The last month has been tough on me; many things are calling for my attention, and writing has had to fall by the wayside. I have been listening to some great stuff- the new Peter Rowan, the Frank Solivan, some great Steve Forbert music from the past. The Gibson Brothers’ new album They Call It Music is spectacular, and my review of it has been posted at the Lonesome Road Review.
Archive for the ‘Compass Records’ Tag
Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I’ve posted the first in what I am hoping will be an ongoing series about the origins of bluegrass band names. First up, thanks to the skills of Greg Cahill, is the story behind The Special Consensus, one of bluegrass music’s longest running outfits. The link should get you there.
I’ve been so pleased to watch the accession of The Special C. While they have long been a personal favourite, until the last year they have been less well-known, from my perspective, than they should have been within the wider bluegrass world. Within the piece, I touch on what I believe has made the difference, but one has to admire Greg Cahill’s tenacity and ongoing focus in producing a body of work that should be the envy of later generations of bluegrass bandleaders. That you can hear the group daily on the bluegrass satellite channel is a rather recent and overdue development, especially when one considers the track record of the group.
I hope you enjoy reading about The Special Consensus. Pass the word- I’m looking for other bluegrass bands to feature.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
There was a time when, inexplicably, I didn’t enjoy Larry Stephenson’s music. I can’t actually identify what provided the negative impression, although it may have been the cheesy quality of the album art on the first album of his I encountered, On Fire. Whatever the reason, as I got increasingly involved in the bluegrass world, more often than not I simply ignored Stephenson and his music.
Once again, time has been kind to me as I’ve come to appreciate Stephenson’s soaring tenor and well-crafted albums. Although the title track never became beloved, his Clinch Mountain Mystery evolved into a favourite, as did the follow-up, Life Stories. Thankful received even more plays than those previous albums and his celebratory 20th Anniversary has become a much appreciated download.
Not only does Larry Stephenson’s voice impress me- it is an emotionally communicative one, as equally well suited to fast-paced tunes of frivolity as it is to heartfelt tales of anguish- but his mandolin skills sound top-notch on every recording. Further, he does an above average job of selecting songs.
Therefore it is no surprise that I am finding his recently released What Really Matters to be an album that is holding up to frequent listening. Whereas his previous album was a star-studded extravaganza, one which was suitably awarded an IBMA award in 2010, the new album primarily features the touring Stephenson band.
The near-legendary Kenny Ingram is on 5-string, Kevin Richardson handles the guitar, and Danny Stewart the bass. Aubrey Haynie contributes fiddle while Sam Bush does the same on Woody Guthrie’s “Philadelphia Lawyer,” which Bush sings with Stephenson.
Each of the four core performers sing harmony with Stephenson stepping aside for Richardson to sing lead “On the Jericho Road.” The album’s final cut, “Before I’m Over You,” features a more substantial line-up with steel guitar, snare, and electric bass being included from guest musicians and reveals Stephenson’s Osborne Brothers influences.
Ingram is allowed to use “Bear Tracks” as a showcase of his talents, but this familiar Jimmy Martin tune isn’t the only one on which Big K shines. Ingram provides solid backing throughout, of course, but his contributions to the Merle Haggard outlaw song “The Shores of Old Mexico” and “My Heart Is On the Mend” are noteworthy. “My Heart Is On the Mend,” a Randall Hylton song, features an outstanding arrangement with powerful fiddle accenting the drive that seems to be simultaneously powered by banjo, bass, and mandolin. Predictably, these two are also among the most vocally satisfying.
Among the other highlights are “The Blues Don’t Care Who’s Got ‘Em,” on which Stephenson could be mistaken for Bobby Osborne, the easy going, sentimental title track, and Ronnie Reno’s vibrant “Big Train.”
Recorded last October with Ben Surratt again manning the dials, What Really Matters is another in a succession of very strong albums from one of bluegrass music’s sweetest tenor singers, Larry Stephenson.
My review of the latest from the venerable Special C has been posted to Fervor Coulee Bluegrass: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=863
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Over at Country Standard Time you can find my (much delayed) review of the Carter Brothers recent release; I say ‘much delayed’ because the music was sent to me in mid-February and it took some time for me to get around to writing about it. That is no reflection on the album as it caught my ear immediately.
Tim and Danny Carter have been working professionally together and individually for the best part of three decades. The Carter Brothers are another of the many under-known enterprises making a living in the roots world, outfits that should and could be more familiar if only they would compromise to make music more palatable to mainstream listeners. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4842 will get you to the review. It doesn’t hurt that they name-check both Guy Clark and “Ring of Fire” in the title track.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
My review of Noam Pikelny’s challenging recent release has been posted at the Lonesome Road Review. Acoustiblue music at its finest. http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2011/12/30/beat-the-devil-and-carry-a-rail-by-noam-pikelny/ As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Another week, another great album. Over at Country Standard Time, Jeff has posted my review of the latest from Bearfoot. After more than a decade as a functioning bluegrass outfit, a core of two remain from the band of young Alaskans who took much of the (mostly western) bluegrass world by storm. They are stronger than ever with a sound that is all their own. I saw them nine or ten years ago at Wintergrass and they aren’t the same band they were then. Give it a read: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4734
Also, a couple reviews from the archives- one from 2003 that Bluegrass Now rejected and one from 2008 that they may have published; what I find interesting is that it is obvious that in as much as Bearfoot changed and developed, I hope I have as well- Gold in a Way:
It has been a long time since a recording has surprised me as much as Follow Me.
When we last heard a recording from Bearfoot in 2003, they were known as Bearfoot Bluegrass, and were saddled with some of the trappings of being youngsters performing bluegrass as a traveling troupe.
Hailing from Alaska, the quintet has maintained a consistent lineup for their third recording, and brings appealing confidence and maturity to the Gene Libbea-produced Follow Me. The teenagers who were seen at festivals across the continent have grown up, completed degrees, and got on with the business of being professional musicians.
What is most obvious about the band is the distance they have moved away from bluegrass within their new sound. Today’s Bearfoot has firmly embraced the New Acoustic approach of groups such as Nickel Creek and, to a lesser extent, Crooked Still.
Bearfoot is comprised of Annalisa Tornfelt (guitar and fiddle), Kate Hamre (acoustic bass), Angela Oudean (fiddle), Jason Norris (mandolin), and Mike Mickelson (guitar.) All five sing various parts with the ladies’ voices much more apparent on the recording than the men.
Annalisa has a voice for the ages, and she is more prominently featured on Follow Me than on their previous album, Back Home. Her voice may be described as sultry, but it is more than what that term implies. Like Trisha Gagnon (John Reischman & the Jaybirds,) Annalisa possesses that extra special something- a soulful breathlessness and ease of vocalizing- that creates an uneven playing field for those who are simply gifted. Her vocal display is strengthened by the support it receives from Angela’s tenor.
Mike’s take of the jam favorite “Deep River Blues” is bluesy and swinging, a description that also applies to several other tunes on the album including the openers “Molasses” and “Go on Home.” An avian theme is also apparent with a bright, but old-timey reading of “The Blackest Crow” with Kate singing lead followed by a rendition of Becky Buller’s “Little Bird;” neither song has much to do with birds, but both are delightful!
As time passes, people change and so does the music they want to play. Don’t hold it against Bearfoot that they are no longer the sweet teens who captured imaginations at the turn of the century playing bluegrass.
Instead, embrace the more complex and fully realized version of the band that encourages listeners to Follow Me.
Bearfoot Bluegrass is an enthusiastic, personable young band working the western bluegrass festival circuit. Comprised of five college-aged musicians, the band is engaging live, making them favorites at the many important festivals they have played in both the United States and Canada over the last number of years. Combined with their laudable mission of bringing youngsters to bluegrass music through their well-received youth workshops, one has a story seemingly created by People magazine.
Bearfoot Bluegrass are: Annalisa Woodlee (fiddle), Kate Hamre (acoustic bass), Jason Norris (mandolin), Angela Oudean (fiddle, guitar), and Mike Mickelson (guitar.) All except Norris contribute vocally.
On their second album Bearfoot Bluegrass show that they have many miles to travel before they can be considered more than pretenders within the bluegrass world. One hesitates to be too harsh on this well-meaning quintet from Alaska, or on their producer, acoustic musician Todd Phillips. However, when the execution of a project so dramatically fails, one must consider the purchasing public when sharing views.
Overwhelmingly, the album leans closer to easy listening, new age folk than to mountain realism, especially when the talented but oh, so laid back, ladies take the lead. Oudean suffers the fate of many young vocalists early in their development, that of confusing emotion with emoting; with time, this immature tendency disappeared from the sound of, say, Nickel Creek as it well may from the vocals of Bearfoot Bluegrass. Woodlee seems to have greater control over her vocal gifts and isn’t afraid to get a little dirty when the song calls for such. For example, with a frat rock party riff, “Won’t Be Long” is immediately engaging as a light-hearted romp; with upbeat vocals and restrained instrumentation the song, however, bears little resemblance to the bluegrass I know and love. However, if acoustic Memphis soul is your thing, this song delivers.
Never is their inability to convey sincere communication more clearly expressed than on ‘The Sweetest Gift;” a mature song requiring a certain amount of life experience, the vocal duo more resemble a community talent show entry than wizened wise women sharing bold truths.
“I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome” is more like it- a bit of power behind the vocals, some push being delivered by the mando chop. Mike Mickelson takes the lead on this number and, in two short minutes, enlivens what had been a dreary aural experience.
Jason Norris’ “Pretty Lady” maintains the bluegrass feel with an instrumental that has some drive within its soft sounds. The other highlight of the album would be Mickelson’s only other lead feature, “Fishtrap John.” Written by the guitarist, the song covers unfamiliar territory within a traditional frame as a loner, harvesting northern lands, is unjustly murdered by a gang of ne’er do wells;’ the discovery of his body years later is cleverly told by this engaging young lyricist.
There can be no arguing the instrumental virtuosity of any of the musicians within the band. Their playing betrays no weaknesses on the disc’s dozen numbers; smooth and careful, the members appear well practiced and proficient. The overall mood of the album is a bit too intense for me, perhaps a result of youngsters trying just a bit too hard to be seen as capable. At times it sounds as if there are two distinct bands at work in Bearfoot Bluegrass- the guys- interested in more traditional bluegrass and acoustic sounds- and the gals- enamored with the sounds of wistful pop-folkies. While this dichotomy may help them appeal to a broad audience, such diverse manners of presentation makes one question how sincerely impassioned they are by their music.
You know I love my Dale Ann Bradley; I have every confidence that there isn’t a more expressive and enjoyable female vocalist working in bluegrass today. Heck, let’s set gender aside: DAB is my favourite bluegrass singer. I was thrilled each of the three times she was named IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year (ending- or at least interrupting- Rhonda Vincent’s streak) and I’ve got my fingers crossed she will reclaim the crown when the awards are again announced in a few weeks.
I’ve written at length about her great new album Somewhere South of Crazy elsewhere and below, and while I wouldn’t have picked “Come Home Good Boy” as the album’s first single and signature track, the folks at Compass Records are way smarter than me. The video is touching, more hopeful than songs like “Travelling Soldier” (thank goodness) but evoking a similar, deep reaction. Dale could be singing about her own son here so sincere is her performance. What is a bit odd, to me, is that this song is perhaps the least ‘bluegrass’ on an album that has no shortage of ‘grass. Again, the folks at Compass know what they’re doing. It is a tight performance, just Dale, Sierra Hull and Steve Gulley: pure and straighforward.
Here’s the video.
My review of Dale Ann’s new album has been posted to Country Standard Time. It is another incredible album; while her music has always been inspiring and wonderful to listen to, since joining Compass Records, Dale has truly hit her stride. The review can be viewed at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4724.
Now, CST limits reviews to about 250 words, which is a bit tough for me. Posted below are some other thoughts I had about the album:
Bradley’s favourite duet and harmony partner Steve Gulley appears on all but the final track and their stellar performance of the great country song “Will You Visit Me on Sundays” is well deserving of recognition. Additionally, his guitar playing throughout the album- notably on “Summer Breeze”- is masterful. Also featured as the core band are Brown, Stuart Duncan, Sierra Hull, and Mike Bub while David Long, Andy Hall, Kim Fox, and Matt Combs appear selectively.
“In Despair”, as classic a Bill Monroe song as there is, is also included and it is on this lively hurtin’ song that Bradley’s deep-rooted talent is most apparent; she’s as mountain as rock, entirely natural. Singing “But a broken heart will keep on crying, I know you know I am in despair,” one hears the life experience in every syllable of pure bluegrass bliss highlighted by the best voice from the female side of the bluegrass church. Mike Sumner’s banjo parts are no small accomplishment.
Thanks. as always, for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
I’ve also added some Dale Ann reviews from the archives- Gold in the Way:
I predict that this one takes the bluegrass world by storm, and will be best-received album of Dale Ann Bradley’s career.
Catch Tomorrow overflows with an abundance of powerful, emotion filled, and flat out dynamic performances from Dale Ann. Her voice has never sounded stronger and more
assured. And the band! Michael Cleveland, Jesse Brock, Pete Kelly, and Vicki Simmons, with atmospheric Dobro® from Glenn Gibson. Producer Alison Brown drops in the 5 here and there, and harmony vocals come from the likes of Jim Lauderdale, Steve Gulley, and Andrea Zonn.
Wait until you hear the rendition of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Live Forever”! A spiritual song that is a wellspring of hope, Dale Ann brings a passion to the song that elevates her performance to a level transcending genre. She covers a song Tina Turner did, “I Can’t Stand the Rain”, and makes it sound like a Bill Monroe classic. The kicker is her version of “Me and Bobby McGee,” which she has performed live for years. “When The Mists Come Again” is a Celtic tune, and ties the Isles’ roots of bluegrass with the branches that Dale Ann is sending out.
The originals are notable as well. “Run Rufus Run,” about a cousin’s experiences running the hills of Kentucky delivering moonshine to his daddy’s customers, will be popular, as will a re-recording of “Grandma’s Gift,” a song that originally appeared on East Kentucky Morning a decade ago. Songs from Jerry Chestnutt, Connie Leigh, Chris Stuart, and David A. Thompson round out the collection.
Larry Sparks duets on the gospel standard “Pass Me Not,” and the two capture a bit of magic with neither singer taking a back seat, unified in their devotion to their faith.
Bradley reveals the soul of each song; Catch Tomorrow is an instant bluegrass classic.
A mountain soprano of rare talent, Dale Ann Bradley has been wearing a path from the hills of Eastern Kentucky to the Music City Heartland of Nashville for two decades. With Don’t Turn Your Back she has not only created an album featuring rare musicianship and vocal harmonies, she has continued her ascendancy to the highest reaches of the bluegrass vocal world.
Releasing albums for more than fifteen years, it has been with Bradley’s most recent recordings that she has created artfully constructed discs. Much of the credit must go to the guidance provided by producer Alison Brown, but studio and business acumen can only take one so far. The talent must shine through, and three-Bluegrass Female Vocalist of the Year statuettes provide evidence that Bradley is at the top of her game.
Don’t Turn Your Back is a masterful recording, one that falls solidly within the most stringent of bluegrass definitions, yet is country enough that all roots fans should embrace its rich, melodic tones.
Whether propelled by the banjo of Gina Britt (as on an eye-opening take of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”) or by Stuart Duncan’s fiddle (“Rusty Old Halo” and “Ghost Bound Trai”n come to mind), the majority of the songs zip along in spectacular fashion. In other places, Bradley shows why her flat-picking skills are highly regarded, and the mandolin work from Tim Laughlin is second to none.
When the song calls for it, Bradley’s sweet voice carries the song.” Will I Be Good Enough” is pretty sentimental but Bradley’s control and expression saves the song from becoming cloying. On material as familiar as “Fifty Miles of Elbow Room” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Over My Head,” Bradley reinvents the piece to make it her own without losing the essence of the song.
Those who appreciate mountain music will find satisfaction in “Blue Eyed Boy” and gospel fans will be thankful for “Heaven,” featuring Dailey & Vincent. Bradley’s trepidation making the inevitable leap to Nashville from her more isolated Kentucky home is captured within her original, “Music City Queen.”
Bluegrass music has long been an embarrassed second-cousin to country music. Ridiculed by those who fail to grasp its complexities and heritage, the music has sat on the porch a-waiting to be invited to hang out with its wealthier and more popular relations.
With albums like Don’t Turn Your Back and singers like Dale Ann Bradley, the bluegrass community continues to shake off back wood images. Those who take the time to listen are sure to be rewarded.
And from Red Deer Advocate, 2001: Dale Ann Bradley- Cumberland River Dreams Bradley’s songs may drift toward the folky edge of ‘grass but don’t be scared off. With this release, Bradley assumes her rightful place alongside Lynn Morris and Alison Krauss as a champion of melodic bluegrass vocalization. Terrific story songs like “Granny Cat” and “The Rockin’ Chair” capture the pure essence of mountain music
She is who she is, a woman from East Kentucky who has had both good times and bad, one who has likely taken longer to reach the pinnacle of her profession than she would have liked but one who wouldn’t change the path taken as it would have impacted the journey. She is a devoted mother and daughter, someone who has put family and home before career more than once. As Dale once told me, “I’d love to look like Rhonda, but I don’t. I am who I am- I can’t afford designer clothes; I shop at Wal-Mart!”
Appearing as happy and vibrant as she has in years, Dale Ann Bradley’s new album, out August 30 on Compass Records, is an incredible recording. While there is absolutely nothing greasy about the recording, the album doesn’t feel distant or over-worked. It sounds and feels honest, as it should.
I’m working on a review for one of the sites, but thought I would share this link http://www.daleann.com/ to her website featuring an EPK for the new album, video clips of ‘recording’ and some brief insights into the album.
Dale has two co-writes on the album including the title cut written with Pam Tillis, who also sings on the track and is featured briefly in the EPK. She also wrote one song (“Round and Round”) on her own while interpreting the writing of others to her normal high standard. “Leaving Kentucky” may be the performance of her career and an interpretation of Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” is quite enjoyable; as Dale says, those are bluegrass lyrics.
The album closes with a bonus, an unadorned encore performance from several years ago of “Old Southern Porches” recorded on a California festival stage. This is something I wish more bluegrass artists would do, give us something a little extra for our money by revisiting a standard from earlier in their career; it can’t add too much to the production costs.
I do like my Dale Ann, and Somewhere South of Crazy is magnificent.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald