Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie- Southern   Leave a comment


My review of the new bluegrass album from Bill Emerson- formerly of The Country Gentlemen and other groups- & Sweet Dixie has been posted to LLR.

Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie
Southern
Rural Rhythm
3.5 stars (out of 5)

Bill Emerson has a more impressive bluegrass pedigree than most. A founding member of the Country Gentlemen, Emerson has packed on the years playing with Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys, co-leading an influential bluegrass band with Cliff Waldron, spending years fronting Country Current, and now appearing under his own name with Sweet Dixie, a different lineup of which previously released an album on Rebel Records.

Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie is a solid bluegrass band, perhaps lacking the flair that one encounters with the most accomplished groups. Still, Southern is a better than average bluegrass recording.

Tom Adams, who has since moved onto a similar position with Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, takes most of the leads here and also handles the guitar duties. Formerly a premier banjo picker, Adams has been forced to set the 5-string aside due to focal hand dystonia. Here he proves himself a more than capable lead and rhythm player and a considerable vocal talent.

Teri Chism lacks the powerful surge of preeminent female bluegrass singers, but her voice is more than serviceable and provides Sweet Dixie with vocal variety.

“The Midnight Train” is given a fine performance, with Wayne Lanham’s mandolin sparking his lead vocal turn. Rickie Simpkins guests throughout on fiddle.

The well-chosen songs are mined from country (Marty Stuart’s “Sometimes the Pleasure is Worth the Pain,” Lionel Cartwright’s “Old Coal Town,” and Chris Hillman’s “Love Reunited”) and bluegrass (Hazel Dickens’ “I Can’t Find Your Love Anymore” and “Pete Goble’s “Grandpa Emory’s Banjo.”) Flatt & Scruggs (and others) previously recorded “I Don’t Care Anymore” while Vince Gill’s “Life in the Old Farm Town” appears to be a new song.

Graham Pratt’s “The Black Fox,” composed in the style of an ancient-British folk tale—in which the Devil escapes the hounds—is the album’s most impressive performance, with Emerson’s banjo taking a run through the woods.

The album’s lone instrumental is a jaunty number entitled “Grandma’s Tattoos;” something tells me the songwriter missed a lyrical opportunity with that one. A sole band-written number closes the album: Tom Adams’ “The Lord Will Light the Way” is one of two overtly religious numbers in the set.

With a flair for song selection and creative arrangements, Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie has delivered a quality bluegrass recording that is weakened only by a lack of vocal distinctiveness.

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