Mac Wiseman I Sang The Song Mountain Fever Records
With all due respect to the folks who have released excellent bluegrass and country albums this year, and those who will undoubtedly do so in the coming months, we have our 2017 Americana/Roots album of the year.
An incredible undertaking by Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz, the most important element of the thirteen songs comprising I Sang the Song: Life of The Voice With A Heart is the source material, Mac Wiseman himself. Nearing 92, Wiseman was born in 1925 and recalls a time few of us can picture outside history books and re-runs of The Waltons. Wiseman is a man who knew A. P. Carter and has now had Sierra Hull share a song with him. Think about that for a half-a-moment.
“It ain’t bragging if you’ve done it,” asserts John Prine gently within the title track, revealing for the unaware that Wiseman performed alongside the acknowledged masters of 20th century roots music. A member of both The Foggy Mountain Boys and The Blue Grass Boys, as well as a charting, featured performer in his own right, Wiseman is a founder of the Country Music Association, and inductee to both the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame and the Country Hall of Fame. A label executive and producer—and one of the finest bluegrass gentlemen I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, however briefly— Wiseman was always far more than “just another young hillbilly.”
The majority of these songs are obviously bluegrass, a few clearly country, and others find that sweet, magical spot between the two. Cooper and Jutz had the inspiration and wisdom to listen to and converse with Wiseman, finding in his stories threads to embroider the ten new songs created together to communicate a compelling narrative of anecdote.
Naturally, the singing is incredible throughout. Recent IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year Shawn Camp is given a pair of songs, as is Milan Miller who appears with Buddy Melton (another IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and Andrea Zonn. Junior Sisk, yet a third IBMA vocalist recipient, also has two lead appearances, “Crimora Church of the Brethren,” on which he is joined by Ronnie Bowman (yes, another IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and “The Wheat Crop”—with the ladies of The Isaacs—which laments the lot of the poor farmer. These performances are expectedly outstanding, and the history-rich lyrics and eternal melodies provide galvanizing framework for blessed voices.
Justin Moses (fiddle, banjo, and Dobro) and Hull (mandolin) work with Jutz (guitar) and Mark Fain (bass) to serve as the house band, uniting to create a consistent instrumental environment. Cooper and Jutz harmonize on several tracks, providing further uniformity.
Within a song, Wiseman (“The Guitar,” via Moses and Hull) takes us from receiving his first Sears Roebuck, ragtop box, to the eventual day he stopped “playing in G and singing in C” to nail “There’s An Empty Cot in the Bunkhouse Tonight” for an audience of one. As the album unfolds, his experiences through to the hardships of the depression (“Barefoot ‘Til After the Frost”, “Three Cows and Two Horses”) are revealed in a natural, homespun manner capturing the vernacular of his rural upbringing down to cold “feet just as red as a gobbler’s snout.” In the universal and frustrating balance poverty, even when things improve for Wiseman’s family (“Manganese Mine,”) another discovers only hardship and tragedy.
“Simple Math,” one of two sang by Americana icon Jim Lauderdale, details further experiences from Wiseman’s youth following him into early gigs as a professional musician including his big break playing Molly O’Day sessions. Lauderdale, one of the most prolific and versatile vocalists working today, adroitly relates the simple truths of Wiseman’s observations.
As compelling as the connections to Wiseman’s life are across the album, the fact that each song stands independent released from context is indicative of their significance. The bluegrass chart hit “Going Back to Bristol,” sung by Camp, radiates universal appeal, whether you’ve ever been near the border community, cut a side with Flatt & Scruggs, been near a Studebaker, or not.
Alison Krauss joins Wiseman on the closing benediction “‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered,” one of his earliest successes, for a performance joining generations in hopeful love of music and life. Wiseman drops in on a few of these numbers, providing a foundation for the lyrics and music, but also allowing those with the greatest of admiration to communicate his story through the voices of generations influenced by “The Voice With A Heart.”
For thirty-eight minutes, timeless memories are communicated. Through time, these performances will be shared to become part of our collective memory.
Visit https://mountainfever.com/ to order.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. @FervorCoulee
The Gibson Brothers have been a Fervor Coulee favourite since their Sugar Hill debut Bona Fide was released in 2003. It was a very strong album, ticking off all the requirements of a bluegrass album of the day: a railroad song, a Tom T. Hall classic, a road song, a song about bluegrass, another about a favoured instrument, an instrumental standard, a metaphor-laden gospel piece…Despite this seemingly contrived set of requirements, it warranted notice, and still does.
Fourteen years and eight albums later (bringing their release total to thirteen, I believe) Eric and Leigh Gibson are at the top of the bluegrass world, a pinnacle at which they’ve resided for a decade. In The Ground may be their finest yet. An album of self-written songs, it isn’t like anything they’ve before accomplished. Still bluegrass, of course, but taking things to yet another level. My review has been published by Lonesome Road Review; I hope you will consider giving it a read.
I missed posting a link to this review from a couple months back. When did I first run across Darrell Webb? I can’t truly recall, but it may have been as a member of the Lonesome River Band at Blueberry quite some years ago. Or was it as a member of J. D. Crowe’s New South? Memories fade and become confabulated. I do know that his mandolin stylings were impressive from the first, and he is one of those players whose career I have paid some attention to over the last decade. With an impressive cover image, Lover’s Leap is a strong bluegrass album, and my review is published at Country Standard Time.
We don’t get too many releases from what was once the premier bluegrass music label these days. I don’t know the reasons, but I do wish it twernt true: maybe it isn’t, just my perception.
I was pleased to receive a review download of Rebel Records’ new Larry Sparks compilation, Lonesome & Blue: More Favorites. The review is posted over at Lonesome Road Review; I hope you will consider giving it a read.
My review of the new album from Big County Bluegrass, available from Rebel Records, has been posted to the Lonesome Road Review.
Let Them Know I’m From Virginia is a most enjoyable bluegrass album. As I state in the review, nothing fancy (and as I didn’t mention in the review, nothing groundbreaking that moves the music forward) just real strong ‘grass!
I’ve reviewed previous albums from the band HERE and THERE.
Danny Barnes Stove Up Wendell
As time takes the lauded masters of bluegrass banjo, another generation is allowed to come to the fore. I don’t mean the youngsters who have studied and practiced for a dozen or twenty years and are confidently taking the 5-string to amazing new places.
No, the time has come for the light to shine on those who have been refining and perfecting their skills for thirty, forty, and more years. Folks like Danny Barnes. My review of Stove Up is posted at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6349
Danny Barnes has been a personal favourite since somewhere in the late 90s when a friend introduced me to the Bad Livers. He is a terribly interesting banjo slinger, and has written some incredible songs (such as “Falling Down the Stairs,” “Get It While You Can,” and “Charlie,”) recorded timeless albums including Delusions of Benjer and Things I Done Wrong, while also covering folks as diverse as T. Rex, Beck, The Faces, and now-on Stove Up- Don Stover. It is an absolutely beautiful album of (mostly) straight-ahead bluegrass.
I don’t understand why record labels and bands release ‘regular’ albums in December. For gift giving and year-end splurges, I understand the compilations, box sets, and special editions being released late in the year.
Pinecastle Records released two bluegrass albums in December, 2016. Both are really strong and distinctive albums, but weren’t heard until most of the ‘year-end’ lists were compiled. A shame because-a month after their release-they haven’t received as much attention as I think they deserve.
Blue Mafia is one of my favourite bluegrass bands. I’ve yet to catch them live-living on the edge of the frozen prairies and forests of Alberta does have some drawbacks-but their two previous albums were immediately appealing. Their third release is just as strong, and is one that I’m going to be listening to a lot as the next months unfold. My review has been posted at Country Standard Time.
My review of their second album, Pray For Rain, is posted here. My Cold Heart, one of the finest bluegrass debuts I’ve reviewed, is written about here.
Wildfire is a group I’ve been listening to since their first album was released in 2001. They have undergone all sorts of lineup changes over the year, but Robert Hale and Curt Chapman have been the consistent members and have just released their fifth recording. My review has been posted at Country Standard Time.
An excellent start to the 2017 bluegrass season. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald