Archive for the ‘Bluegrass CD reviews’ Tag

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

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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

 

 

 

Corrina Rose Logston- Bluegrass Fiddler review   2 comments

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Corinna Rose Logston Bluegrass Fiddler Patuxent Music

Patuxent Music, over the past handful of years, has released some very fine bluegrass music. Not everything they do is to my liking, but neither is everything that comes out on Mountain Home, Rebel, or Rounder.

This year has been especially pleasing. Things started late in 2015 with Danny Paisley & Southern Grass’s excellent Weary River and continued with Audie Blaylock & Redline’s The Road That Winds and Frank Wakefield and Leon Morris’s self-titled album. The Travers Chandler Archaic album had its moments, and while Charm City Junction didn’t do much for me personally, their talent is apparent.

Now comes a release from an artist I wasn’t previously familiar with but whom I am going to start watching out for, Corrina Rose Logston. From what I can gather searching the web (the one-sheet accompanying the album is short of background) this is Logston’s third album following a pair of (perhaps) self-released efforts. Previously this year, she released an album with the band High Fidelity, whose banjo player Kurt Stephenson is featured prominently on this release. Logston also regularly appears with Jesse McReynolds.

The title of the album is an acute summation. This is a bluegrass fiddle album, and a darned fine one. While I will sometimes drift-off (to use a polite term for ‘lose consciousness’) listening to a fiddle-dominated recording, Bluegrass Fiddler kept me intrigued from start to finish. No doubt part of the reason was that Logston’s assembled band keeps things interesting, not just supporting her fiddling showcase, but sounding like a true band who has worked up a strong set of numbers.

“Laughing Boy” kicks things off in capable fashion, and it isn’t too long before a delightful original “Sandbridge” makes an appearance. This lively number moves just a little, injecting some creative spark to the presentation. While the album is largely instrumental, there are two vocal tracks, both of which are impressive.

An old C&W song from Cowboy Copas, “I Don’t Blame You,” is featured first, and includes excellent interplay between the band members, especially Logston and guitarist Jeremy Stephens. It is the type of song one might expect John Reischman & the Jaybirds to uncover and enliven with bluegrass verve.

While many have heard “Foggy Mountain Top” a thousand times or more, we have to remember we all heard it for the first time performed by someone, and as often as not not the Carter Family. Whomever is introduced to the song via this rendition is in for a treat, as the fiddling is stunning, the lead and harmony singing is delightful, and Casey Campbell’s mandolin break is real nice.

Bluegrass vet David Mclaughlin appears on five tracks, including a stout “Smokey Mountain Rag.” P.J. George, who also plays with Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys (a band I reviewed here), is the bassist. Several popular fiddle numbers are featured including “Sopping the Gravy,” “Wilson’s Hornpipe,” and “Snowflake Breakdown.” The album’s second original number is a showstopper, “Honeycat Hornpipe.” Delightful.

Bluegrass Fiddler is a very impressive album, one that has the extra ‘something’ to separate it from the mass of releases encountered this year. It will find a place on my ‘best of 2016’ list, me thinks

Grascals, Honeycutters, Travers Chandler, & Sister Sadie- lost/found   Leave a comment

Starting the ‘year-end’ process, and in doing so I found a couple reviews posted elsewhere that I didn’t link through here at Fervor Coulee.

Very early this year, The Grascals released their eighth album ..and then there’s this. Country Standard Time published my review. It was a great way to start off what turned out to be a better than typical year of bluegrass albums. grascals

This summer, The Honeycutters knocked me out with their exceptional album On The Ropes. That review was published at Lonesome Road Review. the-honeycutters-on-the-ropes

Travers Chandler’s Archaic was released a few months back, and my review was published over at Country Standard Time; the typo is likely entirely my own danged fault. Some good ones on here, but a couple clunkers, too. archaic

Finally, can’t believe I missed putting up a link to one of my favourite albums of the year, Sister Sadie’s debut release. What a set- over at Country Standard Time.

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Careless on my part- sometimes it is hard to keep up. Best to you- listen to some roots music. Maybe even buy it! Donald

Blue Highway- Original Traditional review   1 comment

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Blue Highway Original Traditional Rounder Records

For more than twenty years, listeners have been privileged every couple years to encounter a new album from Blue Highway.

Original Traditional, their eleventh and first since Dobroist Rob Ickes departed, continues their most recent blueprint: original music written or co-written by band members along with a single traditional song. The album’s title alludes to the group’s tendency to bridge the generations of bluegrass through recognition and reverence for the traditions of the music while ensuring a contemporary, original perspective is always present.

With three formidable lead vocalists and key songwriters—Tim Stafford (guitar,) Shawn Lane (mandolin, fiddle, guitar,) and Wayne Taylor (bass)— along with Jason Burleson’s alternately aggressive and pensive, propulsive and sympathetic banjo presence (his tune “Alexander’s Run” is a highlight of the recording) and an instrumental lineup as strong as has ever been staged, Blue Highway is one of the top bands in the business.

Joining the group for this recording is the youthful Gaven Largent, briefly of Michael Cleveland’s Flamekeeper and a player who doesn’t ease his way into the Blue Highway sound, confidently laying out his runs on mid-set numbers including the love-gone-wrong piece “What You Wanted” and the vengeful murder ballad “The Story of My Life.”

“Don’t Weep For Me”—essentially “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” meets “Echo Mountain” minus the dog—is a strong lead song. The rest of the 38 minute album reveals the accustomed cast of bluegrass fellows who drink too much (“Water From the Stone,”) hold onto childhood trauma too long (“The Story of My Life,”) and lose a good woman’s love because of it all (“If Lonesome Don’t Kill Me.”)

Still, Blue Highway isn’t a band favouring one-dimensional songs, and none of those songs mentioned exist without shades of gray. In Shawn Lane and Gerald Ellenburg’s album closing number, Blue Highway revisit the good ole days at “The Top of the Ridge” while writing what sounds like either an elegy or (in darker eyes) a note of suicide. “She Ain’t Worth It,” in hands other than Tim Stafford and Steve Gulley, might have been just another song of fateful revenge; their protagonist thinks a little longer about his predicament—rather than grabbing his .44, he sits and “bathe(s) in the afterglow.”

“She Ain’t Worth It” swings more than a little, and features Largent to nice effect. Similarly, “Last Time I’ll Ever Leave This Town” provides the instrumentalists room to showcase their offerings. “Water From the Stone” has a pleasing and inspirational gospel quartet arrangement, while the a cappella treatment of “Hallelujah” is just showing off and seems a fine message to the IBMA: Why exactly aren’t we named Vocal Group of the Year annually?

I am sure I am not the only amateur fact-checker who has gone on extended forays to learn the true life blues behind particular folk and bluegrass numbers. Many (many) years ago, one of the first I did this with was “Tom Dooley,” the standard popularized by Grayson & Whitter, The Kingston Trio, Doc Watson, and hundreds of others. I remember scouring the local libraries for ‘facts’ related to the story of Tom Dula and Laura Foster.

On the Legacy recording made with David Holt, Watson suggested his grandmother knew something about the tale, and that intrigued me even more, as did reading Sharyn McCrumb’s excellent The Ballad of Tom Dooley. My interest was therefore piqued to read the song title “Wilkes County Clay” (the locale of those post-Civil War events) and even more thrilled as the song began with, “In North Carolina, in the County of Wilkes, there’s a tale of deception, murder, and guilt. I’ll spare no compassion, the truth I will tell, Let God alone judge me, this side of hell.” From those words, one knew where Tim Stafford and songwriting partner Bobby Starnes were going.

“Wilkes County Clay” is a mournful song, with Lane’s fiddle colouring the song much as one imagines the instrument did Dula’s final moments. While the narrator’s identify isn’t clear, the song is an agreeable telling of the tale, taking the Grayson-path that other accounts discount. The lyrical choices made (“She hid like a panther in the black of the night, And killed Laura Foster with a bone handle knife”) raises this above typical bluegrass fare.

Original Traditional is another outstanding bluegrass album from Blue Highway. They make it seem easy: forced listening to the number of less-than-adequate bluegrass albums available proves that it isn’t. Blue Highway is a great band, one that has been contributing fresh insight into the bluegrass spectrum for more than two decades. That they continue to rise to the level they do, never taking the easy way, never delivering less than stellar material, is testament to the importance they place on their legacy.

Excellent cover, presumably by Bobby Starnes, too!

Thank you for taking the time to seek out Fervor Coulee. I appreciate that there are lots of places to get roots information and opinion; I’m glad I’m one of them. Donald

 

Kristin Scott Benson- Stringworks review   Leave a comment

stringworks

Kristin Scott Benson recently released a very fine bluegrass album, and I was asked to write about it for Country Standard Time. I have.

But, prior to being asked to do that, I had written a blog entry over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass which looked at the three KSB albums as well as instrumental bluegrass albums in general. It rambles a bit, but there may be two of three salient ideas included.

No promises.

Thanks to the folks at Mountain Home and all other labels and independent artists and publicists who show faith in my by getting fresh roots music into my ears.

Donald