The Daughters of Bluegrass
Blue Circle Records www.bluecirclerecords.com
With two-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year Dale Ann Bradley leading the charge, the latest collection of estrogen-powered bluegrass emanating from a most talented cohort is welcomed.
Having garnered an IBMA award for Recording Event of the Year in 2006 for their sophomore effort Back to the Well, bluegrass’s favorite daughters have reassembled, and have also stretched out to include even more of their, umm, brethren.
More than forty bluegrass daughters are featured on this project, and considering this number the recording is surprisingly focused and consistent. Despite taking the lead on one track, the appealing “Nobody’s Home,” Lorraine Jordan’s role is markedly diminished this time out, and one misses her personable mandolin chop.
A few songs feature shared lead vocals. The album’s signature tune “Proud to be a Daughter of Bluegrass” has Dale Ann Bradley namedropping Bill Monroe, while Lisa Martin gives props to her dad Jimmy, and Jeanie Stanley does the same for Carter Stanley. The song also pays tribute to the past by having Gloria Belle sing a pair of lines.
“Leaving Here for Nashville” has the girls leaving town in hopes of finding the big-time. Melissa Lawrence, Jeanette Williams, and Tina Adair take turns singing the lead on the a cappela “Go Up On the Mountain and Wait,” while Heather Berry and Janet McGarry harmonize with the trio; drop-dead gorgeous, this one sounds.
Bradley takes the lead all the way through only one song, the excellent “I Don’t Think I’m Going Back to Harlan.” No one could be better suited to sing the song’s opening lyrics, “Daddy, you know I hate to disappoint you, after all you’ve done for me.” Given Bradley’s close relationship with her own father, one can hear the true emotions in her voice.
Another standout track features the clear voice of Cedar Hill’s Lisa Ray. “(There Ought to Be) More to Love than This” is a tremendous country song, and Ray’s singing perfectly captures the protagonist’s disappointment and longing. Valerie Smith (“Desmoranda”), Gina Britt (“Carolina State of Mind”), and album co-producer Frances Mooney (“I’m Gonna Love You Now”) also take lead on memorable songs.
I’m sure this writer isn’t the only listener who was previously unfamiliar with many of the ladies on this album. Rebecca Frazier lays down a fine guitar break on “Leaving Here for Nashville,” and it was only through the power of the googlenet that I discovered she is the former Rebecca Hoggan of Colorado’s Hit & Run Bluegrass Band. Frazier is featured on a number of tracks, including the Lisa Ray song and Beth Steven’s “Everybody Got a Light.”
However, less is known of other instrumentalists who make contributions including Jenee Fleenor, Jenny Lyn Gardner, and Lizzy Long; the search engines will get a workout on this one.
Mindy Rakestraw was a most welcome discovery on Back to the Well, and the Georgian is back for another spin. “Your Memory Followed Me Home” isn’t as immediately appealing as “Hicker Nut Ridge,” but Rakestraw demonstrates skillful use of vocal nuance, supported by the harmonies of Jeanette Williams and Michelle Nixon. Lisa Manning’s fiddle contributions here and elsewhere are also appreciated.
If a criticism must be leveled at this 2008 edition of The Daughters of Bluegrass, it would be that by limiting the songs to those from Tom T. and Dixie Hall, the vocalists and musicians have been denied the opportunity to place their songs at the fore, a welcome feature of the previous albums.
Each listener will find their own favorite moments in this hour-long set; let’s hope the Daughters of Bluegrass continue to find time to gather and celebrate their contributions to our music.