Archive for the ‘Bluegrass CD reviews’ Tag

Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard- Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969 review   Leave a comment

Hazel and Alice

Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969
Free Dirt Records

Rare, archival material from the most important female duo in bluegrass history will always be welcomed.

The contributions made by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard have long been acknowledged by people who have chosen to delve into their music and the events surrounding their recording and performing careers, both individually within bluegrass and old-time music and as a pioneering duo. That it took the International Bluegrass Music Association until 2017—six years after Dickens’ passing—to welcome them into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame was nothing short of shameful.

Recorded rehearsal tapes captured between jobs and child-rearing responsibilities—and at times with children running about—illuminate the process the musical partners engaged in to develop their raw and unblemished interpretation of bluegrass. Considering the intent and circumstance of the recording, the fidelity of the nineteen included songs is surprisingly acute. Recorded contemporaneously and subsequently to their initial Folkways set, these songs and recordings provide a hint into the woodshedding the pair undertook while developing their identifiable sound.

Only “James Alley Blues” has previously been released by Hazel and Alice (on the second Rounder album), and the accompaniment on these songs is minimal. We are invited guests into intimate, unfettered, and still intense rehearsals; one can easily imagine sitting at a Formica table with a cup of black coffee while watching these proceedings. Gerrard’s autoharp can be heard, setting the pace for songs as diverse as Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s “Bye Bye Love.” While most of the instrumentation is guitar, banjo leads the way on the spirited “Let Me Fall” and “Bound to Ride.”

Hazel and Alice never had much time for trifflin’, and that is clearly communicated in “I’ll Wash Your Love From My Heart,” “Why Not Confess,” and “Will You Miss Me.” “Tell Me That You Love Me” and “Are You All Alone” finds them softening their stance, while “This Little Light of Mine,” “No Telephone In Heaven,” and “No One To Welcome Me Home” have Hazel and Alice exploring the folk and country songbooks. On “No One To Welcome Me Home,” their voices blend and blur, with Hazel cutting through in supporting harmony. Hard times—a frequent Hazel and Alice subject—are explored in a rough take of “In The Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad).” “Cannonball Blues” and “Seven Year Blues” are exceptional takes.

While definitely adding to the Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard canon, these rehearsal takes also reveal the development of the singers; several tracks begin almost hesitantly, their confidence developing over the course of two or three minutes. A very welcome addition to my collection.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

 

 

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Curly Seckler, Don Reno, & Bobby Smith- vintage digital reviews   Leave a comment

CMH Curly

Have I mentioned lately how much I appreciate Curly Seckler? How about Marty?

Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I provide capsule reviews of three recent CMH digital bluegrass reissues- Curly Seckler & the Nashville Grass’ Take A Little Time, Don Reno & the Tennessee Cut-Ups’ 30th Anniversary Album, and Bobby Smith & the Boys From Shiloh’s Smokin’ Bluegrass. 

A good time was had.

CMH Smith

Flashback- Denver Snow review   Leave a comment

flashback

My review of Flashback’s second album is published at Country Standard Time. Flashback is a ‘bluegrass supergroup’, three-quarters of whom played on J. D. Crowe’s Flashback album of almost 25 years ago. It is a strong outing. If you like bluegrass, you should find a lot to appreciate here.

David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole review   1 comment

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.

 

Lonesome River Band- Mayhayley’s House review   Leave a comment

LRB

Lonesome River Band Mayhayley’s House Mountain Home Music Company

The personnel line-up for the Lonesome River Band has remained quite consistent for the past decade or so, and it is arguably the strongest it has ever been—and I am well-aware of the earliest days, thank you very much.

Sammy Shelor remains one of the music’s most accomplished 5-string players. Brandon Rickman is an exceptional lead vocalist and an impressive guitarist. Mike Hartgrove has fiddling skills few can touch, and Barry Reed is a fine bassist and harmony vocalist. Mandolinist and singer Jesse Smathers wasted no time in establishing himself within LRB on the previous Bridging the Tradition album, and Tony Creasman returns on drums and percussion.

LRB will never be Fervor Coulee’s favourite bluegrass band, but one cannot argue that they create great albums of significance.

Mayhayley’s House doesn’t have a weak moment within its very generous forty-three. “I Think I’m Gonna Be Alright” has an appealing, loping vibe that reminds one of 70s country-rock, while a pair of Shawn Camp songs anchor the recording. “As Lonesome As I Am,” co-written with Matt Lindsey, moves along at a good tempo, and benefits from Shelor’s propulsive banjo rolls. Camp’s “It Feels Real Good Goin’ Down,” co-written with Gary Nicholson, is a well-crafted song that avoids easy cliché; instrumentally the song features nice mandolin touches, banjo notes, and fiddling. Musicianship of such a high quality is always appreciated.

LRB has taken to recording Adam Wright songs, and this time out the title track comes from the prolific, Nashville-based writer. Like all good writers, Wright pulls us into a world we may have previously had no understanding, this time the story of a Georgia seer and lawyer; LRB’s telling is spirited and engaging.

Numbers including “Hickory Hollow Times and County News” and “Old Coyote Town” reflect nostalgically for previous times, but do so in uncontrived manner. Renditions of “Fly Away My Pretty Little Miss” and “Ida Red” may appear superfluous, but are presented here with energy and conviction. Reaching back twenty years, Don Humprhies’ morally unpalatable “Blackbirds and Crows” is very ably (and with a bit more verve than the Nashville Bluegrass Band opted for) brought forward for new listeners. Allen Reynolds’ “Wrong Road Again” has had a few bluegrass versions over the years, notably by the Lynn Morris Band, and LRB’s Rickman-led, radio-friendly version should receive attention. [Just checked the Bluegrass Today chart- the song is #1 for this month, so…I guess I am right.] Ditto “Diggin'” and “Lonesome Bone,” songs that have enough shine to attract spins.

Dismiss Mayhayley’s House for the Lonesome River Band’s continued embrace of percussion if you like. You will be missing out on outstanding progressive bluegrass.

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver- Life Is A Story review   Leave a comment

LifeIsaStory

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver Life Is A Story Mountain Home Music Company

Let’s be honest up front, and I trust that is why you visit Fervor Coulee—Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver were one of the first bluegrass bands I experienced (on album) and I have spent many hours enjoying their music. When I first encountered them live in 2001, I was rocked. While the names and voices may change, the quality is always apparent, and if I think the peak of the group was more than a decade ago when Jamie Dailey, Barry Scott, Terry Baucom, and Jesse Stockman recorded Dig A Little Deeper with Doyle, I can also allow that others have a different view.

Here is the honest part—I find much of the music that DLQ has recorded since to be—at turns—trite, heavy-handed, or sanctimonious. At best each album, no matter the year, had two or three songs that just rubbed me the wrong way.

With that out of the way, there is a lot to appreciate about Life Is A Story. As strong an album as the previous In Session was, Life Is A Story is a touch more impressive. With the band lineup solidified—at least for now—with Josh Swift (resophonic, lead guitar, and percussion,) Joe Dean (banjo and guitar,) Dustin Pyrtle (vocals and guitar,) Eli Johnston (vocals and bass,) Stephen Burwell (fiddle,) and Lawson (vocals, mandolin and mandola)—a true band sound emerges. I am not privy to how the album was recorded, but is certainly has a feel of a group working together to create a collection of songs with a consistent feel.

There are several highlights, and these will vary between listeners depending on tastes. “What Am I Living For” is a strong vocal showcase, featuring rich harmonies and a strong lead; unfortunately I don’t know if it is Pyrtle or Johnston, but it sounds real fine, and is perhaps the album’s strongest performance. The O’Kanes’ “Bluegrass Blues” has been a song deserving of a high profile recording for decades, and it given its due here. “Guitar Case” is a nice Donna Ulisse-Marc Rossi narrative, and the treatment it is given here is both lonely and hopeful; this song may be familiar from Nu-Blu’s recording of a few years back.

Less successful are the album’s two lead tracks. “Kids These Days” recalls a time that may (or may not) have existed forty or fifty years ago, but certainly not the “twenty years ago” it claims, and whether the elements held up as exemplary are indeed entirely positive will depend on personal beliefs; for me, the song falls flat.  “Little Girl,” John Michael Montgomery final #1,  is a lot too judgmental and contrived for this listener.

While the lyrical elements of “Life of a Hard Workin’ Man” and “I See a Heartbreak Comin’,” two of the band-written songs, are very familiar within the bluegrass world, the performances here are spot-on and represent this edition of DLQ at their finest. Lawson sounds a bit thin on “Cry Across Kansas,” but this road-weariness complements the song and it may be my favourite song on the album. “Drivin’ It Home” does exactly that, closing the album on lively notes.

Without question, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver remain one of bluegrass music’s most highly considered outfits. Nominated this year as both Entertainer of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year, and with Josh Swift getting a nod as Reso Player of the Year, the IBMA continues to acknowledge their expertise. With Life Is A Story the group continues to produce the type of music that has made DLQ one of the most successful bluegrass bands in history; that not every song or production decision appeals to me doesn’t discount the quality of their performances. Maybe for fans only, but that is a fairly sizeable contingent!

Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice- The Mountains Are Calling Me review   Leave a comment

jr sisk

Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice The Mountains Are Calling Me Home Mountain Fever Records

Having released seven albums under his own name in the past decade, as well as recording as a member of Santa Cruz and Blue Ridge, Junior Sisk has the pattern down. One of bluegrass music’s most recognizable and appreciated vocalists, his albums balance the expected elements: traditionally-rooted bluegrass with ballads stirring soulful memories, up-tempo, catchy numbers sparked by stellar instrumentation, and sincere gospel reflections to speak to believers.

The Mountains Are Calling Me Home doesn’t deviate from this template, nor should it. What the album lacks in surprise or innovation, it more than compensates with energy and precision. A mark of Sisk albums is the strength of the material, and this is again readily apparent.

Sisk almost always includes a Daniel Salyer song on his albums, and this time out there are a pair. “What Goes Around Comes Around” is the lead track, and puts the familiar cliché to good use. Elevating the number are Sisk’s smooth, soaring vocals—especially on the chorus—and the songwriter’s decision to move past the expected wordplay to craft a song that is universal and emotionally relevant. A second song, “Shape Up or Ship Out,” again plays with familiar language, and will appeal to a segment of the bluegrass festival audience; it isn’t a song that advances the music, but it does encapsulate the frustration of its protagonist and features attractive fiddling from Jamie Harper. In a similar vein, “I’m Not Listening Anymore” (a Ronnie Bowman/Tim Stafford co-write) captures a failing relationship from a different perspective.

The album’s title track is the album’s feature number. Written by J.R. Slatterwhite, Jr.—a songwriter that I (unfortunately) know nothing about—one immediately comprehends what attracted Sisk to the song. Emphasizing human experience and frailty, the song speaks to the familiar bluegrass theme of the wandering son. Familiar songs include “It’s So Cold,” a track recorded by Blue Ridge on their Common Ground album, and “You’ll Be A Lost Ball,” a bluegrass standard. “What a Way to Go” is not the same song Ray Kennedy snuck into the Country Top Ten in 1991, (and one only wonders what could a bluegrass band do with that one), but is similarly a rollicking, energetic number that could find success at radio.

As Sisk was physically unable to play guitar during the album’s recording, Aaron Ramsey was brought in, and is much appreciated on numbers including “Darling Do You Know Who Loves You” and “Money (Will Not Save You.)” Johnathan Dillon’s mando on the latter gospel number is also worthy of notice, while Jason Davis’ banjo playing drives the album.

The Mountains Are Calling Me Home continues Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice’s string of well-considered and successful bluegrass projects; it should appeal to his fan base and would be a fine album for those just finding their way in the bluegrass world.

Thank you for finding Fervor Coulee, where it is all about the music. Donald