From its beautifully framed cover illustration through each note within its 36-minute running time, Dale Ann Bradley is an album to celebrate.
She is included in this annotated list of my favourites of the first decade of this century; she came in at #2! Also, at #6 on the same list. Recently elected to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, Bradley is a perennial Female Vocalist of the Year nominee within the IBMA, and has received the honour on five occasions.
Again producing herself, as she did on the previous Pocket Full of Keys, Bradley has crafted a cohesive bluegrass album. Developing themes of family, belonging, and faith across its eleven tracks, Bradley sings with mountain-born conviction perhaps no more freely than on Bud Chambers’ gospel standard, “One More River.”
On Sister Sadie’s debut album of last year, Lenny LeBlanc’s “Falling” was given a bluegrass treatment; Bradley record’s his 1980 song “Champagne Lady” here, and the Louisiana-flavoured number works terribly well as a bluegrass song, thematically and musically, further elevated by Greg Blaylock’s Dobro fills.
More than any other thematic element, belonging appears to weave itself through most of Dale Ann Bradley’s songs.
The album opens with a new song co-written by Bradley, Ronnie Miracle, and Donna Sullivan, a heartfelt piece that shares a musical echo of “Me and Bobby McGee’s” free-spirited independence balanced with the aching pull of home. The song features Bradley playing cross-picking style guitar to excellent effect.
“Going Back to Kentucky,” a thoroughly contemporary Mark Brinkman and Tresa Jordan song celebrating the rejuvenating powers of home (and satellite radio playing The Stanley Brothers), is another performance highlight. “Blackberry Summer” is drips with emotion, but not syrup: Bradley’s forte is making us feel the emotional connection she solidifies within her music, and this is a prime example of her abilities.
Continuing this theme of familial closeness, and bringing the album to a close, is Bradley and Jon Weisberger’s “Now and Then (Dreams Do Come True)” on which Greg Davis (banjo) and Casey Campbell (mandolin) are given all the room they need to shine.
Vince Gill joins Bradley for The Stanley Brothers’ timeless “I’ll Just Go Away,” and if there was any justice left in the world of country radio…but we know there isn’t. [In a related aside, if you want to hear this song performed by Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys—featuring Keith Whitley—in a 1977 public television broadcast.] Heartfelt, without doubt. “This Is My Year For Mexico” was recorded by Crystal Gayle on her first album with slightly different lyrics than here, and The Rarely Herd brought it to bluegrass in the early 90s, but Bradley’s reflective interpretation of this ‘long goodbye’ is definitive.
I don’t recall if Bradley has attempted a four-part acapella number in the style of “Stand By Me” before, but this is certainly successful. Joined by frequent vocal partner Steve Gulley—who sings harmony on several songs, and takes a lead on the chorus of “Our Last Goodbye”—Debbie Gulley, and Vic Graves, an honest and true vocal showcase is presented, one devoid of artifice. This is a pure expression of faith.
Charlie Cushman appears on a pair of tracks, and Alison Brown on one, but Greg Davis handles most of the banjo and is well-represents himself on the 5-string throughout. Tim Dishman contributes most of the guitar and bass while another member of Bradley’s touring group, Scott Powers, is the featured mandolinist on four tracks. Sister Sadie’s Deanie Richardson (fiddle and mandola) and Tina Adair (harmony vocals) appear on multiple songs, as does Kim Fox (harmony.)
Bluegrass doesn’t come better than this. Many years ago I wrote that Dale Ann Bradley was “as mountain as rock,” and my editor questioned me about such a term. I knew what I meant then, and listening to Dale Ann Bradley, I still do. No one is capable of doing what Bradley accomplishes, and this album is ample demonstration of her revered status within the bluegrass field. Over the years, her music has become more sophisticated, but at its core it remains pure and true.
A video of an hour-plus Bradley (almost solo) performance is up and features some new songs. It is an intimate performance that shows a most appealing side of DAB.