In this ever changing world in which we live in…
As some of you know, I’ve been writing semi-professionally about bluegrass and roots music for almost ten years- in fact, I do believe my first cheque came through a decade ago this month. Over the years I’ve received more wonderful music from labels than I’ll ever be able to fully appreciate although I’ve done my best to ‘keep up’ with the listening and give fair treatment to the albums I am fortunate enough to write about.
But, the world is changing- while some labels continue to see value in servicing me with product to review- and I’ve been able to maintain and build some contact for outlets for my writing- things have certainly slowed down the last couple years. No Bluegrass Now, for one.
Anyway, because some labels and reps don’t service me- funny what one negative review will do!- some very fine music has passed me by, I’m sure. Over the past several months, I’ve listened to the ‘puppy in the sky’ a bit, and heard some really strong music…and some I hope never to hear again. So, thinking about some of the fine music I heard on Sirius 65, I decided last month to download only bluegrass from eMusic Canada with the stipulation that I would venture a bit afield and explore albums that I wasn’t entirely positive I would enjoy.
Therefore, this brief discussion of this month’s eMusic, bluegrass-ish downloads-
1. The Boxcars- The Boxcars (Mountain Home) Enjoyable, but not life changing. Nice vocal variety, but on initial listening the song selection/variety left me a-wanting a little, although I appreciate the bravery of recording an album so highly slanted toward originals. The lead cut is really impressive, and the collective force of the album has grown on me over the weeks. Tunes like “I Went Back Home” and “Never Played the Opry” could sound overly maudlin in the wrong hands, but The Boxcars find the right balance between honesty and sentimentality. John Bowman’s fiddle (I presume it is he- I hate not having liner notes) and Ron Steward’s banjo are impressive throughout. The entire band lets loose on a few cut, including “Take Me on a Midnight Train.” Recommended.
2. Darren Beachley & the Legends of the Potomac- Take Off (Patuxent Music) I love his voice- classic, to my ears; one of the most attractive qualities of recent Doyle Lawson discs was Beachley’s lead and tenor vocals- and who can argue with the band- Mike Auldridge, Tom Gray, Norman Wright, and Mark Delaney. A darn solid bluegrass album, with lots of changes in tempo and sound. Highly recommended.
3. Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen- Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen (Fiddlemon) I listened to this one driving to and from work this week. Very nice, and I stayed interested even though the songs kinda blur together. I had read a fairly middlin’ review of the album, so I wasn’t sure if I should invest in the album. But anyone who records a John Stewart song- and makes a fine bg song out of it- deserves my bit of support; so after listening to “July, You’re a Woman” for a couple weeks, I took the plunge and downloaded the entire album. Some hard driving stuff, some softer pieces, too. A good set. Recommended.
4. Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford- Dogwood Winter (Rural Rhythm) An impressive outing that includes full-blown bluegrass sounds as well as explorations of related roots sounds. This one will get many plays this winter, I do believe. Dale Ann Bradley jumps in with harmony in select places, and the album is comprised of entirely original tunes, several which stand out from the pack including “Snow,” “Nebraska Sky,” and “Just Along for the Ride.” Two standout writers, two great voices, a selection of musical friends the envy of most- a great combination that works for the entirety of its 44 minutes.
5. Jeff & Vida- Selma Chalk (Rosebank) I love this duo, the way Vida’s voice just cuts to the core. Nothing artificial about them. Not exactly bluegrass, of course, but close enough for me to round out my downloads with it. They get compared to Welch and Rawlings, but I don’t really hear that- more sultry and southern to my ears. Some of the songs have real pep, lively stuff but others are more atmospheric and moody, if I may. You’ll sit up and take notice if you take a chance. Highly recommended.
6. East of Monroe- East of Monroe I was tempted to downloaded this one simply because the album art was so attractive, and after listening to the snippets I was confident that I would likely enjoy all five tracks of this EP. Didn’t hurt to learn that Gary Ferguson is in the band. Based in Virginia, the band has a sound that wouldn’t be out of place sharing a stage with bands including Crooked Still, Ollabelle, Bearfoot, and the like. They swing, they root around at the edge of the grass. Not sure which of the lady singers is which, but they both have terrific voices that make listening easy. “Goodbye Letter” is a fine offering. Like Jeff & Vida, not exactly bluegrass but will likely appeal to those so inclined.
Depending on tastes, all should appeal- not a stinker in the bunch, which isn’t surprising. Most of the music I run across has something to recommend it.
To be entirely transparent, I also downloaded a Quicksilver Messenger live set…not too many bluegrass albums with just 6 tracks.
I’ve also continued to listen to Trisha Gagnon’s debut album quite a bit this month, and have a link to the review below in my most recent Roots Music column. Catch her live in Red Deer on Sunday with John Reischman & the Jaybirds. Details at www.waskasoobluegrass.com.
By the way, I know how fortunate I have been to receive albums for review- I just wish the music world hadn’t changed so dramatically to force labels and publicity reps to hold back albums for review from folks like me. In the past, I could expect to have received most of these albums for review- value was seen in people thoughtfully writing about music. I’m not sure that holds true today. Anyhow, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald