There has not been a bluegrass artist over the last two decades who has consistently developed her art to the degree Dale Ann Bradley has done.
Each album she records sounds like her last, a capstone to a career of intense focus and artistic growth. Fortunately, every incredible album she has released has been followed by another further elevating her performance.
As much as I enjoy each and every Dale Ann Bradley album, Things She Couldn’t Get Over is—again—her best. Featuring three incredibly strong original songs, including the title cut culled from Bradley’s east Kentucky origins about a woman challenged by mental instability, Bradley has again brought together outstanding players (recording in a socially distant but musically familiar manner) to interpret wide-ranging material, bringing her vivid vision to fruition.
The exuberant and energetic “Living on the Edge” as well as “Lost More Than I Know,” co-writes with Aaron Bibelhauser, reveal the intensity with which Bradley always writes; listening through her catalogue going back almost twenty-five years, one can’t locate a throwaway, filler original. She fills her songs with personal vignettes, images and phrases she has lived and experienced, bringing intimate authenticity to her creations.
Missing this time out is the ‘traditional’ Bradley experience of reinventing a rock ‘n’ roll standard into a bluegrass showcase; from “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (1997’s East Kentucky Morning) to “Ripple” (The Hard Way, 2019), Bradley has taken considerable pride interpreting songs. The closest she comes here is a wistful reworking of Susan Raye’s early 70s country hit, “L.A. International Airport” (with its mention of leather shirts and mini-skirts, it is of the era) although—upon reflection—I recall it dented the pop singles chart as well—so, I guess she ‘has’ done it again. [I will go to my death believing I suggested DAB record this song, but cannot find evidence of this! I know I thought it, and maybe that was powerful enough to conjure up advocacy.]
Authentic sentimentality has always been Bradley’s trademark, and she brings sensitivity and compassion to “Lynwood,” a song about discarded military personnel. It has a wonderful chorus phrase, “He deserves so much more from me than three quarters and a crumpled five,” and the reflective refrain from Bob Dylan is a capper to a terrific number. A talented songcatcher, Bradley goes back to Berea, Kentucky to find “Pearl,” a song by Mitch Barrett, a native of her home community, and to John Anderson’s Countrified for “Yellow Creek.”
The album ends in heart-wrenching fashion—not the overwrought, manipulative type, but in a true and emotionally draining manner. “In the End” is a song Steve Gulley was to sing on with his wife Debbie, but couldn’t because his cancer had taken hold. DAB’s first and only take of the song is included herein, closing the album as she had intended, but not as she had imagined. It is the album’s quintessential performance, and while one ‘knows’ Bradley is struggling through its execution, her voice never betrays her.
Familiar from previous Bradley albums and live performances is her top-tier band: Jim Hurst (guitar,) Kim Fox (guitar, vocals, and harmony vocal production and arrangements, which are spectacular,) Matt Leadbetter (reso and vocals,) Mike Sumner (banjo,) Ethan Burkhardt (bass,) and Ashby Frank (mandolin.) An impressive group who have captured an incredible recording during a most unbelievable time.
Dale Ann Bradley doesn’t always get the respect and notice she deserves, despite being a five-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year and an integral component of IBMA 2020 Entertainers of the Year, Sister Sadie. “Things She Couldn’t Get Over” and “Living on the Edge,” along with “In the End” should vie for song recognition when this year’s award nominations are revealed, as should the album in its entirety. And if she isn’t again recognized as the music’s premier vocalist—as much as I love Brooke Aldridge, I’m gonna be ready to burn everything down.
Producing herself, she is a visionary and knows exactly the sound she is seeking. Dale Ann Bradley is the best, and with Things She Couldn’t Get Over, she again proves it.
This album only just made its way to me, but was released in February. A few more Pinecastle reviews are on the way!