Dale Ann Bradley returned to Alberta this week, her third journey to our northern bluegrass community since first coming our way about a decade ago. On this occasion, as each time previous, she brought a different band line-up with her, and while the others were stellar, her current group is arguably the strongest. [I will, however, never forget my first Alberta Coon Creek line-up with Michael Cleveland, Jesse Brock, Richard Bailey, and Vicki Simmons- still my personal choice.]
Without a doubt, Dale Ann Bradley is my favourite bluegrass vocalist, male or female, traditional or contemporary- whatever those final descriptors mean. Having previously been in the ‘presenters’ chair when Dale Ann came to the province, it was nice to drive up to the city last night and not worry about anything other than suicidal secondary highway deer.
As she has for a couple years, Dale Ann is sharing the stage with long-time friend Steve Gulley. Almost exactly a year ago, Uncle Phil joined up, and both were present last night. Gulley, for the most part, concentrated on bass duties while also serving as Bradley’s vocal foil. He pulled out his guitar for a few songs. Phil Leadbetter, master of the reso he is, handled the hub-capped guitar as only he can, and also contributed additional vocal harmony- unfortunately, I could not discern his voice within the mix.
Jamie Dean from Cumberland River Band handled the 5; I am only familiar with that group’s work from the Justified soundtrack, and based on his playing I’ll need to delve deeper. I missed the mandolin player’s name, but he had several things going for him- wonderful tone, seamless presence within the band’s sound, and he’s from Knoxville, always a positive.
The concert was held at the Capitol Theatre in Fort Edmonton Park. A great venue with terrific seating and sight lines. The sound was superior as well- minus the lack of Phil vox (but that could just have been my ears.) As always, the second best part of any area bluegrass show is reconnecting with friends and acquaintances. This being my first bluegrass show in two years- outside the bluster fleck that was the pseudo-grass I heard in Kansas City- it was wonderful to speak with several Alberta bluegrass pals, if only for a few minutes: folks like Marc, Anna, Curtis, and Ruth are always great to see. We have some good people in this bluegrass community, no doubt.
The first set was, for me, superior to the second. I thought the second was a bit staid, a bit by-the-numbers, with much of the band off-stage for several songs. Over the course of the evening, Dale Ann performed at least seven songs from Somewhere South of Crazy, including the Bill Monroe song “In Despair”- a show stopper- and “I Pressed Through the Crowd,” an old favourite. A handful of songs from the other Compass albums were performed, including “He’s The Last Thing on My Mind” and “Run Rufus Run.” I listened to Catch Tomorrow on the way in, and was once again won over by the strength of the album.
“The Piney Rose” proved to be as popular as ever, as did the show openers “Somewhere South of Crazy” and “Fifty Miles of Elbow Room.” Gulley took the lead several times, including on “Livin’ It Down,” (on which the instrumental presentation was especially powerful) “That’s Not What Ships Are For,” and likely the only George Jones song I don’t really care for, “The Window Up Above.” He also sang “California Cotton Fields,” taking Marty Raybon’s place on the Leadbetter feature; no “Moonracer” from Phil tho’, darn it.
Finally, Dale Ann again demonstrated that she is one heck of a guitar player, carrying the band’s sound firmly in hand. I could listen to her playing all night long. She was in terrific voice; then again, I’ve never heard Dale Ann at less than her best.
Given that I could put together a personal set-list that would not have duplicated a single song performed last night- so deep is Dale Ann’s catalogue- I more than enjoyed this concert. My mind didn’t wander, and I was only disappointed when they left the stage without performing “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Super musicianship. True people. Wonderful voices. Timeless songs. I couldn’t ask for more from a bluegrass show.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I appreciate you dropping in.
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