David Parmley & Continental Divide- Three Silver Dollars   Leave a comment

David Parmley & Continental Divide

Three Silver Dollars

Pinecastle Records

Unlike other Americana genres, bluegrass doesn’t necessarily attempt to examine or reflect the political or economic elements of the time. Not as heavy as folk nor as irreverent as roots rock, the commentary of bluegrass is often more general, balancing light with dark, good with evil, joy with regret, secular with sacred, surrounded by words and music that challenge within a tradition.

“What You Can See From Your Knees,” the second track on the terrific new album from David Parmley & Continental Divide, contains each of these elements, and all in just over four minutes. Given the shadings contained, and the current financial crisis many find themselves headed toward, the song could be forty years old, or it could have been written last month.

Few bandeaders better succeed in making traditional bluegrass relevant than David Parmley, and the current Continental Divide line-up carries on an institution stretching back forty years to The Bluegrass Cardinals.

Parmley remains one of bluegrass music’s most criminally overlooked vocalists. While Dailey & Vincent, Ricky Skaggs, and others garner the headlines and awards, Parmley just soldiers on, singing as he always has, in a manner that appears unadulterated. His voice alternates between low and slightly higher depending on the particular song’s needs, and has never sounded brighter.

The traditional, depending on whom you ask, “Winsborough Cotton Mill Blues” just rocks along, buffeted by Dale Perry on the banjo. Wisdom is contained within each line of “That’s Just Me.” The arrangement of “Refill of Your Love,” cleverly written by David Scott Coffey, would make Doyle Lawson proud, and (I believe) Dale Perry’s tenor vocal on the chorus would seamlessly fit into a Quicksilver set. It is a bright spot among the dozen superior tracks, but far from the only one. “She’s Lying in the Cold, Cold Ground” is a story told a hundred times in various bluegrass songs, but still manages to capture the imagination.

The gospel side of bluegrass is represented by “Lilly Still Blooms in the Dell” and “God Reached Down,” which also presents exceptional guitar work from Parmley. Often not noticed is the clarity with which he picks.

Perry’s 5-string work continues to impress, and (the since departed, from the band) Ron Spears’ mandolin and vocal talents are admirably demonstrated including on his song, “Carolina Rain.” Fleshing out the Continental Divide trio on this album are Ron Stewart on fiddle and Kyle Perkins on bass. The only guest appearance is saved for a notable talent; proving it is always good to have friends, Rhonda Vincent nicely duets with Parmley on the chorus of “Meadow on the Mountain (Where Mama Used to Pray).”

If there is any justice in the bluegrass world, Three Silver Dollars will sell 50 000 copies and will be nominated for the major awards this coming autumn. It is a very satisfying project.

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