Archive for the ‘Blluegrass CD reviews’ Tag

Kathy Kallick Band- Horrible World review   Leave a comment

kallickKathy Kallick Band Horrible World Live Oak Records

I’ve been writing about Kathy Kallick almost as long as I’ve been writing about roots music.

With others, I produced a concert for the Kathy Kallick Band, have bought several CDs—and been afforded others— and spent time listening to her music at multiple festivals and various stages—I am positive both as a reformed Good Ol’ Persons (although I can locate no record of such) and as the KKB—while having a couple semi-private chats with her. She is undoubtedly one of my favourite bluegrass and Americana performers.

Kathy Kallick’s voice is always warm and inviting, even when singing songs with the coldest of themes: she knows her way around a murderin’ outlaw song as well as anyone, and yet can embrace the complexities of relationships and daily life with seeming ease. While she can and does perform in a range of situations, never is she so strong than when fronting a vibrant, driving bluegrass band, and over the past many years has been releasing complex and engaging albums with her band.

Warmer Shade of Blue reached a level few bands can ever achieve, and yet she built upon that with Between the Hollow & the High-Rise and FoxhoundsFoxhounds while never faltering. Her recording of a few years back with Laurie Lewis honouring Vern & Ray also deserves recognition.

Horrible World (countered both in song and on the back cover with “It’s A Beautiful World”) continues the Kathy Kallick Band’s streak of excellence. As always, her songs are deep and meaningful creations, ones that find a way to speak to innermost thoughts. She balances these heady moments with unconventional renditions of familiar songs, for example recreating “Cotton-Eyed Joe” as a pensive 3/4 time ballad, before shifting gears ala Monroe’s post-Presley “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Tom Bekeny (mandolin) has been part of the group since the start and Walkin’ In My Shoes, and is as central to the KKB sound as is its namesake. His interaction with bandmates during the extended instrumental break within the telling “Nothin’ So Bad (It Can’t Get Worse)” is notable. The lineup of the group remains consistent from Foxhounds: Annie Staninec (fiddle), Greg Booth (Dobro and banjo), and Cary Black (bass) along with Kallick (guitar) and Bekeny. As usual, everyone sings various bits and parts.

With a trio of instrumentals—one near-grass (“Cascade Blues”), one western swingin’ (“Boot Heel Drive”) and one bonafide ‘grass (Bekeny’s “Edale)”—and familiar songs including “My Honey Lou” and “Dark As The Night (Blue As The Day,)” which I swear I have heard Kallick sing previously, [ed.note: and I have, if not in concert at least on the live Good Ol’ Person’s release, Good ‘n’ Live; thanks Mr. Thompson] leading the way, Horrible World is a very accessible bluegrass release.  This interpretation of “Dark As The Night” is stellar, bluesy and pure yearnsome. “Pockets Full of Rain” is a hopeful (vaguely familiar sounding) new-folk song, and “Ride Away” is a spirited ‘bad guy’ tale, and Kallick goes hard—as she often does—to give voice to this spritely number. “Solid Gone” incorporates years of folk-country-and bluegrass tradition within its words and melody, and Staninec’s singing style is well-suited to this old-timey song.

The album closing “This Beautiful World,” a John Reischman-Kallick co-write is a gentle meditation for hope and faith, as is “The Sunday Road,” albeit with a bit more pep.

The Kathy Kallick Band is one of the strongest, most consistent and satisfying bluegrass bands going. That they never receive their due from the IBMA voting membership come awards time is a shame. An album like Horrible World could change that, should folks in positions of influence ever bleeding notice. But I’ve been saying similar for 15 years.


Sam Bush- Circles Around Me   1 comment

This past weekend, my review of Sam Bush’s recent album Circles Around Me ran in my twice-monthly Roots Music column in the Red Deer Advocate newspaper. Unfortunately, due to the holiday weekend, the column never got uploaded to the online edition of the paper. Therefore, I’m adding the review here in the hopes that additional folks get a chance to read it as the album is certainly deserving of your attention and purchase. Support the artists and labels. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee, Donald

Sam Bush

Circles Around Me

Sugar Hill

Is it really possible that Circles Around Me represents only the sixth solo album of fresh material from New Grass Revival founder and all-around mando wizard Sam Bush?

Playing bluegrass mandolin, Bush is without equal. He is loose and laid back, a proverbial Jimmy Buffett for the Telluride set, and yet he remains astonishingly precise and rhythmic in his playing. Coupled with a distinctive voice and a coterie of musical friends built over forty years as a leading figure within newgrass, bluegrass, and acoustic circles, Bush’s recording projects are always welcomed.

On his latest release, Bush concentrates on what he does best: enlivening acoustiblue music with brightness and hominess. Even on the most urbane material- Junior Heywood a chamber-like trio performance with Edgar Meyer and Jerry Douglas- Bush and his cohorts approach things as they might a living room jam.

A few traditional songs are renewed- Diamond Joe and Midnight on the Stormy Deep along with a 1976 take of Apple Blossom– and provide the album’s foundation. Upon this are set several new songs from not only Bush, but collaborators including Guy Clark, Jeff Black, and Meyer.

Live, Sam Bush always appears to be the happiest fellow on stage and on this 14-cut album he seems positively euphoric. A charging bluegrass spin through Roll On Buddy, Roll On (sparked by a lead vocal turn from Del McCoury) leads into a banjo-punctuated account of the failed robbery and murder of Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw regular David Akeman. The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle is a masterfully constructed and engaging tale, and Jeff Black’s aching Gold Heart Locket receives the performance it has long deserved.

Circles Around Me bridges the chasm between traditional bluegrass and more progressive sounds in a manner that debunks the argument that the gulf is significant.

Dry Branch Fire Squad- Echoes of the Mountain   Leave a comment

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Echoes of the Mountains

Rounder Records

Many have been a-waiting fresh music from Ron Thomason’s Dry Branch Fire Squad since hearing their last album, Hand Hewn, more than seven years ago. With only a live set surfacing in the interim, doubters can be forgiven for fearing the venerable outfit had sang and picked their last.

And then comes Echoes of the Mountains, as strong a bluegrass album as has been released this year, and one that equals or surpasses many of the dozen or so albums previously released by DBFS.

Few combine the stories of the mountains with the sounds of bluegrass quite like Thomason, and his voice hasn’t lost anything with the passage of the years. With his languid vocal delivery, Thomason places emphasis on the stories of the past. And what stories they are!

Within songs both familiar and new- but mostly familiar- we have death from cattle stampede and conclusion jumping, a fruitless, pained search for a lost sibling, reminiscences of times and ways long past, faithful dogs, some brimstone, and even Sam Cooke brought down to the home place.

Fancy, furious picking has never been a hallmark of the DBFS’s, but there is no doubting they can more than hold there own; the manner in which they rework Bring It One Home to Me or fire-up Grayson’s Train reminds listeners of the group’s instrumental dexterity.

 A fine return from one of bluegrass music’s longest running institutions, and one that assures that age and experience are no hindrance to the creation of memorable music.