Archive for the ‘Bluegrass Music’ Tag

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.

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NewTown- Naomi Wise video   Leave a comment

Posted 2018 May 27 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole review   Leave a 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.

 

Blueberry Bluegrass festival 2018 preview   Leave a comment

My brief preview of this coming August’s Blueberry Bluegrass festival, held annually in beautiful Stony Plain, Alberta- the first ‘big town’ I ever visited. It’s true- as a pre-schooler, I remember visiting Stony Plain to watch my big cousin play basketball in the high school gym, attend the Farmers’ Day pancake breakfast, and have a milkshake at the Gulf station and restaurant along the highway. Hey, maybe my childhood wasn’t entirely horrible! Anyway, over at Country Standard Time I preview the artistic highlights of my favourite fester.

Sideline- Front and Center review   Leave a comment

Sideline

Sideline Front and Center Mountain Home Music Company

Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants
On a Tennessee ant hill…       
John Sebastian, 1966

The same could be said for North Carolina, home base of Sideline.

With three of the original members of this ‘sideline’ band of musical buddies remaining, the invigorated group has evolved from an occasional  novelty to full-time bluegrass force.

Steve Dilling (banjo), Jason Moore (bass), and Skip Cherryholmes (guitar and banjo)have developed Sideline into as strong a bluegrass outfit as one encounters. With charting hits and a touring slate including some of the most significant festivals, the sextet has moved to the fore.

Front and Center features recently departed, but expertly featured, fiddler Nathan Aldridge as well as mando player Troy Boone and Bailey Coe—limited to vocals, lead and harmony—who joined the group early last winter.

Three of the album’s most obviously appealing songs are character studies of prototypical bluegrass variety, in spirit, words, and instrumentation.

Already a chart-topper, “Thunder Dan” recollects a succession of untoward events culminating in an unresolved climax; I’ve never fully understood the desire to normalize anti-social behaviour within bluegrass, but it appears to be part of the ‘outlier’ tradition. Good song, if you don’t think about it too much, and Boone’s approach to the song is well-considered.

“Lysander Hayes” is that immature and impulsive someone we would rather avoid, despite his song’s galloping, engaging groove; Moore’s bass choices throughout this one are notable . My favourite may well be “Bluefield WV MTN. Girl” which concisely (see what I did there!), but rather superficially describes—as per tradition— the object of the singer’s desire as the one “who always stood beside me when the times got tough and hard…wouldn’t trade her for the world.”

Individual singer credits are not provided (sigh!), but Cherryholmes reveals his soul in the gentle meditation that is Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter’s Night;” his guitar playing here and elsewhere is classy, never showy. “Memories That We Shared,” a Marshall Wilborn composition  originally found on the Johnson Mountain Boys’ Let The Whole World Talk album, has long deserved a contemporary update, and the version Sideline has recorded does the song justice.

 “Frozen In Time” is the type of song that is overdone in the bluegrass world—revisiting the home place long left behind—but the performance is excellent, and Coe’s vocal ability is showcased; Mark Brinkman is a terrific songwriter, and the quality of his lyrics brings this familiar topic to life. “Old Time Way” is a very appealing romp through classic sounds, with a bit of “Groundhog” bouncing about the edges, but I am fully confident no one needs to hear “Cotton Eyed Joe” ever again.

A pair of religious songs are included. The four-part harmony of “I Long to See His Face,” with Coe taking the lead, is an impressive and traditional-sounding performance, but “Satan’s Chains” is even more attractive. The harmony on the chorus of this song—coming from Ralph Stanley and The Isaacs—is most striking.

Sideline is not out to redefine bluegrass: it is music that is rooted in the vibrant, front-loaded music of the ’90s—IIIrd Tyme Out, Lonesome River Band, and the rest of the untucked. They do it well, and there is much within Front and Center for bluegrass listeners to enjoy.

Peter Rowan- Carter Stanley’s Eyes review   2 comments

Rowan

Peter Rowan Carter Stanley’s Eyes Rebel Records

Carter Stanley’s Eyes is an acute reminder of that, when performed with talent, inspiration, and respect, bluegrass is a very powerful thing.

Peter Rowan has been a bluegrass institution for more than thirty years, with a pedigree stretching back to the mid-1960s as a member of the Blue Grass Boys. Rowan—the target of the infamous Bill Monroe quote, “Don’t go too far out on that limb, there’s enough flowers out there already”—has frequently ventured well-outside the bluegrass realm, almost always with satisfying results.

With Carter Stanley’s Eyes, Rowan returns to the formidable truck of the bluegrass tree with an album-long tribute to the music and its originators, especially Carter and Ralph Stanley. Rowan’s voice has always percolated richness infused with eternal qualities, and across the 14 songs and nearly fifty minutes of this release, everything we have come to expect from ‘bluegrass’ Peter Rowan are prominently displayed.

A pulsating and mandolin-rich rendition of “Drumbeats Along the Watchtower” (more familiarly entitled “Wild Geese Cry Again”) opens the recording, and it is an excellent start. Rowan shows he is ready to do the heaviest lifting on this his fortieth-or-so non-live album. The song is also indication of how closely tied this album will be to the Stanley tradition. “The Light In Carter Stanley’s Eyes” captures a formative moment in Rowan’s early bluegrass career, a recitation of self-deprecation and mentor validation

A number of songs made essential via the Stanley Brothers are incorporated, including “The Hills of Roane County,” “A Vision of Mother,” “Let Me Love You One More Time,” and “Too Late To Cry.” A couple numbers have a spiritual theme including, freshened with stellar recording methods and an inspired arrangement, “A Crown He Wore,” also famously recorded by the Stanleys. “A Tiny Broken Heart”— initially made popular by the Louvin Brothers, and as a bluegrass staple  via Hazel & Alice, The Bluegrass Cardinals, and Dan Tyminski, among others—is a bit drippy for my tastes, but it has served its purpose for dozens of years and isn’t out of place among this set of now traditional pieces.

Within “Can’t You Hear Me Calling,” a signature element of the Monroe  Doctrine, echoes of the Master are readily apparent without ever once sounding forced or artificial: Rowan has an ability to evoke Monroe while avoiding mimicry.

These performances comfortably complement the most engaging released by Rowan, in no small part due to the quality of the musicians and vocalists with which he has surrounded himself.  [The only negative I can find with this entire package is that individual credits are not provided.] Connections to the legends abound, with Blaine Sprouse, who played with Monroe, on fiddle, Jack Lawrence (Doc Watson) is the credited lead guitarist, and Don Rigsby, who was closely associated with Ralph Stanley, plays mandolin. Rowan’s touring group- Patrick Sauber (banjo), Chris Henry (mandolin), and Paul Knight (bass)-are given equal billing. Produced by Rowan, and co-produced with Tim O’Brien (both of whom also contribute guitar), the album’s sound, production, and aural atmosphere are pristine.

After more than fifty years as a bluegrass professional, the light shines in Peter Rowan’s eyes: that he loves bluegrass music is without doubt. Neither is his ability to create a masterful album of bluegrass classics.

 

Balsam Range- It’s Christmas Time review   Leave a comment

Balsam Range It’s Christmas Time Mountain Home Music Company

ITS-CHRISTMAS-TIME-CD

Considering I’ve yet to experience the group in concert, I would still place Balsam Range on my list of contemporary ‘top ten’ bluegrass bands. I’ve written about them several times (Here, here,  here, here, and again here) and I am certain they have never disappointed me across their six albums.

It’s Christmas Time, the group’s new seasonal EP, is a very different project for the North Carolina group. If one went by the F-I-L SoBA (Father-in-Law Scale of Bluegrass Acceptability), there is no doubt the release falls short.

Bluegrass instrumentation is for the most part down-played, while the Nashville Recording Orchestra—a violin section, violas, cellos, and double bass—is prominently featured. The result is an acoustic melding of ‘down-home’ and ‘uptown’ that isn’t going to appeal to most staid members of the bluegrass community; the lively saxophone break amid the free-spirited “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” will absolutely be an adornment too extreme for many.

“I’m Going Home, It’s Christmas Time,” which I associate with Ralph Stanley and Ernie Thacker, is provided the most ‘straight-forward’ bluegrass interpretation, with Darren Nicholson taking the lead place with just his Balsam Range partners participating. Certainly it is my favourite number on the seven-track release, but that doesn’t mean the more embellished productions fail. Rather, they are quite extraordinary: they just aren’t dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass, and—as such—leave this listener unfulfilled.

The group’s intent with It’s Christmas Time was most obviously to push themselves beyond the boundaries of the five-person bluegrass ensemble. The bluegrass vocal arrangements of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “The First Noel” are impressive, and the string section accompaniment is appreciated given the group’s motivation. Also appealing is Balsam Range’s interpretation of Doc Watson’s “Christmas Lullaby”. BR chooses to broaden Watson’s concise arrangement, not only with sweetening from the NRO, but providing ample space for the group member’s accompanying instrumental fills and breaks. The result is somewhat cinematic.

Most assuredly, It’s Christmas Time will fit-in aurally beside the ‘background’ Christmas music we will hear over the next week or so. Unfortunately, I’m equally certain bluegrass should never be ‘background music.’ Nope, for me the energy, vibrancy, and masterful vocal creations that comprise bluegrass should always be placed to the fore.

And while the skill and execution of Balsam Range and their collaborators on It’s Christmas Time is never in doubt, I don’t see this collection replacing Larry Sparks’ Christmas in the Hills, and my Hay Holler, Rounder, Pinecastle, and Sugar Hill seasonal compilations.

Impressive and appreciated, certainly. Beloved? Sorry, no.