Archive for the ‘Bill Monroe’ Tag

David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole review   3 comments

David Davis

David Davis & The Warrior River Boys Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole Rounder Records

Even with fewer than a dozen albums featuring his name, David Davis has become a near-legendary member of the bluegrass fraternity, a true follower of The Monroe Doctrine. Having fronted the Warrior River Boys for parts of four decades, Davis has refined and nurtured his vision of traditionally-based bluegrass while consistently presenting among the finest live showcases of the music’s vibrancy.                                                                                                                                            Bill monroe

For his first album in almost ten years, Davis returns to Rounder Records with a well-considered collection of music from the early years of the twentieth century. Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole is the first Warrior River Boys album since Davis completed his incredible Rebel Records aural triptych in 2009: Troubled Times, David Davis & the Warrior River Boys, and Two Dimes & A Nickel, three of the most impressive bluegrass albums released during the initial decade of this century. [Note to self: dig up and post original reviews of these albums.]

David Davis has the ability to provide insights into the genesis of bluegrass music as few others. He presents as simultaneously intense and affable, a man comfortable with the direction his career has taken him. He has studied the music that informed Bill Monroe’s music, has identified for himself the threads and tendrils that were woven to create bluegrass. These insights inform his music, whether creating impressive interpretations of previously unrecorded songs or crafting fresh understandings of familiar songs, conveying universal experience.

David Davis waskasoo

The music of Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers comes from the post-World War I, pre-Depression era of American history, string band music that influenced generations of professional and amateur pickers and singers. Many of the songs contained within Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole are well-known, but Davis and co-producer Robert Montgomery have also included less familiar numbers while eschewing proverbial standards such as “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” and “Take A Drink On Me,” songs already oft recorded in bluegrass.

Still, a spirited and instrumentally well-arranged take on “White House Blues” is included as is “Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee,” songs every jam regular well knows. Late in the set, a smooth rendition of “If The River Was Whiskey” is offered, with Davis’s voice and light, southern drawl ideally suited to the meandering song.

An album of considerable variation, an acceptance of life’s departures is an apparent theme. Whether pining for a distant love (“Where The Whippoorwill Is Whispering Goodnight”) within a song replete with acute detail (“Around that door the same old ivy vine is clinging,” a vivid image of desolation), cutting off a proposal (“One Moonlight Night”), or acknowledging the ways of a family’s ‘black sheep’ (“He Rambled”), one senses that Davis and Montgomery were attracted to songs where everything wasn’t necessarily going to plan.

The ‘Frankie and Johnny’ lovers of “Leaving Home” reveal different strategies for moving on from their troubled relationship, and the protagonist of “May I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight, Mister?” should have anticipated the ‘fox and henhouse’ outcome of his hospitality.

Does sentimentality get better than the included renditions of “Old and Only In The Way” and “Goodbye Mary Dear,” an enduring war-time tale? I suspect not. The bluesy “Highwayman” fits alongside additional ‘blues’ numbers including “Ramblin’ Blues” and “Milwaukee Blues,” a song previously recorded with a different vocal arrangement on Troubled Times and which led Davis on his Charlie Poole exploration.

Long-time Warrior River Boys Marty Hayes (lead and harmony vocals, bass) and Robert Montgomery (banjo) remain within the fold, with Davis contributing his classic-styled mandolin playing and distinctive voice with Stan Wilemon on guitar. Guest fiddler Billy Hurt is featured across the album. The instrumentation is, as expected, top drawer. The closing “Sweet Sunny South” is extended a mite, allowing  all the players to be showcased to excellent effect. Wilemon’s guitar runs on “Ramblin’ Blues” are especially appealing, as are Hurt’s fiddle fills, while Montgomery gets great tone on the opening title track.

Whatever are the reasons, it has been much too long since David Davis & the Warrior River Boys released an album. Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole is more than a welcome return; this album allows the listener to travel back in time and witness bluegrass’ evolution from old-timey string band and blues foundations to the music we embrace today. More than academic exercise, Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole is an exemplary example of modern, traditional bluegrass.



Peter Rowan- Carter Stanley’s Eyes review   3 comments


Peter Rowan Carter Stanley’s Eyes Rebel Records

Carter Stanley’s Eyes is an acute reminder of that, when performed with talent, inspiration, and respect, bluegrass is a very powerful thing.

Peter Rowan has been a bluegrass institution for more than thirty years, with a pedigree stretching back to the mid-1960s as a member of the Blue Grass Boys. Rowan—the target of the infamous Bill Monroe quote, “Don’t go too far out on that limb, there’s enough flowers out there already”—has frequently ventured well-outside the bluegrass realm, almost always with satisfying results.

With Carter Stanley’s Eyes, Rowan returns to the formidable truck of the bluegrass tree with an album-long tribute to the music and its originators, especially Carter and Ralph Stanley. Rowan’s voice has always percolated richness infused with eternal qualities, and across the 14 songs and nearly fifty minutes of this release, everything we have come to expect from ‘bluegrass’ Peter Rowan are prominently displayed.

A pulsating and mandolin-rich rendition of “Drumbeats Along the Watchtower” (more familiarly entitled “Wild Geese Cry Again”) opens the recording, and it is an excellent start. Rowan shows he is ready to do the heaviest lifting on this his fortieth-or-so non-live album. The song is also indication of how closely tied this album will be to the Stanley tradition. “The Light In Carter Stanley’s Eyes” captures a formative moment in Rowan’s early bluegrass career, a recitation of self-deprecation and mentor validation

A number of songs made essential via the Stanley Brothers are incorporated, including “The Hills of Roane County,” “A Vision of Mother,” “Let Me Love You One More Time,” and “Too Late To Cry.” A couple numbers have a spiritual theme including, freshened with stellar recording methods and an inspired arrangement, “A Crown He Wore,” also famously recorded by the Stanleys. “A Tiny Broken Heart”— initially made popular by the Louvin Brothers, and as a bluegrass staple  via Hazel & Alice, The Bluegrass Cardinals, and Dan Tyminski, among others—is a bit drippy for my tastes, but it has served its purpose for dozens of years and isn’t out of place among this set of now traditional pieces.

Within “Can’t You Hear Me Calling,” a signature element of the Monroe  Doctrine, echoes of the Master are readily apparent without ever once sounding forced or artificial: Rowan has an ability to evoke Monroe while avoiding mimicry.

These performances comfortably complement the most engaging released by Rowan, in no small part due to the quality of the musicians and vocalists with which he has surrounded himself.  [The only negative I can find with this entire package is that individual credits are not provided.] Connections to the legends abound, with Blaine Sprouse, who played with Monroe, on fiddle, Jack Lawrence (Doc Watson) is the credited lead guitarist, and Don Rigsby, who was closely associated with Ralph Stanley, plays mandolin. Rowan’s touring group- Patrick Sauber (banjo), Chris Henry (mandolin), and Paul Knight (bass)-are given equal billing. Produced by Rowan, and co-produced with Tim O’Brien (both of whom also contribute guitar), the album’s sound, production, and aural atmosphere are pristine.

After more than fifty years as a bluegrass professional, the light shines in Peter Rowan’s eyes: that he loves bluegrass music is without doubt. Neither is his ability to create a masterful album of bluegrass classics.


Gold…In A Way- Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys- Live at Mechanics Hall   Leave a comment

More than 15 years ago, I started a feature in the local bluegrass association’s newsletter that I called “Gold…In A Way.” Each issue I would examine a bluegrass ‘back catalogue’ title that I appreciated. In this way, I looked at albums that either I missed writing about ‘the first time around’ or albums that pre-dated the time I began writing about roots music. These were albums that I thought were important, albums I cared about for some reason. Of course, the only way these albums would ever be ‘gold’ is in their musical value, not in copies sold. This time out, I look at a vintage release from the Father of Bluegrass music, Bill Monroe.

Bill Monroe
Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys- Live at Mechanics Hall (Acoustic Disc) Released 2004

I’ve written it before, and I hope to write it again: Thank goodness a teenaged David Grisman could think of nothing more exciting than to haul his recording machine up and down the east coast of the United States recording bluegrass ham sessions and concerts.

Captured live in November 1963, the Blue Grass Boys in this Worcester, MA set are Del McCoury (IBMA Hall of Fame class of 2011), coming near the end of his brief tenure as Monroe’s lead vocalist and guitar player, Bill Keith (IBMA Hall of Fame 2015), the innovative 5-stringer who gave up his first name for Brad when the authoritative Monroe decried there was to be one ‘Bill’ in the band, and the ever reliable Joe Stuart on fiddle. Bessie Lee Maudlin holds down the bottom.

For those of us who cannot get enough live Monroe (IBMA Hall of Fame 1991), this 40-plus minute set was a welcome addition to our collections when it was released by Grisman’s Acoustic Disc label. Monroe shines on near every number with “Devil’s Dream” being especially fiery on this evening, and “Rawhide” sounding flawless despite Monroe’s assertion otherwise. McCoury takes a few leads, and while his voice had not yet fully acquired its unique qualities, greatness peaks through. What is in evidence, on “Footprints in the Snow” for instance, is McCoury’s ability to carry a song.

The mix doesn’t do justice to Keith’s playing, but Stuart is clearly heard throughout. The vocals are largely duos, with a couple trios and a quartet (“I Saw the Light.”) A pair of numbers featuring Monroe’s daughter Melissa are situated mid-set, and serve only to illustrate the foibles of nepotism; while not unlistenable, one doubts they will ever be considered essential except as part of the historical record.

The heart of the show includes some of Monroe’s most enduring numbers-“Mule Skinner Blues,” “Footprints,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Rawhide,” and “John Henry.” While not surpassing the more familiar studio renditions, these takes are all excellent live performances.

Bea Lilly (IBMA Hall of Fame 2002). of the Lilly Brothers who were features in this ‘package’ show, comes to the stage to sing a duet of “What Would You Give in Exchange” with Monroe. Lilly accepts and meets the challenge of singing Charlie Monroe’s parts. With “Uncle Pen” and “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues” the historic (largely because it was recorded) show comes to a close much too soon.

For a recording of some age, the audio quality is simply terrific, and even casual listeners should be able to appreciate the performance. The 24-page booklet is loaded with information, as well as numerous photographs of the 1963 edition of the band.

The liner notes by IBMA Hall of Fame 2014 member Neil Rosenberg are typically insightful and clearly communicated, reading as comfortable reflection of a special time in bluegrass history. The folk boom was just beginning, but much of the scene had not yet discovered bluegrass music; Monroe was, as Rosenberg writes, “on the threshold of recognition that would transform him into an icon of American music.”

This release is heartily recommended. I’ve been listening to it at least annually since its release and never tire of its sparkling liveliness.

Eric Bibb, Tom Ewing, Rob Benzing reviews   Leave a comment

I was busy writing last weekend, and the products of my efforts have been published over at Lonesome Road Review.

Eric Bibb’s Migration Blues from Stony Plain Records: it is as good as you hope.

Bill Monroe’s last lead singer, Tom Ewing, has put together a compilation of tracks from his late 80-early 90 cassette tapes: Tom knows bluegrass.

Rob Benzing is a DC area banjo talent.

BIBB_MigrationBlues_livretTom Ewingrob benzing



The12 Roots Songs of Christmas- #2   Leave a comment

Just a couple of days to Christmas, and my series of Roots Songs of Christmas is coming to a close. There are so many songs and performances I wish I could have included, and- rather than having a non-roots song of Christmas today- I will provide links to some of these down below.

I had considered going all Bah, Humbug today, but I couldn’t find a link to Tim O’Brien’s song of the same name. “Santa Bloody Claus” was an option, but while I love both of these songs, I don’t want to go down that path this year. I’d rather keep things focused on more traditional meanings of Christmas.

untitledAnd things don’t get much more traditional than the birth of Jesus Christ. Today, my Roots Song of Christmas is an entire album, bluegrass songwriter and artist Donna Ulisse’s All the Way to Bethlehem. Much like Kimmie Rhodes’ Miracle on Christmas Day, Ulisse has chosen to go all the way and write an entire album focused around Christmas; this set is focused on her interpretation of the events leading up to and following the birth of Christ.

The album obviously has a Christian rather than secular approach to Christmas. From the immaculate conception (“You Will Be Delivered”,) to Joseph’s confusion (“He’s Not Mine,”) to an interpretation of the events at the inn (“You Cannot Stay Here,”) to the star leading the three kings (“I’m Gonna Shine“) Ulisse’s (along with her collaborators) interpretation of Scripture and the Christmas story is both interesting and listenable. I believe “Let the World Wait for a Little While” will become a seasonal favourite.

Considering the number of songs that already exist about the first Christmas, all the traditional songs that we grew up on, it is pretty remarkable that Ulisse has been able to create new and inspirational music that forges new ground: a listen to “He Is Here” provides ample evidence of this.

The music is varied, some touches of bluegrass, a bit of contemporary Christian-pop sounds, and some country, and it definitely isn’t for everyone. But, one admires the energy and focus- not to mention talent and vision- that went into All the Way to Bethlehem.

Honourable mention today goes to The Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass

A Christmas bluegrass set I've almost plum wore out

A Christmas bluegrass set I’ve almost plum wore out

Boys with “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’;” this clip is from the old Nashville Network Ralph Emery show.

As for the other songs that I couldn’t fit in before tomorrow’s all-time best Roots Song of Christmas, and really it will be the only song on the list that I consider to be in any sort of order, there are links to more; happy exploring.

Jack Johnson “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” in which Johnson has rewritten the popular song into the tale of self-determination it should have been all along.

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s excellent “Bells are Ringing” from her Come Darkness, Come Light album of a few years back.

Eric Bogle “Santa Bloody Claus

Chuck Brodsky “Toast to the Woman in the Holler

The Be Good Tanyas “Rudy

Mary Gauthier “Christmas in Paradise

Eric Brace and Peter Cooper “Silent Night

The Indigo Girls “I Feel the christmas Spirit

Chris Rea “Driving Home for Christmas

Chris deBurgh “A Spaceman Came Traveling

As well as a couple I couldn’t find links to, Jane Hawley “Christmas in Montreal” which is on her Letters to Myself album and Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum’s entire Winter’s Grace album.

Thanks for checking in at Fervor Coulee. Tomorrow, what I consider the all-time best Roots Christmas Song.

Laurie Lewis- Skippin’ and Flyin’ review   Leave a comment

I rewrote my review of Laurie Lewis’s latest at the request of the Lonesome Road Review; without doubt, an incredible album.

Laurie Lewis
Skippin’ and Flyin’
Spruce and Maple Music

5 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

West coast bluegrass maven Laurie Lewis pays tribute to Bill Monroe by exploring his roots and branches in ways few others have attempted. In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth, several Monroe ‘tributes’ have been released. Skippin’ and Flyin’ is easily the most impressive and understated.

Nowhere on the cover of Skippin’ and Flyin’ is Mr. Monroe mentioned or illustrated. Rather, Laurie Lewis appears in full-blown Blue Grass Boy regalia, dressed with the same precision of style and substance that has been her hallmark for the past several decades as one of bluegrass and acoustiblue music’s beautiful flowers.

Skippin’ and Flyin’ is not simply a collection of Monroe tunes recorded by a contemporary band. Rather, the disc goes to the heart of Mr. Monroe’s music, exploring its soul and his motivations and influences.

Laurie Lewis is no newcomer, having played almost every bluegrass festival there is and having recorded several excellent albums over the years. However, she has never narrowed her field of vision and has recorded some of the finest folk-inspired music of the past three decades, among them her incredible collaborations with Tom Rozum The Oak and the Laurel and the under-heralded Guest House.

Throughout this recent album, Lewis doesn’t mimic what Bill Monroe did in 1947 and 1957; she goes deeper, exploring what he may have heard and been affected by in earlier years. In doing so, she gets to the root of Bill Monroe in ways that many other artists have not attempted.

Skippin’ and Flyin’ takes its name from “Old Ten Broeck,” which opens this magnificent 55-minute album: “Old Ten Broeck is skippin’ and gone away, Old Ten Broeck is skippin’ and flyin’.”

Lewis has taken this precursor to “Molly and Tenbrooks” to its roots in the music of the Carver Boys and Cousin Emmy while working in elements from Mike Seeger and Monroe. (Thank goodness for artists, like Lewis, who believe in the value of song notes!)

She takes a different approach with “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” It is almost as if Lewis is saying, “This is Monroe, and we’ll honour him by performing it as he did.” Lewis takes liberty with the chorus, switching up the ‘left me blue’ and ‘proved untrue’ lines, but otherwise maintains the spirit of the early, pre-Elvis Monroe recordings of the song, including an extended, mournful fiddle feature and beautiful mandolin from Rozum.

The final ‘Monroe’ song included here is also the lonesomest. As recorded here by Lewis and her touring band (Rozum, Scott Huffman, Craig Smith, and Todd Phillips) “A Lonesome Road,” recorded by Monroe in 1957, is blue and bluesy. A similar mood with a very different execution is found on “Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues,” a flirty tune Lewis learned from Wanda Jackson.

A contemporary gem is Mark Erelli’s lyrically rich song of devastation, “Hartfordtown 1944.” Monroe never heard the song, but one can imagine that he might have given it more than a passing nod.

Songs from Del McCoury, Wilma Lee Cooper, and Flatt & Scruggs are also included, as are fresh interpretations of “What’s Good For You (Should Be Alright for Me)” and “I Don’t Care Anymore.” Going back even further, “Fair Beauty Bright” has hauntingly ideal mandola offerings from Rozum.

Laurie Lewis has created many excellent albums, and may have recorded “better” ones than this. But none have been more important or have affected me more. By exploring Bill Monroe—his music, his tradition, his influences—in this manner she has paid him the ultimate tribute.

Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration: A Classic Bluegrass Tribute   Leave a comment

Various Artists Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration: A Classic Bluegrass Tribute Rounder Records

There has seemingly been no end to the ‘tribute’ offerings to be produced in this the Year of Bill Monroe. While some of the recordings have been highly original- Laurie Lewis’s set Skippin’ & Flyin’ and Niall Toner’s ”William Smith Monroe,” as two examples- others have been less so, although still enjoyable.

Similar to Rebel Records’ companion albums With Body and Soul (secular) and Let the Light Shine Down (gospel), this two-disc Rounder set pulls 27-Monroe songs from the vaults. Performed by a variety of artists- everyone from the Bluegrass Album Band to Claire Lynch, Vern Williams, and the Nashville Bluegrass Band- the overall quality of the selections is high. Five tracks from the Bluegrass Album Band and three tracks from both the Nashville Bluegrass Band and Michael Cleveland may seem like overkill, but that would be nitpicking, especially considering the musicianship present on these cuts. While it times out at just over 80-minutes, one has a hard time cutting any of the tracks which would have allowed it to be a single-disc issue. Still, I bought my copy of $14.99 so I can hardly complain from an economic point of view.

While some folks may have all of these catalogue tracks in their collections, the package is still of interest for significant reasons, not the least of which is that it provides a darn enjoyable listen. The lengthy essay from Bill Nowlin is very readable and contains enough information to serve as a reminder of how much one still doesn’t fully understand about Monroe’s music and life. A lively new take of “Close By” from vocal darlings Dailey & Vincent has proven popular on bluegrass radio.

A fine collection that would be appreciated by almost all bluegrass fans.