Archive for the ‘Bluegrass’ Tag

New bluegrass from Sideline   Leave a comment

Sideline has a new album coming soon. Entitled Front and Center, the album will serve as the group’s first for Mountain Home and I am fortunate to have a copy in-hand. The album has at least five top-notch songs that I can recall after only a pair of listens. The best may be one entitled “Lysander Hayes” while “Old Time Way,” if memory serves, borrows the “Ground Hog” instrumental refrain. The group has released a pair of videos in advance of the album release in late April. “Thunder Dan” currently sits at #2 on the Bluegrass Today chart; Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter’s Night” may not prove to be as chart-friendly simply because it isn’t as mainstream a song. Popularized in bluegrass by Tony Rice, this take features Skip Cherryholmes in the lead position.

 

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Posted 2018 March 11 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Milan Miller- Timepiece review   Leave a comment

timepiece-itunes-art

Milan Miller Timepiece MilanMillerMusic.com

Milan Miller is one of contemporary bluegrass music’s most recorded songwriters, with chartbusters Balsam Range having recorded more than fifteen of his songs across their albums. Others who have co-written and/or recorded his songs include Irene Kelley, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, and Terry Baucom. While he hasn’t yet been named IBMA’s Bluegrass Songwriter of the Year, he certainly can’t be overlooked for very much longer.

Raised in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Miller put out a well-received album entitled Poison Cove in 2013 and followed that up with an album with Balsam Range’s Buddy Melton. Timepiece is a 6-song EP intended to get a set of songs out in a way Miller desired without interfering with his many other obligations. Terry Baucom plays banjo on three tracks as does Justin Moses, who also contributes Dobro. Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Jim Lindsey (bass), and Darren Nicholson (mandolin) accompany Miller (acoustic guitar) throughout the recording, with Buddy Melton and Adam Wright contributing harmony.

With such a concise format, it quickly becomes apparent that there is no filler on Timepiece. Three songs co-written with Beth Husband—”Timepiece,” “Isabel Gray,” and “Baby Don’t Bake”—are entirely unlike in structure, theme, and execution, and yet all sound like they could have been written thirty or seventy years ago, and—even with such variety—are decidedly bluegrass.

Within a loping melody, ill-fated bandit Charlie Price meets his comeuppance in “Timepiece,” with the band keeping better time than his pocket watch did. “Isabel Gray,” a melancholic, fiddle-rich number about an seafaring wanderer, couldn’t be more different from the light-hearted, Texas-swing, ‘kissed-off’ homage, “Baby Don’t Bake.” With these three songs, any bluegrass band worth their weight would be off to a good start song-mining.

Co-written with Thomm Jutz, “Coon Dog Cemetery” takes a gentle, slightly eerie approach to man’s best friends’ final resting place. With Jutz and Glenn Simmons, Miller finishes his EP with “I Wish,” a bluegrass ballad that doesn’t get overly sappy: still, it is a bit sappy, and one can’t argue about that since this type of song seems universally popular within the modern bluegrass field.

Rising above these five strong songs is “Brody White,” co-written with Jeff McClellan. With the first verse put to bed, one knows that a father’s retribution will be swift and final. With an attention to detail reminiscent of Chris Knight (think “Down The River” meets “Rita’s Only Fault,” but with a stand-up dad), this song is stellar, and has immediately become my new favourite.

Timepiece is a strong showcase of Milan Miller’s songwriting. Moreover, it serves as evidence of his capabilities as a bluegrass singer. I don’t know if Miller aspires to being a bandleader—I suspect he doesn’t—but based on Timepiece, I’d step up to buy a ticket.

 

Curly Seckler, a bluegrass legend, remembered   Leave a comment

Curly-Seckler 1I don’t know when I first fully noticed Curly Seckler, but it may have been early in 2005 when he quipped, “Come here, you money-making thing!” to kick-off his penultimate album, Down In Caroline.

I had, of course, heard Curly Seckler prior to that. As a keen listener of bluegrass for more than a dozen years (at the time), it would have been impossible to have not heard his voice and mandolin playing.

Mr. Seckler was a long-time member of the Foggy Mountain Boys and The Nashville Grass, and I had frequently heard his mandolin and guitar playing and tenor vocals, including on the first Lester Flatt record I ‘owned’*, Lester Flatt Live! Bluegrass Festival, Lester(reissued and expanded years later by Bear Family as Live at Vanderbilt) which I acquired mostly because of the participation of a very young Marty Stuart. In hindsight, his recording of “What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul” (from a CMH release, and collected on Once Upon A Time) with Stuart is definitive, but to 2005 I hadn’t even given it the attention it deserved. And while his distinctive voice graced three numbers on another of my early bluegrass purchases, I overlooked Mr. Seckler amongst the more prominent (to me) bluegrassers contained on David Grisman’s Home Is Where The Heart Is collection.Home is where

(*I say ‘owned’ because I ‘borrowed’ the album from a future in-law and never seemed to remember to return it!)

So, I had seen his name listed in credits, but hadn’t really paid attention. I think I knew he had played and recorded with Charlie Monroe, and had learned his “A Purple Heart” had been recorded with the McReynolds. When Down in Caroline came my way for review, I was given plenty of reason to concentrate on his voice, his playing, and to research his history and place in bluegrass music.

Within days, Mr. Seckler went from a vaguely familiar name on paper as a sideman to a personal favourite.

Curly Caroline

When Mr. Seckler passed at the end of 2017, two days past his 98th birthday, appropriate testaments were written in his honour in The Tennessean, at Bluegrass Today, and elsewhere. Others much more able have recounted his life and legacy; I simply share my personal reflections and perspective on the IBMA Hall of Fame member

I can’t locate my contemporaneous review of Down In Caroline in my archives, but listening to it again these past weeks I know I am even more impressed by it now than I was a dozen years ago.

Released on Copper Creek, the album was produced when Mr. Seckler was 85 years old. I don’t know what I will be doing when I am 85—should I be fortunate enough to reach that milestone—but I know I won’t be singing as good as he was: few have. It is an outstanding album, full of choice moments—as when he and Dudley Connell come together at around the 30 second mark of “Valley Of Peace”, and when Josh McMurray’s banjo kicks off “He Took Your Place,” soon followed by Seckler and Larry Sparks bringing chills on the chorus—and historical moments, too. Through studio freshening, a 1971 tape of Mr. Seckler singing tenor with Bill Monroe on “Sitting On Top of The World” closes the set as a hidden chestnut, and Connell also leads the group through an impromptu take of “Dig A Hole in the Meadow.”

Rather than serving as a monument to a fading talent, Down In Caroline revealed Mr. Seckler as a vibrant bluegrass force in his ninth decade. The excellent liner notes from co-producer (and biographer) Penny Parsons share that Seckler continued writing up to the sessions, finishing “Letter to the Captain” just prior to recording it in 2004. Enough material was recorded to prompt a second volume, entitled Bluegrass, Don’t You Know, the following year. (More on that in a bit.)

When Seckler takes the lead vocal position, it is obvious that we are hearing a master: one listen to “Worries on My Mind” and “China Grove, My Home” serve as evidence. Couple all of this with a playful take of “Hold the Woodpile Down” lead by Doc Watson (culled from a previous session for a Larry Perkins album), and you have as memorable bluegrass album recorded by an octogenarian as I have encountered: across forty minutes, it never drags, sags, or fades.

Curly That Old Book

Around the same time, a collection on County Records assembled  material from an outstanding 1971 recording with the Shenandoah Cut-Ups titled Curly Seckler Sings Again.  On That Old Book of Mine, these eleven tracks were supplemented by five tunes recorded with Willis Spears in 1989, taken from the album Tribute to Lester Flatt.  The music, ranging from standards like ”Salty Dog Blues” and “Don’t This Road Look Rough and Rocky” to less familiar fare such as Bill Monroe’s “Remember the Cross” and his own “What’s The Matter Now”, was of another era and yet timeless.

While Mr. Seckler was an appealing and certainly capable lead vocalist, he was best known as a superior tenor singer, something very much in evidence here.  For good reason, Stuart called him the greatest tenor singer of all time. On the 1971 numbers, Billy Edwards (banjo) takes the lead on many, with Seckler’s rich tenor soaring over the top.   Tater Tate (fiddle), Hershel Sizemore (mandolin)) and John Palmer (bass) provide the instrumental accompaniment alongside Seckler’s guitar.

By 1989, Seckler was singing only tenor, with Spears’ powerful voice in the lead position.  Seckler played mandolin on these tunes with Spears handling guitar, and Seckler’s vocal contributions were again flawless.  Rounding out these sessions were Ron Stewart (fiddle), Perkins (banjo), and Phillip Staff (bass).

All instrumentation on this volume was well-recorded and of the quality most often associated with classic, traditional bluegrass music of the era.  No one got too flashy, with the focus on the melding of voices with smooth harmony.  This was especially evident on “Give Me The Roses While I Live” and “No Mother In This World.”

Curly Bluegrass Dont

A final album, Bluegrass, Don’t You Know and also on Copper Creek, followed in 2006 and was just as powerful as the preceding Down In Caroline. This set—again a mix of classic songs made fresh, and fresh material certifiably classic—was highlighted by one of Larry Cordle’s finest vocal turns, taking the lead on the title track, a new Seckler composition. Lyrically adroit and instrumentally noteworthy, the song encapsulates sixty years of bluegrass evolution charged by an electrifying tenor performance from Mr. Seckler. “Honey, don’t you know,” he sings as a vocal refrain as instrumentalists, including some of bluegrass music’s finest—Perkins, Rob Ickes (Dobro), Brent Truitt (mandolin), Laura Weber Cash (fiddle), Chris Sharp (guitar), and Kent Blanton (bass)—drop in allusions to Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Kenny Baker and others who made the music what it always should be. “They say it ain’t country, but it’s bluegrass don’t you know,” indeed!

Mr. Seckler’s signature song “A Purple Heart” appears. Also included is “That Old Book of Mine” which dates from his time with Flatt & Scruggs, as do “Bouquet in Heaven,” “What’s the Matter With You Darlin’,” “Why Did You Wander,” “Brother, I’m Getting Ready to Go,” and “Why Can’t We Be Darlings Anymore,” all faithfully executed with exceptional performances from those who were selected to support Mr. Seckler on these sessions. Noteworthy is “Brother, I’m Getting Ready to Go” performed by the trio of Larry Sparks, Larry Perkins, and Mr. Seckler, with Sparks taking the lead position instrumentally (a stunning example of his signature guitar style) and vocally.

The autobiographical “The Way It Was” features twin fiddles from Sharp and Tater Tate, and like every song on this collection, its melody lingers long after it is heard. Appropriately for an album that showcases Mr. Seckler’s talents as a lead vocalist, the album closes with another new number, the vocally challenging “The Old Man Has Retired.” Perhaps not the smoothest performance amongst those captured in the 2004 sessions, the honesty of a well-lived life is on display as Mr. Seckler sings the song exactly as he wanted.

In the fall of 2005, I had the pleasure and honour of hearing the (by then) 86-year old’s still powerful tenor in Nashville at the IBMA’s World of Bluegrass. I don’t recall what he sang, or with whom, but I do remember that I got to shake the man’s hand, and he signed my copies of Down in Caroline and That Old Book of Mine. I cherish my brief encounter with Mr. Seckler, and these mentioned recordings are testament to the man’s talent and legacy.

Since then I’ve sought out recordings featuring Mr. Seckler; of course, here in central Alberta, one doesn’t come across them often. There are the dozens of recordings he made with Flatt & Scruggs, and I am fully entertained when I slip my Best of Flatt & Scruggs TV Show DVDs into my player. Somewhere on the internet, I found a homey recording he made with banjoist Cranford Nix including memorable takes of “Do You Wonder Why” and “Shady Grove.”

LESTER_FLATT_FLATT+GOSPEL-461535

A couple summers ago, while vacationing on Vancouver Island, I came across a copy of Flatt Gospel, an album by Lester Flatt & the Nashville Grass on the Canaan label, hidden away in a roadside cafe/record shop, and while the asking price was undoubtedly too dear by half, I haven’t regretted the purchase. Hearing Mr. Seckler on “I’m Going That Way,” “Brother, I’m Getting Ready to Go,” “Awaiting the Boatman,” and other gospel songs is truly priceless.

His recordings as the leader of The Nashville Grass are not groundbreaking, but are fine examples of his traditional bluegrass style; I can listen to he and Kenny Ingram, Stuart, Paul Warren and the rest any time. Three years ago, his final recorded sessions were included on Sparks’ ideally titled Lonesome and Then Some album, “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke,” and “I’m Gonna Sing, Sing, Sing.” I feel Mr. Seckler’s voice added just the right dimension to the choruses of these songs, and again connecting bluegrass’ past to its present.

When I hear a bluegrass album featuring Curly Seckler—whether as part of Flatt & Scruggs, with Flatt in the Nashville Grass, or later as the leader of that band, or on one of these solo recordings or in a guest appearance—I lean in close because I know what I am going to experience is perfect bluegrass.

With Mr. Seckler’s death, another link to the ‘first generation’ of bluegrass is severed. Fortunately, there are many recordings featuring Mr. Secker available, if not readily, and decades of vinyl to uncover while perusing dusty bins on Saturday afternoons. I’ll continue to seek out his recordings, and to listen to his voice and his mandolin and guitar playing—I hope—until I’m 98.

{Thank you to Penny Parsons for her timely sharing of the notes to Bluegrass, Don’t You Know and her obituary for Mr. Seckler: much appreciated.}

 

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots & Bluegrass Albums of 2017   1 comment

Mac WisemanWhat is roots music?

I frequently have to remind myself that not everything I seek out is ‘roots.’ When I start considering Little Steven or Danko Jones (Wild Cat might have been my favourite album of 2017) albums as ‘roots’ music, I may be starting to lose the plot. So I pull myself back.

However, looking over the many lists of ‘the best of Americana, roots, folk, and bluegrass albums of 2017’ I wonder if many of us need to go back to the blackboard, and reconsider the definition of roots music. Right, there is no definition.

I started my ‘favourite roots albums of 2017’ with a list of 60 or so albums, and slowly started winnowing them to a manageable twenty. In the process most of the albums I’ve seen on other published lists fell aside (Willie Nelson’s God’s Problem Child and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound among them.)

It was an excellent year for roots music, in my opinion. I know that when I mull over who else didn’t make the cut: Steve Earle, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Scott Miller, Sharon Jones, Slaid Cleaves, Rhiannon Giddens, Matt Patershuk, Doc & Merle Watson (the truncated version of the live Bear’s Sonic Journals set), Chris bleeding Hillman and Northern Cree (my final cuts), David Rawlings, Mark Erelli, Josh Ritter, Jeb Loy Nichols, Kim Beggs, Radney Foster, Dustbowl Revival, Amy Black…each album removed from consideration was naturally more difficult than the one before.

I’ve been sitting on this final version of Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots Albums of 2017 for a few days now, and I know I will cry out with frustration about an hour after it is published: chances are I’ve missed something special, an album of significance that fell behind a cupboard. I only discovered the latest from Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, and Thomm Jutz this week, and while I am loving it, in no way could it be fairly placed ahead of albums I’ve been appreciating for months. (Also discovered this week: this.)

As always, I have not heard every roots album released in 2017 and that is why I always refer to the list as ‘favourites,’ not best. As well, since I refuse to stream (beyond WDVX and CKUA) I can only consider that which I’ve either purchased or been serviced with from labels, artists, and PR types. I’ve chosen to roll bluegrass into the roots albums this year, eschewing a separate lists this year: that may or may not be indicative of how I’m feeling about most bluegrass releases.

Here we go: as always, no wagering.

  1. Mac Wiseman- I Sang the Song (Mountain Fever Records) While #2 came close, it couldn’t overtake this early favourite. Produced and written with care and consideration, Mac Wiseman’s story is told through carefully crafted songs performed by some of Americana, roots, and bluegrass music’s finest performers. Kudos to Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz for fully involving ‘the voice with a heart’ in this production. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  2. OtisOtis Gibbs- Mount Renraw (Wanamaker) East Nashville sage Otis Gibbs is perhaps America’s coolest working folk musician. Mount Renraw has held up over countless listenings. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  3. K and CKacy & Clayton- The Siren’s Song (New West) Seldom have I been so wrong about an artist. These Saskatchewan cousins’ previous album didn’t impress me when it was released. Thankfully, I listened to both Strange Country and this most recent album with fresh ears this summer. The Siren’s Song is masterful. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  4. gibson_2The Gibson Brothers- In the Ground (Rounder) The group’s finest album yet, and that is saying a lot. That it contains an entirely original set of songs makes the feat even more impressive. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  5. DABDale Ann Bradley- Dale Ann Bradley (Pinecastle Records) When a Dale Ann Bradley album isn’t in my ‘top two’ of the year, you know either she has slipped or the year is particularly strong. No slip on the part of Bradley here: another masterful album of bluegrass music. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  6. CrowellRodney Crowell- Close Ties (New West) Somewhere along the line, Rodney Crowell went from a compelling Americana singer and damn terrific songwriter to a walking legend: it may have happened with Close Ties, an album that saw him dig even deeper to find the heart of ten masterfully crafted songs that are more than enough for him to assume Guy Clark’s abandoned mantle. It goes beyond “It Ain’t Over Yet” and “Life Without Susanna,” as masterful as those tracks are. Every moment resonates, especially live, and the anguish with which he sings is genuine. Purchased
  7. TyminskiDan Tyminski- Southern Gothic (UMG) Along with Buffy Ste. Marie’s album, this is the one that sounds best loud. “We have a church on every corner, so why does heaven feel so far away?” Union Station’s ‘other’ main singer asks on the title track, and it just keeps going. Certainly more “Hey Brother” than “O Brother,” with Southern Gothic the bluegrass stalwart steps away from the traditional sounds he has long favoured to head toward a full-bodied rock and roll country approach that is wholly effective. The album is deep, no filler—song after song of surprisingly strong vocal and instrumental performances. Other standout tracks include “Perfect Poison,” “Temporary Love” and “Breathing Fire.” Southern Gothic has spent a solid day in my CD player on repeat on more than one occasion. Purchased
  8. ronsexsmith_3Ron Sexsmith- The Last Rider Continuing a streak of excellence, Sexsmith’s 16th (!) album may just be his finest. Excellent songs, catchy melodies, accessible production…I’ve seldom been so proud to have shown support for a musician. A very strong album, just the latest in a series of memorable, standout recordings. The songs alternate between playful and introspective, catchy and maudlin. Layered, but not flamboyant. I am really glad that I bought the album, and even more glad that I took the time to make the trek to see Ron and the band in Edmonton. Surprised and disappointed that this one didn’t receive deserving Polaris Music Prize attention. “Radio” is my favourite song of the year. Purchased
  9. Murder MurderMurder Murder- Wicked Lines and Veins (self-released) Canadian bluegrass with a side of grievous bodily harm. One of my Polaris Music Prize suggestions for this year. Full review here. (Provided by band)
  10. JaybirdsJohn Reischman & the Jaybirds- On That Other Green Shore (Corvus) Long Canada’s finest and most entertaining bluegrass band, the west coast-based band has again delivered a superior recording. Full review here. (Provided by band)
  11. JMJohn Mellencamp with Carlene Carter- Sad Clowns and Hillbillies (Republic) Full review here. (Purchased)
  12. Chris-stapleton-from-a-room-volume-1Chris-stapleton-from-a-room-volume-2Chris Stapleton- From A Room, Volumes 1 and 2 Country music’s last hope? Maybe. Not sure how he is doing it without radio support, but glad he is. Like no one else, of course, Stapleton doesn’t limit himself, reaching out to Kevin Welch (“Millionaire”), the music’s past (“Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning,” “Friendship”) and his own (“Broken Halos,” “Drunkard’s Prayer,” “Midnight Train to Memphis”) to make his new albums even stronger. (Purchased)
  13. made_to_moveChris Jones & the Night Drivers- Made to Move (Mountain Home) Full review here. (Provided by artist/label)
  14. Ann VriendAnn Vriend- Anybody’s Different EP (Aporia Records) Building on the immense power of her Love and Other Messes and For the People in the Mean Time albums, this six-track treat is on all my devices, and continues to get played regularly. A lively combination of soul, rock, and roots from a voice all should hear. (Purchased)
  15. Stax_Country_COVER_RGBVarious Artists- Stax Country (Craft Recordings/Concord Music) A deep dive into Stax’s associated country labels. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  16. Akinny DyckSkinny Dyck & Friends- Twenty One-Night Stands Alberta country music is alive and well. Just not on the radio. Full review here. (Provided by Skinny Dyck)
  17. Lynn JacksonLynn Jackson- Follow That Fire (Busted Flat) My second 2018 Polaris Music Prize recommendation. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  18. steve_forbert_flying_at_nightSteve Forbert- Flying at Night (Rolling Tide) I once wanted to be Steve Forbert. It didn’t happen. Forty years later, he continues to impress with each album. A bit brief for my liking, but better that than too long. Purchased
  19. buffy_3Buffy Sainte-Marie- Medicine Songs (High Romance) On which one of the most transformative Canadian artist re-imagines her catalogue, coming off her (perhaps) surprising Polaris Prize winning Power In The Blood. Collaborating with Tanya Tagaq on the powerful and catchy “You Got To Run (Spirit of the Wind,)” Sainte-Marie helps the uninitiated play catch up to 50 years of influential music. Play loud. Purchased
  20. becky warrenBecky Warren- War Surplus (Deluxe Edition) (self-released) War Surplus came out in 2016, but didn’t come to my attention until the Deluxe Edition was released this summer. A concept album (war veteran and the woman he loves), Warren has made a record to be remembered; the narrative is apparent, the instrumental and vocal changes keep us engaged, and it holds up over time. With an approach not dissimilar to Lucinda Williams although with better annunciation than we’ve experienced from LW this past decade, Warren allows listeners to become invested in her creations; the characters become real, without any of the bravado or self-satisfaction that sometimes hamstrings this type of recording. (Provided by label/PR)

That’s pretty much it for 2017 here at Fervor Coulee. I still have a couple projects sitting on my desk requiring my attention, and I will get to them next week…I hope.

It has been a great year- let’s see what the future brings.

IBMA Awards 2017- Live results & reactions   Leave a comment

Well, I got the stream going just a couple minutes late- looks like Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver had the honour of starting things off. Hosts Bela Fleck and spouse Abigail Washburn are now attempting humour. Sigh. Funny that the screen has a big black box on the right side. Maybe just me.

Namechecking every banjo player of the last 100 years.

I will be dropping in my commentary as the awards are announced. We will eventually get there. You would never know that bluegrass had a history of incorporating comedy listening to this painful opening segment.

Show is dedicated to Pete Kuykendall. As has happened before I believe, Dale Ann Bradley opens the awards with Joe Mullins-

DOBRO PLAYER OF THE YEAR Jerry Douglas; Andy Hall; Rob Ickes; Phil Leadbetter; Josh Swift.

I predicted that Josh Swift would win, and was also hoping he might. It will not happen again tonight, but I was right on both counts. Kudos to me. First mention of Jesus.

BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR Barry Bales; Alan Bartram; Mike Bub; Missy Raines; Tim Surrett

I am hoping for Del & ‘Em’s Alan Bartram, but predicting Surrett. The winner is…Alan Bartram, his first win I believe…and he is nowhere to be found. Kenny Smith accepts.

First appearance of a baby. Sigh. And first mention of Glen Campbell who did so much for bluegrass. Yes, that is sarcasm. Here we go with  live performance of John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind” from Flatt Lonesome, who I predict will have a fairly significant evening. And, the first appearance of buffering in the Bluegrass Bunker.

Interestingly, that doesn’t much sound like “Gentle on My Mind.” I must have misunderstood something in the introduction- could have sworn they were said to be playing “Gentle On My Mind.” But… first commercial.

Becky Buller and Larry Stephenson present:

GOSPEL RECORDED PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR “Give Me Jesus”

Larry Cordle (artist), Traditional/Larry Cordle (writer), “Give Me Jesus” (album), Larry Cordle (producer), Mighty Cord Records (label); “Hallelujah”

Blue Highway (artist), Public Domain arranged by Blue Highway (writer), “Original Traditional” (album), Blue Highway (producer), Rounder Records (label); <b>”I Found a Church Today” The Gibson Brothers (artist), Eric Gibson/Leigh Gibson (writers), “In the Ground” (album), Eric Gibson, Leigh Gibson, and Mike Barber (producers), Rounder Records (label) “S

Sacred Memories”Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers with Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White Skaggs (artist), Dolly Parton (writer), “Sacred Memories” (album), Joe Mullins (producer), Rebel Records (label);

“Wish You Were Here” Balsam Range (artist), James Stover/Michael Williams (writers), “Mountain Voodoo” (album), Balsam Range (producer), Mountain Home Records (label)

Honestly, before they played the clips I could only hear one of these songs in my head, The Gibson Brothers tune. a real good one, so that is my hope, but my prediction was for “Sacred Memories. And, there is a tie between those two songs! How does that happen? Well, I know how- let’s see- three of my Hopes have won so far, and two of my predictions. Won’t last. 

Now,

NSTRUMENTAL RECORDED PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR  “Fiddler’s Dream”

Michael Cleveland (artist), Arthur Smith (writer), “Fiddler’s Dream” (album), Jeff White and Michael Cleveland (producers), Compass Records (label);  “Great Waterton” Kristin Scott Benson (artist), Kristin Scott Benson (writer), “Stringworks” (album), Kristin Scott Benson (producer), Mountain Home Records (label); “Greenbrier” Sam Bush (artist), Sam Bush/Scott Vestal (writers), “Storyman” (album), Sugar Hill Records (label); “Little Liza Jane” Adam Steffey (artist), Tommy Duncan/James Robert Wills (writers), “Here to Stay” (album), Adam Steffey (producer), Mountain Home Records (label); “Flint Hill Special” The Earls of Leicester (artist), Earl Scruggs (writer), “Rattle & Roar” (album), Jerry Douglas (producer), Rounder Records (label)

My prediction was for Michael Cleveland, always a safe bet, but I am hoping for Kristin Scott Benson, one of the most exciting players going. And they give the award to…Michael Cleveland. Many, 3 predictions out of 4. I’m doing pretty good.

Balsam Range performs “Girl of the Highland.” Some mic problems are now fixed. Great band. Would like to see them come north some day.

Missy Raines and the leader of Bluegrass 45 are presenting:

GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR Jim Hurst; Kenny Smith; Bryan Sutton; Molly Tuttle; Josh Williams

Hoping for Kenny Smith, but feel like Molly Tuttle will get it…on the basis of an EP and live appearances. Feels like time for a female picker to get recognized…and she is: Molly Tuttle. No doubt a great player- I was thinking she might get the Emerging Artist award, and she still may.

MANDOLIN PLAYER OF THE YEAR Jesse Brock; Sam Bush; Sierra Hull; Frank Solivan; Adam Steffey

My computer froze up like a banjo-player’s claw. I always hope for Jesse Brock in this category, but am okay with Sierra Hull winning for the second year in a row.

Earls of Leicester and Bluegrass 45 collaborating on “Salty Dog Blues.” I can listen to Shawn Camp any time, but something got lost in the translation here: maybe a handful too many players on the stage.

I am not sure I have ever before predicted four awards in a row. It can’t last.

Frank Solivan and Kristin Scott Benson presenting:

RECORDED EVENT OF THE YEAR  “East Virginia Blues” Ricky Wasson and Dan Tyminski (artists), “Croweology: The Study of J.D. Crowe’s Musical Legacy” (album), Rickey Wasson (producer), Truegrass Entertainment (label); “Going Back to Bristol” Shawn Camp with Mac Wiseman, Peter Cooper, Thomm Jutz (artists), “I Sang the Song (Life of the Voice with a Heart)” (album), Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz (producers), Mountain Fever Records (label); “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” Bobby Osborne with Sierra Hull, Alison Brown, Rob Ickes, Stuart Duncan, Trey Hensley, Todd Phillips, Kenny Malone, Claire Lynch, and Bryan McDowell (artists), “Original” (album), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records (label) “Steamboat Whistle Blues” Michael Cleveland featuring Sam Bush (artists), “Fiddler’s Dream” (album), Jeff White and Michael Cleveland (producers), Compass Records (label); “‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered” Mac Wiseman and Alison Krauss (artists), “I Sang the Song (Life of the Voice with a Heart)” (album), Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz (producers), Mountain Fever Records (label)

I believe the entire “I Sang the Song (Life of the Voice with a Heart” album should walk away with this award, but since that isn’t the way the award works…

I know Bobby Osborne will win, but I believe the entire I Sang the Song (Life of the Voice with a Heart) album should walk away with this award, but that isn’t the way the award works…and I don’t know if enough folks heard the music from it…I was right- Bobby Osborne singing a Bee Gees song with a cast of IBMA favourites wins this award. I guess: I didn’t hear it, but others obviously did. No doubt, Bobby Osborne has not been recognized enough by the IBMA in recent years, as he has released several terrific albums. I just didn’t think Original was one of them. Good to hear him speak, and he is obviously appreciative of his Compass Records team. Compass does get their deserving artists to the fore, just ask Dale Ann Bradley and Special Consensus.

EMERGING ARTIST OF THE YEAR Front Country; The Lonely Heartstring Band; Molly Tuttle; Sister Sadie; Volume Five

I predict Molly Tuttle, but have my fingers crossed for the veterans of Sister Sadie. Will only be disappointed in one result. The winner is…Volume Five. Didn’t see that one coming; if memory serves, they have been up for this award before. Two times before, apparently. Good band of few words.

God, Banjo Mingle dot com is not funny. Just move the show along, please. JCMISAP.

This is more like it- a whole passel of folks paying tribute to the Bristol sessions. Jim Lauderdale, Carl Jackson, Becky Buller (man, she is tall!) Sammy Shelor, Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, and is that Larry Cordle? Nice.

This may be the last summer-like evening in Central Alberta this autumn, and I am in the Bluegrass Bunker reporting on these awards. Such is my dedication to my art.

Alison Brown and Jeremy Garrett present:

FIDDLE PLAYER OF THE YEAR Becky Buller; Jason Carter; Michael Cleveland; Stuart Duncan; Patrick McAvinue; Ron Stewart

Pulling for Buller (and Stewart) but have learned to never bet against Michael Cleveland. Patrick McAvinue comes out of left field to snag this one. He has been around awhile.

BANJO PLAYER OF THE YEAR Ned Luberecki; Joe Mullins; Noam Pikelny; Kristin Scott Benson; Sammy Shelor

A banjo joke. Not a good one. Predicting Joe Mullins, who has never got his due, but fingers crossed for Benson- three lady pickers in one year? Nope. Noam Pikelny. So, my average has dropped back to earth: not a sniff the last three awards. That feels about right. Five predictions in a row will never be matched…not by me! Still, would be nice if Noam played more bluegrass.

Of course, the feed starts buffering just as Missy Raines and Jim Hurst are about to pay tribute to the ‘grassers that passed away this year. Back, at the Ms. Lots of names I am not familiar with…must have attempted to overcome previous criticisms for not having mentioned ‘so and so’ and went with mentioning everyone. Can’t be knocked for that, especially within a music and industry that is so regionalized: every community has their bluegrass pillars who should be remembered.

Now, paying tribute to Pete Kuykendall- a man whose contribution to bluegrass is pretty dang near impossible to measure. Dubbed the music’s Godfather, in the familial sense. Seems appropriate. Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Molly Tuttle, Missy Raines, and a guitar player I can’t recognize (so sorry) perform “I Am Weary, Let Me Rest,” a most poignant choice. Oh, that’s Danny Paisley! Funny, as soon as he took his lead, I recognized him. Dang, buffering again.

Completely lost the feed now. Intermittent now-

Michael Cleveland is accepting an award, but I don’t know what. Going to guess Instrumental Group of the Year, but will wait to see if I get back the show.

INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR Balsam Range; The Earls of Leicester; Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen; Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper; Punch Brothers

I am going to post this in hopes that I was correct and Flamekeeper got Instrumental Group of the Year. I should have considered the “Compass” factor into my predictions. I didn’t.

FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR Brooke Aldridge; Dale Ann Bradley; Sierra Hull; Amanda Smith; Molly Tuttle

I will always hope for DAB, and predicted Sierra Hull, but I was leaning toward predicting Brooke Aldridge, but wasn’t willing to put money on her…should have- well deserved, I think. I have lost the stream again. Restarting doesn’t help. Sigh. Back to the Female Vocalist category- with Brooke Aldridge’s victory, there has now been a different winner each of the last six years: Dale Ann, Claire Lynch, Amanda Smith, Rhonda Vincent, Becky Buller, and now Brooke. Bluegrass has come a long way since the days that RV won 7 years in a row. Always has been a diverse field, but now it is being recognized.

Lost the plot entirely now- not sure what is happening. God, it comes back just in time for more Banjo Mingle ‘humour.’ It isn’t my night. Lost it again.

Would love to be hearing Front Country. Restart your router, the advice is…it isn’t my router!

Apparently facebook streaming is not the way to get bluegrass in front of the masses. Sorry to say, it ain’t working, and I am moving on. I will update with the rest of the winners later tonight when the press releases come out.

Just got it back in time for Hazel Dickens’ and Alice Gerrard’s induction into the Hall of Fame, appropriately by [an increasingly emotional, I think] Laurie Lewis. No more typing for now, just watching. Learn, y’all.

Hazel Dickens did so much in bluegrass, and I am so pleased that Laurie is including quotes from her bluegrass peers in this tribute. So sad that the stream is so poor, at least for me: I’ve tried everything. So disappointed- I’ve been waiting 15 years to see Hazel inducted, and I can’t. I am hoping someone will post this later. Missed much of Laurie’s speech, and almost the entirety of Hazel’s nephew’s. Catching much of Alice’s, if with many drop outs. Now, Laurie joins Alice and musicians in a song, which doesn’t play for me.

Unfortunately, I’m out. I guess I should have invested in Sirius. Frustrated that facebook doesn’t seem to be able to handle 900+ viewers. Later.

I’m back. Facebook remains unwatchable here in the north, but by scrounging the ‘net I am finding additional results. Unfortunately, I missed the inductions into the HofF of Roland White and Bobby Hicks.

VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR Balsam Range; Blue Highway; Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver; Flatt Lonesome; The Gibson Brothers

I would advocate for Blue Highway to be the Vocal Group annually, and do, but I really thought this year would be Flatt Lonesome’s and I was right. At least my predictive powers have recuperated in the time away from facebook live.

MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR Shawn Camp; Eric Gibson; Leigh Gibson; Buddy Melton; Russell Moore

I so wanted the Gibsons to walk up together and receive this award, but despite Eric’s campaign to have Leigh named (or was it the other way around) neither was- I thought Moore, not the most interesting vocalist in this group in my opinion, would win, but was more than pleased to read that Shawn Camp received his second nod as Male Vocalist.

The stream still isn’t working here, and other streams are: I don’t think it is me. Too bad the IBMA can’t find a stable, sustainable platform for video of their awards show.

SONG OF THE YEAR “Blue Collar Dreams” Balsam Range (artist), Aaron Bibelhauser (writer); “Going Back to Bristol” Shawn Camp (artist), Mac Wiseman/Thomm Jutz/Peter Cooper (writers; “I Am a Drifter” Volume Five (artist), Donna Ulisse/Marc Rossi (writers); “Someday Soon” Darin & Brooke Aldridge (artist), Ian Tyson (writer); “The Train That Carried My Girl from Town” The Earls of Leicester (artist), Frank Hutchison (writer)

 I don’t believe songs forty, fifty, and more years old should be eligible for this award, although I had no problem with “Man of Common Sorrow” capturing the award years ago. Inconsistency is part of bluegrass, Saturday night drunkenness and murder, Sunday morning gospel. “Going Back to Bristol” is a brilliantly crafted song, but I thought BR would win this one. Again, didn’t see Volume Five rising to this level. I guess I will have to start reconsidering them, eh? I still don’t think “I Am A Drifter” is as significant a song as “Going Back to Bristol,” but since when does that matter?

ALBUM OF THE YEAR Fiddler’s Dream” Michael Cleveland (artist), Jeff White and Michael Cleveland (producers), Compass Records (label); “In the Ground” The Gibson Brothers (artist), Eric Gibson, Leigh Gibson, and Mike Barber (producers), Rounder Records (label); “Mountain Voodoo Balsam Range (artist), Balsam Range (producer), Mountain Home Records (label); Original Bobby Osborne (artist), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records (label); Rattle & Roar The Earls of Leicester (artist), Jerry Douglas (producer), Rounder Records (label)

As assured as I am that In The Ground is the finest bluegrass album- by a lot- in this category (all original material, expertly executed instrumentally and vocally) I was equally sure that Bobby Osborne would receive this award. Balsam Range released a very good album, without a doubt- I just thought the voters would go in a different direction. Any of four albums would have deserved this award.

Sam Bush and Sierra Hull are frozen on my screen, and in a brief second of movement the Earls of Leicester appeared to walk toward the podium. Putting all that together tells me that I won’t see the finale featuring the Osborne Brothers and that the Entertainer of the Year award has been given out:

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR Balsam Range; Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver; The Earls of Leicester; Flatt Lonesome; The Gibson Brothers

Any other year I would have been thrilled to have The Earls named Entertainers of the Year, and they are great, but I thought The Gibsons deserved the nod. Better that the alternative, definitely.

Sorry for the funky fonts.

Missed perhaps by some was the youthful emergence witnessed in the individual instrument awards. Hull, now a two-time winner, is 26, and Pikelny (also a two-time winner) is 36. Bartram, the old-man of the six and a first-time winner is 40, while first timers Tuttle (24), McAvinue (28), and Swift (31) bring the average age of the group to under 31. Without doing any additional math, I am going to predict that is a record: prove me wrong. Add in Brooke Aldridge, whose age I can’t easily locate, and we may have an irreversible changing-of-the-guard.

I guess that is the IBMA Awards for another year. Best I can tell, only three of my chosen won (the first three awards of the night) and seven of my predictions came true, not quite as good as I did last year. That result tells me that while what I most like in bluegrass isn’t what the industry is supporting, I am still connected enough to the bluegrass happenings that I can guess almost as often as not who they will support. And in some cases- Brooke Aldridge, Instrumental Group- I should have predicted with my gut. See you in a year!

Posted 2017 September 28 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Do we need more negative bluegrass reviews?   Leave a comment

Over at No Depression, thoughtful bluegrass prognosticator Ted Lehmann recently reflected on the overwhelmingly number of ‘positive’ bluegrass reviews against a wider view that there seems to be fewer reviewers willing to write challenging criticisms of albums. So as not to misrepresent anything Ted expresses, I refer you to his published piece.

While I don’t agree with everything Ted argues, there is merit to his thesis. Without running the numbers, there does appear to be fewer ‘negative’ bluegrass album reviews than there should be. I have my theories as to why, including that the bluegrass world is so insular and interdependent there is little tolerance of ‘outliers’ whose opinions are contrary to the greater interests of the industry.

Simply put, to write negatively about an album is to accept that you will quite possibly be cut off the publicist’s contact list and the record label’s servicing run, not to be mentioned attacked by overly aggressive parents and colleagues, and have your inability to play “Cumberland Gap” held up as evidence that you have no right to express an opinion. Therefore, like me, if someone writing about bluegrass encounters an album they feel is lacking, it seems they are most likely to ignore it than to spend hours crafting a hatchet piece: most of us are not making the dollars writing that makes it worthwhile to rip an album to shreds, even if it deserves such. Instead, we move onto an album that we can write about more positively.

However, beyond this obvious element there is another set of reasons why I believe there are fewer negative bluegrass album reviews than which we might expect: for the most part, bluegrass albums today are pretty darn strong!

The top bluegrass performers, even when they are spinning their tires, are usually so darned good at what they do that it is difficult to criticize them for their representation of the art. They play in tune (always a good thing), understand how to feature themselves and each other most artfully, understand and execute vocal harmony, and are creative in their arrangements of familiar songs. Essentially, they know what that heck they are doing, and it sounds good.

Most often when I consider something to be of lower-quality, it is a matter of taste and opinion—I have little patience for overwrought, wimpy-arsed, watered-down, and slickly-produced bluegrass, but realize that for whatever misguided reason, some folks actually like that type of saccharine-infused, cloying sentimental trash.

When a major artist does release something less than impressive, whether due to questionable song choices, pedestrian effort, or simply misguided execution—and I am assigned to write about it—I am obligated to call them on it, whether that runs contrary to popular opinion or industry interests. Fortunately, in the bluegrass world, that doesn’t happen very often. Most of what I encounter is of a very high calibre, but if I feel a project is lacking, I try my best to communicate that in an up-front and professional manner, even if sometimes folks may have to read between the lines to pick up on it. I figure that is the reader’s obligation, and if I’ve done my job correctly, they are able to achieve it.

I guess we have to trust readers (and bluegrass listeners) to look for reviews that meet their needs. If they want reprints of promo releases and one-sheets, there is a bluegrass website for that. If they want bluegrass industry cheerleading and baby pictures where never a discouraging word is heard, there is a website for that. Heck, there is even a bluegrass site that features bluegrass only in rare situations. If they want honest opinion, mostly the good, sometimes the bad, and occasionally (usually around IBMA time) the snarky, there is a website for that. I call it Fervor Coulee!

I don’t believe we need more negative bluegrass reviews. We just have to continue to pay attention to the quality music that surrounds us.

Posted 2017 September 1 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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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.