in her cap that her own plain but thoughtful messages can stand up side-by-side to those of Bob Dylan (One More Night), Billy Strayhorn (I Don't Mind), Andy Razaf (Memories of You), Paul Webster (I Got It Bad), and Carson Robison (The Little Green Valley). You may recall that the last song was a hit for Marty Robbins, and Elana does seems to have an affinity for elements of nature as she observes "I hear a mockingbird down in the little green valley / he's singing out a song of welcome just for me." Elana is very comfy singing about babbling brooks and shady nooks, or searching (in "I Got It Bad") for sweet, gentle love as she feels "like a lonesome weeping willow lost in the wood."
       Elana James' debut album is enchanting and mesmerizing. It shows that she's both accomplished and witty -- a proficient swinging and jazzy raconteur if you will. Be sure to catch her own trio (with Sample and Hill) when they come to town. This album reinforces her belief that the key to success is just a matter of getting out there and doing it. (Joe Ross)

Elbow Room

Wonderfolk Music DW-0098
TEL. (406)587-7198
Playing Time - 35:33
       SONGS - 1. Dark Hollow, 2. Wishing Well Blues, 3. Laughin Man, 4. Fifty Miles of Elbow Room, 5. Close the Door Lightly, 6. Christuma, 7. Skippin in the Mississippi Dew, 8. Prairie Lullaby, 9. Possum Trot, 10. True Love, 11. Way Down in Dixieland, 12. Sandy Boys
       Troubadour Dennis White has North Carolina roots and some Tennessee branches before his relocation to the wide, open state of Montana. During his college days, he did field recordings in Virginia and seems to personally relate to the message of the Carter Family's "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room" that he first heard back then. "When the gates swing wide on the other side, where the flowers ever bloom, on the right hand, on the left hand, fifty miles of elbow room." At present, he works in Bozeman, Mt. as musical director for the Montana Mandolin Society. With many performance, production and recording credits under his belt, it's interesting to go back and review his 1998 release that represents his musical journey through traditional, folk, bluegrass, string band, classic country, and original music. White likes plenty of room to move and operate in, and the versatile multi-instrumentalist (guitar, mandolin, banjo) covers a broad scope of acoustic music. Why, he even offers "Christuma," a Brazilian huapongo dance tune! Then, there are the songs from Bill Monroe, John Hartford, Marshall Wilborn, Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Pat Alger, and Eric Anderson. Dennis' own originals include "Way Down in Dixieland" and "Laughin' Man." The former has a bluegrass bite and nostalgically dreams of home while on the road playing one-night stands. The latter is a lively instrumental contradance tune that is sure to impart some vigor to your step.
       With plenty of authenticity and unpretentious picking and singing, Dennis and company demonstrate relaxed musical showmanship and presentation. The aural kaleidoscope incorporates acoustic string instruments along with some other unique flavors - touches of accordion, jew's harp, bones, hand drum, congos. I also like his approach of infusing his music with various banjo styles such as plucking, frailing, clawhammering, and bluegrass picking. When Dennis put out this album, he had an eclectic band called The Station Wagoneers. I'm assuming that some of the featured guest musicians were in his band at that time, and some may still be picking with him in the Montana Mandolin Society. "Elbow Room" is like an old window that allows us to cast a glance through a historical pane back to Dennis White's earlier roots. It is both pleasant and intriguing music, presented with solid musicianship from that region. "Elbow Room" is a bonanza of rich musical ore. Since then, numerous highly-acclaimed albums from the Montana Mandolin Society have been added to Dennis' continuing discography. (Joe Ross)

Fork in the Road

Sugar Hill CD-4021 OR OR
Playing Time - 49:39
       Before playing the Infamous Stringdusters' debut, I wondered what kind of notorious or criminal musical acts that we could expect from the progressive Sugar Hill label. I also pondered if this progressive group of young and proficient bluegrass janitors used mop, vacuum and broom instead of mandolin, fiddle and banjo. It didn't take long to discover that this band's reputation will soon become one of great fame and renown. And the way they "sweep" us off our feet is simply with very solid musicianship and material. The terms that bands dream up to describe their music is interesting. Playing "fearless vibrograss," we immediately sense that these guys have created a sound that is bold, daring and pulsating.
       So just who are they? The band's seed was planted when Chris Eldridge (guitar), Chris Pandolfi (banjo), and Andy Hall (Dobro) met in Boston in early 2002 and started performing as Stablehorse. Relocating to Nashville in 2004, the band went full-time with the addition of Jesse Cobb (mandolin), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle), and Travis Book (bass). Their debut album showcases the band's three lead singers (Andy, Jeremy, Travis) and other vocal support from the two Chrises.
       The Infamous Stringdusters' musical maturity can be traced to the band members' recording, touring or performing with such noted acts as Ronnie Bowman's Committee, Earl Scruggs, Dolly Parton, Charlie Daniels, Tony Rice, Seldom Scene, Chris Thile, New England Bluegrass Band, Bering Strait, Drew Emmitt, Bobby Osborne, Chris Jones, Audie Blaylock, Lee Ann Womack, Mike Snider, Jim Lauderdale, Melonie Cannon, Fox Family, Valerie Smith, Broke Mountain, and Benny "Burle" Galloway. Wow, that's an impressive list of talented musicians who have taught, mentored and inspired them! We can hear some of their influences in the musical presentation or repertoire of The Infamous Stringdusters. Chris Eldridge is Seldom Scene member Ben Eldridge's son. Besides a healthy amount of fresh, original material, there are interspersed offerings written by Chris Jones/John Pennell, Glenn Garrett (Jeremy's dad), John Mayer, Benny Galloway, and Boston folksinger Geoff Bartley. Thus, they don't shy away from decent singer/songwriter and folk material, which allows them to succeed equally well on the bluegrass, jamgrass and folk touring circuits.
       Picking and singing like very seasoned veterans with decades of experience, these guys have found an ideal formula for balancing their youthful exuberance, melodic eloquence, and lyrical expression. Their arrangements are dynamic and give all a chance to shine like chrome. Hence, another reference to their string cleansing abilities. In a sense, they are masters of catharsis with an inherent ability to release emotions, create force and relieve tension with their music.
       If you're liberal, open-minded and tolerant of new directions in string music, then you'll appreciate what these boys are doing with their vibrograss. If your definition of bluegrass has significant boundaries, then you might equate their infamy with evil. But the long and short of it is that this group has been well received at IBMA's annual convention and trade show. Despite the message in the title cut, "Fork in the Road" indicates this band is both decisive and incisive. The Infamous Stringdusters knows which way they want to go to maximize their potential and reach their promised land full of milk and honey. The Stringdusters' wires are very polished, and I just wonder if they do windows and clean house as well as they pick. (Joe Ross)

We Just Burned This For You OR OR
Phone: 215-735-6999 OR
Playing Time - 41:17
       Recorded live in concert at Bowling Green University (Ohio) on January 13, 2006, this adventurous "multi-genre power trio" has a unique affinity for (and the skill to effortlessly present) both old-time fiddling and classical music. It's often said that artists from one genre can't capture the heart and soul of the other. Many bluegrass musicians play by ear, without classical training, and their music is passed down from generation to generation with a certain degree of rusticity in a folkloric fashion. Proficient sight-reading classical musicians focus on technique, tone and timing, often to make them better orchestra musicians. Time for Three is a bold and courageous trio of young musicians with two violins and upright bass. Zachary DePue, Nicolas Kendall, and Ranaan Meyer met and formed the trio while enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music. Their self-titled debut album was released in late-2002. They perform regularly, at a variety of venues and festivals, and with many symphony orchestras. Their chutzpah is both a mix of strong self-assurance with a little impudence on the side. Thus, this pluckish trio is proving to be wildly entertaining.
       With considerable shows under their belts, their repertoire shows that these lyrical players can continue to evoke great emotional electricity. It's interesting to compare this 2006 live concert with many of the same old-time fiddling, bluegrass, Gypsy and classical pieces released just over three years before. I don't sense any boredom in their playing of the selections. If anything, their youthful exuberance many push a few of them ("Csardas" or "Ragtime Annie" or "Orange Blossom Special") into high-stepping tempos that certainly have plenty of get-up-and-go but may actually lose some of their emotion and passion as a result of their speed.
       Opening with "Shenandoah," their considerable pluck and fine bow work transition into a Ranaan Meyer's original, "Foxdown." Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe's "Jerusalem Ridge" about an area he hunted for fox near Rosine, Ky. is given a snappy arrangement with such tempo that the Celtic sounds that Monroe wanted to reflect with the minor key have been sacrificed for improvisational jazz-like sensibilities. As with their earlier album, Meyer's bass and some train sound effects provide the prelude for an "Orange Blossom Special" that is then propelled into a locomotive mood. Time for Three's live 2006 show only offered Jay Ungar's "Ashoken Farewell" (used as the theme for the PBS Civil War series), instead of incorporating it into a medley with "Amazing Grace" as they'd done before. Smooth handling of their violin bows allow the virtuoso musicians to intimately convey Ranaan Meyer's original "Thunderstomp," a highlight of this concert. "The Bach Double" features just DePue and Kendall in a warm, weaving conversation, while Brahm's "Hungarian Dance No. 5" moves at a fast clip. They used to have a longer arrangement that segued from solo bass to the selection's rhythmic intensity.
       The eclectic trio Time for Three demonstrates power, virtuosity, cohesion, and kinship. They would clearly be role models to other younger musicians taking up strings. They have some standard crowd-pleasers that are presented live. I encourage them to continue writing their own music, looking for new material to arrange, and pushing the envelope into uncharted territory. A faculty member at their alma mater, award-winning composer Jennifer Higdon, has been commissioned to create a contemporary work for the trio, scheduled to premier in early 2008. And, as they move quickly to even greater acclaim, I hope Time For Three won't be afraid to slow down just a tad to tap the emotional depth and personalities of some of the more familiar or less challenging melodies that they've played for years. (Joe Ross)

Bolin Creek

Thornpipe Productions, No number
Playing Time - 50:49
       SONGS - Bolin Creek, I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home, The Only Survivor, Garris, All That I Can Take, Old Cold Waltz, Leavin' Town, Winter's Mourning, Up Above, The Snake, Sundog, Shape I'm In, Star of Munster, Tumbleweed
       Tony Trischka advises us to "keep our eyes and ears on" young twenty-something progressive banjo-player Andy Thorn from Durham, NC. Thorn's debut album, recorded in his living room over the course of a 4-day period in late-2005, gives us a taste of his proficient playing, enthusiastic singing, and competent songwriting. Back in the old days, recording an album at this point in a musician's career would be cost-prohibitive, but the availability of inexpensive home recording equipment has now changed that. Besides convening some hot pickers, the 2003 Rockygrass banjo champion (and band contest winner) has also brought his performing experience with the Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band, Big Fat Gap, UNC Jazz Band and Larry Keel to the table. With minimal overdubbing on "Bolin Creek," Thorn organized quite a bunch with considerable pedigree of their own -- Larry Keel (guitar), Jenny Keel (bass), John Garris (fiddle), Mark Schimick (mandolin), Jon Stickley (guitar) and Travis Book (bass). These pickers are making their names with such up-and-coming groups as Natural Bridge, Steep Canyon Rangers, Biscuit Burners, Big Fat Gap and The Stringdusters.
       Besides Andy singing lead on his own "All That I Can Take" and "Tumbleweed," various other lead vocalists are called upon - Larry Keel, Lauren Craig, Rick Hauchman, Mark Schimick, and Miles Andrews. If there's a shortcoming on this album, it's that the vocals just aren't up to the same standard as some of the instrumental prowess demonstrated on original tunes like the title cut, "Garris," "Winter's Mourning," "Sundog," or J.D. Crowe's "Leavin Town." Check out the triplets that Andy plays on the Irish reel, "Star of Munster." There's a wide representation of banjodom here, and Andy's nimble-fingered techniques are very sound with hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, bends, and rolls providing plenty of pluck. There's also some very impassioned guitar, mandolin, fiddle and bass work on the album. In the right hands, some of the original vocal numbers (e.g. "Up Above" or "Old Cold Waltz") would be better served with fresh voices covering them. Stickley's snare drum and whistle also appear in "Tumbleweed," that has a refreshing melody but suffers from some lyrical banality. Johnny Rivers' "The Snake" was done by Bill Emerson and Cliff Waldron back in the 1960s who may have been looking for the same kind of cross-genre success they achieved with their cover of Manfred Mann's "Fox on the Run." Andy and company just don't quite cut it the way Emerson and Waldron did. Still, there's plenty of overall good-time energy and spirit on "Bolin Creek." I can tell they had loads of fun making this CD, and Andy has also made a very commanding statement about his potential. Like the quilt-draped furniture and walls in his living room, Andy Thorn shows a fondness for a patchwork of sounds that have a strong jamgrass footing. (Joe Ross)

Celebration of Life: Musicians Against Childhood Cancer

Skaggs Family Records 6989090012
PO Box 2478, Hendersonville, TN. 37077 OR
Playing Time - 71:47 (CD#1); 68:37 (CD#2)
       It's easy to see how this 2-CD album has become one of bluegrass music's top ten releases in 2006. Drawing material recorded live at the 2000-2005 Musicians Against Childhood Cancer (MACC) Festival in Columbus, Ohio, the project was inspired by executive producer and musician Darrel Adkins. He and his wife Phyllis' beautiful 22-year-old daughter, Mandy, lost her battle to cancer (brain cell tumor) in 2000. The non-profit MACC was formed, and the festival was launched to raise funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tn. where treatment is dispensed for children with terminal illness. Volunteering to play the July festival, 136 artists are featured here. Most all of the big names in bluegrass are featured - Rhonda Vincent, Grascals, Keeny & Amanda Smith Band, Wildfire, Lost & Found, Larry Stephenson Band, Cherryholmes, Doyle Lawson, Tony Rice, J.D. Crowe, 3 Fox Drive, Marty Raybon, Blue Highway, Alecia Nugent, Lonesome River Band, Seldom Scene, and many more. Liner notes clearly lay out the pickers and singers on each song.
       There are some entertaining pickup groups featured too. A 7-minute version of "Freeborn Man" features Dan Tyminski, Tony Rice, Bela Fleck, Doyle Lawson and Barry Bales. Of similar length, a bluegrass instrumental version of Gershwin's "Summertime" stars Bryan Sutton, David Talbot, Ashby Frank, Terry Smith, Aubrey Haynie and Randy Kohrs. Tony Rice introduces and dedicates his 11-minute solo and reflective rendition of "Shenandoah," with a declaration that "every musician is right here exactly where we are supposed to be doing this."
       This album has a ton of first-rate and captivating variety from the bluegrass community, but I took special note of each and every song that conveyed sentiments that could be construed as tributes to the memory and inspiration of Mandy Adkins. Alan Bibey made a point of dedicating his own "Side by Side" to Mandy. As Kenny & Amanda Smith sing, "I know this love will last forever, I know where loves lives, someday we'll always be together, living in Him." Kudos to Jack Campitelli and Bob Kelley for a fine job of recording, mixing and mastering the 37-tracks of absorbing music without any significant audience applause or background noise. Mandy would be very gratified by the result, and bluegrass music and this festival will just grow even stronger. Why? In "The Healing Kind" written by himself and Greg Luck, Ronnie Bowman sings "the pain just grows stronger everyday, I think of you and I'm on my way, down memory lane with your hand in mine, ‘cuz I'm just not the healing kind." (Joe Ross)


Skaggs Family Records 6989010072
PO Box 2478, Hendersonville, TN. 37077
TEL. 615-952-9250 OR 615-264-8877
Playing Time - 47:32
       I assumed that all eleven of these instrumentals were written by Ricky Skaggs because liner notes didn't provide tune credits. A little info from the label's publicist indicated that nine are new compositions by multiple Grammy award-winner Skaggs. Also, the CD jacket for this band's first-ever all-instrumental project has the entire seven-piece band on the cover, but a few of the regular members appear to be missing in the musical mix. Bios for Darrin Vincent and Paul Brewster are provided, but I don't see them listed in the credits. We do hear Ricky Skaggs (guitar, clawhammer banjo, mandolin, percussion), Jim Mills (banjo), Cody Kilby (guitar), Andy Leftwich (fiddle) and Mark Fain (bass). Guests include Jeff Taylor (accordion, whistle), Andy Statman (clarinet), and the Nashville String Machine with orchestration by Jim Gray on one cut.
       No one can doubt the astonishing fluency with which these string practitioners speak. While they have a strong preference for moderate-tempo'ed offerings, they manage to create an eclectic state of musical mind with tastes of old-time, Celtic, bluegrass, Dawg, blues, jazz and classical idioms. Green hues of the Land of the Shamrock color compositions like "Going to Richmond" and "Goin to the Ceili." If a fusion of Celtic and Classical sounds are your cup o' tea, listen to the embellished brogue provided by the Nashville String Machine on "Crossing the Briney." With the band "playing their thoughts" in a manner similar to how fiddler Vassar Clements used to, "Missing Vassar" establishes a hillbilly jazz groove based on a recurring lick that honors that musical philosopher. With a copious amount of respect for another mandolinist (David Grisman), Ricky Skaggs and the boys lay a hot little tune, "Dawg's Breath," on us. The melody inhales and exhales with precision, bounce and pizzazz. When "Gallatin Rag" begins, as on a few others, we clearly hear the only minimal shortcoming in this album's music - some distraction caused by Ricky's pick on his fingerboard. Statman embellishes that offering with some euphonious clarinet. In Statman's hands, it becomes clear why the instrument was once affectionately called the "hot licorice stick" among swing musicians in the 1930s and 40s.
       All in all, this album is a tasteful tune set with several interpretive twists along the way. Performed by exceptional musicians, the composite is a product that would make Bill Monroe proud. They don't betray their bluegrass pedigree. Rather, their adventurous vision provides a treasure trove of unique tunes. I'd like to see some music notation and/or tablature for them so I can learn a few favorites. (Joe Ross)

Tell Someone

Rebel CD-1821 or
Playing Time - 39:38
       Kenny Smith started his music career playing Southern Gospel music in churches. His rock solid guitar work with the Lonesome River Band from 1995-2001 twice led to his winning IBMA's "Guitar Player of the Year." Smith's solo project, "Studebaker," showcased his fine songwriting and wife's soulful singing. A couple years have now passed since Kenny and Amanda turned plenty of heads with their defining bluegrass album, "Slowly but Surely" (Farm Boy FBR-1001), that included band members Ronald Inscore, Jason Moore, Steve Huber, and Ron Stewart. It helped formulate the band's original, contemporary sound characterized by beautiful vocals, expert picking, solid arrangements, excellent repertoire, and high recording quality. It also resulted in the band winning IBMA's 2002 Emerging Artist of the Year award.
       A couple years later in 2004, the versatile Kenny & Amanda Smith Band debuted on Rebel Records with their 2004 "House Down The Block" project. Now, in 2006, their first gospel CD, "Tell Someone," introduces us to three new young musicians in the band - Jason Robertson (mandolin), Jason Davis (banjo), Zachary McLamb (bass). All three are very solid instrumentalists, but one minor complaint is that I can hear some of McLamb's strings snapping on the fingerboard of his bass, particularly on the up-tempo numbers. While some of that would be acceptable in a secular bluegrass set, it can be a bit distracting in a spiritually-tinged gospel set. Daniel Carwiles fiddles on seven of the tracks. Most of the band's vocal arrangements are sparse with only Kenny's tenor harmony below Amanda's lead vocal, but six tracks add a third harmony line courtesy of Rhonda Vincent (1 cut) or Wayne Winkle (5 cuts). The opening cut, "Shoutin' Time," illustrates the similarity between Amanda's and Rhonda's voices as they trade lead vocals on the first and second verses. Laying vocal harmonies in below Amanda's high lead gives the band a personalized sound.
       The album features standards that Kenny and Amanda sang while growing up in church while also showcasing strong and effective compositions from more contemporary songwriters such as Craig Market's "Mary Had A Little Boy," Clay Hess' "I Know Why," and Richard Gulley's "Till I Get Home." The intent of making this CD was clearly for Kenny and Amanda to reach out and touch people by sharing messages of their Christian faith. Their poignant closer, "Tell Someone How Precious He Is," embodies the overriding theme of their ministry through music. While they had been planning to record a gospel album for over a decade, the impetus for the album was provided when Kenny's father died in a tractor accident in March, 2006. With their calm assurance and devout belief, they are ready to face tomorrow and the continued opportunities and challenges that life will bring. (Joe Ross)

Sittin' On Top of the World

Pinecastle PRC-1157
PO Box 753, Columbus, NC 28722
Playing Time - 38:09
       SONGS - 1 Gotta Travel On 2 I'm Walking The Dog 3 That's How The Cookie Crumbles 4 Let's All Go Down To The River 5 North To Alaska 6 Dark Hollow 7 Long Black Veil 8 My Little Georgia Rose 9 On and On 10 Sittin' On Top Of The World 11 Seven Year Blues 12 There's A Higher Power 13 Sugar Coated Love 14 Let Me Rest At The End Of My Journey (Bonus Track) 15 I've Always Been A Rambler (Bonus Track)
       On December 6, 2006, Jack Cooke turned 70 years old, and "Sittin' on Top of the World" is a celebration of sorts. This country boy from Wise County, Va. was born into a large family that played music and sang in church. After he and his brothers won a band contest sponsored by the Stanley Brothers, Jack went to work as the bass player with Carter and Ralph from 1955-57 (picking up a bass for $15 or $20 from Mike Seeger). After over four years playing guitar or bass with Bill Monroe, Jack Cooke formed his own band (Virginia Mountain Boys) in Baltimore. There, up above Johnny's used car lot, he recorded some albums (on the Wango label) with the Stanley Brothers, calling themselves John's Gospel Quartet. This current album being reviewed ends with two bonus tracks of archived material recorded in 1963 (with Bill Sage, Roy Hoskins, Bobby Diamond). "Let Me Rest at the End of My Journey" and "I've Always Been a Rambler" illustrate what his band and voice sounded like over 40 years ago. In late-1969, Jack went back to work with Ralph Stanley and has been with him ever since. With good range and an ear for harmony, Jack can sing all parts.
       On his first day of the job, Ralph Stanley asked Jack to handle the record sales. It's something he's successfully done without any pretenses or insincerity for years. He comes across as a man with empathy, kindness and understanding. His roots run deep to old-time mountain and bluegrass music. He doesn't believe in any fancy stuff or in taking the music "uptown." Jack once said, "A lot of people is ashamed to tell how they was raised and everything, I believe. But a man ought to tell it like it is. Got to keep it country. Keep it mountainous."
       What's so nice about this project is that it casts Jack Cooke into the spotlight. He's no longer just a sideman, a guy who was once a Blue Grass Boy with Bill Monroe or the long-time cornerstone in Ralph Stanley's band. Vernon Crawford "Jack" Cooke is now a solo artist who sings on all tracks and plays rhythm guitar on a couple too. Appropriately, his album opens with "Gotta Travel On," a song he once cut with Bill Monroe years before (12/1/58 in Nashville to be exact). And, second up is one of his signature songs that showcases his piercing tenor vocals, Webb Pierce's "I'm Walking the Dog." Jack may have been the first singer to adapt the song to bluegrass, and he is joined by Del McCoury's harmony vocals. Going way back, Del had been a Virginia Mountain Boy before he went to work for Monroe. This "Sittin' on Top of the World" album was produced by Jim Lauderdale who wrote "That's How the Cookie Crumbles" and who appears in the mix of three other cuts. Besides Del and Jim, other friends assisting include Ralph Stanley, Ralph Stanley II, James Shelton, Todd Meade, Steve Sparkman, Ronnie McCoury, Robbie McCoury, Jason Carter, Mike Bub, David Grisman, and Hubert & Jeanette Cooke.
       Not so long ago, Jack Cooke was a young musician living in an exciting time and learning from the impressionable Monroe and Stanley. Now, he's the mentor, and his relaxed and enthusiastic singing of bluegrass, country and gospel numbers will influence others. In a sense, he's passing on his genuine, honest music tradition to the next generation and showing ‘em how it was done. Over the decades, Jack's been approached many times to do his own album. I wish it would've happened sooner rather than later, but I reckon that finally getting it done makes for a good 70th birthday gift to himself, his family ... and us. With abundant rusticity, Jack Cooke's solo album reveals a devotion to a powerful mountain sound that is unadorned and down-to-earth ... just like Jack. (Joe Ross)

Let the Ride Begin

Pinecastle PRC-1154 OR OR OR
Playing Time - 45:00
       Lonesome Wind, Powderfinger, Mama, What Does Heaven Look Like There, Take Me Back To Old Kentucky, Seeds Of Doubt, Foggy Mountain Special, Colder And Colder, In The Master's Glory, Katie and Burl, Ten Years, Pickett's Charge, The Fall, Cold Wind
       The Circuit Riders' "Let the Ride Begin" is a strong debut album that earns accolades for a smooth, contemporary approach to bluegrass. Presumably adopting a band name to reflect the lifestyle of a working band, the quintet from North Carolina can impart an exhilarating gallop to Neil Young's "Powderfinger" or a slow cantor to yet another contribution from the prolific songwriting team of Dixie and Tom T. Hall, "Mama What Does Heaven Look Like There?" About a traveling musician, "Colder and Colder" is a beautiful song but seems to slightly challenge singer Greg Luck's low vocal range on the verses. Overall, the band's vocals are burnished and calibrated, and their instrumental interaction provides a model of competence and intelligence.
       As a band, The Circuit Riders evolved from former members of the last version of The Country Gentlemen with Charlie Waller prior to his passing. While Randy Waller has reorganized The Country Gentlemen, former members Greg Corbett (banjo), Darin Aldridge (mandolin), and Billy Gee (bass) formed The Circuit Riders with Greg Luck (guitar) and Jaret Carter (resophonic guitar). Luck wrote "Lonesome Wind" and "The Fall" for this album. Aldridge penned "Seeds of Doubt" and "Ten Years." Lead vocalists are mainly sung by Luck or Aldridge, but Carter delivers them on "Take Me Back to Old Kentucky." Carter's "Pickett's Charge" is a smoldering instrumental inspired by a famous Civil War battle. Another classic instrumental, "Foggy Mountain Special," clearly shows that Corbett has cut his teeth on the picking of Earl Scruggs, and he also shows that he has mastered the technique for rolling triplets too.
       Greg Luck has played with such groups as Redwing, Lost & Found, Bass Mountain Boys, Lynn Morris Band, Bluegrass Cardinals, J.D. Crowe & the New South, and IIIrd Tyme Out. Not just a solid guitarist, he contributes some elegant fiddling on two cuts on this project, "Mama What Does Heaven Look Like There?" and "Pickett's Charge." After playing with his family band and New Vintage, North Carolinian Greg Corbett spent 13 years as a Country Gentleman. In 1996, he took home the SPBGMA Banjo Player of the Year award. Darin Aldridge has experience playing music in various genres (country, jazz, folk, rock) and was with The Country Gentlemen for seven years. Listen to how he embellishes Luck's "The Fall" with bouzouki and mandola. Darin has also released a solo album, "Call It A Day" on the Pinecastle label. Jaret Carter also has experience playing country-rock, jazz and blues, and he gives about 50 private music lessons each week. Billy Gee was born and raised in La Plata, Md. but currently lives in North Carolina where he operates a guitar repair business. On this album, Wes Powers plays percussion on two cuts. "Let the Ride Begin" is a very convincing entree from The Circuit Riders. (Joe Ross)


Playing Time - 42:18
       Achieving success as a band is as much about attitude as it is about the music itself. With their second album, "Adjusted," band members of Oregon-based Cross-Eyed Rosie show that they have the right disposition about music being an important and satisfying part of their lives. Fully engaged in both traditional and original songs, Cross-Eyed Rosie_s collective energy is productive, and you could say that the quintet is getting well-adjusted. The seed for the band_s formation was planted when friends started jamming weekly at a coffee shop, and it_s well documented that caffeine and crowds help with attitude adjustment too. Throw in the frenetic energy of "Moonbeams & Kerosene," along with some "Wheatfield," "Cowboy," and "Little Switzerland," and you_ve got a surefire recipe for a progressive bluegrass buzz. They_ve also balanced their set by including some instrumentals such as "Sophie's Reel."
       Working to make the music as fun as possible for all, their uniqueness draws from the varied backgrounds of the band members. After Zoe Kaplan left the group in 2005, they had to regroup a bit. The band now includes Allison Longstreth (lead vocals), Lincoln Crockett (lead vocals, mandolin), Ellie Holzemer (fiddle, vocals), Jon Ostrom (guitar), and Jason Mellow (bass, vocals). Guests Erik Yates and Dale Adkins provide banjo on two cuts. Band members have a number of musical aspirations. With classical voice training, Allison has Kentucky roots and dreams of a musical career. Lincoln wants to perform more solo shows around Portland. Jon handles booking for the band, and he'd like to see even more gigs roll in for Cross-Eyed Rosie. Ellie hopes to someday be mistaken for Laurie Lewis or Alison Krauss. From Pennsylvania, Jason has spent the last decade building a fulfilling lifestyle in Oregon that balances music and family commitments.
       Probably learned from Iris Dement's rendition of "I Don't Want to Get Adjusted," Longstreth sings about getting to a better home sooner or later. In a similar vein, I encourage Cross-Eyed Rosie to persevere and not grow old and weary. In "Great High Mountain," the band sings "The higher I got the harder I climbed, I'm still climbing upward _" Hard work, determination and a little musical tightening will bring Cross-Eyed Rosie even greater success. While their music is building them a legion of young, exuberant fans, they just need to keep telling themselves that they are outstanding people capable of achieving their lofty goals. They don't need to settle for being runner up for Best Local Band in Willamette Week's Readers Poll. And, if they go to Telluride again, I hope they enter and win the band contest there. I admire Cross-Eyed Rosie for their positive and upbeat music that is full of optimism and cheerfulness. They have planted plenty of seeds for growth and opportunity. Remember, music is better when you have a good attitude. Already well above the mediocrity that marks many young bands, Cross-Eyed Rosie is climbing the musical ladder to magnificence. They have the tools. While this is a strong outing, look for them to reach even higher and get even better "adjusted" on future albums. (Joe Ross)

New Words Novas Palavras

Adventure Music AM-1029-2
Playing Time - 1:04:44 (CD)
       To call their duo album "New Words" is very indicative of the creative cross-cultural musical conversations that Mike Marshall and Hamilton de Holanda engage in during this generous hour-long set. There are some pieces that start with whispering sentiments ("Valsa em Si"), while others convey much more heated and fiery exchanges ("Desvairada"). With a healthy portion of five original pieces (Egypt, Ham & Mike, New Words, Pra Sempre, Valsa em Si), this album also illustrates the exceptional songwriting abilities of the pair.
       Mike Marshall's innovative playing has been well-documented in the past with such bands or artists as Psychograss, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Darol Anger, Jovino Santos Neto and Choro Famoso. At the 2004 Lunel, France Mandolin Festival, another artist-in-residence was 30-year-old Brazilian music master Hamilton de Holanda. The collaborative communication of Mike's "new words', with Ham's "novas palavras", illustrate a fluency that results in smoothly flowing, expressive music. Why, there's even some verbal scat to close "Sao Jorge."
       Mike adeptly plays mandolin on all but three tracks where he picks mandocello or tenor guitar to convey different moods. Hamilton plays the 10-string bandolim except on three tracks where he picks Irish bouzouki. Without any low end or percussion in the mix, it's hard to say how radio-friendly the dialogue is, and that may discourage some DJs from spinning such a disc. However, in such an artist collaboration, the sparsity of sound actually provides much of its spark. It allows us to focus on the masters bantering and hear all the new words clearly. Take "Ham & Mike," for example, with the two voices having a rather sparkling discussion. It was perfect motivational background music for a busy day at work. At times, there are so many words (notes) being exchanged, that the conversations become a tad difficult to comprehend. The sheer extent of this body of music, that also includes a 3-track DVD recorded at the 2005 Savannah Music Festival, is somewhat mind-boggling. Being a good listener will allow you to appreciate how a standard fiddle tune like "Blackberry Blossom" can segue into Ernesto Nazareth's classic choro "Apanhei-te Cavaquinho." It's a small world now, and taking a trip from Appalachia to Brazil is not that hard to fathom. But then throw in stops along the way in Mike Marshall's "Egypt," Bela Fleck's "Big Country," or on the beautiful Azorean island of "Sao Jorge," and you'll appreciate both the worldy and wordy aspects of this album's healthy musical and innovative discourse. (Joe Ross)


Philo 11671-1250-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140
Playing Time - 1:16:46 (CD#1), 1:07:30 (CD#2)
       Wow, what a body of material to get an historical overview of Ellis Paul' songwriting for the past twenty years. He has many many kinds of songs over the years - folk, love, pop, story, rock, and even novelty songs. This 2-CD set with nearly two and one-half hours of music deserves close listening and analysis of melodies, lyrics, messages, and arrangements. He's worked with seven producers over the years and many more musicians.
       Paul attributes "Conversation With A Ghost" (released in 1992) as the first song that brought people out to the clubs of Boston to hear him play. Folksinger Bill Morrissey was producing his music back then. Most recently in 2006, his "American Jukebox Fables" album was produced by Flynn, and there are several cuts from that project on this compilation. There is some previously unreleased material on "Essentials" too, including some live material from some 2006 shows in Mass. and Maine. Reviewing this project a week before Christmas, I especially enjoyed "Snow in Austin," a Texas Christmas song. Another unreleased song was an attention-grabber entitled "Welcome Home To Maine," a writing assignment about his birthplace and its features for the Maine Governor. John Jennings produced some of the newest material for "Essentials" with The Best of Band that included Paul and Jennings, along with J. T. Brown, Dave Mattacks, Don Conoscenti, and Rachel Davis contributing background vocals on one cut.
       From the stock of Maine potato farmers, Ellis Paul moved to Boston, studied music, connected with the roots of the folk genre, then proceeded to develop a signature singer/songwriter sound that now incorporates pop, rock and contemporary sensibilities. Ellis Paul's wise perceptiveness and charisma have built him a strong fan base. He's also a hardworking, resilient touring artist who has garnered numerous awards for ten album releases and music, some of which has been featured in soundtracks for the films, Shallow Hal and Me, Myself, & Irene.
       Ellis' voice has much character, and his songs understand the bond between land, life, heart and soul. Most are slower to moderate tempo'ed, and Ellis does particular well creating an intimate and familiar feeling with some songs. Keyboards and percussion provide the primary instrumental excitement that serve to increase the emotional impact of his later material. I would've enjoyed more vocal harmony in his arrangements.
       Ellis possesses all the fundamental elements for success as a singer/songwriter. His messages are profound, and they make us think. For example, "Home" (from the American Jukebox Fables album) is a lover's tribute with the "house being just an address, you're my home." "Jukebox on my Grave" leaves us with his simple wish to mark the music man's ultimate resting place. His influences are many -- Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Rolling Stones, Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Patty Griffin and others. Interesting that "Essentials" tips his hat to Woody Guthrie tribute artists and even Woody himself "in a sense." Ellis Paul's imagination and skill are both polished and fanciful all in one. He is a masterful singer/songwriter. (Joe Ross)


No label, no number
Playing Time - 51:07
       Tomorrow's acoustic music is certainly in good hands with a group like the Oregon-based Emmons Sisters. When I first saw them perform at the 2006 Siskiyou Bluegrass Festival at Lake Selmac, Oregon, I thought to myself, "Wow! What charisma, stage presence, and talent!" I'm so glad that they've landed a gig at the 2007 Oregon Bluegrass Assn. Gospel Show in Roseburg. It will be a great opportunity for them to further showcase their talents. Now ranging in age from about 14-20, the four Emmons Sisters are demonstrating their growing proficiency on guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, bass and vocals. "Possibilities" is their third album and was recorded in 2004. The primary songwriter and lead vocalist of the bunch is Christina, and she tends to write in an introspective manner about her feelings, desires, memories, and love of God. Closer to singer/songwriter folk music than bluegrass, "Possibilities" will open some doors for the sisters Christina, Victoria, Natalie and Stephanie. Their songs' melodies, tempos, and arrangements suffer from some similarity, but you should certainly pick up a copy of this album. They deserve our support, encouragement, nurturing to fully achieve their great potential. I'm certain that their best is yet to come. (Joe Ross)

Turning Point

No label, no number
Playing Time - 40:18

       Since their 2004 release of "Possibilities," the Oregon-based Emmons Sisters have gravitated even closer to the bluegrass idiom on their fourth album put out in 2006 called "Turning Point." The liner notes begin with a strong declaration of "Bluegrass is true music, and we've grown to love it!" Their collaborative original, "Here To Stay" includes lyrics like "People ask why we play like we do. So fast, it takes away the blues. Bluegrass music, with its lonesome sound. Just like it, we're here to stay." The girls only range in age from 14-20, and they exhibit a musical maturity well beyond your normal teenaged siblings today that may be more tuned into television, video games, or sports. The Emmons Sisters didn't even start performing as a band until about 2001. Their original songs incorporate standard bluegrass instruments, although the banjo is relegated to a minor role. Their energetic style has a typical formula that incorporates all of them singing in a carefully calibrated manner. While Christina did most of the songwriting and lead singing on their last album, "Turning Point" clearly shows the increased role that Victoria is playing in those areas. On two cuts ("Here To Stay" and "Lullaby"), Stephanie sings lead. Some eclectic variety is imparted to this album with two instrumentals, "Dragonflies"' and "Braeden in the Briar."
       The Emmons Sisters ask thoughtful questions in a number of their songs. All four girls share lead vocals in "Joshua," about a friend stricken with cancer, and they inquire "would I be as brave as he?" In an arrangement that just has Christina singing, "Scarlet Sins" asks questions of a different nature such as "where were you when He felt pain, abandonment and shame?" The primary uncertainty of "Waiting is All We Have" revolves around knowing that everything is always in His perfect timing. Their title cut provides guidance when you fall down, when you break. The Emmons' inquisitive nature is one that translates easily to their singer/songwriter approach to acoustic music. They have some heart-tugging tributes like "Tell The Whole World" that could become the signature piece to symbolize their ministry. An a cappella "Glory Land" sings joyously onto the Lord, and the liner notes indicate it was arranged in the back seat of their family's car while enroute to Bible study each week. These talented, mountain songbirds kick up their heels, have some plain ol' fun, and reverently assume devout tones on this album that radiates with youthful exuberance, optimism and love of God. (Joe Ross)

Out On A Limb

No label, No number
Tel. 705-228-8426
Playing Time - 33:33
       Until recently making the acquaintance of Tom "Ol' Coot" McCreight, I'd never had the pleasure of hearing Silverbirch, a fine bluegrass band based in Ontario, Canada. Their 2005 album's title, "Out On A Limb," represents the risk they took releasing an album of 100% all-original material. Their handpicked sound indicates that Ontario provides a fertile field for soulful bluegrass. Some of their own tunes work better than others, and I took an immediate liking to the up-tempo "I Don't Miss You" and evocative "Red Creek Hill." It would've been nice if each songwriter provided a few sentences about their inspiration for each song. With its pro-environment message, I presume "Red Creek Hill" speaks to the potential environmental damage due to the $220 million Red Hill Creek Expressway's construction through 2007 that will primarily benefit long-distance truckers and land developers on Hamilton Mountain. As they sing, "you won't hear the Red Hill Creek playing its song," I found it heartwarming that they were able to voice a position and take a stance about a controversial regional issue such as this in their Ontario region. Some of their other songs are just too generic to make much impact, but their two instrumentals ("Chance of Rain" and "Stomp") are excellent toe-tapping showcases, particularly for the driving banjo of Stefan VanHolten. The rest of the group includes Doug Moerschfelder (guitar), Gene Gouthro (mandolin), and Tom McCreight (bass). While no one stands out as an exceptional lead singer, Doug, Gene and Stefan share the honors. This tells me that they are working cohesively as a team, and everyone is contributing productively to the band's collective presentation. "Follow the Son" and "The Pathway's End" are gospel songs that serve both the music and their messages. When they record again, a hot guest fiddler or Dobro-player would enhance some of their material that has a traditionally-derived bluegrass cornerstone. (Joe Ross)

North To Ontario

No label, No number OR
Tel. 705-435-1872 OR 705-228-8426
Playing Time - 1:03:46
       I wish that every State, Region, Country throughout the world would produce hour-long compilation samplers of their local bands. What a great way to get acquainted! The Canadian Province of Ontario has proven to be a hotbed of musical activity where folks have supported such collaborative ventures such as Jordy Sharp's "Orchard Sessions" and Tony deBoer's "A Touch of Canada." Thus, guitarist/singer Gene Gouthro and bassist Tom McCreight decided it was time for a strong sampler of Ontario's bluegrass music. Gene, in fact, wrote the title cut which appears at track #7 of the twenty songs on this ambitious project. On his 2003 motorcycle trip south to the Blueridge Mountains, Gouthro realized how much his friends, family and home in Ontario meant to him.
       All told, eighty musicians were involved in the making of "North to Ontario." Every one of the songs is 100% Canadian original, and we even get to hear the songwriters as part of the bands in every case but one (Melissa Sherman's opening cut, "Deal the Cards" performed by Hard Ryde). Throughout the album, we hear many of the winners of the annual Central Canadian Bluegrass Awards presented each year in November by the Northern Bluegrass Committee. One example is Foxtail's tenor singer, Nora Galloway, who has won Best Female Vocalist in 2005 and 2006. Perhaps the best-known musician in the set is multi-instrumentalist Emory Lester who plays all instruments in a collaboration with guitarist/singer Laura Bird to close the album with Bird's "Heavy Load." Lester also plays mandolin with The Project Band's title cut.
       This album has sounds based in tradition. Some lead vocals and instrumental work is stronger than others, but that is to be expected. There are plenty of smooth harmonies. There are bands that sound very entertaining. For it sheer variety, it makes sense that this album was named "Recording of the Year." Many of the featured bands can be seen live each year at such festivals as the River Valley Bluegrass Jamboree in August. Contact information and website links are also provided for all of the eclectic bands on "North to Ontario." For a great overview of Ontario ‘grass, this album is just the ticket. Ontario may have awe-inspiring natural wonders, but the region is also building a reputation for some phenomenal bluegrass music too. (Joe Ross)


Playing Time - 39:38
       The Duhks' progressive "neo-folk" or "cerebral folk" music is best described as highly-arranged folk and Americana that draws inspiration from various genres such as old time string band, Celtic, soul, gospel, folk, and zydeco. The band was nominated for the 2005 Emerging Artist of the Year Award by the Americana Music Association. "Migrations" has about 2/3 of the music that their self-titled 2005 album did, but you'll find that the 11 tracks and 16-page CD jacket don't leave us feeling short-changed. In fact, the project took home the 2006 Juno Award for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year in the Group category.
       Hailing from Winnipeg, the quintet likes to invite a few guest artists into their mix; in this case, Tim O'Brien (5 tracks), Luke Bulla (1 track), and Katie Herzig (1 track). "Migrations" were produced by Gary Paczosa and Tim O'Brien who suggested songs, contributed additional lyrics, and even played or sang along in Tim's case. In keeping with their successful personalized sound, we hear well-crafted, creative songs with soul-stirring vocals and striking guitar, banjo, bass, fiddle and percussion. Low whistle and Uilleann pipes also appear in their kettle of sound. Three of the five Duhks provide vocals, both lead and harmonies. Whether covering Tracy Chapman's "Mountains O'Things" or serving up a Zydeco-flavored "Down to the River," they manage to find some novel material to infuse with their stamp. Tracy's song, of course, encourages us to "renounce all those material things" to save our souls. An instrumental medley of two originals with a Cape Breton tune illustrates how The Duhks blend tradition with their own individuality. Repertoire is also drawn from African-American spirituals (Turtle Dove, Moses Don't Get Lost) and Celtic-flared instrumentals (Three Fishers, The Fox And The Bee).
       The band's affinity for reflective ballads with poignant lyrics capitalize on Havey's plaintive vocalizing (Heaven's My Home, Who Will Take My Place, Out of the Rain) to round out the set. "Heaven's My Home" provides a subtle vision for cautious optimism in a life full of trials, travails and adversity. "Who Will Take My Place?" was written by Dan Frechette about the Irish patriot Michael Collins but has more universal application for anyone fighting oppression. Penned by Jessee Havey, "Out of the Rain" provides sunny direction "far from the pain of being tied to your back door."
       The Duhks' are Scott Senior (percussion), Jessee Havey (vocals), Leonard Podolak (banjo, fiddle), Tania Elizabeth (fiddle, mandolin), and Jordan McConnell (guitar, whistle, pipes). Creative artistry is built around an ability to free one's own muse. The Duhks' approach allows for personal expression without belittling the very traditions that they're stretching. This successful and impressive effort was done right and with abundant rewards. Before reinventing tradition, The Duhks have obviously lived and breathed the tradition itself by knowing, respecting, and appreciating the natural graces and flowing rhythms of Celtic and folk music. It's an amazing feat for these twenty-somethings. With this strong foundation, The Duhks then incorporate their own life experience to arrange and create a signature sound. The musicians' sensory journey takes us along with joy, sorrow, inspiration, and even occasional humor.
       Whether serving up a beautiful, spiritual ballad or a rousing medley of reels, they manage to make each a part of greater Duhkville. With impressionistic and memorable material, this album continues presentation of The Duhks' earthy. Their music conveys an understanding of the bond between land and soul. Their compelling performance is one wrought with the emotional impact and virtuosity of soulful vocals, slapped skins, wailing fiddle, flowing guitar, and bouyant banjo. With a band vision to redefine both folk and pop music, The Duhks are well on their way to doing it with their acoustic tools of the trade. Thnks for not not relying on any electric instruments, synthesizers or drum machines. (Joe Ross, Roseburg, OR.)

Synergy Entertainment
1747 First Ave. 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10128 OR OR
Phone 212-369-2554 OR 888-387-6249
       What an ambitious project from a new kid on the bluegrass block, two-year-old Synergy Entertainment in New York! The Grass Series boasts a total collection of 15 albums that tapped professional Nashville-based artists to cover music from other genres. Produced by Donald Marrow, their intent is to present rock, pop, gospel and kid's music in an acoustic bluegrass format. I recommend starting with the "Best ‘uv Grass" 14-song sampler (just over 40 minutes) that has hand-picked favorite tracks from each album in the collection. The "Grassmasters" hired for the session work have some impressive talent. There are also a few pickers who could've been more proficient in the bluegrass idiom. Tommy White (Dobro) is a master musician who appears on all 15 albums. On a majority are Billy Hullett (guitars), Tammy Rogers (fiddle, mandolin), Hoot Hester (fiddle, mandolin), Fred Newell (mandolin), Vic Jordan (banjo), Daniel O'Lannerghty or Charlie Chadwick (bass). Andrea Zonn fiddles on a third of them, and she provides some short-lived smooth vocalizing on two albums. Where there are multiple players of the same instrument or various vocalists, liner notes don't clearly indicate who is on what cut. Every once in awhile, the moon and stars align and a few special renditions jump out at you. More often, however, the goal of producing a large volume of material in a short period of time seems to have led to problematic issues with arrangement, instrumentation, or presentation. Occasionally sounding contrived and formulaic, the music loses some of its bluegrass spirit, energy and passion.
       The earlier releases (StonesGrass, BeatlesGrass, EaglesGrass and FleetwoodGrass) have no vocals. These four (as well as AeroGrass) also include Bob Mater's drums. He's steady, but bluegrass aficionados may want this primarily instrumental music without percussion and just let the mandolin chop the backbeat. BeatlesGrass could've used some stronger banjo work. Interestingly, liner notes don't provide a credit for the banjo in the mix of the DeadGrass project. Most likely Vic Jordan, he must've been forgotten that day.
       With the exception of the 15-song KidsGrass and 14-song Best'uvGrass, the other CDs each offer twelve selections. The albums range from a low of 28 minutes (ElvisGrass) to nearly 49 minutes (EaglesGrass). While the former includes some refrains courtesy of The Jordanaires, song arrangements are short and typically only about two minutes apiece. The latter has a number of 4- and 5-minute renditions of Eagles tunes, but there are no vocals. Where's the happy medium that provides for thoughtful, creative arrangements with both instrumental and vocal prowess? With their slogan of "Please Keep on the Grass," this series is worth checking out if you're in search of passable instrumental bluegrass covers of the material. If you're into karaoke, it's fun to sing with bluegrass accompaniment. I commend Synergy Entertainment for realizing the market potential associated with bluegrass musicians tapping material from other genres. We can expect better and better music from them as they work out a few bugs, establish their reputation, and develop stronger credibility. (Joe Ross)
       Comparing The Grass Series to the CMH Label's "Pickin' On" Series, it appears that the former stays closer to a traditional bluegrass sound with no electric instruments, and little percussion as noted above. Also, the "Pickin' On" series features musicians from a greater geographic area than just Nashville. Their consistency in quality may be more variable whereas the "Grass Series" has a constant of the same producer and core group of top Nashville session musicians (with special guests as needed for each production's specific needs).
       All things considered, here are a few observations on this specific album, only one in the entire 15-CD Grass Series:

Best ‘uv Grass
(Playing Time 40:03) -
       From the opening salvo of "We Can Work It Out" (from BeatlesGrass) to "Old MacDonald Had A Farm" (from KidsGrass), you'll get a great tasting and overview of the entire catalog of budget-priced albums. You'll quickly realize that some songs you really want to hear the lyrics with have only been arranged as instrumentals. "Salty Dog Blues" has drive but no soulful tenor exclaiming "Now looky here Sal, I know you, run down stockin' and a worn out shoe." A few other incorporate drums or harmonica, in addition to the standard traditional bluegrass instrumentation. They do fine instrumental jobs with songs like "Dream On" (AeroGrass), "Stir It Up" (MarleyGrass), and "Take It Easy" (EaglesGrass), but I sure miss the words. "Don't Be Cruel" and "Teddy Bear" (ElvisGrass), "Ring of Fire" (CashGrass), and even "Old MacDonald Had A Farm" are given rather syrupy Nashvillain renditions that might work for karaoke singers needing some schmaltzy bluegrass backup. When vocals do appear on the albums, they are often just choruses. I can't quite fathom why verses were dropped, unless the original intent was to record these songs for bluegrass karaoke accompaniment.

       At 41 minutes provides 15 favorite traditional folk songs, and the five vocalists featured do a nice job serving up a set for children. This material works bluegrass style, and they arranged it properly for kids to sing along with!

       Has 36 minutes is one of only two albums in the series (the other being GrassRoots) that pairs up vocalists Andrea Zonn and Darrin Vincent for two vocal offerings (e.g. "Homeward Bound" and "The Boxer"). Paul Simon is a brilliant songcrafter, but it was their sweet and delicate vocal harmonics that made them one of the most successful folk/pop duos of the sixties. We'll just have to imagine what Zonn & Vincent would have sounded like with "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" because that big hit isn't even included.

       Only 32 minutes in length, and the renditions of the 12 classic war horses only span 2-3 minutes apiece. Many of the songs we're used to as hard-driving vocal numbers (e.g. Rollin' in my Sweet Baby's Arms, Salty Dog Blues) are only given instrumental treatment. Andrea Zonn and Darrin Vincent sing a few but not near enough to make this one an unqualified success. Who wants to listen to an exhausting "Man of Constant Sorrow" without vocalizing? Without singing, the GrassRoots songs (often with tedious I-IV-V chord progressions) sound completely unfinished.

       Runs 40 minutes, and some vocals from Clara Adams and Darrin Vincent ("Shower The People") are complemented with top instrumental work. This is the only album in the series that features fiddler Andy Lewis. Because the lyrics are so important in James Taylor's songs, this album falls short by not giving us enough vocalizing, but don't be shy about belting out Taylor's big commercial breakthrough, "Fire and Rain," right along with them. James' music isn't the same without a soothing voice reflecting on the sixties. The Grass Series would've earned top marks with a little more forethought on how to best cover this great singer/songwriter's material. The Grassmasters should have also considered recording some of Taylor's other hits, "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" (written by Marvin Gaye) and Jimmy Jones' "Handy Man."

       Runs over 41 minutes with the established core group of musicians, John Morton (guitar), and vocals by Margie Cates, Gus Gatches, and Monty Lane Allen. The Boston rock band's biggest hits are covered, usually without vocals. Guest Jim Hoke's harmonica and jew's harp provide a nice flavoring, but pass on the second cut ("The Train Kept A-Rollin'") that has too much drumming for my taste. The bluegrassers capture the classic Aerosmith riffs, and it makes for a playful (even humorous) outing. While the bluegrass renditions are rather earthy, I think I'll stick with the edgy original versions with vocals on classic-rock FM stations.

       At 41 minutes is the only project with Kenny Sears sawing his fiddle, and the group is supplemented with special guests on guitar, harmonica, bass, and dulcimer. Five vocalists provide a touch of singing (e.g. "A Touch of Grey"). There are no extended improvisational interludes, and the arrangements become quite formulaic with very even meter.

Viva! Terlingua! Nuevo! Songs of Luckenbach Texas

Palo Duro PDR-4201
Jill McGuckin, 512.217.9404; OR Heidi Labensart,
Playing Time - 1:07:23
       1. Intro - Viva! Terlinqua! Nuevo! Songs Of Luckenbach Texas 2. Gettin' By - The (Original) Lost Gonzo Band 3. What I Like About Texas - Morrison-Williams 4. Backsliders Wine - Tommy Alverson 5. Little Bird - Walt Wilkins 6. Get It Out! - Ed Burleson 7. Viva! Luckenbach! - John Arthur Martinez 8. Luckenbach Daylight - Kent Finlay 9. I'll Be Here In The Mornin' - Jimmy Lafave 10. Desperados Waiting For The Train - Brian Burns 11. Wheel - The McKay Brothers 12. Sangria Wine - Two Tons Of Steel 13. London Homesick Blues - The Derailers 14. Red Neck Mother - Cory Morrow 15. Gonzos Compadres - Gonzos de Casa
       Featuring live music seven nights a week, the 120-yer-old Luckenbach dancehall in Fredericksburg, Texas hosted this January 19-20, 2006 live recording session with stalwarts of the Palo Duro record label. The place specializes in parties, and a 70ish admission price of $1 was set for the 400 attendees who were lucky enough to win tickets in a lottery (then proceeds went to Health Alliance for Austin Musicians). This guaranteed a large, jovial, and friendly crowd for this big event in the venue that gets its moniker and inspiration from an old hill country town where everybody is somebody according to Jerry Jeff Walker song "Viva! Luckenbach!"
       Continuing the gonzo spirit of the Texas Outlaw music movement, this album covers a total of seven of Walker's songs, as well as ones from Guy Clark, Gary P. Nunn, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Michael Murphy. This album is a tribute to Jerry Jeff's landmark 1973 album Viva! Terlingua! that is recognized as a seminal contribution to the then blossoming Texas outlaw music scene. All nine of the songs that appeared on Walker's original 1973 album have been redone on this "nuevo" project.
       More generically, this lone star twang and attitude today are referred to as alt-country, insurgent country, or simply Americana. Interestingly, Jerry Jeff had not been initially consulted about this album project, and he got lawyers involved and filed a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement. Walker also claimed false advertising and misappropriation of his identity.
       Musicians participating included Jimmy LaFave, Cory Morrow, John Arthur Martinez, Two Tons of Steel, Ed Burleson, Brian Burns, Gary P. Nunn, McKay Brothers, Morrison-Williams, Walt Wilkins, Tommy and Justin Alverson, The Derailers, and past and present members of Gonzos de Casa. At track 8, Kent Finlay even recites a 5-minute Hondo Crouch poem entitled "Luckenbach Daylight." Consistent with their business plan and marketing strategy, the record label previewed the album at the 2006 Americana Music Conference in a special Luckenbach replica booth. Also, this is just the first in Palo Duro's Luckenbach Texas music series that will presumably offer more hour-long live samplers from the dancehall, the objective being to honor the historical significance of the tiny town west of Austin where many a musical career was launched.
       If you're looking for some "Nuevo!" Texas country music in the spirit of Luckenbach, this album is worth checking out even though it's a tad loose in spots. It's still a fun ride! As a result of the pending litigation, all commercial distribution of the album was suspended. However, the Palo Duro record label intends to aggressively pursue its right to distribute the album. Let's hope the lawsuit is resolved in a timely manner so that this and future albums in the series can reach our CD players soon. Especially if your mind keeps roamin', and your heart keeps longin' to be home in a Texas bar. (Joe Ross)

Blind Man Walking

Skaggs Family 6989020172 OR
Playing Time - 53:51
       Record execs are always in search of the next big act to create a tsunami in the fairly stodgy and conservative bluegrass community. Ricky Skaggs heard Cadillac Sky and has decided to take a chance on them and their fresh, progressive brand of bluegrass. Penning all of their own material, C-Sky clearly has some country, Celtic and even rock influences. Only in existence since late-2002, the band doesn't have a long-tenured track record of success, but it's very likely that their supercharged vocals and novel sound will touch a nerve with younger listeners. At least, Skaggs thinks so. What he probably heard was their ability to be both precise and reckless, controlled but spontaneous, happy yet lonesome, in other words, the perfect ingredients for a young, unique bluegrass group. I think you'll agree with me. They're a kick if prog-grass is your bag.
       Bryan Simpson plays a pivotal role in the band's songwriting, lead singing, and mandolin playing. Simpson's songs have been recorded by George Strait, Martina McBride, Gretchen Wilson, Diamond Rio, Jo Dee Messina, Neal McCoy, and Kenny Rogers. He even bows fiddle on one track, "Never Been So Blue." The other stellar band members are Mike Jump (guitar, vocals), Matt Menefee (banjo), Ross Holmes (fiddle, vocals), and Matt Blaize (bass, vocals). National championship fiddle and banjo wins at Winfield, Kansas only add to the mystery and romanticism of this group.
       The band's creativity and wild, boyish exuberance are a product of their familiarity with traditional bluegrass. In the CD jacket, one photo shows Simpson proudly displaying his Monroe T-shirt. This 13-song debut is certain to draw comparisons to the ground-breaking directions of Nickel Creek, New Grass Revival, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and others. It's important that bands follow their inner muse. If band members can all share a common vision and have fun together while they're collaboratively moving ahead, then we'll have a strong purpose-driven group like C-Sky, what a fantastic futuristic name for such a band. But even if they're "mountain boys" at heart, they're motivated and eager to solidify their own musical persona. Already with this 13-song debut, I can tell you that it's characterized by considerable talent, maturity, and charisma. National press coverage, widespread airplay, extensive touring, a record contract, and a 2004 showcase at the IBMA World of Bluegrass Trade Show have people talking about an innovative progressive band that's easy to embrace. They're not out to reform bluegrass music but merely nudge it into the new century. They know about the lonesome soul of the genre, and in "Never Been So Blue" they eulogize Bill Monroe with "the twin fiddles play and the whippoorwill sings, the bluegrass has never been so blue." Do you think they included this song, respectful of his music and legacy, just to appease those staunch traditionalists who think C-Sky is blasphemous? I doubt it.
       And thanks guys for not including percussion in the mix_you don't need it. Sonya Isaacs' guest vocals on "Homesick Blues" are a nice touch, as is Kenneth Soper's didgereedoo on the title cut. When asked a standard canned interview question once about their influences, the band's reply was something to the effect that their music is just something that feels necessary. If the bluegrass genre is going to continue to grow and prosper with younger folks, then I think you'll understand that C-Sky is on somewhat of a mission to fulfill a purpose and need. (Joe Ross)


Playing Time - 53:21
       Adjust your receivers to the remote frequencies on station BGRS to hear Stay Tuned's new self-titled album debut. Except for the spiritual "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," the tuneful songs (16 total) were written by the band members. From the state of Washington, Stay Tuned is characteristic of many Pacific Northwest groups - they incorporate a wide variety of regional themes and multi-genre influences from bluegrass, folk, country and western swing into their own original music. Acknowledging that they are more than just another bluegrass band, they prefer to be known for their "refreshing original acoustic music." Although not born and raised in Appalachia, they embrace bluegrass instrumentation for their joyful and affable presentation. In fact, this quartet's members took rather circuitous routes to their current beguiling music.
       Alan Ehrlich (banjo, vocals) grew up in New York City and sang do-wop music in high school before heading westward to California, Colorado and Washington where he joined up with the band, Rainy Pass. He wrote six of the songs on this project, and his "Highway 99" tells an interesting swinging travelogue about stepping back in time the Alaska Way Viaduct. Fiddler Paul Elliott appears as a guest, and a few more songs on Stay Tuned's first album could've used that (or some Dobro) instrumental embellishment. Mandolinist/singer Pete Goodall was born in southern California, and I presume that his career in information technology brought him to the northwest. He hosts the "Bluegrass Ramble" weekly radio show on KBCS in Seattle. Pete wrote or co-wrote eight numbers on the CD. It's bad enough to be left all alone, but in "My New Roommate is the Blues," Pete humorously says how she left - with an e-mail addressed "to whom it may concern." High school teacher Terry O'Brien (guitar, mandolin, vocals) grew up in Seattle, played electric in high school, but has gravitated back to acoustic music. Inspired by the scenic beauty in their neck of the woods, "Deception Pass" is a crafty instrumental with dawg music overtones. Another native northwesterner, bassist Mary Sackmann has played piano, picked guitar, sang in choirs, and performed in an all-women band. Usually in more of a support role, Mary sings lead on three songs on the album.
       While this band doesn't have any knockout singers, they still offer up plenty of sheer creative audacity in a sparkling and friendly manner. In their down-home manner, mere enthusiasm enhances their appeal. At community events and regional festivals, they'd be well received. They epitomize some of the tantalizing bluegrass foundation of the northwest. And how can you not enjoy their enlightened original perspectives and comic expressions of affirmative spirit? A takeoff on "Pig in a Pen," their rendition of "Pig in a Can" sounds more like Bill Monroe meets Cab Calloway. They should plug some of these songs to big names looking for new cheery material. (Joe Ross)

Wash Away Your Troubles

Bell Buckle Records BBR-018
Playing time - 32:20
       SONGS - The Rain, Music To My Ears, Blossoms On The Almond Tree, Wings To Fly, Soul Phone, Getting Ready For Sunday, Seeds, My Jesus, God's Refrigerator, Make Him A Soldier, Raise The River
       Missouri-based Valerie Smith's fourth album, "Wash Away Your Troubles" is a set of electrifying highly original gospel-infused acoustic music. Smith sings with distinctive panache, and she goes with material from respected songcrafters who have given her winning compositions in the past -- Becky Buller, Lisa Aschmann and Mark Simos. They also cover a Louvin Brothers favorite, "Make Him A Soldier," Claire Lynch and Cindy Greene's "Wings To Fly", and Sarah Majors' "Soul Phone." Impressed by Valerie's work ethic and determination, this album was produced by Alan O'Bryant.
       Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike were nominated for IBMA's Emerging Artist Awards of 1999 and 2000. She's also been recognized by midwest bluegrass fans when nominated as SPBGMA's "Traditional Bluegrass Female Vocalist of the Year" award in 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002. "Wash Away Your Troubles" features Liberty Pike's current lineup -- Becky Buller (fiddle, viola, clawhammer banjo, vocals), Casey Grimes (bass, vocals), and Jonathan Maness (guitar, mandolin, vocals). On 2-3 tracks apiece, guests include Mike Compton (mandolin), Aaron Jackson (guitar), Matt Leadbetter (resophonic guitar, vocals), and Alan O'Bryant (banjo).
       The group elegantly assumes a devout tone on songs where the messages are paramount. Although not uploaded yet, lyrics will soon be online at "Wash away your troubles, wash away your pain" is the opening salvo in "The Rain." The set then progresses through some first pew music before elegantly closing with the refrain, "Lead us to your ocean, make us into water" to epitomize the band's love and praise of God.
       Songwriting is both art and craft. Becky Buller had a hand in four composing songs on this CD, and she knows how to cultivate her creative ideas into blossoming works. With her lively old-time banjo, "Getting Ready for Sunday," for example, is a call for each and every heart to prepare and make time for church. Only about six years ago (2001), Becky won the bluegrass category of the prestigious Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in Wilksboro, N.C. She's starting to see more and more bluegrass groups covering her expressive material.
       Five songs on this project exhibit the stylistic writing of Nashville-based Lisa Aschmann who has written thousands of songs in many genres, with more than 300 covered by country, bluegrass and acoustic artists. Lisa's perspectives, often in collaboration with co-writer Mark Simos or others, show innovation ("God's Refrigerator"), spirituality ("Music To My Ears"), and revelation ("Blossoms on the Almond Tree"). Much in the same manner that her songs take root and flourish, a song like "Seeds" asks a simple folksy question to guide one's journey in life that will hopefully result in an individual finding meaning, purpose and salvation. Claire Lynch's alluring song also offers an encouraging message to persevere "I will walk ‘til I have wings to fly."
       There is excellent talent on this album, and the band presents some wonderful new material in spare settings that encourage intimacy with the lyrics. Valerie's direct messages reflect the eclectic sounds, influences, and textures of her Midwest home. With country, folk and bluegrass components, one primary goal of her music is to connect us all as human beings and relate evocative and inspirational messages from the depths of her heart and soul. (Joe Ross)

40 Years of Memories and Grass

Shan-Co-Mo Records 9001
Alvin Bressler, HCR-2, Box 38K, Eminence, MO. 65466
Playing Time - 33:09

Taste of Life

Shan-Co-Mo Records 7001
Alvin Bressler, HCR-2, Box 38K, Eminence, MO. 65466
Playing Time - 36:18
       Hailing from Eminence, Missouri, Andy and Alvin Bressler began their semi-pro musical career in 1965 when the Current River Opry began weekly shows. Their music is new bluegrass and gospel presented in a traditional style. Andy is a guitarist, and Alvin sings both lead and tenor vocals. Their albums also feature Alvin's two sons, Scott (bass vocals) and Bruce (guitar, baritone vocals). They take new fresh songs from Missouri songwriters and enlist the help of Bobby Clark (mandolin), Blake Williams (banjo, bass), and Arkansas fiddle champ Tim Crouch who even lays some twin fiddles into the mix on occasion. Previous albums have featured Jim Buchanan or Glen Duncan on fiddle. As always, The Bresslers give us uplifting albums of traditionally-inspired bluegrass from the Ozarks.
       The four Bresslers don't seem to strive for a driving high, lonesome sound. Rather, their solid bluegrass twang includes some low-key and down-home folky earthiness on a well-crafted collection. Certainly, some songs work better than others in such a large body of material. Their high level of musical output in recent years doesn't seem to be impacting the consistent quality or intent of their albums. Repertoire is drawn from the pens of Darren Haverstick, Joy Gail Cox, Harlin Howerton, Frances Simpson, Leona Williams, James McDonugh, and Vernon & Virginia Long. Both art and craft, good songwriting requires the careful cultivation of idea seeds to express evocative messages. They cover common themes that we can all relate to - love of God, family, home and bluegrass music.
       I always enjoy hearing bands sing about their own region ("Missouri"), and my ears always pick up a tad at "novelty" tunes with catchy hooks like "In That Monroe Tradition," "Breaking Out Again," and "Seed Tick Blues." Whether you view those as hooky or hokie may be a matter of personal perspective, but I fall into the former category because the Bresslers sing with enough emotional honesty to anchor their genial, good-time sound. Some other homespun and sincere songs are "Daddy Showed Me," "The Miracle," "My Friends Are Waiting For Me," "Next Time I See You," "You'd Better Be Ready" and "When I Get Home." It's very earnest and affable music, but even the song titles indicate their shortcoming - most are commonplace and just aren't that memorable alongside all the great original bluegrass music being written today. Written and presented in an old-time way, one of my favorites is the _-time heartfelt tribute "Granddaughter Remembers Grandma." Harlin Howerton also wrote "Memories and Grass" (title cut for the one album) and "Memory and Friends" (about the greatest treasures on earth). Lyrics are included in the CD jackets of both projects. Liner notes in "40 Years of Memories and Grass" are a little difficult to read easily due to their graphic layout, while Wayne Bledsoe's notes in "Taste of Life" are right on target.
       While the Bresslers' singing may not elicit a great deal of worldwide airplay. These albums illustrate their dedication to presenting new original bluegrass music in a traditional vein. It's challenging to find new songs that elicit the same sentiments as the seminal bluegrass music of yesteryear. With these two relaxed albums, the Bresslers show their commitment and enthusiasm. (Joe Ross)

Playboy Swing

JIP Records JIP-7007
PO BOX 70403, Nashville, TN. 37207
Playing Time - 46:13
       George McClure's "Playboy Swing" continues his signature calling to present contemporary western swing music that also incorporates elements of bluegrass, big band, and even bilingual Tex-Mex border music. George's talents are diverse and varied. Before embarking on a fully professional music career, he studied cognitive anthropology, business, computers, math and more. Obviously, he's a creative right-brain type of guy who also knows how to handily apply his aptitude and skill to playing, singing and producing music. In his younger days, he's played Arizona and New Mexico, performed in the pit for live theatre, and picked bluegrass and country with the Salt River Ramblers.
       Now, he's apparently in Nashville and following up on his second successful 1999 album "Champagne Saturday" that included the likes of Bobby Hicks, Judy Lynn, Joey Miskulin, Rick ‘L.D.' Money, Johnny B. I kind of miss the accordion on "Playboy Swing," but George has arranged his music with plenty of other instrumentation to personalize his sound. Besides George's guitar, there are primarily trumpets, saxes, drums, bass, and piano. Sadly, John Heinrich's pedal steel only appears in William Young's "Little Miss Santa Clause" from his repertoire recorded in 2006. The bow work of fiddlers Jon Yudkin and Andrea Zonn is essential to this kind of material, and they all rise to the occasion without grandstanding.
       The two bonus tracks offer selections recorded in 1992 ("Mass Grass") and 1998 "Across the Alley from the Alamo"), and they seem to illustrate McClure's musical evolution from playing banjo in more acoustic arrangements to the added instrumental dimensions he presents today. Stephen George Miler's "Mass Grass" is an instrumental with a relaxed sophistication that featured David Grier, Mark Howard, and Terry Eldredge. "Across the Alley from the Alamo" is a fun remake of the Bob Wills' classic, and it has Johnny Bellar's lap steel, Bobby Hicks' fiddle, and Mark Schatz' bass in the mix.
       McClure's newest material has developed more into big band and jazz music. At track 2, an updated 2006 rendition of "Mass Grass" still has George picking banjo, but also has grand piano, violin, bass, drums, sax and electric guitar. The tune takes a completely different ambiance of relaxed, good-time vibe, as does "Mood Time" with its shimmering piano, sax and taste of banjo. McClure also remakes his own "Champagne Saturday" (with Kathy Chiavola's background vocals) into a grooving little number for the front-porch swing. In his songs like "Texas Blues" and "Mis Pensamientos," George sings with warm, affable texture. I guess that's what he refers to as "romantico" music with tints of Mexican mariachi melodies. Jim Hoke's wailing trumpets really fill out the score for "Día De Los Muertos (The Matador)." McClure's music is a little enigmatic at times. For example, why does he begin the album with a 3-minute version of "Playboy Swing," but revisits the song with a 5-minute version (entitled "Playboy Loop") at track 12? All in all, this CD's a one-of-a-kind offering from a unique right-brained individual. It's rather entertainingly off-beat. Hang loose, and enjoy it. (Joe Ross)


Pirate Records DWEG 110805 OR OR OR
Playing Time - 35:38
       SONGS - 1. 3-Five-N, 2. Little Bessie, 3. Rueben, 4. Bayou Bottle Blues, 5, Miners' Night Out, 6, El Cumbachero, 7. Rocket Man, 8. Prairie Song , 9. The Ballad of Osceola, 10. Gold Rush, 11. Orange Blossom Special
       Five-string bluegrass banjo is not an easy instrument to play. It requires plenty of intense right hand drive with various fingerpicked rolls, while the left hand uses such techniques as pull-offs, hammer-ons, and string bends to embellish melodies. The innovative Todd Taylor has it all down! Incorporating Scruggs, melodic, and single string styles, his repertoire pays tribute to Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, John McEuen and even Elton John. Pretty diverse influences, but not as far-reaching as on previous projects. Taylor penned two impressive originals, "3-FIVE-N" and "Bayou Bottle Blues," and he arranged a few others like the frenetic crowd-pleaser "Orange Blossom Special." One can see why Todd's been nominated for a number of Grammies. John McEuen once told me that he wants to take the banjo into new, uncharted territory, and Taylor demonstrates his comfort with John's "Miner's Night Out." A barn-burning rendition of "El Cumbanchero" also appeared previously on his "Taylor Made" album. Not sure why he includes it here again. "Prairie Song" and "Little Bessie" feature Steve Thorpe's languorous vocals.
       On stage since age 6, Taylor and his twin brother (Allen) performed as the "Taylor Twins" with the likes of Bill Monroe, Carl Story, Roy Acuff and others. When Todd's five-string starts smoking, look beyond just the breakneck licks. He manages to find some stylistic footing by establishing a groove and expanding into non-bluegrass genres (Latin, new acoustic, and rock). While every banjo-player worth his salt cuts his teeth on fare like Reuben, Todd's spunk makes it his own. That's why Taylor's best material is built around his two originals or his renderings of "El Cumbanchero" or "Rocket Man."
       The band on "3-FIVE-N" comes off with even more instrumental proficiency and a better rehearsed sound than on his "Taylor Made" album. Primary accompanists include Bo Frazier (fiddle), Lamont Goff (mandolin), Robert Feathers (guitar), and Mike Moody (bass). Nathan Thorpe, Steve Thorpe, and Chuck Embry III appear to a minimal degree. Todd shows us that he's a very daring young man with a lot of skill, confidence, and vitality. On first listen, what may sound to an undiscerning ear as rather frantic and frenzied picking is really occurring in a very controlled bluegrass environment. Dare I say it but on his next album I'd like to hear him slow down and offer a small percentage of very evocative mood pieces - a whole ‘nuther and calmer side of the banjer! "3-FIVE-N" can be purchased at (Joe Ross)

Lefty's Old Guitar

Rounder Records 11661-0512-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140
Playing Time - 34:10
       SONGS - Mississippi River Raft, Lefty's Old Guitar, Just Loving You, Rovin' Gambler, In My Next Life, You Can Be A Millionaire With Me, I Only wish You Knew, Loneliness, I'm A Hobo, Too Often Left Alone, Blue Bonnet Lane, She Know When You're On My Mind Again
       From Kentucky, J.D. Crowe began his career as a member of Mac Wiseman's band in 1955. Thus, "Lefty's Old Guitar" is also somewhat of a half - century celebratory milestone for J.D. After an early stint with Jimmy Martin, he formed his own group in 1968, The Kentucky Mountain Boys (with Doyle Lawson and Red Allen). The New South first took the stage in 1974 with Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Douglas. About 2002, Rounder Records re-released "My Home Ain't in the Hall of Fame" (the band's seminal 1978 album). Over the years, band alumni have included Keith Whitley, Jimmy Gaudreau, Paul Adkins, Wendy Miller, Gene Johnson (Diamond Rio), Tony King (Brooks and Dunn), and many others. In 1999, J.D. and The New South put out the album "Come on Down to My World," that introduced us to Dwight McCall's singing and mandolin playing. A year later, however, some of their bandmates left to form another stellar group, Wildfire. That 1999 album was the band's last studio album until "Lefty's Old Guitar" hit the mark.
       Today, the award-winning banjo player's band is comprised of some masterful pickers and singers - Dwight McCall (mandolin, vocals), Rickey Wasson (guitar, vocals), Ron Stewart (fiddle), and Harold Nixon (bass). Crowe, of course, also typically sings a baritone harmony in choruses. Their vocal blends are resonant, full of joy or sung with pathos, when needed. For their highest, lonesomest sound, check out "She Knows When You're On My Mind Again," that lays in Cia Cherryholmes' high baritone harmony on the very top. While Wasson does most of the lead vocalizing on "Lefty's Old Guitar," McCall's sumptuous high voice belts out the verses' lyrics on his own self-penned "I Only Wish You Knew," Larry Sparks' "Just Loving You," and Cindy Walker's "Blue Bonnet Lane."
       Their contemporary repertoire is arranged with shared breaks and crafty instrumental fills. "Lefty's Old Guitar" has been a long time, about seven years, in coming. I guess that the band and record label felt that the current personnel had now solidified into a very cohesive unit of impeccability. Crowe has always been astute about incorporating some country feeling into his music. Doug Jernigan's pedal steel on two cuts doesn't bother me, and I appreciate their not feeling a need to put drums or percussion into the mix. Other producers (usually Nashville-based) feel that ‘power' bluegrass music needs drums to present commercial, radio-friendly fare. J.D. Crowe proves that it just ain't so! One thing I did find missing from their successful formula, however, would be a hard-driving barnburner that really challenges the instrumental picking and bowing prowess of highly regarded award winners like Ronnie Stewart. However, the set still provides some eclectic ups and downs in tempos for songs that are as sure to become as classic and influential as some of J.D. Crowe's seminal works. (Joe Ross)

Slidin' Home

Rebel REB-CD-1820
PO BOX 7405, Charlottesville, VA. 22906
Playing Time - 33:06
       It seems appropriate that John Starling, originally from Alabama, begins his first new album in more than a decade with another southerner's hit, "Waiting for a Train,"from Jimmie Rodgers. While Starling doesn't include the characteristic singing brakeman's yodel, he does impart his own remarkably distinctive voice to plenty of relaxed country hits with lilting melodies and thought-provoking lyrics. With a heart full of emotion, Starling milks the lyrics of their lament, love and hope.
       John's lead vocals and rhythm guitar grace all the tracks, as do Mike Auldridge's resophonic guitar and Tom Gray's bass. Friends for years, all three have the Seldom Scene connection. John left that seminal group in 1988 to concentrate full-time on his medical practice, before rejoining the band as its guitarist and lead singer for a second time from 1992-94. Starling's debut solo release (Waitin' on a Southern Train) showed his eclectic tastes for bluegrass, honky tonk, and classic country. He also put out highly-acclaimed albums in 1987 (Spring Training) and in 1990 (Long Time Gone).
       Now retired, John invited some of his best musical friends to collaborate on "Slidin' Home."You may recall that Starling directed the award-winning "Trio"album with Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. In a minor role, Emmylou sings with John on a song she co-wrote with Gram Parsons, "In My Hour of Darkness."I'm sure that John sees some of himself and can personally relate to lines like "But he was just a country boy, his simple tunes confess. And the music he had in him, so very few possess."
       Other choices he made for this album tap the reservoirs of some crafty and profound writers. I've heard Missy Raines and Jim Hurst sing a beautiful "Cold Hard Business"(on their "Synergy"album), but Starling's rendition is done with Jon Randall. An oft-covered song of passion, Leon's Payne "They'll Never Take Her Love From Me"takes a great deal of courage to present. My goodness, Starling still manages to impart his seductive charm to the song sung by the likes of Hank Williams, George Jones, Marty Robbins, Emmylou Harris, and Waylon Jennings. I never tire of a good hard-hitting familiar favorite, and it has been ten years since Waylon did it. At ten cuts spanning 33 minutes, the album is just a tad short.
       Interspersed between the mellow offerings are a couple tuneful instrumentals, "South Riding Tango"and "Irish Spring."Both feature the hot licks of two guests on the album -- Jimmy Gaudreau (mandolin) and Rickie Simpkins (fiddle). For added embellishment to some selection, other guest musicians include Jon Randall, Kent Ippolito, Jay Starling, Pete Wasner, and Larry Stephenson. Auldridge also lays in some tracks of Weissenborn guitar or lap steel. For example, the former instrument is used to impart bluesy twang to "Those Two Blue Eyes,"a song we may best remember as a driving bluegrass number that Keith Whitley released on the Rebel label about 1972. The lap steel and piano perfectly voice their genial moods in Lowell George's "Willin',"a favorite song of John's (and recorded by Linda Rondstadt). The sleepy score of a truck driver heading home declares a strong sentiment - "Had my head stoved in, but I'm still on my feet, and I'm still willin'."
       John Starling closes "Slidin' Home"with one of his most tender sentiments that epitomizes the entire project. The sweet and endearing tune, "Prayer For My Friends,"comes from award-winning Tennessee songwriters Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle. John acknowledges the wonderful people on whom he depends. "Our pathways are different but I love them no less .... I'm so grateful for the people I have in my life, they help me to do what is right .... In my heart here tonight, they're dear to my heart for all time ...."John's new album has laid-back textures, and he sings about life in a tender, kind and empathetic way. (Joe Ross)

I Can't Remember to Forget You

Palette, N/A OR
Playing Time - 28:10
       Back in 2001, I became acquainted with Debra Lyn's singing and songwriting with her Kentucky-based group called "Soulgrass"that presented contemporary bluegrass with elements of soul, R&B, rock, country, and folk. At the time, it became very evident that Debbie is a prolific singer-songwriter whose expressive songs about relationships have a strong country feel. Now Debra Lyn has a new EP, "I Can't Remember To Forget You,"with seven new country songs that she wrote or co-wrote with her encouraging husband and the album's producer, Jeff Silverman of Nashville's Palette Studios. Debra's lead and harmony vocals convey an earthy sensuality. And their choice of instrumentation is much more country than bluegrass now, but they still realize the potential for acoustic instruments to convey certain moods in individual songs. The banjo and fiddle in "So Long Since September,"for example, impart a slight rustic mountain feel to a contemporary storyline. Jeff's guitar, bass and background vocals are solid in the multi-layered sound that also incorporates many other top session players -- Randy Kohrs (banjo, Dobro, vocals), Dave Pearlman (Dobro, steel guitar), Ken Lewis, Nate Morton or Jim Haydon (drums, percussion), James Mitchell (electric guitar), Mike Johnson (steel guitar), Gabriel Katona (piano), and Steve Stokes (fiddle, vocals). I would encourage artists looking for new material to closely peruse her lyrics and melodies on this rhythmically-enticing album. I'm sure you'll find some alluring songs that you can relate to. A song like "I Know"even has the accessible melody, bright lyricism and modulating arrangement that could make it a pop hit. For more info, her website is (Joe Ross)

Evening Song

PoetMan PMR-70015
PO Box 200, Lexington, KY 40588
       SONGS - Blue Highways, In The Evening, Nightime Star, Spirit, Benediction, Mandarin Mandolins, Chinatown, Empty Pillows, St. James Hotel, Go Laddy Go, Midnight Symphony, Sunday Song, My Baby, Masters of War, Troubadour Playing Time - 57:32
       We often hear acoustic country and bluegrass being fused. Michael Johnathon, on the other hand, has a vision for his "folkestral" music that incorporates elements from folk, blues, bluegrass and classical genres. A consummate touring folksinger who plays guitar, banjo and mandolin, "Evening Song" features 13 originals from Johnathon (with the other two from Bob Dylan and Leroy Carr). We certainly know what Michael's favorite time of day is. His inspired eclecticism does have a common theme - all of the songs are either about, set in, or written in the evening. That's interesting because his last album ("Homestead") also included many similar reflective pieces in our about dimming light ("Winter's Eve" and "The Homestead Suite") with that album's title cut telling a story of a peaceful autumn evening at home.
       The notes on Johnathon's eighth album quote Henry David Thoreau about becoming more pensive in the twilight of the year and the beauty of the last hour of the day. Most of his songs are peaceful and contemplative. Others, like "Mandarin Mandolins" and "Go Laddy Go" impart a little liveliness to the melodic step. The nearly hour-long set closes with "Troubadour," a meandering and presumably autobiographical sketch about the poetry that lives in his guitar and the "peaceful dreams in everything I sing." The clever singer-songwriter and radio host (WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour) enlists the support of 18 others for the "Evening Song" project. Noteable bluegrassers include Rob Ickes (Dobro), Don Rigsby (mandolin), and Andy Leftwich (mandolin). Although liner notes don't clarify who is playing when, Ickes' playing is immediately recognizable in the breaks and fills. But with five different mandolinists contributing, players should have been credited on a song-by-song basis, and some personal notes about the inspiration for each song would have bee helpful. Others in the patchwork of sound provide cello, bass, violin, viola, French horn, fluglehorn, trumpet, saxophone, drums, percussion, jew's harp and background vocals. His accompanists successfully dispense "song conversation" to the music. Evening Song's nicely-arranged, multi-instrumental tones and rhythms resemble a cozy quilt that warms you by the woodstove at dusk. (Joe Ross)

Lift Me A Little Higher

No label, no number
       SONGS - 1. Something About a Sunday, 2. Ken-caid, 3. He's Living in You, 4. Lift Me a Little Higher, 5. Why Are You Waiting, 6. Dust On the Land, 7. Oh' What a Glorious Day, 8. Old Joe, 9. Angel Wings, 10. For the Love of God, 11. Talking to the Lord, 12. My Eyes Are Open
Playing Time - 37:14
       Formed in 2004, From The Heartland is an appropriate moniker for a group that plays in Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa. They follow their first album, "One Little Kiss," with "Lift Me A Little Higher," an effervescent showcase of their songwriting, instrumental and vocal skills. With the exception of two spirited instrumentals ("Ken-Caid" and "Old Joe"), they raise their voices on high (and low) in the Spirit of God. The band includes Carl Brown (banjo, Dobro), Freddie Base (guitar), Kenny Terral (mandolin), Mary Mayhew (fiddle), and Janis Lindsey (bass). All hailing from the Sooner State (Oklahoma), Lindsey, Terral and Brown are the band's songsmiths. Their messages are direct and honest in praise of the Lord, and the band's shortcomings don't dampen our enthusiasm. Kenny Terral's low bass voice reverently assumes a devout tone on "Why Are You Waiting," and in "Talking To The Lord," he sings in a call-and-response style to Janis Lindsey's pleasant vocal presence.
       From The Heartland's members have years of experience playing regionally in groups such as the The Dixie Ramblers, Larry Ford Bluegrass Band, and Freddie Base and Highway 37 Boys. This album carries dedications to two family members, Kassandara Marie Lindsey and Joe Noel. A banjo-player and guitarist, Joe was the inspiration for Carl Brown's instrumental "Old Joe." Kassandra was taken by angels in December, 2004 at age eighteen as the result of a tragic car accident. Janis Lindsey admits that life can throw us some sad curves. By writing and singing gospel music, she thanks the Lord for helping her and her family heal from their wounds of grief and sorrow. Somewhat unpolished, From The Heartland is not trying to win Grammy Awards. Rather, their music's central premise and vitality come directly from the heart as much as from America's and bluegrass music's heartland. The band's caring and compassionate attitude is their strength, and we hear that amply conveyed in their music. (Joe Ross)

Where You Been So Long?

Squatney Records 45001
Playing Time - 37:35
       Chicago-based Tangleweed is a "foot stompin', moonshine drinkin'" group that has an alluring je ne sais quoi that is sturdy and self-assured. Full of exuberance and energy, the quintet's rough edges are starting to smooth out since their live debut "Just A Spoonful" album. No personnel changes have definitely brought their strings tighter, and "Where You Been Gone So Long?" was wisely recorded in a more controlled studio environment. Timothy Ryan Fisher (banjo), Paul Wargaski (upright bass), Billy Oh (fiddle), Kenneth Rainey (mandolin), and Scott Judd (guitar) share chemistry that results in some good-time music inspired from old-time, bluegrass, jug band, swing, gypsyjazz and Irish airs.
       Playing regularly since mid-2004, Tangleweed's strength is their infectious enthusiasm and varied repertoire. "I've Found A New Baby" is a carefully-cultivated classic 1930s jazz standard, and their medley of jigs and reels or "Leaving of Liverpool" convey hues of emerald green. A tune like "Drunkard's Blues" is presented with authentic grit. The band's original old-time protest song bewailing war and poverty, "Hard Times," gives Tangleweed a sound not too dissimilar from the New Lost City Ramblers. Also written by all members of the band, the title cut speaks to "being broke and hungry, sleepin' on the floor" and "twelve hours on a Trailways bus to sleep here by your side." That cut epitomizes Tangleweed's bluegrass spunk. This string band's eclectic repertoire has a little something for everyone in a big urban environment like the Windy City. In fact, their varied music is quite breezy and refreshing too. This mostly excitable, frenzied set ends with another face of Tangleweed - "Last Call Waltz" with its one minute of doleful yodeling recorded in the empty stairwell of an old Chicago building. (Joe Ross)

Take Me Back to the Mountains

Playing Time - 42:29
       SONGS - Take Me Back To The Mountains (Robert Arsenault), Teardrops In My Eyes, Pass Me By, Love and Wealth, Thanks A Lot, Ashes of Love, Heaven Seems So Near, It Sure Seem Right At The Time, Your Selfish Heart, That Lonesome Bluegrass Road (Robert Arsenault), Walking Through Her Memory, If I Could Only Go Back Home Again, That Bright Land (Robert Arsenault), Today All Over Again, Suns Gonna Shine
       From New Brunswick, Canada, Windy Creek is a band that formed in 2005. While solid if fairly standard, Windy Creek makes no claims that they are going to turn the bluegrass world upside down. Instead, they sing and play with honest feeling as they open with a heartfelt original "Take Me Back to the Mountains" that makes for a pleasant but predictable ride. In workmanlike fashion, they strum and pick their way through traditional bluegrass fare such as Teardrops In My Eyes, Love and Wealth, Thanks A Lot, and Ashes of Love.
       Windy Creek is an interesting combination of seasoned veterans and younger musicians still honing a few chops but doing a fine job. Robert Arsenault (guitar, mandolin) has been performing bluegrass and old-time country music for three decades. Marcel Cormier (guitar) has been playing since his teens. Arn Wickens played gospel and acoustic jazz on electric bass for 25 years before switching to the upright bass five years ago. The other two band members (Marc Brun on mandolin and Ghislain LeBlanc on banjo) have been playing their respective instruments for 5-6 years. I understand that bass and banjo-player Ron Gaudet has replaced Arn Wickens in the group since this album was recorded. Most of the lead vocals are sung with conviction in a warm conversational style by Arsenault to harmonies that come across as rather understated. Windy Creek's debut album features award-winning guest fiddler Ray Legere. Perhaps as a result of hasty production or some inexperience, Windy Creek's arrangements get a tad cluttered with multiple instruments providing fills simultaneously. Arsenault's tears are falling as her name he's calling in an expressive original "That Lonesome Bluegrass Road." There'll come a time when all will be over, and "That Bright Land" will soon be there. A sweetly wistful remembrance is validated in "Today All Over Again." Windy Creek has considerable down-home flavor, and their earthiness and enthusiasm will win them many bluegrass fans in New Brunswick. (Joe Ross)

The Best Is Yet To Come

No label, no number
Playing Time - 46:03
       It's always a treat to hear teenagers' debut albums before they become rich and famous like Rhonda Vincent did. Mentors and role models like Rhonda, Alison Krauss, Honi Deaton, and Dale Ann Bradley are showing girls that bluegrass music welcomes all genders into the fold. Performing at local festivals for four years, sisters Kelly (age 16) and Katelyn McCoy (age 13) from Fairborn, Ohio show a great deal of potential. Both sing lead and harmonies. Kelly plays mandolin, guitar, and fiddle. Katelyn picks guitar, mandolin, and clawhammer banjo. Why, they even write songs too! While they may benefit from some vocal training, they're not shy as they sing with freshness, vigor and clarity. With some breath control and other techniques under their belts, they'll be able to vocalize about unrequited love with an ache, or draw upon deeper emotions in their challenging repertoire. They earn high marks for their confidence to tackle intensely evocative songs from the likes of Dolly Parton, Rhonda Vincent, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, and Cousin Emmy. On this showcase CD, they're joined instrumentally by Jim Chatfield (bass), Tim Hale (banjo), and Evan McGregor (fiddle). Besides their own, Evan McGregor's and Mike Powell's vocal harmonies are heard in the mix. Of their originals, Kelly's up-tempo "You Don't Have A Heart" is the strongest, but it loses a certain degree of passion without any harmony in the chorus.
       The important declaration we hear from a CD like "The Best Is Yet To Come" is that there are talented young people who are practicing diligently and taking their bluegrass music very seriously. Consuming 60 hours of studio time, the recording this album is a significant milestone on the McCoy sisters' learning curve because it gave them an appreciation for hard work and has made them better musicians. This is an impressive effort for a couple of adolescents from Ohio. They deserve our support and encouragement because they're bluegrass music's future. As Kelly and Katelyn gain experience and maturity, we can expect to hear much more about McCoy Grass. Already being played on Ohio's bluegrass radio airwaves, I wouldn't be surprised to see them headlining Ohio bluegrass festivals within five years. (Joe Ross)


Open Road Records OR-016
PO BOX 271, Lanesboro, MA. 01237
Playing Time - 46:07
       Herb Applin, born in 1938, has loved country music ever since he could "reach up and turn the radio on." Before reviewing this album, I took a spin down memory lane by listening to some of my favorite Joe Val albums from the early 1970s. The close harmony of Applin and Val were a joy to hear, and the band's lean but robust elements had robust character and strength that really grabbed you. As "Val and Applin," they appeared with only guitar and mandolin. In 1967, Herb and Joe teamed up with Everett Allan Lilly and Bob French to form the Old Time Bluegrass Singers (OTBS). In the 1970s, Rounder Records signed them up to do the label's very first bluegrass LP. A new band name to better "sell" their music, Joe Val & the New England Bluegrass Boys, was adopted. Dick Bowden's family bluegrass band (from Maine) shared stages with the Boston group. From 1982-1987, Bowden played banjo for Herb's band, the Berkshire Mountain Boys, as well as subbing occasionally in Joe Val's. Now retired, Herb reconnected with Bowden. Duo appearances soon evolved into the reformed OTBS in 2003.
       Although voices age and tire over the years, a heart for bluegrass and old-time country only grows fonder. OTBS have sewn these "threads" into a cozy comforter that warms us to the core. Just like early sets of New England bluegrass, the material is drawn from old-time picking and singing (Uncle Dave Macon, Sam & Kirk McGee), old brother duos (Louvins, Johnny & Jack, Monroe Brothers) to straight-ahead bluegrass and gospel of the Stanley Brothers, some from their 1961-65 King sessions like "A Crown He Wore" and "There is a Trap." The former features the band's trio, and Bill Monroe's "I Hear My Savior Calling" features the quartet. An instrumental, "Squared Off Salt Creek," was learned from John Hartford's String Band. Another thread is Applin's stint as guitarist with Don Stover in the late-1970s. "My Blue Ridge Memories," a song they recorded together on Stover's final album, is clearly a tribute to him.
       Early country is represented with numbers recorded by Kitty Wells (Jenny Lou Carson's "Jealous Heart") and Louvin Brothers songs recorded by Jim Reeves or Roy Acuff. While songcarriers, their version of "Jealous Heart" changed some lyrics in the second verse and left out the third altogether. But, it's all mature music from yesteryear. OTBS also covers more recent compositions from English folk-rockers -- Linda Thompson's "Dear Mary" and Richard Thompson's "Down Where the Drunkards Roll." The former works in an old bluegrass style, but the latter is a slow number that just doesn't quite jell for their trio. If they wanted an old trio with that theme, perhaps The Stanleys' "The Drunkard's Hell," learned from their father, would have been a better choice. I enjoyed their closing number from the Carter Family, "Where Shall I Be," and don't recall ever hearing the third verse sung.
       Besides Applin and Bowden, OTBS includes Terry McGill (banjo) and Lillian Fraker (bass). Guest Robert Fraker appears on archtop rhythm guitar. Applin is a multi-instrumentalist, and while he picked guitar in the old days with Joe Val, he now plays mandolin. Bowden used to perform on banjo and bass, but he sticks to guitar. Instrumentally, OTBS relies more on traditional rhythm and feeling than on fancy licks. Applin strives for an "old machine-gun mandolin sound." On "Threads," I did tend to miss some fiddle (like Herb Hooven used to provide in Joe Val's music). Terry McGill's banjo playing is noteworthy, and I'd like to hear what he's doing with his band, Straight Drive.
       On "Threads," these three tailors and a seamstress have given us an interesting presentation of old time bluegrass embroidery. The fabric's details are not that fancy, but it's certainly nice to hear some musical strands the members have sewn throughout the years. And the preservation of old songs is the dent they are making in our consciousness. (Joe Ross)

On The Edge: Traditional Old-Time Fiddle Tunes

5-String Productions 5SP-CD05004
Playing Time - 53:30
       Lifelong friends are made at music festivals. Connections and bonds also become apparent in the conversations that take place between banjo and fiddle. The Cliffhangers call themselves a "campground band" because they are an association of pals whose love of jamming at the Appalachian String Band Music Festival near Clifftop, W.V. has brought them together in fellowship. Their first meeting was in 2001, and they have reunited annually since. Driven by Mark Simos' fiddle and Brendan Doyle's banjo, "On The Edge" features 16 traditional old-time instrumentals that document a great deal of emotion, history and nostalgia. The solid rhythm foundation is provided by Jody Platt (tenor guitar), Rusty Neithammer (guitar), and Karen Falkowski (bass). Some nifty and pleasant lead guitar work can be heard in the mix on a few numbers like "No Corn on Tygart." Jody's instrument with a short scale tenor banjo neck and small guitar body is tuned an octave low to the fiddle. Using a variety of open tunings, she flatpicks melody as well as rhythm.
       The CD jacket provides tunings and sources for each of the selections. Their renditions range from a minute (a West Virginia version of "Silver Lake") to over six minutes (a Kentucky version of "Forked Deer"). Produced by noted banjo-player Bob Carlin, the album's music is distinctive and infused with energy. The musicians' personal expression is right in the groove with excellent tone, pitch and rhythm. Simos' precise technique is flawless, smooth and pleasing. I can only imagine his bow arm gliding and swooping like a hawk in flight. His style emphasizes tonal beauty, and the band's melodic accuracy is combined with creativity and rhythmic steadiness. The brawny cross-tuned fiddle heard on "Chinquapin Hunting" wails with old-time sensuality. If anything is missing in this set, it would be some beautifully-rendered waltzes, rags, or parlor tunes not fit for much else. I'll bet that Mark knows some trick fiddling too. While reels are their forte, unless you're dancing along, a little more variety in the nearly hour-long set would have been a satisfying change.
       In his liner notes, Mark Simos refers to the "glorious cacophony" of Clifftop's campgrounds late at night. That's one way of putting it. "On the Edge" is the first in a set of three albums recorded in late-2005. This "straight up" music is their older traditional tunes. The next two-volume "Clifftop Notes" feature Simos' original tunes played with the Cliffhangers and other friends. As much as this music is a celebration of music and festival revelry, it's also a celebration of old-time kinship. (Joe Ross)


Playing Time - 37:29
       Rounders can refer to people of many, mostly undesirable, characteristics - informers, convicts, and lazy loungers. But, in this case, there's another definition of the slang term that certainly applies -- pleasure seekers. "Dance All Night With A Bottle in Your Hand" is the kind of perfect signature tune for them to demonstrate their melodic mettle to give them and us gratification. Their set of twelve traditional rousers embraces many sounds from the past, tapping the roots of Appalachian and Cajun music. Band members include Rachel Eddy (fiddle, guitar, triangle), Scott Phillips (banjo, Cajun accordion), Jason Jaros (guitar, mandolin), and Walt Sarkees (bass). Instead of singing, the liner notes indicate that band members sang, cackle, holler, and squawk.
       It's a treat to hear these younger funsters presenting traditional music in West Virginie. Rachel Eddy sings with a precocious style on "Uncle Ned" and "Silver Dagger." If the full-time private music teacher's fiddle is the spark plug of this band, then it is Scott Phillips' clawhammer banjo that is a driving piston. Operating on all cylinders, the quartet knows that a successful old-time band has to operate much like a well-oiled engine. In true old-time fashion, they sing with biting vengeance. Jason Jaros' previous performance experience has been with Halftime String Band and The Hillbilly Gypsies. Imparting a rock and roll edge to upright bass, Walt Sarkees is affectionately known by his bandmates as Captain Rounder.
       While some songs work better for them than others, I'm certain that The Morgantown Rounders' music will further develop and mature in the years ahead, and they'll find their niche in the old-time music scene in their neck of the woods. There's plenty of rootin' and tootin' on their debut album, and I'm certain that they'd be a big hit at parties and watering holes. This is real heel-kicker-upper music. (Joe Ross)

BAWN in the MASH -
Welcome to the Atomic City

FC-906 OR
Playing Time - 48:05
       Together as a group since 2005, Bawn in the Mash kicks off their set with a hand-me-down, "Sail Away Sally," that appears to be a nod of respect for the traditional spirits and distillers of western Kentucky's musical roots. Their original acoustic music with elements from various genres has some relaxed sparkle and a friendly intimacy. Bawn in the Mash is Josh Coffey (violin, mandolin), Nathan Lynn (guitar), Tommy Oliverio (mandolin), Alex Faught (banjo), and Eddie Coffey (bass, guitar). In some songs, Coffey and Oliverio share the mandolin breaks. All band members have compositions on "Welcome to the Atomic City." A few have catchy little melodies that are carefully cultivated, even if they don't have them fully polished instrumentally and vocally. Still, their wry quirkiness creates an earthy kind of ambiance. "Livin' in Yesterday" has doo-wop vocals with the dichotomy of twin fiddles to build a mood for a love-starved and deserted drunkard. The rough edges of Oliverio's "Musical Moon" are smoothed with his own conversational vocal refrain.
       Produced by old-time banjo champ Dan Knowles of Tennessee), the band recorded "Welcome to Atomic City" in ten sessions over a three month period. Alex Faught's instrumental "Poundcake" is a clever tune that gives everyone a piece of the action. The album's intent was to historically interpret and fictitiously describe events that could have occurred during the past 150 years around western Kentucky. "At the Hotel Irvin Cobb" speaks to a 1937 flood, cats and dogs sleeping on the roof, and being able to get anything you want at the historic inn. With an appeal to younger crowds, a ditty like "Hey John" gives every instrumentalist in the band a chance to wash a few blues away with their breaks. Nathan Lynn does most of the lead singing, and he is able to describe some picturesque storybook scenes in songs like "The Land Between the Rivers" and "Tow" and "Paducah." Their homebase of Paducah, Ky. lies in a region called the land of four rivers (Clarks, Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland). Eddie Coffey sings his own "Mary Jane." What he lacks in grace is replaced with a directness and grit. An interesting sparse duo arrangement of "Past the Painted Wall" teams Josh Coffey's lead vocal and mandolin with his father Eddie Coffey's bass and guitar. Not a wildly triumphant debut, but still they manage to put their own original stamp on string band sounds in a musical makeover that was still "bawn in the mash." As their music continues to brew, distill, refine and purify, it will only get better. They have managed to extract an essence of western Kentucky's traditional heritage and condense it all into something of their very own. (Joe Ross)

Original Bluegrass and Roots Country

Playing Time - 39:29
       The debut album from this grass roots band based in Asheville, N.C. features all original material with the exception of "Whiskey With Tears" written by Virginian Bill Sphar. The youthful quintet has a good share of breakup tales, but they also have selections paying tribute to John Hartford ("Big Steamship") and Bill Monroe ("Stamp Creek Stomp"). Their roots country like "When I Get You Off My Mind" shows influence of classic country musicians George Jones, Merle Haggard, or Conway Twitty. Town Mountain racks up miles along the eastern seaboard quite extensively and even made it out west to Lyons, Colorado to win the band contest at Rockygrass in 2005. Besides having the needed vocal and instrumental talents to excel, that award-winning feather in their collective caps should get people to take notice of this up-and-coming band with great potential. These knockabouts cut some decent ‘grass. Town Mountain has some clever arrangements, and their spry music exhibits elements of both novelty and creativity. "Busted Up" has an enlivened Jimmy Martinesque feeling. "Sweetheart I Don't Want to Lead You On," "Fall in the Mountains" and "I Didn't Choose the Blues" have gripping deliveries.
       Town Mountain is Robert Greer (guitar), Jed Willis (mandolin), Jesse James Langlais (banjo), and Barrett Smith (bass). Greer handles lead vocals, and Langlais and Smith sing harmonies. Supplementing their sound are Josh Goforth (fiddle) and Kevin Sluder (bass, harmony vocals). Robert Greer, Western North Carolina's 2003 Vocalist of the Year, is a graduate of Wofford College with a bachelor's degree in government. Playing many styles of music, Jed Willis is working on his degree at Warren Wilson College. Josh Goforth starred as Fiddlin' Will in the 2000 movie "Songcatcher." Hailing from Maine, Jesse Langlais attended the University of Maine and has lived in Asheville for the last five years. From South Carolina, Barrett Smith graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. Although a young band, Town Mountain has gotten past their growing pains. With a little luck and mentoring, they could go far. This enterprising and spark-pluggy bunch has given us a very impressive debut. Watch (and listen) closely for their follow-up. (Joe Ross)

LAURIE LEWIS & The Right Hands -
The Golden West

Hightone HCD-8194
220 4th Street #101, Oakland, CA. 94607 OR
       SONGS - Your Eyes, Burley Coulter's Song For Kate Helen Brance, 99 Year Blues, Before The Sun Goes Down, Live Forever, Rank Stranger, Bury Me in Bluegrass, The Golden West, A Hand to Hold, River Under The Road, Hard Luck in Heaven, The Mourning Cloak, Goodbye Waltz
Playing Time - 52:53
       Laurie Lewis' bandmates call themselves "The Right Hands," but they sure sound ambidextrous to me. For three days in July 2005, the quintet of Laurie Lewis, Tom Rozum, Scott Huffman, Craig Smith, and Todd Phillips hung out at Sage Arts Studio outside Arlington, Wa. A self-proclaimed "river rat," Laurie gained energy from the fast-moving current of the Stillaguamish just outside their guest house door. Lewis admits that they'd planned to be more prepared for the session, but that might've actually detracted from some of the spontaneous energy that the currents of this album exude. Her own observation was, "Everything seemed so fresh and enticing to us, hearing and playing the majority of these tunes for the first time as a group."
       Not just a fantastic fiddler and singer, Lewis does some exceptional songwriting for this CD that also includes covers from Jimmy Martin, John Hartford, Albert Brumley, Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, and even other more contemporary writers like Billy Joe Shaver and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Laurie contributes two compositions. "Your Eyes" opens the set with the kind of unique and expressive sound that gives Laurie a creative signature sound. You can't help but smile at the catchy melodic progression and hook "I was in the lead, but I stumbled at the rail. I was flying high, but I'm a kite with no tail. I'm gonna fall, and I was doing so well, until I looked into your eyes."
       Laurie's much slower reflective acoustic country number, "A Hand To Hold," features a duet with Linda Ronstadt as they sing this tribute in song for guitarist Charles Sawtelle with passionate lines like "My mind has been full, but my voice has been still, in all this time since you've been gone." A minor point, but the song could've been even more effective as a male/female duet. While all lyrics for the album can be found at her website, I sure wish that her short insightful notes about each song had been included in the CD's digipak. How cool is it to know that "Burley Coulter's Song For Kate Helen Branch," for example, was one of Wendell Berry's poems that he asked Laurie to put it to music? And that Linda Rondstadt suggested "Rank Stranger" for this album, based on their experience first singing with The Bluebirds (Laurie and Linda with Maria Muldaur) at Wintergrass in 2005. Their high, soaring soprano notes together (along with Tom's harmony) are amazing.
       A jilted woman gets her revenge in Karah Stokes' poetic "The Mourning Cloak," a species of butterfly that becomes a "messenger of sorrow deep." An interesting perspective on leaving home or selling the farm is "Bury Me In Bluegrass," that is a lyrical statement consistent with the bumper sticker on Laurie's guitar case that proclaims, "Growth Destroys Bluegrass Forever." With that sentiment also in mind, Laurie and the Right Hands walk a fine line with their thoughtful music. Their approach manages to bridge the music perfectly with ones who have gone on before them. We don't exactly know the inspiration behind Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe's instrumental "The Golden West," but we do know that those in California, as well as throughout the world, have embraced the power and intensity that the genre has to offer. (Joe Ross)

Catch Tomorrow

Compass Records 7-4445-2
916 19th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212
       SONGS - Rita Mae, Live Forever, Holding on to Nothing, I Can't Stand The Rain, Run Rufus Run, Memories Miles and Tears, Pass Me Not, Julia Belle, Grandma's Gift, Mercy Railroad, When The Mist Comes Again, Me and Bobby McGee
Playing Time - 42:19
       Back in the ol' days, bluegrass was a male-dominated genre of music. Now, we find a large co-ed contingent of musical mechanics who know just how to tune the bluegrass motor. Anchored by Dale Ann Bradley's silky voice and solid guitar rhythms, we hear Vicki Simmons (bass, vocals), Alison Brown (banjo), and Andrea Zonn (vocals) on this well-produced solo project, her third. Dale Ann, a Kentucky preacher's daughter, has fantastic voice, band, songwriting and storytelling. Others helping on this album include Jim Lauderdale, Tim O'Brien, Jeff White, Steve Gulley, Michael Cleveland, Pete Kelly, Andy Hall, Jesse Brock and Glenn Gibson. What a great idea to sing a splendid hymn! (Pass Me Not) with Larry Sparks! Their arrangement is given sparse treatment with only guitar, bass and mandolin accompaniment. And her country duet with Marty Raybon (Holding on to Nothing) recognizes her lifelong objective of being able to sing just like Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner used to. For an essence of the Emerald Isle, "When the Mist Comes Again" is spiced up with the magical accompaniment of the Irish group Lunasa for a profound tale of desertion and alcoholism. For those in search of propulsive bluegrass look no further than "Run Rufus Run," "Julia Belle," and "Rita Mae." Being from Oregon, I could relate to the message in "I Can't Stand the Rain," a soulful song adapted from R&B music that asks "Hey window pain do you remember, how sweet it used to be?" David A. Thompson's "Mercy Railroad" has a spiritual undercurrent of a child being sent to freedom on the Underground Rail while the sorrowful mother finds freedom of her own on Heaven's Mercy Rail.
       Dale Ann is more cognizant now about how important the messages and stories are in her songs. Life is often about achieving one's goals and dreams. Faith, hope, compassion and love are the values that she sings about, often as she relates tales about her young moonshiner cousin trying to help his family (Run Rufus Run), grandmother's love and wisdom (Grandma's Gift), and other characters (Rita Mae, Me and Bobby McGee). Inanimate objects have personalities too as she relates in "Memories, Miles and Tears," about a dearly loved family car purchased early in a marriage and that traveled to Niagara Falls and "didn't use a drop of oil." What a great analogy for long-lasting sweet love! Even the feminine qualities of a steamboat are related in John Hartford's "Julia Belle" as the boat itself tells its story.
       Dale Ann's own temperament and disposition come through loud and clear. She once said, "When you've got the desire to write and sing, it's who you are...It's important to express something long lasting. Music has the power to be a healing thing." So true _so true! "Catch Tomorrow" is an album with a lot of comforting and soothing qualities. Dale Ann hasn't won the IBMA's Female Vocalist of the Year Award yet, but she came close as a top nominee in 2006. "Catch Tomorrow" could be driving force and stimulus for Dale Ann the dreamcatcher to finally achieve that honor. (Joe Ross)


Palo Duro PDR-0901 OR
PHONE 423-238-3848 OR 512-478-0578
Playing Time - 45:59
       Jon Christopher Davis is a Texas singer/songwriter who plays resorts, restaurants, and country clubs, primarily in the greater Dallas and Austin areas. Now on the 5-year-old Palo Duro record label, his music career is set to be launched. His self-titled debut CD hosts more than two dozen guest artists on a variety of acoustic and electric instruments, and vocal support. It's interesting that Jon's current four bandmates, with the exception of Mark Metdker (guitar & steel) on one cut, don't appear on this album. I reckon that session players were called in for the recording, but the band's actual live performances enlist Anna Williams (background vocals, percussion), Chad Gruver (drums, percussion), and Wiley Boden (bass).
       All of the dozen songs are written or co-written by Davis. His collaborators include some top songcrafters - Radney Foster, Stan Lynch, Rodney Crowell, Will Rambeaux, Jim Photoglo, and Marc Christian. These guys all know how to turn a country lyric and blend them with terrific melody lines. With a great deal of thought put into this well-produced project, I was surprised that the CD's digipak doesn't include any narrative about Davis, notes about the songs, or even a reference to the lyrics on-line somewhere. This seems like pretty essential info that a singer/songwriter would want to get out there. Appearing at track 4, "Love had Something Else in Mind," is the single (co-written with Stan Lynch) that is being circulated to nationwide radio.
       Jon is really just a small town boy (from Bonham, Tx.) who married his high school sweetheart. After moving to Nashville, Davis was able to get a number of his songs recorded by some big names. He also recorded his songs on three albums for top labels, but the music had a "hard time fitting into the cookie-cutter world of Nashville's decision makers." The experience was obviously good for him, however, and he's established a reputation and built a network in a very competitive business. The Lone Star State called him back home after the birth of their daughter. Being back home, he's now revitalized his "Lone Star Attitude" and ready to party. He also saw the Texas music scene welcoming their hometown boy back home.
       Success in music can be elusive, but you have a much better chance of stardom if you write good songs with heart and soul, you can captivate an audience with your vocals and presentation, and you can play them masterfully on your guitar. Sure looks like Jon's got all the right stuff! (Joe Ross)

Clawhammer and Dobro

Slosh Tone CD-8806
       1. Hamish's Morphine Pill, 2. Quackalactic Breakdown, 3. The Creptid Mule, 4. Skunk Ate the Mothballs, 5. Poor Ellen Smith, 6. Big Arm, Montana, 7. Rope-A-Dope, 8. Terrapenne, 9. Fly Up the River, 10. Pig Shack
Playing Time - 37:16
       It's a fact that many musicians learn another instrument before learning resonator guitar. In Ivan Rosenberg's case, I presume that he might have mastered guitar or banjo back in Missouri before transferring some of his musical skills to the Dobro. Now, the Bellingham, Wa. resident plays his original tunes with the same kind of stirring soul and emotion that they'd be sung if they had been composed with lyrics. While some of his tunes evoke vivacious spirit into your dancin' shoes, Ivan seems particularly adept at mood creation. Some of his tunes produce a vocal-like atmosphere, while others seem to forge a soulful interplay of instruments. Take, for instance, his banjo and Dobro harmony on the opening cut. We could've used some more of that sweet harmony here and there, like perhaps in "Skunk Ate the Mothballs" or in "Rope-a-Dope" where we're only given a very minute taste of harmony in the tune's ending.
       When reviewing a resonator guitar project, I particularly listen for good intonation control (getting all the notes just right on pitch with your left hand). That's got to take a lot of practice and skill, and Ivan's well-rehearsed success is most apparent when he is challenged with fast-moving slides in the second track, "Quackalactic Breakdown," and truckin' break on "Rope-a-Dope." For a change-up at track five, Ivan and co. sing one number, a different kind of futuristic rendition of "Poor Ellen Smith." At least 180-degrees from Jimmy Martin's version, Ivan's rendition of the North Carolina murder ballad incorporates considerable discretion with lyrics and melody as he sings "Nobody knows how I love Ellen, nobody knows." While his story line lacks all the details of the original lyrics, Ivan's tale hits the basic essentials of Ellen being shot, her body carried away, and the warden freeing the prisoner. The boy's clearly cut his teeth on traditional music at some point in his career before embarking on his innovative route of originality.
       Clawhammer banjo and Dobro are very complementary instruments that work well together in the hands of a proficient player like Ivan who has an extensive discography (as both soloist and session musician), along with many TV and film credits. Mood-master Rosenberg also primarily calls on splendid acousticians Mason Tuttle (guitar, bass, mandolin) and David Keenan (National resophonic guitar). Chad Manning adds his fiddle wizardry to one cut, "Big Arm Montana," and Mary Lucey's eerie harmony is only heard on the one haunting vocal number. Jon Stickley's mandolin only appears in the mix of "Big Arm Montana" and "Pig Shack." Thus, arrangements are very clean with just enough instrumentation to make for clarion sound. Tuttle's lead guitar break (and solid bass foundation) on "The Creptid Mule" are noteworthy. The album, recorded at Indidog Studio in North Carolina, gets full-bodied tonal contributions from the instruments. The set canters along with moderately-tempo'ed pieces, and perhaps a little more variety in tempo (along with a "chad" more fiddle) would have taken us through a few more up's and down's along the 37-minute buoyant journey. "Terrapenne" may be only a minute and a half, but the slower solo piece provides an opportunity for the set to breathe and blossom. This album would be a perfect listen while cruising along the Blue Ridge Parkway on some other scenic backcounty byway on a beautiful spring day. The vernal nature of this album is its very strength. (Joe Ross)

Acoustic Rising

Mountain Home MH1 1002 OR OR
       SONGS - 1. Cold Creek March, 2. Cold Frosty Morning, 3. Girl From The North Country, 4. Katie Weeks, 5. Ashfields & Brine, 6. Big Sciota, 7. Denbrae, 8. John Wilkes Booth, 9. Down To The River To Pray, 10. Wagon Line, 11. Timberline, 12. Monroe's Hornpipe, 13. Eileen O'Neill
Playing Time - 41:58
       Recorded in Virginia by George Hodgkiss, "Acoustic Rising" is the third solid project from this duo that has previously given us highly-acclaimed "Acoustic Campaign" and "Cruisin' the 8." Opening with a driving demonstration of Mark Johnson's confident original "clawgrass" banjo style on "Cold Creek March," the set then proceeds through two other chilly numbers, "Cold Frosty Morning" and Dylan's "Girl from the North Country." Their singing and playing about the cold actually covers us with a blanket of warmth.
       Ten additional numbers drawn from a very diverse group of songsmiths from Archie Fisher to Archie Webster, David Akemon to David Norris, Mary Chapin Carpenter to Bill Monroe. Emory Lester provides guitar, mandolin, bass, viola on the Celtic ballad "Denbrae," and sings on about a quarter of the offerings. In his two originals, Johnson honors people (a newborn child "Katie Weeks" and his mother "Eileen O'Neill"). Lester chooses a minor key for his own "Wagon Line." There's plenty of vivacious drive, charismatic magnetism, and clean picking that draw us into their music. On a few numbers (e.g. "Wagon Line" or "Timberline"), I would've enjoyed hearing some fiddle, resonator guitar, or vocal harmonies, but the duo's intent here is to present their unadulterated signature sound. Perhaps some more of Emory's viola and instrumental harmony in their arrangements would have fully satisfied my need for a tad more variety. I think Ricky Skaggs even agrees with me when he stated, in his notes about the reflective closer "Eileen O'Neill," that he was "waiting for an irish piper to start playing at any time." I would've settled for viola.
       Mark and Emory have been playing together as a duo since 1999. Both artists bring considerable experience to the table. Mark hails from New York but now lives in Florida where he works for the Florida Power Authority. He took up the banjo in 1971 and learned from Jay Unger. He formed a band called "Clawgrass" in 1996. Crossing paths with Larry Rice in Florida, Mark recroded an album with the Rice Brothers at Tony's home. Larry (along with Ricky Skaggs and David Grisman) provide liner notes and comments in the CD jacket. Johnson plays a Deering Custom "Ivanhoe" open-back 5-string banjo which delivers a vigorous sound firmly entrenched in tradition but still very contemporarily creative.
       Emory Lester, from Virginia, lived in Canada for five years (1988-1993), won the "Mandolin Player of the Year" award there, before returning home in 1993. His previous bands have covered many genres including bluegrass (Grassworks), new age rock (Earthen Sky), and new acoustic (The Emory Lester Set). His bluegrass experience has been with top names such as Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Del McCoury, Eddie Adcock, Bill Emerson, Jimmy Gaudreau, Gary Ferguson and Sally Love.
       The proficient musicianship of Mark Johnson and Emory Lester is individually great, and collaboratively phenomenal. While overtracking is certainly a factor to consider, I'm very impressed with any duo that can provide this magnitude of sound, tonality, and vicissitude. I enjoyed the eclectic nature of their repertoire that tips its hat to old-time ("Cold Frosty Morning"), bluegrass ("Monroe's Hornpipe"), Celtic ("Denbrae"), Gospel (a seductively slow solo-banjo instrumental "Down to the River to Pray"), and folksy balladry ("Timberline"). What an accomplishment to be able to capture old-time sensibilities in such a fashionable and 20th Century way! (Joe Ross)

(15 CDs)

Synergy Entertainment
1747 First Ave. 3rd Floor , New York, NY 10128 OR OR
Phone 212-369-2554 OR 888-387-6249
       What an ambitious project from a new kid on the bluegrass block, two-year-old Synergy Entertainment in New York! The Grass Series boasts a total collection of 15 albums that tapped professional Nashville-based artists to cover music from other genres. Produced by Donald Marrow, their intent is to present rock, pop, gospel and kid's music in an acoustic bluegrass format. I recommend starting with the "Best 'uv Grass" 14-song sampler (just over 40 minutes) that has hand-picked favorite tracks from each album in the collection.
       The "Grassmasters" hired for the session work have some impressive talent. There are also a few pickers who could've been more proficient in the bluegrass idiom. Tommy White (Dobro) isa master musician who appears on all 15 albums. On a majority are Billy Hullett (guitars), Tammy Rogers (fiddle, mandolin), Hoot Hester (fiddle, mandolin), Fred Newell (mandolin), Vic Jordan (banjo), Daniel O'Lannerghty or Charlie Chadwick (bass). Andrea Zonn fiddles on a third of them, and she provides some short-lived smooth vocalizing on two albums. Where there are multiple players of the same instrument or various vocalists, liner notes don't clearly indicate who is on what cut. Every once in awhile, the moon and stars align and a few special renditions jump out at you. More often, however, the goal of producing a large volume of material in a short period of time seems to have led to problematic issues with arrangement, instrumentation, or presentation. Occasionally sounding contrived and formulaic, the music loses some of its bluegrass spirit, energy and passion.
       The earlier releases (StonesGrass, BeatlesGrass, EaglesGrass and FleetwoodGrass) have no vocals. These four (as well as AeroGrass) also include Bob Mater's drums. He's steady, but bluegrass aficionados may want this primarily instrumental music without percussion and just let the mandolin chop the backbeat. BeatlesGrass could've used some stronger banjo work. Interestingly, liner notes don't provide a credit for the banjo in the mix of the DeadGrass project. Most likely Vic Jordan, he must've been forgotten that day.
       With the exception of the 15-song KidsGrass and 14-song Best'uvGrass, the other CDs each offer twelve selections. The albums range from a low of 28 minutes (ElvisGrass) to nearly 49 minutes (EaglesGrass). While the former includes some refrains courtesy of The Jordanaires, song arrangements are short and typically only about two minutes apiece. The latter has a number of 4- and 5-minute renditions of Eagles tunes, but there are no vocals. Where's the happy medium that provides for thoughtful, creative arrangements with both instrumental and vocal prowess? With their slogan of "Please Keep on the Grass," this series is worth checking out if you're in search of passable instrumental bluegrass covers of the material. If you're into karaoke, it's fun to sing with bluegrass accompaniment. I commend Synergy Entertainment for realizing the market potential associated with bluegrass musicians tapping material from other genres. We can expect better and better music from them as they work out a few bugs, establish their reputation, and develop stronger credibility. (Joe Ross)

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Feel Like My Time Ain't Long:
An A Cappella Gospel Collection

REB CD-7507
PO Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906
       Song list: Some Day, Feel Like My Time Ain't Long, When I Cross Over Jordan, Gospel Train, I'll Meet You in the Morning, Children Go Where I Send Thee, Calling My Children Home, My Homeward Journey, It's Heaven On Earth, Jesus I'll Never Forget, I Need Jesus, I Can't Sit Down, Gloryland, Amazing Grace, I'm Working My Way.
Playing Time - 35:12
       Some of the most stirring and inspirational music in a bluegrass band's repertoire is their gospel material. A group also demonstrates its vocal mettle when they choose to sing a cappella. Three favorite a cappella albums of mine have included Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver's "Heaven's Joy Await," Ralph Stanley's "Almost Home," and The Isaacs' "Bluegrass A Cappella." There have also been many fine Southern Gospel quartets releasing a cappella projects, and record label compilations like "Sacred Voices - An A Cappella Collection" issued by Sugar Hill Records in 1999 has truly heart-warming songs that celebrate the spirit of God too with a variety of excellent artists on their label.
       Rebel Records' "Feel Like My Time Ain't Long" a cappella gospel collection draws from pre-released material dating from 1971-2005. Ralph Stanley introduced the idea of gospel quartet singing without instruments to bluegrass fans in 1971 (on his "Cry From The Cross" album on Rebel Records), and his offering of "Gloryland" from that year shows the fortitude and vocal strength of his band at that time (with Jack Cooke, Roy Lee Center, & Keith Whitley). Stanley once commented that he felt that he was doing both himself, and his audiences, some good with gospel messages. That's what I looked for in all the songs on this compilation - an emotional attachment and indication that the bands believe what they were singing. I was not disappointed. All of them vocalize in ways that strive to touch, encourage and motivate us. Larry Sparks' selections (Gospel Train, I Need Jesus) feature him singing two parts (lead, baritone). The latter cut, with the Marshall Family, is an intricate arrangement with various singers changing parts as the song progresses and modulates. Because this CD features just singing, we find that all 15 songs range in length from 2-3 minutes apiece. Other groups represented on this album include the Forbes Family, Country Gentlemen, IIIrd Tyme Out, Appalachian Express, Paul Williams & the Victory Trio, Blue Highway, Steep Canyon Rangers, and Virginia Squires.
       It's pleasing to see a cappella material offer various styles, arrangements, and vocal stackings for presentation. Call and response style comes from Southern Gospel tradition. Some vocal stackings feature lead vocals on top, with three harmonies below. These include IIIrd Tyme Out's rendition of "When I Cross Over Jordan," Appalachian Express' "I'll Meet You In The Morning," and Paul Williams' "My Homeward Journey." Interestingly, the Marshall Family's "Amazing Grace" has high and low baritone parts in their mix but no tenor vocal.
       With cohesive harmonies and well-aligned phrasing, the songs have been assembled into a splendid set. The purity of four well-blended voices will make you happy, and those of the Christian faith will find spiritual guidance in the music. (Joe Ross)

Pretty Green Hills

REB CD-1812
PO Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906
       Songs -Our Last Goodbye, Pretty Green Hills, Little Willie, Should I Go Should I Stay, Down and Out Again, Sea of Regret, Soldier's Joy, East Virginia Blues, The Year That Clayton Delaney Died, I Heard That Lonesome Whistle, Head Over Heels, Cora Is Gone
Total Playing Time - 42:29
       Dave Evans' latest of many albums on the Rebel label, "Pretty Green Hills" comes in a pretty green package and was recorded at Tom T. and Dixie Hall's Studio in Tennessee. Besides the song credits, I wish a few more liner notes would have been provided. Evans is originally from Ohio, but last I heard he was living in Morehead, Kentucky. Dave's parents had realized he had an interest in music. Dave was learning accordion when his mom purchased a banjo for his father. By age 13, Dave was writing his own songs.
       One of the few banjo-playing lead singers in bluegrass, Evans first professional job was in 1968 with Earl Taylor and the Stoney Mountain Boys. In 1972, Dave joined Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers. From 1975-1978, he worked with Lillimae & the Dixie Gospelaires, Red Allen & the Kentuckians, Boys from Indiana, and Goins Brothers. In 1978, he formed his own group "River Bend." From 1989-1995, his life and music took a detour while he did time for an assault conviction. In 1996, Evans began performing and recording again for Rebel Records.
       Driving bluegrass written by Carter Stanley ("Our Last Goodbye") opens this album, and the trio also features Bo Isaac's tenor and bass-player Mike Garris' baritone harmony. This is an interesting bluegrass project because it features such a variety of slow- and faster-tempo'ed songs with solo, duo, and trio vocalizing. Other trios are the title track about returning home to die (written by the Halls), "Sea of Regret" and "Cora is Gone" (both with Bo up on a high-baritone), and Lester Flatt's "Head Over Heels."
       More often in this set, we hear Evans singing in solo arrangements. An original, "Should I Go, Should I Stay," is an inquiring lonesome tale featuring only Dave's guitar and voice. His own self-penned "Down and Out Again" has Dave and Bo wailing together as a duet on choruses. Banjo, fiddle, bass and solo voice steer "East Virginia Blues" in an expressive, distinctive and very lonesome direction. To forgo the guitar's inclusion makes for an interesting and distinguishing free-flowing 4-minute rendition of this classic. The material has a very strong traditional flavor, and I was curious about his choice to include Tom T.'s "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died" that seems a tad out of place in the set but does provide a bit of diversity.
       One instrumental ("Soldier's Joy") is included in the set. Besides Evans and Garris, the band is Randy Thomas (guitar, mandolin), Dave Miner (Dobro on 3 cuts), Merl Johnson (bass, guitar, fiddle), and Bobby Hicks (fiddle). Bo Isaac also fiddles on "Cora is Gone." Another fine set with a lot of feeling and sentiment from Dave Evans. (Joe Ross)

DON RIGSBY & Midnight Call -
Hillbilly Heartache

REB CD-1818
PO Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906 OR
Playing Time - 39:05
       SONGS: Hillbilly Heartache, Daddy Was A Moonshine Man, These Golden Fields, Big Jim, He Loves To Hear You Shout, Kentucky Waltz, Make God Laugh, Forked Deer, Old Green Chevrolet, Any Bar in Birmingham, I Am The Man Thomas
       Don Rigsby doesn't even turn the big 4-0 until February 28 of 2008. Already he has two decades of professional bluegrass experience with such top groups as Longview, Bluegrass Cardinals, J.D. Crowe & the New South, Lonesome River Band and Rock Country. He's also released four highly-acclaimed solo albums and was twice named SPBGMA's male vocalist for the year. When Rock Country disbanded, Don was faced with two choices - work for someone else, or form his own band. He chose the latter and, unlike previous solo albums from Rigsby (on the Sugar Hill label) that enlisted friends and session players, he has recorded "Hillbilly Heartache" with his own group (Midnight Call) that includes himself singing lead and playing mandolin, along with Dale Vanderpool (banjo), Shayne Bartley (guitar), Jesse Wells (fiddle), and Robert Maynard (bass). It was a good move to do it all themselves this time because it's a crackerjack band.
       In a few instances, (Make God Laugh, Red Bird, Prisoner on the Highway), their vocal arrangements also call for Rigsby to jump up to tenor on the choruses. "He Loves To Hear You Shout" (written by Dixie and Tom T. Hall) is a very nicely presented vocal quartet for the group with Rigsby, Vanderpool, Bartley and Wells doing the vocalizing.
       While best known for his mandolin picking, Don's a versatile multi-instrumentalist, and it's a treat to hear him also provide some snippets of guitar, mandele, and fiddle. Two songs ("These Golden Fields" and "Any Bar in Birmingham") incorporate some of Don's light percussion. The former, about farming, features Don's high-lead singing with two harmonies below, as well as Wells' octave violin for a different mood. Obviously, quite a bit of forethought went into producing these songs in the best possible manner for us. In a few, the banjo is muted, and on the closing number, "I Am The Man, Thomas") Jesse Wells lays down his fiddle to provide clawhammer banjo as the only accompaniment for Don's voice.
       Midnight Call's repertoire is drawn from some excellent songwriters (Shawn Camp, Marty Rabon, Jim Lauderdale, Mark Brinkman, Larry Shell, Kim Williams, Tim Stafford, and others). Bobby Cyrus is a co-writer of "Big Jim." I'm curious as to whether Big Jim is a fictional folkloric character or whether there was actually a man who sacrificed himself for others. You may recall that it was Cyrus who penned the reflective "Carved Our Names in Stone" that was sung solo by Rigsby on his last solo album, The Midnight Call. Farmers, family, life and love get ample coverage in the songs. For his song of home, he belts out an inspired rendition of Bill Monroe's "Kentucky Waltz." Another tale from that region is an intoxicating "Daddy Was A Moonshine Man." A standard instrumental, "Forked Deer" gallops along, but I hope their future projects introduce us to new tunes. Sung solo, "Old Green Chevrolet" relates a tale of a traveling preacher bringing the gospel to mountain folks, and I missed a little harmony on the choruses.
       With "Hillbilly Heartache," evocative messages get us thinking, smiling, contemplating, and even laughing when the intoxicating "Daddy Was A Moonshine Man" cues up. This Kentuckian clearly has strong mountain roots, and he knows what it takes to produce a very compelling bluegrass album. His reputation and dedication to traditional music, and his innovative vision for the future, are well documented. While he may have stretched boundaries a bit in the past, "Hillbilly Heartache" is simply a hallmark album for a superb band to showcase its contemporary bluegrass. (Joe Ross)

Long Steel Rail

Sugar Hill CD-4019
PO Box 55300, Durham, NC 27717-5300
       SONGS - Long Steel Rail, June Apple, What Are They Doing In Heaven, Sail Away Ladies, Rove Riley Rove, Wandering Boy, Boll Weevil, Old John Henry, Willow Tree, George Collins, I'm Troubled, No Corn on Tygart, Lonesome Road Blues, Now Is The Cool of the Day
Playing Time - 45:56
       Who They Are: Riley Baugus is an excellent old-time banjo-player, fiddler and singer. To pay bills in his hometown of Walkertown, North Carolina, his "day jobs" include banjo builder, welder, and blacksmith. He's studied and been inspired by music of both old-timers (Tommy Jarrell, Roscoe Holcomb, Fred Cockerham) and young-timers too.
       Little Known Facts: Dirk Powell met Riley more than 20 years ago. Dirk helped produce the movie Cold Mountain, in which Riley provided the singing for the character Pangle. He has toured with the "Great High Mountain" tour with Alison Krauss and Ralph Stanley, and he's been a featured artist on the "Down from the Mountain" tour too.
       The Musicians: Riley is joined on a few tunes by the album's producers, Tim O'Brien and Dirk Powell. Tim plays mandolin or guitar on six piece; Dirk plays fiddle or guitar on four numbers. Twelve of the 14 tracks have vocals. Only two songs, "What Are They Doing in Heaven" and "I'm Troubled," have Riley and Tim singing together. Irishman Tony Davoren (tour manager for Riley, Tim and Dirk's tour of Ireland in 2000) picks the bouzouki on "Sail Away Ladies," and friend Joe Thrift fiddles on "Old John Henry."
       The Songs: Riley draws heavily from the traditional canon. The only "cover" is Jean Ritchie's "Now is the Cool of the Day," that closes the album with only Riley's solo singing. When he first heard that song, it reminded him of his youth and singing with his grandparents at church in North Carolina. His love for unaccompanied singing is also apparent in a heartfelt rendition of "Wandering Boy" found in the New Baptist Songbook used by many mountain Baptist churches. Faith and forgiveness are themes in "What Are They Doing In Heaven," a song Riley was introduced to by a Brit. Riley's consummate banjo skill becomes most apparent in the traditional "June Apple" and "Boll Weevil," along with "Rove Riley Rove," that calls for a retuning of his 5-string. A nice, haunting drone is achieved by tuning the fiddle's G-string down to E for "George Collins." Riley's notes for that song remark, "It feels good to sing that low note."
       Of Special Note: Less than 40 years old, Riley Baugus could be considered a song-carrier who is keeping old-time music vibrant and alive. His musicianship is solid, and his dedication to the preservation of tradition is very apparent on this CD. Some feel that the Sugar Hill label has abandoned its support of traditional old-time music to move into different, innovative, more commercial directions. This well-produced album should dispel any such myths, and it will reinforce the record label's enthusiastic support for more rustic (and rawboned) American music and torchbearers like Baugus.
       The Bottomline: For splendid string band sounds without any bling, Baugus' music is just the thing.
Reviewed by: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

featuring Jeff Sommerow -
Don't Forget Me

Dark Thirty Records DT-CD-058
PO Box 502, Hudson, NC 28638-0502
TEL. (828)728-3614 or tollfree (877)388-4600
       SONGS - The Unquiet Grave, Only A Memory Away, The Roses, A Shut-In At Christmas, Wait Not, Jesus Is The Answer, Motherless Children, Autumn Love, The Wayfaring Stranger, No Greater Love, Don't Forget Me, The Worst Of December, I'm Waiting For My Daddy To Come Home, Teardrops Falling In The Snow
       I've had this album in the review pile for quite some time, and I was very happy when I finally got around to giving it a listen on this cold, dark, wet, dreary winter day in Oregon. Recorded and released in 2003, Greene and Lowman's "Don't Forget Me" album addresses universal and nostalgic themes of love, life and death. They tap old repertoire of A.P. Carter (Motherless Children), Delmore Brothers (Don't Forget Me), and Louvin Brothers (A Shut-In At Christmas). At the same time, Clarence Green is a noteworthy multi-instrumentalist, singer and songsmith who had a hand in writing six originals on this album. When a writer sings his own material, as he does with "The Roses" and "Jesus is the Answer," I hear a strong emotive relationship with the messages being imparted. Guitarist and vocalist Jeff Summerow is heard on five numbers, including "No Greater Love," a song he penned with Eric Collins. Tonya Lowman has a very pleasant and smooth delivery as the lead vocalist on six songs. Her unadorned style is particularly distinguished on the album's opener "The Unquiet Grave," and closer "Teardrops Falling in the Snow." Other musicians on the album include Mike Hice (bass), Ronnie Swann (bass), Beth Jones (banjo), and Jaret Carter resophonic guitar). Swann sings lead on two songs. Swann and Greene sound like brothers from yesteryear on Clarence' original "I'm Waiting for my Daddy to Come Home." I would've enjoyed hearing the Louvin Brothers cover that song about fifty years ago.
       From North Carolina, Greene can trace his family roots and musical interests back a few generations. His father recorded for the Columbia and Victor labels in the 1920s. Greene plays guitar, fiddle and mandolin. When Clarence sings harmony to Tonya Lowman's lead, we're in for a real spine-tingling treat on such numbers as The Unquiet Grave, Teardrops Falling In The Snow, Don't Forget Me, and Motherless Children. As part of their ministry, they often sing together in churches and other gospel venues. The other North Carolina musicians who join them provide some local mountain flavor for this solid set of thoughtful and carefully-selected songs. Their songs about Christmas, Jesus, December, family and snow were just what I needed for a little inspirational sentiment and cheer on this cold winter day. (Joe Ross)


Heartstrings Attached Music CGD2005
PO BOX 121634, Nashville, TN. 37212
TEL. 615-332-9878
       SONGS - Wildcat, Bells for Marcel, St. Louis Waltz, Rio de Janeiro, I'll Never Sing Another Song (Tokyo Lullaby), Velzoe's Garden, The Sparrow, Lady Pamela, Castles in the Sand, Aftershock, Owls Psalm, Journeyman
Playing Time - 42:47
       With twelve bright and breezy original compositions, guitarist/vocalist Muriel Anderson demonstrates a particular fondness for natural settings, species, and events. There are jazzy songs inspired by a flower garden, beach, sparrow, owl, wildcat, and even an earthquake. Using nylon, steel-string, and harp guitar, she and her expert accompanists play with lyrical spirit. With a nicely crisp, clean sound, Muriel demonstrates great musicianship, ample energy, and plenty of personality. There are spare settings with just harp-guitar ("Velzoe's Garden") or just harp-guitar and voice with Julie Adams' cello ("Castles in the Sand"). In other arrangements, there are full ensembles ("Wildcat") and assistance of the five members of the Nashville Chamber Orchestra ("I'll Never Sing Another Song"). The featured guest artists include Duane Eddy, Stanley Jordan, Mark Kibble, Danny Gottlieb, Nicki Parrott, and Nashville Chamber Orchestra string section.
       "Sparrow," "Owl's Psalm," and "Wildcat" are just three examples of her extraordinary contemporary compositions that epitomize the freedom of a bird in flight, an expressive melody in the woods, or the secretive nature of a feline in search of food. "Lady Pamela" invokes a Celtic flavoring akin to a planxty written in the seventeenth century. Copius liner notes relate Muriel's stories for each tune. Well done to Muriel Anderson for a thoroughly-engaging and tastefully-rendered project! (Joe Ross)

Harp Guitar Christmas

Heartstrings Attached Music CGD1207
PO BOX 121634, Nashville, TN. 37212
TEL. 615-332-9878
Playing Time - 42:30
       Ah, 'tis the season to be both reflective and jolly. What better way to do that than spin Muriel Anderson's "Harp Guitar Christmas" to remember the reason for the season. As soon as the CD begins to spin, it becomes easy to understand why Anderson has been hailed as one of the nation's premier solo-acoustic guitarists. Featuring both nylon and steel-string harp guitars and classical guitar, the National Fingerpicking Champion gives us selections that are both masterful and somewhat playful too. For example, the melodic "El Noi de la Mare (The Son of Mary)" opens the set with some memorable melodic passages that transport us on an impressionable musical journey to Catalonia in northeast Spain. While Muriel covers a number of standard carols, she also treats us with her original "Christmas Hymn," written for a church service in 1995. While her lyrics for this beautiful melody are on-line, Muriel chose not to showcase her talent as a singer (for that, you'll need a copy of her excellent new 2006 all-original "Wildcat" album).
       The presentation of these fully-instrumental Christmas songs is engaging, and Muriel interprets them with a buoyant, relaxed style. With excellent dynamics and rhythmic control, the playing exudes emotional electricity and proficiency. Using bell-tone harmonics, descending bass lines, modulation and other techniques, she very ably embellishes a fairly typical, conservative Christmas repertoire for solo artist. Her arrangement of "Silent Night" is especially noteworthy for her fashionable stamp on the classic. Perhaps a guest artist's violin or flute would've been a nice way to enhance a few other tunes in the set, but her solo music is still very soothing. To escape some of the hectic nature of the season, this enthralling music provides just the cure. A very pleasant and tranquil aural journey! "Yule" also want to check out her six other albums for stocking stuffers. I thank Muriel for her gift of Christmas music and for her continuing efforts with the Music for Life Alliance, an organization that provides instruments to young musicians. (Joe Ross)

Laps In Seven

Sugar Hill SUG-CD-4013
PO Box 55300, Durham, NC 27717
       SONGS - The River's Gonna Run, Bringing In The Georgia Mail, The Dolphin Dance, On The Road, Ridin' That Bluegrass Train, I Wanna Do Right, Where There's A Road, New Country, Ballad for a Soldier, River Take Me, White Bird, Laps in Seven
Playing Time - 55:26
       When it comes to mandolin, Sammy "The Man" Bush has been a leading innovator for decades. He uses acoustic, electric and slide techniques. But, "Laps in Seven" also illustrates the master musician's proficiency on fiddle, guitar and as a lead and harmony vocalist. By the time he had graduated high school in Kentucky in 1970, Sam had won three Junior National Fiddle Championships and had produced the ground-breaking "Poor Richard's Almanac" album. Over the years, he's seemed to develop even greater affinity for and skill on mandolin, continually building his reputation as the "greatest all-purpose mandolinist" (as per David Grisman). Sam Bush is wired as a mandolin player; he once said he learned fiddle tunes by first learning them on the mandolin in order to visualize the song, where the notes sit and how they interact. As you listen to an album like this, try to get into his head and understand where he's coming from musically.
       There are the rocking rhythms and syncopations that Sam is well-known for. There is his excellent sense of timing, largely a function of his right-hand technique along with his ability to play all over the mandolin's fingerboard with creative melodic licks that are of his own device. He co-wrote (with John Pennell) the song "Ridin' That Bluegrass Train," that shows his loud, clear, sharp attack to music. He also knows how to get the best players and singers involved. Wizards like Scott Vestal (banjo), Keith Sewell (guitar), and Byron House (bass) can only make you sound better. Using Chris Brown on drums is a clear statement of Sam's intent to continue trying to find that balance in his newgrass music that also allows for mass market appeal and more widespread radio airplay than just on the mom-and-pop one-hour-a-week bluegrass shows. Those shows will air his driving rendition of "Bringing in the Georgia Mail."
       Sam may have mellowed a tad in recent times as his music evolves for this century. "Laps In Seven" also features four guest vocalists (Emmylou Harris, Tim O'Brien, Shaun Murphy, Andrea Zonn), and there's another wild ride ("New Country") that has Jean Luc Ponty's electric violin in the mix for his original composition. Sam may not rock out as hard as he used to, but "White Bird" revisits that classic song from the sixties (originally done by It's A Beautiful Day). There are also songs with messages, such as Leon Russell's "Ballad for a Soldier." Establishing a funky groove, "I Wanna Do Right" incorporates Vestal's banjo synthesizer and the Do-Right Singers (Shaun, Sam, Byron) in a tribute to Hurricane Katrina victims. "The Dolphin Dance" is a far-out instrumental that has the musical notes leaping and diving with playful, buoyant abandonment.
       Darrell Scott's "River Take Me" was learned at a recording session years ago, as was Robbie Fulks' "Where There's A Road." John Hartford's "On The Road" with its 5/4 time signature is a statement about being all messed up while on the road. The title cut (and closer) for "Laps in Seven" was inspired by his dog, Ozzie, lapping his water in a syncopated 7/4 time signature. You actually hear him drinking from his waterbowl at the end of the generous nearly hour-long set.
       Sam Bush has a clear vision for his music with mandolin, fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass and drums. Still presenting string-band music, he's also picking his clarion notes so they blend and progress seamlessly and creatively into the future. (Joe Ross)

Life Stories

Pinecastle PRC-1155
PO Box 753, Columbus, North Carolina 28722 OR
       SONGS - Old Kentucky Hills, Poor Old Cora, The Knoxville Boy, Why Don't You Tell Me So?, Veil of White Lace, Monrovia, Deep Water, Behind Those Big Closed Doors, I've Lived A Lot In My Time, Iron Mountain Line, Baby Shoes, Waiting for the Sun to Shine
Playing Time - 37:25
       The packaging for Larry Stephenson's "Life Stories" may only be in black and white, but the band's music is a palette of vivid bluegrassy color accentuated with hues of joy, happiness, sorrow and fodder for the tales of traditional bluegrass music. While great bluegrass can come in many sizes, sounds, forms and shapes, Larry and company have a firm handle on that "high lonesome sound" with plenty of force, aptitude and drive. That may partly explain why the Fredericksburg, Va. native has won so many vocal awards over the years. After stints with Cliff Waldron, Leon Morris, Bill Harrell, and Bluegrass Cardinals, Stephenson formed his own band in 1989. With decades of recording experience, this Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame member has ten previous albums out on the Webco and Pinecastle labels.
       "Life Stories" features Larry (mandolin), Aaron McDaris (banjo), Dustin Benson (guitar), Missy Raines (bass), Shad Cobb and Jimmy VanCleve (fiddle). Rob Ickes appears with his Weissenborn acoustic guitar on one cut, Dixie and Tom T. Hall's "The Knoxville Boy." Despite the label's perceived budget constraints, a couple more panels in the CD jacket would've been nice to include liner narrative about the band and the songs. Instrumentally, the pickers have a golden touch for just the right breaks, licks and fills. There are occasional flavors of twin fiddles, guitar breaks, and more. Larry took up mandolin at age five, and he has the chop down. His occasional breaks are loud, clear and smooth. Instead of picking an overdone ol' warhorse for their instrumental selection, a barn-burning "Monrovia" is one that the three core members of the group co-wrote. A bluegrass arrangement of the western swing classic, "Deep Water," is mighty fine. We are seeing Tom T. and Dixie Hall songs on a majority of major label bluegrass releases. They are an indefatigable songwriting team with a great understanding of bluegrass, apparent in their two songs on this project.
       Vocally, the band's trio (with McDaris and Benson's harmonies) can send warmth up your spine like a toasty woodstove. In addition to more traditional repertoire with new arrangements (I've Live A Lot in my Time, Why Don't You Tell Me So?), their set presents some newer material ("Behind Closed Doors") from up-and-coming songwriters like Connie Leigh. There's a juxtaposition of songs about trains, home and family alongside those about murder, incest, and a baby lost. Stories of life merely document, not always explain, the trials and tribulations we encounter. Sometimes we're left with questions (Why Don't You Tell Me So?), but hopefully when our final day finally arrives we can proudly declare "I've Lived A Lot in my Time." One pleasant technique they use in the latter (and with much more potential in bluegrass) is modulation (key changes) during the course of a song. This mixture of the old and new, albeit always with strong traditional foundation, is a very successful approach for Stephenson that has won him a multitude of fans. (Joe Ross)

Troubled Times

Rebel CD-1817
PO Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906
Phone - 434-973-5151
Email OR
       SONGS - The Ballad of Sarah Malone, Chancellorsville, The River Ran Black, Milwaukee Blues, Jake Satterfield, Filling the River With Tears, Muddy Water, Lonesome Whistle, John Henry Jr. Evening Prayer Blues, Willow Valley, A House of Gold
Playing Time - 41:29
       Booming Ballistic Bamagrass from Cullman, Alabama could be the bumpersticker on David Davis' bus. This band knows how to lay it down right, and their tap root into tradition is deep. Davis' father and grandfather were both musicians. In 1938, his Uncle Cleo (then an Atlanta ice truck driver) answered a newspaper ad in need of a guitar picker and singer of old-time songs. Thus, he became Bill Monroe's first Blue Grass Boys. Although David's father lost a hand in World War II, the family's strong commitment and loyalty to the music never faltered. With this kind of pedigree, you can almost see the bluegrass flowing in his blood. You can certainly hear it on this album.
       Gary Thurmond originally formed The Warrior River Boys in the mid-1950s but health problems resulted in his turning the band over to then 23-year-old David Davis in 1984. The visionary frontman plays mandolin and sings lead. Album releases (on the Rounder label) in 1990 and 1994 were the precursors to his current affiliation with the other biggie in bluegrass, Rebel Records. "Troubled Times" follows his near-perfect 2004 album that introduced fiddler Owen Sanders (formerly with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver) as one of the Warrior River Boys. Bassist Marty Hays has also been in the group for several years. Since their 2004 release, Josh Smith (banjo) and Jeff Griffy (guitar) have moved on to other endeavors, with the current band configuration including Daniel Grindstaff (banjo) and Adam Duke (guitar). The band shines on Davis' original instrumental "Evening Prayer Blues."
       A common complaint of mine is that CD jackets are often no longer providing any more than song and musician credits, and perhaps a few thank you's. Although lyrics would be nice too, could we please just get a page of the CD jackets dedicated to some narrative about the band, its members, and some background about the songs and their inspiration? For example, wouldn't it have been nice to know that "Filling the River with Tears" was written by the same Randall Franks, an actor who played Officer Randy Goode on TV's "In the Heat of the Night." It took research to determine that the song is inspired by a poem written by Evelyn Rose Brock. Davis found it to be a great piece of very well written music, with all the necessary ingredients that he looks for -- interesting story, opportunity for good harmonies within the melody, and a bluesy feel.
       Personal misfortune disturbance or distress are common topics in the songs on "Troubled Times," with songwriter Alan Johnston providing three troublous tales -- "Ballad of Sarah Malone," "The River Ran Black," and "Muddy Water." Ballads about people and their trials work well in bluegrass. Damon Black's "Jake Satterfield" and Merle Travis' "John Henry Jr." are examples. David Davis delves into the roots of old-time and classic country music, and he has an affinity for Hank Williams' lonesome songs with two bluegrass covers on this project. Covering a Charlie Poole song, "Milwaukee Blues," was the perfect choice to integrate Depression-era hard times into the repertoire. While Hank's tend to be overdone, I'd enjoy hearing more of Poole's material revitalized today. Chronicling a Civil War tale, "Chancellorsville" relates the heroism of Stonewall Jackson but his downfall due to friendly fire of a Confederate bullet. Enhanced with mournful wail of the fiddle, the lamentation and grief of that one bullet cutting down the south is evident. Troubled times, indeed! And this band's bluesy bluegrass with their instruments and vocals are perfect for relating these stories from history to get us prepared, ready, and self-reliant for more troubled times ahead on life's crooked road. (Joe Ross)


Yep Roc YEP-2137
PO Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515 OR
       SONGS - Mighty Lonesome, Time's A Looking Glass, I'm Still Living For You, I Shouldn't Want You So Bad, Who's Leaving Who, Forever Ends Today, Love in the Ruins, There Goes Bessie Brown, It Wasn't That I Had To, It's So Different, My Treasure, Don't Blame The Wrong Guy, Where They Turn Around
Playing time: 40:39
       Jim Lauderdale is making a big impact on the bluegrass genre, and his love for bluegrass was no more apparent among his many albums than when he featured Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys on his 1997 album, "Whisper." Later, Lauderdale was a guest on Stanley's "Clinch Mountain Country" project, and he in now an honorary Clinch Mountain Boy. Building on the chemistry between the two artists, they collaborated on an album of their own, the Grammy-nominated and highly recommended "I Feel Like Singing Today," (on the Rebel label). In 2003, his "Lost in the Lonesome Pines" (Dualtone 80302-01125-2) release featured both himself and Ralph Stanley singing his own self-penned songs.
       Lauderdale is a prolific songwriter music who has penned many hits for artists like Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Mark Chesnutt, Kathy Mattea, and George Strait. "Bluegrass" features thirteen originals that largely focus on love-related themes. I'd challenge him to write a few more with catchy hooks, unique stories, and topical themes. A North Carolina native and son of a minister/choir director, Lauderdale also has extensive bluegrass roots. When he arrived in Nashville in the late 1970s, he had hoped to pursue a bluegrass career. Instead, he moved into mainstream country. Jim also has appeared on the Grand Ol' Opry. He may know bluegrass, but this "Bluegrass" album really gives us a mixture of bluegrass and country. It's a subjective assessment that really has to do with the songs, vocals, presentation, and arrangements, despite having some top pickers helping out like Jason Stuart or David Talbot (banjo), Shad Cobb, Ollie O'Shea or Luke Bulla (fiddle). Randy Kohrs (dobro), Bryan Sutton (guitar), and Dennis Crouch or Jay Weaver (bass). Four mandolinists contribute: Jesse Cobb, Josh Williams, Scott Simontacchi and Justin Clark. Kohrs sings harmonies on all tracks; Robert and Skye Jason sing on "It's So Different."
       Lauderdale has some winners on "Bluegrass" that show that fresh, new bluegrass can be composed today that reflects the power, sentiments and emotions of traditional music. For six songs, Lauderdale's songwriting collaborators include Joe Henry, Leslie Satcher, John Levanthal, Buddy Miller, and Tony Villanueva. On past projects, he's also written with Candace Randolph, Shawn Camp, and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Some of the songs on "Bluegrass" come closer to acoustic country, but a few convey the bluegrass power and drive. Kicking off the set, "Mighty Lonesome" sets the right mood for a bluegrass set. Begging for forgiveness is a common theme in bluegrass, and Jason Stewart's banjo and Shad Cobb's fiddle provide the propulsion. A haunting ghost story, "There Goes Bessie Brown" has enough of a cool old-time groove that some clawhammer banjo (courtesy of someone like Riley Baugus) could've really kicked butt. "It Wasn't That I Had To" has a playful bounciness. Fortunately, "Don't Blame the Wrong Guy" and "Where They Turn Around" (a train song) close the set or I might have been left wondering where the rest of the bluegrass music was on this CD. His country heart and soul is probably most evident in "Who's Leaving Who" that asks "Who's leaving who? What's it to you? Something is wrong with this scene." Ultimately, the broken relationship leaves Jim wondering, "I don't know if I'm leaving you or if you're leaving me." Pay attention to his lyrics because there are some new twists and nuances in old commonly-sung messages.
       I am also going to restate a common complaint with CD jackets. While the song and musician credits are certainly a priority, would the labels please start giving us a few more panels with narrative about the artist, musical vision, a few sentences about each song? With efficient graphic design and layout, these items can be provided without expanding beyond six panels.
       Lauderdale won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album for his "Lost In The Lonesome Pines" album. I'd recommend that one for some in-yer-face hard-driving lonesome bluegrass before this latest effort. "Bluegrass," on the other hand, has more cross-genre fare for fans of bluegrass and acoustic country music that mostly addresses love and relationships. The songs will, however, take root with repeated listens. (Joe Ross)


OBRO Records OR-1001
       Flat Footin' Tennessee, 2. Twenty Years To Spread The Word, 3. Texas Pretty, 4. New Place To Hang My Old Hat, 5. Face Down In The Snow, 6. Cold Steel Rails, 7. Live By The River, 8. The House By The Cornfield, 9. In My Next Life, 10. Taken Better Care of Myself, 11. Hate To See You Leavin', 12. Voice From The Hills, 13. Christmas Time In Texas
Playing Time - 39:50
       Guitarist and singer Wesley Probst hails from Missouri and started playing at a young age with his family's band. After working in Branson, Mo. for seven years with The New Riders of the Old Trail, he relocated to Nashville in the mid-70s to pursue his songwriting. You may recognize his name in the song credits for material cut by David Parmley and Continental Divide, as well as the gospel hit he co-penned with Billy Smith entitled "I'll Carry My Cross" and recorded by The Larry Stephenson Band.
       In 2001, the Overall Brothers formed to present original bluegrass and acoustic country music. The rest of the band includes Kevin Harper (fiddle ), Elmer Burchett, Jr. (banjo), Danny Barnes (mandolin), Kim Gardner (Dobro ), and Will Harper (bass). Besides Probst's Missouri roots, band members bring a multitude of multi-instrumental experiences from their homes in Louisiana, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Their individual resumes also show that they've been comfortable performing and recording both country and bluegrass. Besides being strong instrumentalists, the Overall Brothers are noteworthy vocalists and songwriters too.
       Their debut album opens with "Flat Footin' Tennessee," that captures the lively sentiments of clog dancing after dark. Springtime in Waco paint a postcard image in "Texas Pretty," while the imagery of a different season of the year is captured in "Christmas Time in Texas." Various other songs incorporate nostalgic recollections of home, hills and stream. While Probst tends to sing the slower-tempo'ed emotive pieces, Burchett and Barnes' "Cold Steel Rails" has the boy hobo'ing a train out of town when love goes bad. When you hear "The House by the Cornfield," you might realize that you've hard that song before on a Continental Divide album in 2002 (Pathway of Time). In fact, Probst wrote that one with David Parmley and Mel Besher (the fine guitarist and singer with the Missouri-based band, Cedar Hill). "Taken Better Care of Myself" decries an unhealthy lifestyle that includes smoking, drinking, and having "several wives that were wed to someone else." In "Live by the River" and "Voice from the Hills," the band joyously exclaims their intent to 'reside by that heavenly stream' and 'heed His sweet voice.'
       The Overall Brothers' sing a brand of contemporary mountain music with a softer character than the razor sharp edges of forceful traditional bluegrass. Yet, they have a compelling and dynamic sound that provides persuasive accompaniment for their songs' thoughtful lyrics. This is an opportune time for introducing their music, but its influence may be minimal unless they choose to put both feet into one genre or the other. Perhaps this band's introspective music, character and image will resonate with fans the way that Alison Krauss' did. However, if that happens, I'd ditch the overalls for some stylish sport coats and ties. (Joe Ross)

Smoky Mountain Christmas

Rural Rhythm RHY-290
Box 660040, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066-0040
Playing Time - 30:34
       Raymond Fairchild has a long and successful affiliation with the Rural Rhythm record label that was originally formed by Uncle Jim O'Neal in 1955 in Arcadia, Ca. Fairchild's "King of the Smokey Mountain Banjo" landmark album had 31 tunes on it and was cut at a South Carolina radio station in one long evening. Since then, there have been many other Raymond Fairchild albums on the label, and they all are full of boundless energy and determination as his varied banjo techniques propel plain ol' country picking, fiddle tunes, standard bluegrass, old country and gospel. Striving for an even greater market, one of Raymond's albums ("Honkey Tonkin' Country Blues") featured blues numbers and except for his banjo could not really be called bluegrass. Some other records were a long ways from his mountain music background or even bluegrass. Including drums, saxophone and steel guitar, Raymond seemed willing to experiment with sounds and styles that few others had ever attempted on the banjo.
       It makes perfect sense that the "King of the 5-String Banjo" would have a Christmas album too. This tastefully done project features all-instrumental collection of many seasonal favorites. Raymond could've really gone to town with some of his more innovative licks and tricks, but he keeps his picking fairly conservative with this holiday fare. That's probably a wise approach with these 14 carols and songs that also include Cody Shuler (mandolin), Arvil Freeman (fiddle), Wayne Crowe (bass, guitar), and Bruce Moody (guitar). They don't play with Nashville-styled slickness. They just seem to have fun and play with a spirit (sometimes with a little harmony thrown in) that would make Jolly Ol' St, Nick proud.
       When family and friends come over for a holiday gathering, put this CD on to liven things up a bit. There are plenty of easy listening Christmas albums out there, and "yule" surely get a kick from banjo-centric renditions of "Frosty the Snowman" and "Here Comes Santa Claus." In a certain way, Fairchild is like Santa too for bringing us this heart-warming gift for a Bluegrassy Christmas. (Joe Ross)

Yeah Buddy

No label, no number
TEL. 206-525-2418
       Songs: Cumberland Gap, Chilly Winds, Martha Campbell, Henry Lee, Walk Along John To Kansas, Wild Hog In the Woods, Mississippi Sawyer, Ida Mae, Road To Maysville, Quit Kickin' My Dog, Squirrel Hunter, Rainbow Sign, Wildhog in the Redbrush, Sally Ann, Say Darlin' Say, White River Playing Time - 45:00
       Who They Are: Old-time pickers whose lively and infectious numbers will put vitality into your skip
       What They Do: Supple and soulful old-time dance music
       Little Known Facts: This is their third album. Find them busking for hours in Seattle's Pike Place Street Market or performing at many of the regional folk festivals in the west.
       The Songs: Sixteen traditional tunes except "Ida Mae" penned by Charlie Beck. It appears that they like John Hartford and probably picked up "Squirrel Hunter" and "Wild Hog in the Red Brush" from Hartford's Rounder album of that same name.
       The Musicians: A traditional 5-piece string band lineup. Joe Fulton's fiddle and Charlie Beck's frailing banjo drive the band, and Paul McGowan's mandolin, Rob Adesso's guitar, and John Hurd's bass fall right into the rootsy groove.
       Of Special Note: Expressive vocal harmonies in the _-time "Henry Lee." Nice personalized versions of such warhorses "Cumberland Gap" and "Mississippi Sawyer" and "Sally Ann." The crowning moment is "Squirrel Hunter" that radiates the raw energy and saucy attitude of youth.
       Any Downside: Include liner notes, lyrics, photos in future albums. Provide vocal credits and info on the tunes. Find a couple real cool crooked tunes for your next album.
       The Bottomline: An affable set of traditional tunes that will elevate The Tallboys to new heights
       Their Bumper Sticker Might Say: Snappy and sturdy old-time
Reviewed by: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

Grand Opening

Café Records CR-001
Phone: 703-390-9353 (Ken Windbeck)
Email: OR OR
Playing Time - 37:01
       Who They Are: An energetic, enthusiastic bluegrass quartet that combines originals with material tapped primarily from the late-70s and early-80s
       What They Do: Roadside Café is a powerful quartet of bluegrass vets keeping a certain era of bluegrass still fresh and vibrant.
       Little Known Facts: Band members have previous experience in such groups as Hickory Ridge, Eastern Tradition, Bluegrass Image, Hearthstone Mountain Boys, Walter Hensley and The Dukes of Bluegrass, Satyr Hill Band, Windy Ridge, Fastest Grass Alive, Changin' Tymes, Southfork Bluegrass Boys, Mitch Harrell and The South River Express.
       The Songs: Tight-crafted arrangements of material from country, folk and bluegrass genres. Besides three originals, they cover songs from the likes of Keith Tew, Dallas Frazier, Joe South, Randall Hylton, and Bill Monroe.
       The Musicians: Ken Windbeck (banjo, vocals), Mike Maltby (bass), Brian Brewer (guitar, vocals), David Robertson (mandolin, vocals) have a genial persona and enchanting charisma that is quite evident in their music.
       Of Special Note: The wistful Dallas Frasier ballad "Beneath Still Waters" is a long-standing crowd-pleaser. Windbeck's banjo playing is first-rate, and the band's trio has an enticing, confident blend. David Robertson's distinctive high tenor is impressive, but I'd challenge him to tap even more emotion in an original like "He Wants to be a Cowboy" or Jimmy Haley's "You're The One."An expressive "Talk It All Over With Him" is their gospel offering on this project. Robertson's "Say I Love You" is a well-crafted favorite deserving of being covered by others.
       Any Recommendations: Invite a guest fiddler or resophonic guitarist to join in on future projects. Tear up an instrumental or two for a slight change of pace.
       The Bottomline: A fine effort of expressive moderately-tempo'ed pieces.
       Their Bumper Sticker Ought To Say: Consummate musicians who present tender sentiments and lilting melodies.
Reviewed by: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

Throw Down

Rural Grit RGCD-030
Playing Time - 44:52
       Who They Are: A unique and rambunctious hillbilly stringband, from Kansas City, that formed in 1996
       What They Do: Good old-time all-American country honky tonk
       Little Known Facts: Betse Ellis grew up playing classical music, but listening to The Who, Talking Heads, The Police, and other punk/new wave groups. Ike Sheldon attended college in Missouri and studied opera. The band has played Winfield, Ks., Branson, Mo, Nashville, Tn., and many points between. For more info on their fan club, see
       The Songs: Seven of the 14 songs are originals (plus Ike Shelton's additional music and lyrics for Hank Williams' "Won't You Sometimes Think of Me"). The band likes to boogie with covers like Johnny Cash's "Belshazzar" and Hank's "The Blues Come Around." There are plenty of new fresh old-time sensibilities in original fiddle tunes like Betse Ellis' reeling "Goat Creek" that impart spirit to one's feet.
       The Musicians: Lead singer and guitarist Ike Sheldon is solidly accompanied by award-winning fiddler Betse Ellis, multi-instrumentalist Phil Wade (dobro, banjo, mandolin), and bassist Nate Gawron.
       Of Special Note: A feather in their bonnets is the fact that this CD was engineered and produced by Dirk Powell at his Cypress House studio in Beaux Bridge, La.
       Any Recommendations: I recently also heard "Squirrel Hunter" on The Tallboys' "Yeah Buddy" album, and that tune would really come to life with a little more tempo and drive imparted into it.
       Their Bumpersticker Ought To Say: We're tight and a bit obstreperous too!
       The Bottomline: A skillful, entertaining band with a formidable and captivating persona
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

One More Mountain

P.O. Box 576, Rogersville, TN 37857 OR
TEL. (423) 345-3510
Playing Time - 36:39
       Who They Are: The Fritts Family Band, from Rogersville, Tennessee, formed in 1986.
       What They Do: The band has had a busy touring schedule and has released over a dozen albums during the past two decades. "One More Mountain" continues their focus on acoustic bluegrass and Americana music that incorporates elements of folk, jazz, and even classical idioms.
       The Musicians: Headed up by Larry Fritts (banjo, guitar, vocals), the rest of the band includes Jeremy Fritts (guitar, baritone guitar, mandolin), Sarah Fritts (fiddle, vocals), and Jim Bowman (bass, vocals).
       Little Known Facts: They have received considerable sponsorship of the National Endowment for the Arts. Larry began playing bluegrass when he was only 12, and his first band was Bud Rose and the Country Tune Twisters from Elizabethton, Tennessee. He also played with the legendary Jimmy "Old Ridge Runner" Smith who fronted the Carl Smith show. Jeremy earned a master's degree in classical guitar from Belmont University, studied jazz with John Pell, and spent 4 years performing with the East Tennessee State University Senior Bluegrass Band. Sarah's been performing since the age of three. She's studied fiddle with Benny Sims, as well as at East Tennessee State University. Jim Bowman has been a member of several groups, has traveled abroad to entertain the troops, and has theatrical experience in the musical "Smoke on the Mountain."
       The Songs: Larry, Sarah and Jim contibute ten originals to the project. Jim Bowman sings lead on his swingy original "Down At The Wayside Grill." The band provides an exhilarating arrangement of Bill Monroe's "Jerusalem Ridge" to close out the set, punctuated with the expressive guitar and mandolin picking of Jeremy Fritts.
       Any Recommendations: A few guest musicians would give their band a fuller instrumental sound.
       Of Special Note: Sarah has a strong, controlled voice that is immediately appealing. Her own "Riding Through Life" incorporates the standard "Orange Blossom Special" lick on banjo to keep the song driving. Larry pens some expressive gospel truths with "My Lord Might Come Anytime," "Get On Board," and "I Know My Lord's Gonna Help Me On." Jeremy's jazzy guitar breaks (e.g. "Neapolitan Ridge") impart a personalized and pensive character to the overall Fritts Family signature sound.
       Their Bumpersticker Might Say: Satisfying and interesting music presented with distinction
       The Bottomline: Not your average pickers and singers, the Fritts Family is well-deserving of more exposure and attention from the bluegrass community.
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

The Human Condition
featuring Glenn Lawson

No label, no number
Mountain Music Machine: Hugh Sturgill, Managing Director (828) 265-1500
TEL. (828) 265-1500
Playing Time - 43:29
       Who They Are: Produced by Hugh Sturgill, Mountain Music Machine is a formalized assembly of over 40 musicians who pursue music for fun and enjoyment within a sixty mile radius of the point where North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee meet. Unlike the big business "Nashville Music Machine," this conglomerate seems to put plain ol' good music over the slick commercialization of it.
       What They Do: Their first recordings were released and widely distributed to radio in July, 2004.
       The Musicians: The featured artist on "The Human Condition" is songwriter Glenn Lawson (guitar, vocals), a Kentuckian who worked with The Bluegrass Alliance, J. D. Crowe's New South, and Spectrum, before he became an insurance auditor. To varying extents, other contributing include Scott Freeman (mandolin, fiddle, vocals), Katy Taylor (vocals), Hugh Sturgill (guitar, vocals), Steve Lewis (guitar, banjo), Tony Reece (resophonic guitar), Tony Testerman (bass), Edwin Lacy (banjo), Josh Scott (bass), Wendy Roten Arnold (vocals), and Mat Rollins.
       Little Known Facts: Producer Hugh Sturgill managed and produced various top-name bluegrass performers from 1975-80.
       The Songs: Their new Blue Ridge Mountain music is self-categorized as bluegrass, newgrass, Americana, gospel, and western swing. Featuring ten of Glenn Lawson's songs, the material is well-crafted and offers unique perspectives and stoires about life. Mosie Lister and Edwin Lacy also contribute some songs. "Elk Creek Church Revival" is introduced by Lawson with a short narrative that explains the song was written to "come to terms with some heavy Biblical concepts as an eleven-year-old." The album's closer, "The King of Swing" is a Glenn Lawson original from a 1987 Nashville production and incorporates drums, pedal steel, fiddle and electric guitar.
       Of Special Note: The eclectic set offers plentyof variety but its foundation emphasizes Americana. These great musicians gather just for recordings and occasional concert performances.
       Their Bumpersticker Might Say: Our music is an avocation by choice but just as hot as the professionals on major labels are releasing.
       The Bottomline Is: Consequential and worthwhile original music from some extraordinary talent that operates under the radar due to family and career commitments.
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

Wild Card

Mountain Redbird Music MRM CD005
565 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215
       SONGS - 1. I Caught A Keeper, 2. Hump-Back Mule, 3. Kentucky Mountain, 4. Road To Columbus, 5. Where No Heart Goes Hungry, 6. We're The Kind Of People That Make The Jukebox Play, 7. Dreaming Of A Little Cabin, 8. Wild Card, 9. You Don't Tell Me That You Love Me Anymore, 10. Old Cane Press, 11. You Must Walk The Line, 12. Working On A Building Playing Time - 33:54
       Who They Are: A Brooklyn-based traditional bluegrass outfit that builds its presentation around James Reams' emotional baritone voice and Walter Hensley's masterful banjo picking.
       What They Do: Tap Kentucky and Virginia mountain musical roots
       Little Known Facts: The band was nominated by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) for its 2003 Emerging Artist of the Year Award. The band's self-titled first album, released in 2003, was nominated by the IBMA as one of only seven nominees for its Recorded Event of the Year award.
       The Musicians: James Reams ("The Father of Brooklyn Bluegrass") is originally from southeast Kentucky. He began playing guitar at age 12. From 1992-1998, he performed and recorded with a group called "The Mysterious Redbirds." His solo albums date back to 1992 and 2000. In 1959, Walter Hensley played banjo at Carnegie Hall with Earl Taylor and the Stoney Mountain Boys. In 1964, he recorded the first solo banjo LP ever produced by a major record label ("The 5 String Banjo Today" on Capitol Records ). The Barons of Bluegrass are Jon Glik (fiddle), Mark Farrell (mandolin) and Carl Hayano (bass). The band has been releasing albums since 2003, and "Wild Card" is their third band project.
       The Songs: Their early country and original material written in a traditional style is like a well-documented archive of songs. It's great to hear a bluegrass version of Johnny Paycheck's "We're The Kind of People That Make the Jukebox Play." I would've loved to hear Flatt & Scruggs or Reno & Smiley cover that one. Like Reams, you'll fall hook, line an sinker for the opening cut of Mike Dowling's "I Caught A Keeper" about fishing in the sea of love. "Hump-Back Mule" is a traditional novelty tune that has the same drive of a standard like "Pig in a Pen" or "Ol' Rattler." And there's nothing like a song from the repertoire of The Delmore Brothers ("Kentucky Mountain"). Glik and Hensley are in the driver's seat with their fiddle, mandolin and banjo belted in for the instrumentals, "Road to Columbus" and "Wild Card." The latter was written by Hensley. "When No Heart Goes Hungry," a ballad co-written by James Reams and Tina Adridas, is based on a William Faulkner novella as well as the dedication page from a contemporary bestseller. It relates the tale of a young man seeking redemption while serving 20 years for robbing a mail train. The band's confidence and clarion qualities would especially make them a thrill to see in live performance. The mother and cabin home themes are depicted in Albert E. Brumley's _-time "Dreaming of a Little Cabin," and the band revives Eddy Arnold's 1945 hit "You Must Walk The Line" with its classic advice to stay on the straight and narrow.
       Any Recommendations: Cut in one wild weekend, with all the musicians in the same studio at the same time and not a Pro-Tool in sight. Don't expect perfection, but that technique magically captured the spirit and soul of their music. All the edges are still intact and all the excitement is raw. An eclectic set, there's a taste of their own songwriting. The rhythm skills of James Reams are strong, and the banjo mastery of Walter Hensley is commendable. Jon Glik's and Mark Farrell's fervent fiddle and mandolin work also provide nice fills and breaks. Vocal harmonies from Carl Hayano and Mark Farrell blend well although the phrasings are occasionally a tad out of sync.
       Their Bumpersticker Might Say: Straight-ahead old-school bluegrass with edge and emotion.
       The Bottomline Is: Bluegrass music with fortitude and pluck
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

Dance of the Sandhill

TEL. (406)587-7198
       SONGS - Salmon River Run, Mary Anne, Dance of the Sandhill, Moonlight Morning, Icarus, Ladies of Scatwell, Sweet Georgia Brown, My Funny Valentine, Blake's March, Simple Gifts, El Cumbanchero, Gimme a Holler, Montana's Farewell
Playing Time - 45:20
       Who They Are: A classical mandolin orchestra from Boezman, Mt. that also uses various other stringed instruments and percussion for instrumental embellishment
       What They Do: The group tours and performs widely with a goal to educate audiences about the mandolin musical heritage. "Dance of the Sandhill" is their fourth CD.
       Little Known Facts: Their third Album, "Mosaic," was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. The Songs: The Montana Mandolin Society's arranged music retains the flavor of the turn of the century sound of an "olden days" mandolin orchestra while displaying the growing role of the mandolin and acoustic stringed instruments in musical genres of our time.
       The Musicians: For their fourth album, the ensemble has a dozen musicians playing various mandolin family instruments, banjo, guitar, hammered dulcimer, bass, cello, violin, and percussion.
       Of Special Note: The album opens with four self-composed pieces from band members Kevin Fabozzi, Craig Hall, and Dennis White. Inspiration is drawn from a whitewatr raft trip, a wedding, a tour of Japan, and a morning sunrise. "El Cumbanchero" has many mandolin voices with a versatile rhythm section.
       Any Recommendations: I would love to hear this ensemble offer a few tunes arranged just for mandolin family instruments from mandobass to mandolin, similar to what Peter Ostroushko did with his now re-released "Mando Boys" project. "Blake's March" comes closest to this concept, but it also incorporates guitar, cello and bass. A beautiful rawboned two-minute arrangement of "Simple Gifts" features only two hammered dulcimers (played by Lindsay Turnquist and Dennis Hunt) for a very lovely modulating change-up in the set.
       Their Bumpersticker Might Say: The Montana Mandolin Sound is alive and well! Quality in nature and art begins in beauty.
       The Bottomline Is: What a great ambiance! This CD celebrates dance in its infinite living forms.
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

New Tattoo

Pinecastle PRC 1152 OR OR
Playing Time - 46:47
       Who They Are: Genre-bending innovators and adventurists
       What They Do: Progressive newgrass full of vocal and instrumental pyrotechnics
       Little Known Facts: Some of Cowan's early rock and blues bands included Everyday People, The Sky Kings, Duckbutter and Grooveyard.
       The Songs: "Carla's Got A New Tattoo" opens the set with barn-burning instrumental work and inspired vocal spunk. The soulful "Misery & Happiness," a lamentation on the bittersweet experience of finding love and losing it, features gorgeous harmony vocals from Patty Griffin. "Working In The New Mine" harkens back to old school bluegrass, with a driving tempo, stellar picking, charged modulation, and acrobatic vocal harmonies. A melodic "Back To Your Arms" and Mark Simos' "Hurting Sure" are modern country masterpieces that would sound right at home on country radio. "In Bristol Town" is a ballad with some old-time Appalachian character. The 6-minute closing track, "Drown," is the most emotional and controversial. It's a disturbing and detailed disclosure about child molestation. Based on personal experience as a seven-year-old survivor, John felt it was a tragic story that needed to be told. Cowan collaborated with Darrell Scott on "Drown" and "Red Birds (In A Joshua Tree)." Darrel and his father (Wayne) penned "With A Memory Like Mine," a sad song of a son returning frm war in a flag-draped casket.
       The Musicians: Besides Cow on lead vocals and bass, the band's current lineup is Jeff Autry (guitar, bouzouki), Wayne Benson, (mandolin), Shad Cobb (fiddle), Noam Pikelny (banjo), and Luke Bulla (fiddle, mandolin). All but Pikelny contribute harmony vocals.
       Of Special Note: Six guests who are "special" offer up vocals (Patty Griffin), piano (Darrell Scott), cello (Bryn Bright), bass harmonica (Mickey Raphael), percussion (Giles Reaves), and "sonic onslaught" (Jay Joyce).
       Any Recommendations: The studio effects are a little overstated in a few places. Sound effects, echo, reverb and looping sounds have their place, and producer Jay Joyce could've used them a bit more sparingly to create certain intimate moods and soul-stirring settings.
       Their Bumpersticker Might Say: "Johnny C" for Secretary of Defense!
       The Bottomline Is: Explosive Ebullience with a capital "E."
Reviewed by: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

Two Wolves

Metta Four Records 00342 OR
TEL. 615-385-1233
Playing Time - 49:54
       Who They Are: John Flynn is a self-professed introspective contemporary folksinger and activist whose songs come "from the heart."
       Little Known Facts: John earned a 1980 degree from Temple University in political science
       The Songs: Potent messages and efficacious imagery are presented in his ten self-penned songs. "There's No Them There," embellished with nicely-tailored harmonies, calls for a "a brand new way of seeing, a brand new way of freeing our fellow human beings by simply being kind." "No More War" declares "Violence has left its stain, Its drug is in our veins, It screams slay or be slain, It is a liar." A song for the fallen, "Dover" asks the big airplane to bring 'em down easy out of the Delaware sky. Only 12-years-old, "Azizullah" is the sad tale of another casualty of war. Guitar, cello and oboe complement the reflective "Blink" with Flynn's observation "We blink and somehow time just flies." Kathy Mattea harmonizes on "My Father's Chapel," a call for understanding with "My father's chapel has many benches, Pews where the stranger may rest his feet." A radiant song of love remembered is "Sunflower" that exclaims "I would not trade the sunflower I held for a whole garden of flowers." Covers come from Phil Ochs ("Pleasures of the Harbor") and Kris Kristofferson ("Hall of Angels").
       The Musicians: "Two Wolves" has some impressive talent with Kris Kristofferson, Kathy Mattea, and splendid instrumentalists like guitarists Duke Levine (Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bill Morrissey) and Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Dar Williams), drummer Denny McDermott (Roseanne Cash, Donald Fagen), and singer Jane Kelly Williams. Producer Ben Wisch (Marc Cohn, Patty Larkin) has had a long and successful association with John Flynn.
       Of Special Note: Flynn's harmonica provides some sweet conversational fill.
       The Bottomline: An affable troubadour with strong messages that encourage peace, fairness, compassion, tolerance and optimism
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (Top 500 reviewer for Amazon)

sings mickey newbury

IGO Records Image IGO3454
Playing Time - 66:03
       SONGS - 1. Song of Sorrow, 2. Some Memories Are Better Left Alone, 3. Ramblin' Blues, 4. Lie To Me Darlin', 5. Apples Dipped In Candy, 6. Blue Sky Shining, 7. What Will I Do, 8. Lovers, 9. Time Was, 10. San Francisco Mabel Joy, 11. You've Always Got The Blues, 12. Why You Been Gone So Long, 13.
Remember The Good, 14. Amen For Old Friends, 15. Goodnight
       Who They Are: Kacey Jones is an affecting singer who does a nice job covering Mickey's songs.
       What They Do: The talented Mickey Newbury has a large body of moving songs that are well-crafted. You can hardly go wrong covering them and Kacey Jones provides us with some sweetly wistful recollections and nostalgic remembrances.
       Little Known Facts: Jones and Newbury first met in a Nashville studio nearly three decades ago. He became a strong influence and mentor for Jones.
       The Songs: Jones doesn't rely upon Newbury's biggest hits like "Funny Familiar Forgotten Feelings," "Just Dropped In," "Here Comes the Rain, Baby," and "Sweet Memories." But she finds many others from his graceful pen such as the charming "San Francisco Mabel Joy" and "Some Memories Are Better Left Alone." Kacey was influenced by Mickey and has been singing his songs for years. For this album, she picked gems like "You've Always Got the Blues," "Apples Dipped in Candy," "Lovers," "Remember the Good." There are also some from his later albums like "Ramblin' Blues" and "Lie to Me Darlin'" and "Some Memories Are Better Left Alone." Some short interludes from Mickey himself are a treat.
       The Musicians: The musicians who help out are guys from her band, studio players, people who had played and recorded with Mickey, and members of his family. They all had (or developed) a sincere appreciation for the ingenious tunes. They include Eddie Dunbar (bass), Jimmy Nichols (piano), Mark Dreyer (gutiar), Brent Moyer (guitar, tumpet), and Paul Scholton (drums). Some poignant background vocal contributions come from Toni Jolene Clay and Chip Davis (who sang on Mickey's two final albums), as well as Laura Shayne Newbury (Mickey's youngest daughter and a singer/songwriter herself).
       Of Special Note: The opening cut ("Song of Sorrow") reminds us that if we dream long enough, we may just be fool enough to see our dreams come true. Those are the kinds of insightful and perceptive lyrics that Mickey's songs embrace. Kacey Jones' voice has a warm texture, and it emerges with clarity and emotion.
       Any Recommendations: "Why You Been Gone So Long" is about the liveliest song chosen for the hour-long set. A few more uptempo pieces could have shooken things up a bit more, but all are still very nicely arranged in thoughtful, delicate and soothing style. Nichols' string arrangements provide considerable spiritual glow.
       The Bottomline Is: Newbury's songs deserve far more attention than they're received over the years, and Kacey Jones gives them supple and radiant delivery on this generous 66-minute album.
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (Top 500 reviewer for Amazon)

Get Along Girl

Arrandem AR-170
P.O. Box 160474, Nashville, TN 37216
Playing Time - 41:25
       SONGS - 1. Two Hands on the Wheel (N. Pate), 2. Walkin' West to Memphis (C.B. Henry), 3. Going Back to Old Virginia (D. McLaughlin), 4. Sound I Hear (S. Jones), 5. Leroy and Liza (C.A. Henry), 6. One Foot in the Graveyard (C.B. Henry),7. Counting on the Stars (C.B. Henry), 8. Hold Back the Waters (W. McLean), 9. Change of Heart (C.B. Henry), 10. Pass the Eagle (C.B. Henry), 11. Sad Woman from the Country (C. Brashear), 12. Pitiful Life (C.B. Henry), 13. Got Sweet Heaven in My View (S. McCandlish)
       Who They Are: Casey was born in Florida, moved to Virginia at age eight, and now lives in Nashville. She grew up playing bass with her family group Red and Murphy and their Excellent Children. In 2000, Casey graduated from the University of Virginia. In 2001, she recorded a banjo album called "Real Women Drive Trucks" and joined up as bass-player with Tim Graves and Cherokee. She's also worked with Uncle Earl and Jim Hurst. In 2004, Casey recorded with the Tennessee Heartstrings. In 2005, "Casey & Chris and the Two-Stringers" formed with brother Chris Henry (mandolin), who previously had worked with Dave Peterson and 1946.
       What They Do: Carefully calibrated traditional bluegrass with youthful exuberance and an original focus.
       The Songs: Eight of the 13 songs are originals with the others coming from David McLaughlin, Sally Jones, Nancy Pate, Will McLean, and S. McCandlish. Chris' songsmithing shows considerable promise and potential with the bluesy "Walkin' West To Memphis," "Counting on the Stars," "Change of Heart," an instrumental "Pass the Eagle," and "Pitiful Life." "Counting on the Stars" establishes a nice traditionally-sounding groove (albeit without fiddle) as it recounts a fictionalized tale of a king who bases his military decisions on astrology. "Hold Back The Waters" is a disaster story of a 1928 huricane and flood in Florida's Lake Okeechobee. Tyler has a fluid lead guitar style and he adds some strong guitar rhythms to push the pulse in the band sound. "Leroy and Liza" is a peppy instrumental that gets it title from the names that Frank Wakefield used for Chris and Casey. The stimulating gospel song "Got Sweet Heaven in My View" is a favorite. Chris' apparent muse is Bill Monroe, and he combines some fiery sixteenth notes on the uptempo pieces ("Too Hands On The Wheel") with smooth downstroke and tremolo techniques on the slower numbers (the _-time "Pitiful Life"). If Chris owes inspiration to Monroe, then Casey could also claim her crisp, consistent approach on banjo owes to Earl Scruggs. Their duet singing shines luminously in Chris' song, "Walkin' West to Memphis," that conveys some raw and rootsy sounds characteristic of a brother act like The Delmore Brothers. But their crowning moment for both vocals and instruments could be "Pitiful Life."
       The Musicians: In addition to Casey (banjo) and Chris (mandolin), the solid band is Tyler Grant (guitar), Missy Raines (bass), and Shad Cobb (fiddle).
       Any Recommendations: Casey and Chris could work on their vocal blend a bit more. Casey vocalizes with an assertive lead that makes us sit up and pay attention on "Hold Back The Waters" and "Sound I Hear." More tonal quality and dynamics in their voices will elevate them to the top of the bluegrass game.
       The Bottomline Is: Effective and convincing bluegrass with a heaping helping of tradition and a profusion of enthusiasm.
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

"Let 'Er Go Boys!"

Rounder 11661-0561-2
Playing Time - 54:36
       Songs: Old Brown County Barn 2. Night 3. Bright and Early 4. Old Man and His Fiddle 5. Durham's Reel 6. Montana Cowboy 7. Dark as the Night, Blue as the Day 8. Sugar in the Gourd 9. Stone's Rag 10. Hello City Limits 11. Hopelessly in Love 12. Old Mountaineer 13. Flower Blooming in the Wildwood 14. Old Joe 15. Sugar Tree Stomp 16. Miller's Cave 17. Cacklin' Hen
       Who They Are: Michael Cleveland has been in 3 top bluegrass bands fronted by women (Rhonda Vincent, Alison Krauss, Dale Ann Bradley). Now he's poised to launch his own band, Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper featuring Audie Blaylock. The three-time Fiddle Player of the Year has the musical and business acumen to take it far.
       Little Known Facts: Michael Cleveland hails from Louisville, Kentucky. Blind from birth, he began playing fiddle at age 3. In 1993, he gained national attention at age 12 when he appeared at the IBMA Awards Show with Chris Thile, Josh Williams and other youngsters. There he met Alison Krauss, who invited him to perform on the Grand Ole Opry that same year. Also at the 1993 IBMA events, he jammed with another blind performer, Doc Watson, which became a highlight of the documentary film "Gather at the River." His hobby is collecting pocket knives. In 1999, he graduated from high school and began performing with Dale Ann Bradley and Coon Creek. In 2000, Michael joined Rhonda Vincent and the Rage. In 2001, 2002, won IBMA award for Fiddle Player of the Year. In 2001, re-joined Dale Ann Bradley and Coon Creek. In 2002, won IBMA award for Instrumental Recording of the Year ("Flame Keeper"). In 2004, won IBMA Award for Fiddle Player of the Year and Instrumental Album of the Year ("Live at the Ragged Edge" with Tom Adams).
       The Songs: With this 17-tune collection, Michael has assembled some fine talent to guest. Whether sawing the strings with banjo pickers Pete Kelly ("Durham's Reel") or with Charlie Cushman ("Stone's Rag"), Michael knows that making it upbeat and danceable is what it's all about. Then, a carefully cultivated love song like "Hopelessly In Love" (co-written by Cleveland with noted Michigan songsmith Pete Goble) is as compelling as the others are danceable. The inspired and inspiring musicians include Audie Blaylock (lead guitar) and Rob Ickes (dobro). Auspicious moments on the CD occur when lesser-known Bill Monroe instrumentals, "The Old Brown County Barn" and "The Old Mountaineer" are served up. Michael showcases his consummate mandolin skills. Knowing that bluegrass fans expect top-notch vocals too, he invited some critically-acclaimed singers to the party on "Montana Cowboy" (Del McCoury) and "Old Man and His Fiddle" (Larry Sparks) and "Dark As The Night, Blue As The Day" (Vince Gill and Dan Tyminski) and "Night" (Dale Ann Bradley, Jeff White, Audie Blaylock).
       The Bottomline Is: Michael's fast playing is potent and thrilling, but it can also offer beautifully slow melancholic moments.
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

The Greatest Hits of Polka!

Rounder 11661-6113-2
       SONGS: 1. Beer Barrel Polka 2. Tavern in the Town 3. Papa, Won't You Dance with Me 4. Pennsylavania Polka 5. Tic Toc 6. Champagne Polka 7. Yellow Rose of Texas 8. Lichtensteiner 9. Blue Skirt Waltz 10. Hoop Dee Doo 11. Charlie Was a Boxer 12. San Antonio Rose 13. Metropole 14. Just Because 15. Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie 16. She's Too Fat Fro Me (Village in Polka) 17. Julida 18. Helena Polka
Playing Time - 46:55
       Who They Are: By his junior year in high school, Jimmy Sturr, a young man of Irish descent, was fronting his Orchestra in Florida, New York, a fertile area to where European immigrants brought their culture, music and farming skills. Now, 14 Grammy Awards later, the big band is still primarily a polka band although its repertoire includes songs from rock 'n' roll, country, Cajun and western swing works also.
       What They Do: This hard-working and prolific band tours extensively and has appeared in some very prestigious venues. Their music is spirited, energetic, infectious and stimulating. His creative approach has been to adapt hits from other genres to the polka tradition. So the American melting pot is also reflected in his own simmering musical cauldron.
       Any Recommendations: "Blue Skirt Waltz" provided a nice rhythmic change in the set. A few more waltzes would've been nice.
       The Songs: Opening with "Beer Barrel Polka," this sampler from various Jimmy Sturr albums gives both the common and obscure. There well known tunes like "Tavern in the Town," "Yellow Rose of Texas" and "San Antonio Rose" and others that you think you've never heard of ("Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie") but you somehow instinctively know. Includes Jimmy Sturr's classic renditions of "Pennsylvania Polka," "Helena," and 16 others
       The Musicians: Jimmy fronts a full orchestra, but most pieces have featured musicians - vocalist or instrumentalist. Myron Floren's accordion is spotlighted on five selections. His most alluring moment might be "Champagne Polka" with its intricate, but uplifting, key work. Boots Randolph's supple sax jazzes up "Tavern in the Town." Willie Nelson is tapped to sing a couple swing numbers ("Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Just Because"). Other featured vocalists are The Rocco Sisters, Mel Tillis, Jordanaires, Cathy Rocco, Johnny Karash and Frank Urbanovitch.
       The Bottomline: The music is lively and upbeat, and it's certainly infectiously danceable. Hoop Dee Doo, I hear a polka and my troubles are through!
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (Top 500 reviewer for Amazon)


Rounder 11661-6115-2
Playing Time - 36:19
       Who They Are: By his junior year in high school, Jimmy Sturr, a young man of Irish descent, was fronting his Orchestra in Florida, New York, a fertile area to where European immigrants brought their culture, music and farming skills. Now, 14 Grammy Awards later, the big band is still primarily a polka band although its repertoire includes songs from rock 'n' roll, country, Cajun and western swing works also. Special kudos to those key band members who have been with Jimmy for over two decades: Johnny Karas (tenor sax, vocals), Eric Parks (trumpet), Dennis Coyman (drums), and Frank Urbanovitch (fiddle, vocals).
       What They Do: This hard-working and prolific band tours extensively and has appeared in some very prestigious venues. Their music is spirited, energetic, infectious and stimulating. His creative approach has been to adapt hits from other genres to the polka tradition. So the American melting pot is also reflected in his own simmering musical cauldron.
       Any Recommendations: "Dance With Me" and "Sweet Memories of Yesterday" provide nice rhythmic changes in the set. A few more waltzes would've been nice. Jimmy's albums seem to be getting a little formulaic. I wonder if they'd consider arranging and recording an album of more obscure, folk and ethnic selections. Include a Polish Krakowiak, a dance from the Polish state of Krakow. It would also be a blast to hear them draw repertoire from Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Croatian, Serbian, Macedonia, Bulgarian, Moldavian, Romanian, Ukrainian and Russian material. I'd love to hear them really tear up a Sicilian Tarantella, a Grecian Hassapiko, or Ukrainian Kolomeyka! Although you've been highly successful, Jimmy, why not think outside the box to develop a creative, innovative release of traditional material from Europe?
       The Musicians: Jimmy fronts a 14-piece orchestra, and most pieces have featured musicians - vocalist or instrumentalist. Steve Swiader and Al Piatkowski's accordion solos are spotlighted on "Acoordions on Fire." Mickey Raphel guests on harmonica on "Miss Molly" and "Sweet Memories of Yesterday." The former never loses any rhythmic intensity when it modulates between keys. Bobby Vinton is the special guest vocalist on "Polka in Paradise." Louis Nunley (of The Jordanires) sings "Sweet Memories of Yesterday." Other featured vocalists (from the band) are Gennarose, Johnny Karash, Frank Urbanovitch, and Jack Calhoun. The Jordanaires incorporate their fine background vocals into the mix.
       The Bottomline: Another excellent production of lively, upbeat, infectious and danceable music.
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (Top 500 reviewer for Amazon)

Praising Peace:
A Tribute to Paul Robeson

SPCD 1318 OR
       SONGS: 1. Prelude (Ol' Man River) 2. Joe Hill 3. Praising Peace 4. Put on Your Robe Son 5. Motherless Child 6. Home in That Rock 7. Weepin' Mary 8. House That I Live in 9. Shenandoah/The Water Is Wide 10. On Our Journey 11. Danny Boy 12. Deep River 13. Ol' Man River 14. Friend Like You
Playing Time - 43:27
       Who They Are: A father-son duo, Leon and Eric Bibb sing with much sentiment. Eric was raised in the 1960s in New York City, and his friends and influences included the likes of Odetta, Pete Seeger, Son House. He's a self-professed "bluesy troubadour" who views Paul Robeson as a great role model and man with a big soul.
       What They Do: A strong tribute to Paul Robeson and his impact as a singer, actor, peace activist and champion for racial equality
       Little Known Facts: A Princeton native, Paul Robeson lived from 1898-1976. He was a star football player at Rutgers, held a law degree and starred in movies. Robeson is godfather to both Eric and his twin sister. Leon Bibb did some concerts in the 1950s with Belafonte, Poitier and others to try to help Robeson get his passport back after he had travelled to Russia.
       The Songs: Big Paul Robeson's signature song "Ol Man River" is followed by 13 songs (all but 4 from Robeson's repertoire). Various classics ("Danny Boy" and "The Water is Wide" and "Joe Hill") and spirituals ("Weeping May" and "A Home In That Rock") make up the set that conveys many moods. Many are given lean and soothing arangements with accompaniment by Bill Sample's piano or organ, but a handful of others have full ensembles.
       The Musicians: Leon and Eric do all the singing. Eric also picks some acoustic guitar. Other contributing musicians from the Vancouver, B.C. sessions include Bill Sample, Miles Hill, David Sinclair, Tom Keenlyside, Finn Manniche, and Jingles. Four other songs were recorded withothers in Arkansas, Sweden or London.
       Of Special Note: Eric Bibb's own composition "Put on Your Robe, Son" is an uplifting alusion to the inspiring qualities of Paul. "On Our Journey," inspired by Paul's presence, was co-written by Eric and Paul. The album closes with Eric's "A Friend Like You," written for his 84-year-old father.
       Any recommendations: There are liner notes from Paul Robeson, Jr. but very little bio information included about his father. Not many know that he was targeted in the 1950s as a suspected Communist by the House Unamerican Activities Committee.
       Their Bumpersticker Might Say: Let's celebrate the human spirit and kinship
       The Bottomline Is: The sweet melodies and uplifting messages of these superb folk and spiritual songs are an aural celebration of Americana that is every bit as good as Robeson's own "Ballad for Americans" and "The Power & The Glory" releases.
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (Top 500 reviewer for Amazon)

The Promised Land

McCoury Music MCM 0003
       SONGS - I'm Bound For The Land of Canaan, I'm Poor As A Beggar, It's Surprising What the Lord Can Do, Jesus Carried Me A Cross, Five Flat Rocks, I'll Put On A Crown and Walk Around, Don't Put Off Until Tomorrow, Led by the Master's Hand, It's An Unfriendly World, Gold Under My Feet, Ain't Nothin' Going To Come Up Today, We Know Where He Is Sit Down With Jesus, The Lord Is Writing Down Names
Playing Time - 42:51
       What They Do: They're on the top of the bluegrass game and play songs full of warmth and passion to celebrate the spirit of God. Del delivers each song with convincing emotion, and his lonesome highs are always piercingly clear.
       Little Known Facts: This is the band's first all-gospel project, and I'm told that Del McCoury has never recorded a gospel music album in his five decade long career.
       The Songs: The set draws heavily from the material of Oklahoma-born Albert E. Brumley, the most popular white gospel composer among rural southernerns in the 1930s. His songs present visions of a caring, personal Savior and of an abundant, pastoral Heaven where old acquaintances would be renewed. "I'll put on a crown and walk all around all over God's Promised Land." The album opens with Brumley's "I'm Bound For the Land of Canaan" and "It's Surprising What The Lord Can Do" has Del switching to his soaring tenor on the choruses. In fact, a number of their vocal arrangements have Del jumping up to the higher harmony on choruses. Halfway through the set, the band supercharges the music with Brumley's "Led By The Master's Hand" and the band's remarkably distinct vocals. Following that, in "It's An Unfriendly World" a beggar asks for some guidance in a world full of sorrow and sin. Other classics from Brumley include "I'll Put On A Crown and Walk Around"and the album closer "The Lord is Writing Down Names."
       A beautiful duet with Ronnie and Del is is presented in the _-time "Gold Under My Feet," while the band's splendid quartet is illustrated in "Five Flat Rocks," that also showcases Ronnie McCoury's consummate guitar skill. A strong nod to tradition is Pete Pyle's "Don't Put Off Until Tomorrow" that kicks off with Ronnie's tremolo and downstrokes on his eight strings of fame. From Mississippi, Pete Pyle had been a soloist on the Opry who also was member of Bill Monroe's band. Del McCoury and Jerry Salley co-wrote "Ain't Nothin' Gonna Come Up Today" that suggests we fight Satan on our knees. Instrumentally, you won't find a band that is much more solid than Del's. The band's newest addition, Alan Bartram on bass, is rock solid and also contributes to some of the vocal harmonies.
       The Musicians: Del sings and picks guitar with his sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Robbie (banjo), as well as with Jason Carter (fiddle) and Alan Bartram (bass)
       The Bottomline: The 67-year-old Del McCoury shows no signs of slowing down. McCoury musical magic is first pew.
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

The Invisible Man

Full Light Records FLR-0601
       SONGS - 1. Hank Williams' Ghost, 2. There's A Stone Around My Belly, 3. Shattered Cross, 4. I'm Nobody, 5. And The River Is Me, 6. Let's Call It A Life, 7. The Dreamer, 8. Do It Or Die Trying, 9. The Invisible Man, 10. Goodle, USA, 11. Looking Glass, 12. In My Final Hour
Playing Time - 50:17
       Who They Are: A bit of a rogue and maverick, Darrell Scott's a Grammy nominee and ASCAP's 2002 Songwriter of the Year. What They Do: He's assembled an impressive team of players to present his originals on his sixth album
       Little Known Facts: Born on a tobacco farm in the coal-mining center of London, Kentucky, Scott moved as a young child to East Gary, Indiana, a steel-mill town on Lake Michigan near Chicago. His father is a musician, and he grew up around music and creativity. By 16, he was playing roadhouses in Southern California. After some dues-paying years in Toronto and Boston, where he attended Tufts University, studying poetry and literature, Scott finally made the move south to Nashville. Darrell is currently an active member of Steve Earle's Bluegrass Dukes.
       The Songs: "And The River is Me" presents some of Scott's self-assessment: "They had this test back in high school / Said I had a career in forestry / Had aptitude for isolation / Yeah, I could live without T.V. / But me, I took the low road / My soul flies up into the night / I don't live in a tower on some fire road / But the human view is out of sight." As central as Scott's own songs are to the project, the spirit of the CD is also captured in the only cover "Shattered Cross," from his friend Stuart Adamson. The powerful song was recorded within a month of Stuart dying.
       The Musicians: Recorded live in Scott's home studio, he has a familiar core of distinguished and experienced players like bassist Danny Thompson (Richard Thompson, Rod Stewart) and drummer Kenny Malone (JJ Cale, Johnny Cash). The album also features Richard Bennett (guitar), Dan Dugmore (pedal steel, guitar), as well as many others to a lesser degree (John Cowan, Sam Bush, Gabe Dixon, Andrea Zonn, Tim O'Brien, Minton Sparks). The Invisible Man was mixed by award-winning engineer Gary Paczosa.
       Of Special Note: In his own "Looking Glass," we gain some more insight into Scott's head. He sings "Me and this song we got a lot in common / Neither knows quite how they end / Just follow along like a leaf on the river / Believe we always can begin again."
       If I Could Change One Thing: If I were producing his music, I'd like to hear a little more fiddle, pedal steel, resophonic guitar, and even more vocal harmonies in his music.
       His Bumpersticker Might Say: Darrell Scott's got his head in a song and a song in his head
       The Bottomline Is: Darrell's stirring songs "come riding in on the wind" and they are "rainbows in the sky"
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

Harlan County USA:
Songs of the Coal Miner's Struggle

Rounder 11661-4026-2
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140
       SONGS - Coal Tattoo, Shut Up in the Mines of Coal Creek, Come All You Coal Miners, Blue Diamond Mines, The Yablonski Murder, Last Train from Poor Valley, Black Lung, Dark as a Dungeon, Trouble Among the Yearlings, Lawrence Jones, Coal Black Mining Blues, Coal Miner's Grave, Death of Harry Simms, Mannington Mine Disaster, Cruel Willie, Hard Working Miner, Dream of a Miner's Child, And Am I Born to Die, Clay County Miner, One Morning in May, Which Side Are You On?, They'll Never Keep Us Down
Playing Time - 70:50
       Who They Are: The songs (largely self-penned) are sung or played by Hazel Dickens, Old Home String Band featuring Tracy Schwarz, Sarah Ogan Gunning, Jim Garland (Sarah's brother), Johnson Mountain Boys, Country Cooking, Norman Blake, Merle Travis, Phyllis Boyens, Nimrod Workman (Phyllis Boyens' father), Doc Watson, Connie and Babe, J.P. Fraley, and Florence Reese
       What They Do: This CD has songs featured in Barbara Kopple's Academy Award-winning film "Harlan County USA" along with additional material from Doc Watson, Norman Blake, and the Johnson Mountain Boys
       The Songs: All but two of the songs (Hard Working Miner, The Death of Harry Simms) have been previously issued on Rounder (or Flying Fish) album releases. This is a nice thematic compilation with a strong traditional flavoring and edge. Si Kahn's "Lawrence Jones" was a splendid cover choice sung by Phyllis Boyens, accompanied by Pat Enright (guitar), Blaine Sprouse (fiddle), Mark Hembree (bass), Roland White (mandolin), Jerry Douglas (dobro) and Bela Fleck (banjo). Yup, three cuts feature these guys who were known as The Dreadful Snakes. There are also plentyof songs with leaner arrangements presented a cappella or with minimal instrumental accompaniment. And there's even "Trouble Amonst the Yearlings," with just mandolin and fiddle, as well as "One Morning in May" with only fiddle.
       Of Special Note: Some of the strongest and most expressive emotion is evoked by those who have lived the tumultuous life below gorund where pitch black by the ton is mined.
       Any Recommendations: Reckon I'd try to mix out the sneezing and coughing in the background of the song "Come All You Coal Miners" sung a cappella by Sarah Ogan Gunning.
       The Bottomline Is: A generous collection of chilling lyrical tales about those places and hard-working men who toil where the sun never shines. I wonder how a similar thematic CD would sell of disaster, tragedy and weather event songs.
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

Together Again

Rebel Records REB CD-1789
PO Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906
       SONGS - Highway 52, Somewhere Someday Again, A Dime Looks Like A Wagon Wheel, Emotions, Buck Ryan Rag, Flowers Are Like People, Mule Skinner Blues, Could I Stop Loving You, Riverdale Flash, Soldier's Last Letter, True Or False, Shine Hallelujah Shine
Playing Time - 33:12
       Who They Are: Don Reno came from Spartanburg, South Carolina. An innovator and early master of three-finger style bluegrass banjo, he had learned to play (like Earl Scruggs did) from Snuffy Jenkins. Reno began his pro music career at age 12, playing banjo with the Morris Brothers. By the mid-1940s, he was playing banjo with Arthur Smith and the Carolina Cracker Jacks when Bill Monroe invited him to join his band. Reno declined in order to serve in the Army, and Monroe hired Earl Scruggs instead. In 1948, after his discharge from the Army, Reno replaced Scruggs in Monroe's band. By 1949, he had his own band, "The Tennessee Cutups," a group he would head up the rest of his life.
       A very popular and influential band throughout the 50s and 60s, they were never as commercially successful as Flatt and Scruggs or Bill Monroe. Reno & Smiley worked numerous radio and television shows across the south, including the Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond, VA and the "Top of the Morning" TV show in Roanoke, Va. in the mid-1950s. They also made guest appearances on the old Arthur Godfrey TV Show. Reno & Smiley incorporated elaborate comedy routines and skits into their act. As comedians, they were known as "Chicken and Pansy Hot-Rod and the Banty-Roosters."
       IBMA Hall of Honor 1992 inductees Don Reno and Red Smiley provide close harmony singing and personalized guitar and banjo styles as their primary stylistic elements. Recording for the King Record label, their popularity spread throughout the Mid-Atlantic states until the early 1960s. Don and Red dissolved their act in 1964, and formed separate groups.
       What They Do: Despite the group disbanding, they reunited in 1970 as Don Reno and Red Smiley with Bill Harrell and the Tennessee Cut-ups.
       Little Known Facts: Their last album recorded together was in May, 1971, "Letter Edged in Black" (Wango Records). Smiley died on January 2, 1972. Bill Harrell replaced Red for about a dozen years, and Don kept the Tennessee Cut-ups together until his own death on October 16, 1984.Reno and Smiley's personal manager for many years was Carlton Haney, organizer of the first bluegrass festival in the United States (1965 in Fincastle, VA).
       Don Reno was the banjo player on the original recording of "Dueling Banjos". The tune was written by Arthur Smith and recorded under the original name "Feudin' Banjos," using a tenor banjo played by Arthur and a 5-string played by Don. The tune was later re-named "Duelin' Banjos" by The Dillards and recorded by Eric Weissburg for the hit movie "Deliverance."
       The Songs: The album opens with Dave Evans' "Highway 52." Buck Ryan is on fiddle, Jerry McCoury played bass, and the mandolin player is unknown. Smiley's lead vocals blend nicely with Reno's tenor harmonies. Seven of the 13 songs were written by the duo, and Buck contributed "Buck Ryan Rag." During his lifetime, Don Reno is credited with a total of 457 songs (although most were never recorded.) "Emotions" might be his best known piece on this recording, but there are six others here.
       Red's warm baritone highlights "Somewhere, Someday Again," and Bill Harrell joins Don and Red in another original tune, "A Dime Looks Like A Wagon Wheel." "Buck Ryan Rag" and "Riverdale Flash" give the instrumentals a chance to shine with fiddle and banjo taking strong leads. "Muleskinner Blues" features Don Reno on the high lead vocal, guitar and banjo with Bill and Red part of the guitar trio. Their voices blend on Bill Monroe's "Shine Hallelujah Shine" with Red singing the low bass vocal in the gospel quartet and Bill singing the lead. The group's bright promise was not to be fulfilled; Red Smiley died just three months after the record was released.
       The Musicians: The new band included Bill Harrell on guitar, Buck Ryan on fiddle and Jerry McCoury on bass. The songs from their October 1971 album on Rome Records are reproduced in this new CD.
       Of Special Note: The 36-page well-illustrated CD booklet with copious liner notes by Eddie Stubbs is worth the price alone.
       Any Recommendations: A tad bit short at 33 minutes, and I'd like to see reissues today start to include two historic albums from yesteryear. Sound quality is also not up to today's standards.
       The Bottomline: This reengineered CD is a worthy addition to the library of those wanting to discover or enjoy a pioneering first-generation bluegrass band.
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

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