A Tribute to Paul Warren, Lost & Found, & North to Ontario reviews   Leave a comment

I’ve fallen way behind in my writing, and have only just got around to submiting three reviews to Lonesome Road Review- A Tribute to Fiddlin’ Paul Warren, Lost & Found’s latest, and the fourth installment in the North to Ontario series. Please check them out as they are three very strong albums, well worth your listening. Thanks for dropping by Fervor Coulee. Donald

Johnny Warren & Charlie Cushman
A Tribute to Fiddlin’ Paul Warren
4 stars (out of 5)

Depending on whom you are exchanging opinions with, the name Paul Warren should come up when discussing popular and influential bluegrass fiddle players. While others such as Kenny Baker, Chubby Wise, and Curly Ray Cline may be mentioned first, knowledgeable fiddle fans will eventually get around to dropping Paul Warren’s name.

As an old-time country fiddler, Warren had few peers and many admirers. Proclaimed on an old CMH album as “America’s Greatest Breakdown Fiddle Player,” Warren served as a sideman for two of the most revered names in bluegrass, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, as a member of the Foggy Mountain Boys. Warren spent forty years as a professional musician, winding up his time with Flatt and The Nashville Grass. Warren succumbed to illness in 1978.

This 17-track tribute of fiddle tunes was launched by Paul’s son Johnny and long-time fan and highly regarded banjo-slinger Charlie Cushman. Doubling on rhythm guitar, Cushman’s banjo-playing serves as a complementary foil to the younger Warren’s fiddling. Having listened to this album back-to-back to tunes featuring Paul Warren, one is likely stretching things if they claim to hear significant difference in the two musicians’ playing.

The album features Marty Stuart on mandolin, Tim Graves on resonator guitar, and Kent Blanton on bass, and this trio serves as as fine a house band as one could want. As far as I can tell, former Nashville Grass mandolinist Curly Seckler is featured on a single track, a take of “Sugar Tree Stomp.” Scruggs drops in to lay down some of his classic runs on “Buck Creek Gal.” Another highlight is “Ole Joe Can’t Play the Fiddle,” a tasty fiddle and banjo duet propelled by bass playing that just pops.

Individual track credits are not provided, a shame considering how much writing is contained within the package. Nominated for an IBMA award this past year for impressive liner notes from Eddie Stubbs, Marty Stuart, Cushman, and Johnny Warren, the esteem in which both Warrens are held is obvious.

Old fiddle tunes, some (according to the liner notes) almost lost to time, comprise the bulk of the project. “Poplar Top,” “Two Hog Weeds and One Stalk of Corn,” “Pretty Girl Goin’ To Milk a Cow,” and “Hollow Poplar” are but a sampling of the creatively titled tunes, each evoking the past.

Selecting individual highlights within such an impressive package of recordings is a fool’s mission. One is best advised to track down the recording, slip it into the CD drive, and allow the modern sounds of bluegrass past to envelope all troubles and concerns.

Celebrations of bluegrass music’s venerable history must continue. That some of the music’s finest practitioners are wiling to align themselves with the product of the first generation to honor a talent as mighty as Paul Warren’s is highly admirable. That they have produced so worthy a tribute is most extraordinary.

Lost & Found
Love, Lost and Found
Rebel Records
3.5 stars (out of 5)

When bluegrass fans gather around campfires, and the tunes start rolling it seems inevitable that a Lost & Found song is eventually played to wide smiles and grateful nods. After a long recording hiatus, Allen Mills’ long-running band is back sounding as good as ever!

“Back in Her Arms” has a “Me and Bobby McGee” feel within its melody, and is an easy introduction to the new lineup of Lost & Found. The musicians comprising Lost & Found are now Allen Mills (bass and vocals), Scottie Sparks (guitar and vocals), Ronald Smith (banjo and vocals), and Scott Napier (mandolin).

The material on this album is smoothly played, but never slick. The playing and singing is natural sounding, and has not been obviously impacted by studio wizardry. The song selection is not especially challenging but neither does it need to be, featuring tunes made popular by Ernest Tubb, Patti Page, and Don Reno. Everything is presented in an admirable fashion.

Oft-recorded songs including “Don’t Let Your Sweet Love Die” are performed sincerely. “That’s What Country Folks Do” sounds like a standard, but that may be a credit to Mills’ delivery of the populist lyrics. “Pretty Roses Remind Me of You,” is another sentimental Pete Goble song that will remain timeless. Three compositions from Dan Wells standout, particularly the pure lonesome “Letter Stained in Blue.”

But the past has not been entirely set aside. Dempsey Young, the popular and outstanding mandolinist for the entire run of the band until his death in 2006, is featured on more than half of these tracks, recorded in 2003 after their previous album, It’s About Time. Representing the final recordings he made with the band, tunes such as “Trail of Sorrow” and “A Daisy a Day” (featuring his lead vocal) are certain to become favorites amongst the Lost & Found faithful.

As has been the case for over thirty years, there is nothing ostentatious about this Lost & Found album. They do what they do, and they do it very well. Allen Mills’ voice remains impressive, and Scottie Sparks is no slouch when he takes the lead spot; his singing provides a bit of country to the bluegrass mix.

With Love, Lost and Found the band has chosen to rise above the many challenges it has encountered, and have emerged as a band that is primed to welcome its future.

Various Artists
North to Ontario 2009

3.5 stars (out of 5)

Gene Gouthro and Tom McCreight have to be among the most ambitious semi-professional bluegrass musicians in North America. Not only do they maintain a popular and long-running,Ontario-based bluegrass band Silverbirch, they have now fronted four collections of original Ontario bluegrass music bearing the North to Ontario moniker.

As with the previous volumes of the series, this one features nearly twenty different lineups performing self-written and original material within a variety of bluegrass styles. The quality of tunes and performance are generally high, although understandably not consistently to the level one would anticipate from premier touring bluegrass groups. Not unexpectedly, the instrumentation is, collectively, more impressive than the lead vocals. Still, more hit nail than wood.

The always impressive Mike O’Reilly brings us another new song, “Caleb.” Fronting the aptly titled trio O’Reilly/Miller/Lester (featuring Larry Miller and Emory Lester), O’Reilly again proves himself to have been a Southerner in a previous incarnation, sharing a tale of Civil War challenge. Miller’s banjo is especially notable.

The fairer side of bluegrass is well represented. Marianne Girard’s “Alabama” is not only a well-written song of geography-challenged love, but her voice is singularly impressive. Honeygrass’ “Parents’ Love” is a quaint tale of familial love based around the music we love.

Pam Brooks & Lonesome Wind provides a fine song “Month of Sundays” that one would not consider out of place if heard on an Alecia Nugent album. “Waiting at the Crossing” features the impressive vocal trio of Sweetwater’s Tammy Carruthers, Nanda Wubs, and Patricia North. Jan Purcell & Pine Ridge returns with another fine song, “Sign on the Door.”

Silverbirch is always a favourite, and “The Long Road” demonstrates there is plenty fuel left in the band’s tank; an album from this lineup would not be unwelcome. Bill White & White Pine have a way with faith-based old home and mother songs, and they combine these themes on “A Church by the Side of the Bed.”

Prairie Siding have developed into a personal favorite, and their “1950 Studebaker” doesn’t disappoint. Finally, Denis Rondeau’s “Doghouse Breakdown”- yes, a two-minute upright solo- is much more enjoyable and impressive than one might anticipate.

Is Ontario poised to take over the bluegrass world? Umm, no. But wise American ears might consider scouting the talent from this lineup for fresh approaches to bluegrass music, both for recording projects and to provide something a little different on a festival stage.


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