Archive for the ‘Dale Ann Bradley’ Tag
A bit late but understandable being how busy editor Aaron Keith Harris is, today brings the release of the Lonesome Road Review’s top 10 bluegrass albums of the past year. I’m pleased to see that Aaron and my LRR colleague Larry Stephens agreed with me in several places, quite likely more than I expected, and I’ve written positively about each of the albums here or elsewhere with perhaps the exception of the #1 album, another that I really enjoyed and purchased both digitally and on vinyl. My only complaint about the Old Memories album is the rather spartan packaging- no gatefold, no liner notes, and the vinyl itself is not as hefty as other recently produced album offerings; still, a terrific album of music.
Each of my top 5 albums made the list and I hope that these placements help some of you make some purchasing decisions. None of the artists who made the list, with the exception of AKUS, is living the high life; most are folks with extensive experience in the bluegrass world, having spent years on the road and are well deserving of any recognition they receive. Of course, I’m absolutely thrilled to see three particular names on the Lonesome Road Review list: Dale Ann Bradley, John Reischman & the Jaybirds, and James Reams & the Barnstormers. See my Top 10 here http://tinyurl.com/873u42u and visit the LRR to see the complete 2011 Top 10: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2012/01/21/the-lonesome-road-reviews-list-of-top-10-bluegrass-cds-of-2011/
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Donald Teplyske’s favourite ten bluegrass albums of 2011:
Unlike last year, I feel that I did a very good job of ensuring that I heard the vast majority of excellent bluegrass that was released in 2011. I’m still not being serviced by one particular publicist and a couple of the major bluegrass labels, but others keep me ‘in the know’ and I’ve been able to continue purchasing other albums as I’ve become aware of them. Still, there are no doubt outstanding albums I’ve missed, albums that I may have enjoyed and favourably reviewed- Clay Hess, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, Grasstowne, and others. But I am more than aware that you can’t hear everything and so what follows is my Ten Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2011 as submitted to the Lonesome Road Review survey. The paragraphs that follow have been largely recycled from my previously written reviews of the albums.
- Dale Ann Bradley- Somewhere South of Crazy (Compass) Critically lauded, praised and recognized by her industry and a fan favourite wherever she appears, Dale Ann Bradley’s third Compass album, and eighth overall, continues her measured but steady ascension to the highest levels of bluegrass performance and reverence. Again working with producer Alison Brown, Somewhere South of Crazy is Bradley’s most obviously contemporary bluegrass recording. Over recent albums, Bradley’s music has become increasingly polished while retaining the traditional spirit that has been her hallmark. It is this duality that makes Bradley’s music so appealing. As a recording artist should, Dale Ann Bradley improves her performance with each album. Fully realized and confident, Bradley exudes bluegrass and has never sounded better than on Somewhere South of Crazy.
- John Reischman & the Jaybirds- Vintage & Unique (Corvus) Over the past decade, John Reischman & the Jaybirds have become increasing popular in western North America. They are a great bluegrass band, always adding new material to their repertoire. Still, when exceptional mandolin players are mentioned, John Reischman’s name is often forgotten. On Vintage and Unique, the quintet takes Bill Monroe’s “The First Whippoorwill” for a spin and refreshes “Shady Grove” and “Last Chance.” Trisha Gagnon and Jim Nunally’s voices- which always sound wonderful together- are especially beautiful throughout this recording. The band delivers new songs alongside their reimagining of classic and long-forgotten tunes. “The Cypress Hills” and “Consider Me Gone” are just waiting to be discovered, while “Cold Mountain (Cam Saan)” examines the Canadian railway experience of Chinese labourers. Every track, each break and harmonic moment are highlights within a flawless album.
- Larry Sparks- Almost Home (Rounder) An album of blue mountain memories: sons returning home, family history, faith, country roads, lonesomeness, country stars, Sunday dinners with nanner puddin’, and Momma’s apron strings. Larry Sparks’ voice continues to be pure and strong and the instrumental accompaniment he receives on this disc- largely from his touring band- is second to none. There remains a naturalness about the way Sparks approaches his music that is incredibly appealing.
- Alison Krauss & Union Station- Paper Airplane (Rounder)A delicate balance of the wistful-yearnsomeness that appeals to a wide-spectrum of the population and the more driving bluegrass sounds that link to the traditional foundation of the band’s history, Paper Airplane is three-quarters of an hour of pure aural pleasure. AKUS further refine the acoustiblue parameters that they have established and explored over the past fifteen years since So Long, So Wrong. The acoustic instrumentation is, as expected, exemplary in its tone and execution and while some of the songs- it could be argued- have a similar calm and sedate sound, there are enough lively moments to maintain momentum. Singularly, the songs are arrestingly enjoyable. Collectively, the cohesive flow of Paper Airplane amounts to one majestic performance.
- James Reams & The Barnstormers- One Foot in the Honky Tonk (Mountain Redbird Music) A wonderful bluegrass album that is just waiting for more of us to discover. As he has consistently done, within this new volume James Reams’ life experiences and those of his ancestors permeate the songs- whether he wrote them or not- not lending them authenticity but ensuring they are authentic. When listening to James Reams, one is on a bridge connecting the present to the past, where the waters below blend the relationships and lamentations of today with those who birthed and shaped them. There are few bluegrass singers who match the lithe and masculine timbre Reams brings to the songs he is called to perform. With One Foot in the Honky Tonk, James Reams further defines his bluegrass, blending the varied elements of the roadhouse with sounds from the hills of Kentucky and her neighbors. One foot in the honky-tonk indeed, but the rest of the Barnstormers’ bodies and their souls are deep in the bluegrass performing songs from the likes of Kevin Welch and Mike Henderson, Chris Gaffney, Fred Eaglesmith, Stonewall Jackson and Harlan Howard- folks who know honky tonks, to be sure- as well as original and traditional tunes.
- Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice- The Heart of a Song (Rebel Records)
- Blue Highway- Sounds of Home (Rounder)
- Laurie Lewis- Skippin’ and Flyin’ (Spruce and Maple Music)
- Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers- Rare Bird Alert (Rounder)
- Rebel Records digital reissue campaign featuring releases from Ralph Stanley, The McPeak Brothers, Bill Grant and Delia Bell, Dave Evans, and others.
Honourable mentions to: Charlie Sizemore Heartache Looking for a Home, Ralph Stanley A Mother’s Prayer, Barnstar! C’mon, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper Fired Up, Sarah Jarosz Follow Me Down, Dehlia Low Ravens & Crows, Paul Williams & the Victory Trio Satisfied and The Del McCoury Band Old Memories.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
I’ve been over-emphasizing sales charts this week, but while browsing on the eMusic site tonight I found something that gave me a happy glow. On the eMusic bluegrass charts, the best-selling album of the last month is Dale Ann Bradley’s Somewhere South of Crazy. Given eMusic’s rather generous definition of bg, that is some impressive feat with DAB outselling AKUS, Trampled by Turtles, Skaggs and all the Pickin’ On albums. Good to know that so many have good taste.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
7:18- next performers are Sierra Hull & Highway 111. I’ve missed the chance to see her show a couple times, but do appreciate her sound. “Best Buy.” A swinging tune. Not sure if it’s bluegrass, but I’m beyond arguing that point.
7:21- Kyle comes back on. I’m holding my tongue/fingers. I already rethunk and deleted one comment from 25 minutes ago.
7:22- live to tape, Crowe, Williams, and Lawson with Chris Jones: speaking of Jimmy Martin’s influence on their music and how they played in the Sunny Mountain Boys. I love that Chris asks a pointed question and then gets out of the way and allows the artists to speak. Imagine that.
7:25- back to the show…this typing and listening is tiring. I’m getting paid for this, right?
7:26- Sam Bush introduces Tom Rozum! and Martino Coppo. Some fine humour…kinda.
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
Dale Ann Bradley
And the winner is…Dale Ann Bradley- for the fourth time! Yes!!!!
Loved Martino’s reinterpretation of the ladies’ names.
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:
from 2007 and Bluegrass Now: Dale Ann Bradley Catch Tomorrow Compass Records
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.
from 2009 Red Deer Advocate: Dale Ann Bradley Don’t Turn Your Back Compass Records
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
Unlike some of her contemporaries, there are no airs about Dale Ann Bradley.
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
I love this illustration!
Over the past couple months, I’ve considered what I could do to honour the forthcoming centennial of Bill Monroe’s birth. I’ve put together a few lists that I hope will be of interest to those who both love and appreciate the contributions of Mr. Monroe as well as those people who are less familiar with his music. I’ll be posting these columns over at the Fervor Coulee Bluegrass blog during the coming weeks. Click the link: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=787 As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Regular visitors may recall in March I shared some listening suggestions for those just beginning to explore the dusty backroads of the bluegrass world. Now that the Summer edition of That High Lonesome Sound is available, I’ll post the continuation and conclusion of the piece; the full newsletter is available at http://www.waskasoobluegrass.com/nl/waskasoo_sum10.pdf
I don’t expect anyone to necessarily agree with my opinion, nor do I claim that my list is definitive. We each have to find our way on the bluegrass track- I’m just hoping some readers will benefit from my advice and find some music they may not have otherwise discovered.
In our last issue, I provided suggestions for bluegrass fans who are just beginning to explore the music, CDs that were from the ‘classic’ era of bluegrass (more or less) that I believe provide an introduction to my favourite music. This time I provide additional suggestions– remember, this listing is not definitive and I certainly welcome the ideas of others; if you have opinions on bluegrass albums that are readily available, we’d love to publish your thoughts.
Continuing our bluegrass journey with:
Yesterday meets today:
David Grisman- Home is Where the Heart Is (Rounder, 2008- originally released in 1988) David Grisman went back in time to have the second- and third-generation pay tribute to the music that forged their careers. Probably the first place I heard Del McCoury, 23 of the 24 songs are darn near perfect; I refuse to give any credit to the second worst song in the bluegrass canon, “I’m My Own Grandpa.”
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder- Bluegrass Rules! (Rounder, 1997) Still my favourite Skaggs album since he came back to bluegrass from country music stardom. The album doesn’t let up even when it slows down; from the mando kick-off of “Get Up John” through to the closing notes of “Rawhide” we have a survey of bluegrass history served up by one of the most talented bluegrass groups ever assembled. Likely easiest to find at the Skaggs Family Records website.
Del McCoury Band- Del & the Boys (McCoury, 2007- originally released on Ceili, 2001) Any place is a good place to start with Del McCoury. I chose this recording because it served as a bit of a break-through for Del and his sons, giving them a signature song in Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, and served as a pinnacle for the group. It’s Just the Night (McCoury, 2003) is as strong, and has more blues and folk influences while The Cold Hard Facts (Rounder, 1996) is a pure, stone classic.
Steve Earle & The Del McCoury Band- The Mountain (2009, New West- originally issued E-Squared, 1999) Steve Earle isn’t a bluegrass singer, but he does know bluegrass. In what could have been a vanity project, Earle composed more than a dozen solid bluegrass songs to sing and pick with the finest bluegrass band working at the time. That the partnership was short-lived and dissolved in acrimony doesn’t take anything away from the recording with songs like “Carrie Brown,” “The Mountain,” and “Yours Forever Blue” entering the bluegrass repertoire. The place to start if you are a Steve Earle fan just encountering bluegrass.
David Davis & The Warrior River Boys- Two Dimes and a Nickel (Rebel Records, 2009) Really, any one of his three most recent albums is an excellent introduction to David Davis’ particular brand of bluegrass music. Seldom does one think of the literary aspects of bluegrass, but when encountering Davis one isn’t offered any other course. He doesn’t seem to have the populist appeal that others may, but he possesses an artistic vision as defined and assured as anyone. The album’s strongest track is Tommy Freeman’s “The Brambles, Briars and Me.” The song is positively spooky in its matter-of-factness, and the Warrior River Boys- especially Owen Saunders’ fiddle contributions- make it haunting. A classic album.
Alison Krauss & Union Station- Every Time You Say Goodbye (Rounder, 1992) The ‘coming of age’ album for both Alison and Union Station. Every song is a winner, from the sacred (“Shield of Faith,” sung by Ron Block) and the traditional (“Cluck Old Hen”) to the unexpected (“Lose Again” from the Karla Bonoff folio) and the familiar (“Another Night.”) A classic recording that spoke to future greatness. Can’t find this one? No problem. Give Two Highways (Rounder, 1988) or So Long, So Wrong (Rounder, 1997) a try. The 2002 album Live would also be a fine introduction to one of bluegrass music’s most successful, multi-dimensional, and loyal outfits.
Rhonda Vincent- One Step Ahead (Rounder, 2003) All of her albums have something to offer, and Vincent has been consistent over time. I favour this one because it didn’t feel as over-polished as some of her later work would, it has some fiery bluegrass picking throughout, and it came at a time when there were few bands as exciting as The Rage. That “Ridin’ the Red Line” mentions Alberta didn’t hurt.
Steep Canyon Rangers- Deep in the Shade (Rebel Records, 2009) Contemporary bluegrass doesn’t get much better than this. From a youthful band of veterans, Deep in the Shade is the group’s fifth release, but the band hasn’t significantly altered their approach or sound. And while on some bands this may appear stagnant or limited, with the Rangers the impression is of consistency and capability. As they did on Lovin’ Pretty Women, the Steep Canyon Rangers demonstrate that a band can be musically innovative while reaching into the past. Steep Canyon Rangers straddle the blurred edges of traditional and progressive bluegrass.
Dale Ann Bradley- Don’t Turn Your Back (Compass Records, 2009) A mountain soprano of rare talent, Dale Ann Bradley has been wearing a path from the hills of Eastern Kentucky to Music City 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. 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. With albums like Don’t Turn Your Back and singers like Dale Ann Bradley, the bluegrass community continues to shake off back wood images. If you can’t find this one, any Dale Ann album is worthy of consideration.
Ernie Thacker- The Hangman (Pinecastle, 2009) If you listen to the satellite radio, you likely know the name and voice, Ernie Thacker. If he has escaped your notice, change that right away. Thacker has natural bluegrass country voice that is memorable and distinctive. Listen to the way he bends his voice when singing the single word ‘throttle’ in “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me.” Thacker was severely injured in a car accident several years ago, but has found a way to continue to make wonderful bluegrass music. His is a rare talent. Order CDs, including the excellent and hard-to-find The Chill of Lonesome (Doobie Shea, 2002), directly from his family at http://www.erniethackerroute23.com/
Adam Steffey- One More for the Road (Sugar Hill, 2009) A satellite radio favourite, Steffey’s (formerly Mountain Heart, Union Station, Dan Tyminski Band) second solo project is powerful from start to finish. While his lead voice isn’t the strongest, when listening to the first vocal track on the album I remarked to myself- because who else is listening inside my head- “I’ve missed that.” Throughout the album, Steffey is accompanied by the finest players, including Union Station mates Barry Bales, Ron Block, and Dan Tyminski. Heck, there’s even a Union Station circa 1997 reunion on “Warm Kentucky Sunshine,” with Alison taking the lead; evidence of her generosity and the ties that bind the bluegrass community, that one is a keeper. The featured mandolin breaks are demonstration that Steffey isn’t ready to rest on his laurels. My musical vocabulary isn’t strong enough to give justice to “Let Me Fall,” “Durang’s Hornpipe,” or “Half Past Four,” but the boys know what they’re doing.
James Reams & The Barnstormers- Troubled Times (Mountain Redbird, 2005) and James Reams, Walter Hensley & the Barons of Bluegrass- Wild Card (Mountain Redbird, 2006) Finally, to wrap up this selection of bluegrass starting points, two exceptional albums from James Reams. The first features hard-scrabble bluegrass with Kentucky roots, songs of salvation, hollers, trains, storms, home places, and mountains that disappear. The second is punctuated by the banjo of bluegrass pioneer Walter Hensley and is perhaps an even more clearly articulated of what bluegrass can be in the right hands. Visit http://www.jamesreams.com/ to find these recordings- because the packaging of both is exceptional- or iTunes and eMusic for downloads.
There they are, the places I recommend you use as starting places as you being to delve into the wonderful world of bluegrass. Words of caution– avoid the ‘bargain bin’ collections found in some stores. Often what you find will be shoddily compiled sets that are less than satisfying. Enjoy your bluegrass journey!
The past two days have been very busy at Fervor Coulee, the busiest two days since the blog launched. I thank all of you for that, and again I’m hoping you are finding music recommendations that will lead you to new discoveries. Here are the top five- but really six- entries in my list of Favourite Albums of the Aughts. Thanks for all the feedback, too. Best, Donald
- Paul Burch- Last of My Kind 2001- I couldn’t believe it when this album remained atop my list through several revisions. But it deserves its place. Not only was it my introduction to a singer and songwriter who has become a favourite, it is a crackerjack recording in its own right. Back when my CD collection was several thousand albums lighter that it is now, I returned to this album time and again. It was, for me, a perfect storm- a bringing together of mountain influences, literature, and damned good songwriting and performance.
Commissioned to accompany a reading of Tony Earley’s Jim the Boy, the album took on its own life to allow readers and listeners to hear more from the characters, to experience more of their internal observations, struggles and challenges. Coming out at around the same time of O Brother, Where Art Thou? the visuals were fresh in mind without requiring Burch to indulge in extended prose. Instead, Burch- and Earley, of course- could concentrate on the impact and emotions of their characters. Given all that, Last of My Kind is remarkable as one doesn’t need to have read the novel to appreciate its impact. I heard the album well before searching out the book, and as a result I felt I already knew Jim, his uncles, and estranged extended family.
As I type these words, I am again listening to Last of My Kind- probably for the first time in three years. The album is all Burch, recorded and performed at home, seemingly in isolation in the same manner I imagine Earley wrote the novel. From the opening bars of “Aliceville Rag,” Burch sketches a sepia-toned setting of time and place. As we move through the album, to “Up on the Mountain” through to “Amos’s Blues” we meet complex characters brought to life by Burch’s interpretation of Earley’s imaginings.
None of this would matter if Burch’s approach to the music was less than attentive. When I first reviewed the album, I wrote words that hold true for me now: Burch’s compositions capture the essence of Earley’s novel- carefully constructed phrases that read simple but contain a spark for life and common-sense wisdom. The melodies pleasantly linger and the album constructs another layer to Earley’s characters and reinforces the novel’s [straight-forward] but intriguing plot.
When I set out to create this little list of favourites from the last decade, I wouldn’t have expected Last of My Kind to top the list. (Really, I didn’t even think about what would be on top.) Now that it has, nothing seems more natural, nothing would be more right. It was one of the albums I started with when I initiated this journey into writing about music. It is an immensely enjoyable slice of My Kind of Music. It is only fitting that it sits atop my list as my Favourite Album of the Aughts.
2. Dale Ann Bradley- Catch Tomorrow 2006 When a favourite artist takes a great leap forward, one is sometimes left behind. Not so with Dale Ann Bradley’s remarkable Catch Tomorrow album. The sound she had worked so hard to achieve was finally realized through the production support of Alison Brown. Every song on the album is memorable, and she explores not only bluegrass and its foundation- including a duet with Larry Sparks- but she brings in new songs, fresh perspectives, and even a bit of musical history with the Irish band Lunasa on “When the Mist Comes Again.” Dale Ann made Chris Stuart’s “Julia Belle” a standard, while already classic songs- “Live Forever” and “Me and Bobby McGee”- are revitalized. There isn’t a missed step anywhere, and while other artists may be off-putting with slickness in pursuit of a similar sound, Dale Ann and Alison have created an album that breathes its quality rather than having had its breath squeezed from it in the pursuit of perfection. An ideal contemporary bluegrass recording.
3. Maria Dunn- …For A Song 2001 (Albertan/Canadian) I can’t say much more about Maria Dunn than I already have. She is a tremendous writer, one who bridges old world charm with modern trials and situations. I have seen her live more times than I can count, and she always sparkles. …For a Song remains my favourite album although it may not be her best. The songs just wash over me, and her voice- with just a hint of the Old Country punctuating each phrase- is beautiful. Defying classification as adeptly as Van Morrison and Sinead O’Conner, Dunn produced a compelling album of ballads that entwined her influences within a lush, invigorating tapestry. Find her music.
4. James Reams & The Barnstormers- Troubled Times 2005 I have likely played albums from Brooklyn-based (but via Kentucky) James Reams than any other bluegrass act this decade. I do know Troubled Times was the second most played album during the year and a half I hosted the bluegrass show on the Olds station. Reams’ bluegrass may not be ‘perfect’ in the way a Rhonda, Skaggs, or Dailey Vincent album may be, and it is all the better for it. Excellent original songs (“Hills of My County” about mountain top removal coalmining and “Eye of the Storm”) blended with under-heard songs from outside writers (Robbie Fulks’ “Cold Statesboro Ground” and Marvin Goins’ “Head of the Holler”) have kept this one in my CD player for more than five years.
5. John Wort Hannam- Queen’s Hotel 2009 (Albertan/Canadian) Seldom does one get to experience musical history being made. I hope I’m right in stating that this is the last album we’ll hear from John Wort Hannam where the reverberations are localized to Alberta and western Canada. The international folk world needs to sit up and pay attention to this man. There are few like him. Get him on a stage with a Joe Ely or a Guy Clark and he’ll hold his own, I’m certain.
Down to the Wood- Up All Night 2003 (Albertan/Canadian) Okay, I’m an idiot. I knew going into this project I would manage to screw things up somehow, and of course I did. Somehow, in scanning the shelves, examining my inventory list, and racking my brain, I missed Up All Night. Ridiculous, given how much time I’ve spent not only listening to the album but swapping scotch with the trio at various festivals. So, allow me the additional indulgence of revising my list to allow for two #5 albums. Had I not overlooked the album, this is about where it would have landed.
When I hosted the radio show, DTTW was by far the most played band and since Up All Night is their only recording it was the most played album. For good reason. What the album may lack in original material- only one band written song, that being Curtis Appleton’s very strong “Shameless Drive”- they make up for in enthusiasm, energy, and passion.
The band was blessed with one of Alberta’s most proficient and tasteful guitarists in Marc Ladouceur, and his many influences- blues, Celtic, folk, and naturally bluegrass- shade this album’s arrangements all the way through. With three lead voices, natural spontaneity that transferred from the stage to the studio, and an understanding of traditional brother harmonies that served them well, Up All Night was an ideal document of the group’s early days. That they never came together to record a follow-up was unfortunate but not unexpected, given the various factors that place pressure on a regional bluegrass band- careers, finances, family, and limited stages.
I love listening to this album- and am listening to it again as I type- and continue to be impressed by the band’s maturity and vision. They weren’t content just to duplicate the songs they heard on scratchy old bluegrass cassettes and albums. Give a listen to “Crossroad Blues/The Old Crossroads Is Waiting,” a formidable piece of music that has Mr. Monroe meeting up with Robert Johnson on a dusty rural road. That took balls, and they pulled it off not only in the studio but on stage time and again.
For a while, Down to the Wood was the most entertaining Canadian bluegrass band I was fortunate to hear. Up All Night is a terrific album and is well-deserving of a place on my 151 favourite albums of the decade.
What just missed the Top 150? Amongst others: Sam Bush Circles Around Me 2009; Alejandro Escovedo Real Animal 2008; Various Artists The Songs of Fred Eaglesmith 2003; Ian Tyson- Yellowhead to Yellowstone and other Love Stories 2008; The Grascals- The Grascals 2005; Ron Block- Faraway Land 2001; Blackie and the Rodeo Kings- Let’s Frolic Again 2007; The Notorious Cherry Bombs- The Notorious Cherry Bombs 2004; Acoustic Syndicate- Crazy Little Life 2000; Audrey Auld Mezara- Lost Men & Angry Girls 2007
Again, sincere thanks for spending time at Fervor Coulee.