Recent roots reviews

I’I haven’t posted here at Fervor Coulee for a month, which is bad. I have been writing, which may also be bad depending on your opinion.

Thought I would catch up by posting some of the links I’ve neglected.

imagesLee Ann Womack is a singer I didn’t have any familiarity with prior to reviewing her album The Way I’m Livin’ over at the Lonesome Road Review. I’m not terribly at all interested in modern commercial country outside a few of the outliers- Kasey Musgraves, Brandy Clark to name the only ones I can come up with…. I gave up on Music Row about the time they game up on Joy Lynn White, so I am not in that loop at all. How out of touch am I? I don’t believe I had knowingly heard a Lee Ann Womack song before I bought The Way I’m Livin’, not even “I Hope You Dance” which I’ve learned is her signature tune.

I’m not sure what caused me to actually purchased this Sugar Hill album, but I did without having heard anything from it except a brief video clip. I had read a couple reviews, so I guess they must have made me intrigued. Perhaps I had a precognition that Aaron would ask me to write about it. I have multiple albums from Tommy Womack and Bobby Womack, but nothing from Lee Ann Womack.

I had to do my homework then, doing a crash course Womack 101, even purchased a couple of her albums while streaming others. I didn’t hear a lot I cared for, but there was no denying the quality of her voice.

I’ve received some positive feedback on my review of this very fine album.

Fiddle Tune X is another album recently reviewed for Lonesome Road Review, and like The Way I’m Livin’ was my introduction to untitledan artist, in this case the acoustic duo of Billy Strings (which I insist on typing Strange each time I come to it) and Don Julin. I still don’t know too much about them outside they are Michigan-based and have released a pretty interesting album of live tracks. Not everything works- too much whooping and hollering from audience members on a few tracks- but it is an album I have returned to since reviewing. Rooted in bluegrass, this unassuming album is one I was glad to discover.

Chris Jones and the Night Drivers have filled the gap until their next studio venture with a live album entitled Live at the Old Feed Store, and my review of it showed up over at Country Standard Time. Chris and his team had a challenge getting this album to me, but it finally arrived- whomever received the misdirected copies of the album is in for a treat. It is a very well-constructed and excellently performed album of live bluegrass. My review for CST had to fit under the 350 word threshold, but my original edited draft contained 600 plus, all too good to waste. (In case you don’t know me well, that is irony and self-deprecation: there has never been a word I’ve written that couldn’t be edited.) I am choosing to post the entire review here, just in case you want more:

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers

Live at the Old Feed Store (2014)

Live albums are dangerous. jones

Fraught with challenges, releasing a live album is a risk many bluegrass bands avoid.

Off the top, by the time the disc hits the festival table, the band lineup has likely changed; okay, so that isn’t a hazard limited to live bluegrass albums.

Coalescing the  three or four sets of material (okay, I’m an optimist) a band has at their disposal into a single 50-minute disc is going to leave someone wanting. Make it a double, and folks will want to buy it for the cost of a single album. Have too many recent songs on it, and folks may skip the purchase. Appeal to the hardcore band fan and fill it up with obscure pieces—a 15 minute banjo solo of “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” perhaps, and you lose the casual fan.

So, what is a band to do between studio recordings?

If you are Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, you return to a familiar, comfortable haunt—in this case, The Old Feed Store in Cobden, Il, and just let the (digital) tape roll. Make sure you include the crowd favorites that haven’t found their way to a recording—mandolinist Mark Stoffel’s rendition of “Edelweiss,” paired with “Forked Deer” and banjoist Ned Luberecki’s ‘perfect bluegrass song’ “Cabin of Death”— and some songs recorded long ago—”I’m Ready if You’re Willin'” from 1999’s Follow Your Heart, as well as that album’s title track, and have your spouse (Sally Jones) sing it with you— and you are off to a fine start.

Mix in a song that many missed the first time around, the sentimental Civil War piece “Battle of the Bands,” a George Jones song (via Special Consensus) “I Cried Myself Awake,” and keep the bass player happy by ensuring he gets another cut (not that Jon Weisberger really needs one, as he is one of bluegrass’ most recorded songwriters) with “Lonely Town,” and chances are the folks coming to the shows will want to pick up the live set.

Despite releasing many excellent albums with favourable reviews and considerable chart successes and the band members’ relatively high-profile gigs within the industry (Jones and Luberecki are both mainstays on Sirius XM’s bluegrass junction, although their airtime was cut considerably about a year back, and Weisberger is the chairman of the IBMA’s Board of Directors), Chris Jones & the Night Drivers have not ‘broken through’ into that top tier of bands.

With a stable lineup, there is no obvious reason why there hasn’t been room made for them at the top. As front man, Jones has one of the most identifiable and smooth vocal deliveries within the genre. His guitar playing is a delight to hear. There is no questioning the musical aptitude of his band mates either, as all are top players. Give a listen to Stoffel’s break on “Then I Close My Eyes,” a Jones composition from their previous release Lonely Comes Easy, or Weisberger’s and Luberecki’s contributions to the instrumental “Emergency Pulloff,” and you have evidence of their instrumental mastery.

The songs selections are top shelf as well. Kicking off with the venerable “Bound to Ride,” mixing in some sweet gospel on “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” showing their lighter side on “Cabin of Death,” and picking a winner from Tom T. and Dixie Hall in “One Door Away,” and the quality is apparent.

What is holding back Chris Jones & the Night Drivers? Absolutely nothing, outside your purchase of this excellently recorded live album. I’m not sure who would be disappointed in the music this lively, talented lineup has chosen to present on their first concert recording.


There you are then, three recent reviews you may have missed. There are more coming, as always. The Show Ponies and Annie Lou should appear at the Lonesome Road Review in short order, and with the holidays approaching I am likely to find an afternoon or three to catch-up on some outstanding (as in, I should have done them already) projects.


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