Archive for the ‘Bluegrass Music’ Tag

High Fidelity- Hills and Home review   Leave a comment

Hills and Home

High Fidelity Hills and Home Rebel Records

Every decade or so, Rebel Records signs a performer with limited national presence and assists them in ascending the bluegrass ladder: Steep Canyon Rangers; Chris Jones; Lonesome River Band; Lost & Found; Cliff Waldron…

This time out, that band is High Fidelity.

High Fidelity’s second album, Hills and Home (named for the John Duffey composition originally recorded by the Country Gentlemen for Starday in 1959, and included here) serves as an appealing and versatile introduction to this rather youthful quintet’s energetic, foundationally strong, and vocal-focused representation of contemporary bluegrass.  Hills and Home affirms the promise of their sparking, self-titled debut of 2016.

Built around the complementary vocal duo of Corrina Rose Logston Stephens (fiddle) and Jeremy Stephens (guitar and banjo), High Fidelity also features Kurt Stephenson (banjo and guitar), Daniel Amick (mandolin and guitar), and Vickie Vaughn (URB), who some will recall from her self-named group and EP. The group most obviously presents bluegrass that captures the old-time sounds of bluegrass influenced by Reno & Smiley, with shades of the Louvins in some of their arrangement choices and production approaches. Their focus is capturing a vintage sound is apparent throughout the album’s fourteen songs, perhaps never so strongly as on “Gotta Get You Near Me Blues,” a Buddy Holly song by way of Bob Montgomery, which shines with a Louvin aesthetic.

“I’ve Changed My Mind” is a master course in vocal harmony with the Stephens spouses seamlessly exchanging leads on the chorus. That the group fully accepts the message of this redemption song is apparent not only in their masterful delivery, but in the fact that half the songs contain messages of faith. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” is featured with a rarely encountered verse included.

High Fidelity’s duo and trio singing is pleasingly presented on songs including “I Will Always Be Waiting For You,” “The Leaf of Love,” and the very strong “My Saviour’s Train.” Jeremy Stephens has a strong, confident voice, and Corrina Rose is a perfect foil with a sharpness in her delivery that is atypical and so terribly welcome. She doesn’t have a prototypical ‘pretty’ (and consequently, bland) bluegrass voice; rather, she could be the high harmony singer on a ‘fifties radio show recording, cutting through the gloom and distance from a far-away station. As a result, her voice is memorable and even beautiful.

High Fidelity’s versatility is revealed in their approach to these (mostly) seldom encountered songs. Charlie Monroe’s 60’s song “My Mother’s White Rose” is given an ‘old-school’ performance that evokes images of a (seemingly) less complicated time. Jim & Jesse’s “I Will Always Be Waiting For You” receives similar treatment, while “Maple On The Hill” is given a bit of juice to get it over the rise. “Grey Eagle” not only gives Logston Stephens a chance to cut loose, the entire group digs in for an elaborate breakdown of distinction.

Hills and Home is an exciting bluegrass release from a group that creates the kind of bluegrass too seldom heard today. Like the Johnson Mountain Boys and Longview before them, High Fidelity is bringing bluegrass music’s rich history forward to today’s audience.

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Blueberry Bluegrass 2018 is coming!   Leave a comment

Blueberry+Bluegrass+Festival+-+Blueberry+Map

I love Blueberry Bluegrass! Last year Blueberry rose from the ashes to present a revitalized festival featuring world-class talent, late-evening dances, and a positive atmosphere supporting area talent. That continues this coming August 3-5 with additional new features including…wait for it…a licensed patio! (Hopefully, the weather cooperates and we feel like a beer while listening to the bands.) The Blueberry Schedule has been released, and my thoughts are over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass. My preview of the festival is also there, at this link. I’ll see you there on August 5…

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.

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   1 comment

David Davis

David Davis & The Warrior River Boys Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole Rounder Records

Even with fewer than a dozen albums featuring his name, David Davis has become a near-legendary member of the bluegrass fraternity, a true follower of The Monroe Doctrine. Having fronted the Warrior River Boys for parts of four decades, Davis has refined and nurtured his vision of traditionally-based bluegrass while consistently presenting among the finest live showcases of the music’s vibrancy.                                                                                                                                            Bill monroe

For his first album in almost ten years, Davis returns to Rounder Records with a well-considered collection of music from the early years of the twentieth century. Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole is the first Warrior River Boys album since Davis completed his incredible Rebel Records aural triptych in 2009: Troubled Times, David Davis & the Warrior River Boys, and Two Dimes & A Nickel, three of the most impressive bluegrass albums released during the initial decade of this century. [Note to self: dig up and post original reviews of these albums.]

David Davis has the ability to provide insights into the genesis of bluegrass music as few others. He presents as simultaneously intense and affable, a man comfortable with the direction his career has taken him. He has studied the music that informed Bill Monroe’s music, has identified for himself the threads and tendrils that were woven to create bluegrass. These insights inform his music, whether creating impressive interpretations of previously unrecorded songs or crafting fresh understandings of familiar songs, conveying universal experience.

David Davis waskasoo

The music of Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers comes from the post-World War I, pre-Depression era of American history, string band music that influenced generations of professional and amateur pickers and singers. Many of the songs contained within Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole are well-known, but Davis and co-producer Robert Montgomery have also included less familiar numbers while eschewing proverbial standards such as “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” and “Take A Drink On Me,” songs already oft recorded in bluegrass.

Still, a spirited and instrumentally well-arranged take on “White House Blues” is included as is “Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee,” songs every jam regular well knows. Late in the set, a smooth rendition of “If The River Was Whiskey” is offered, with Davis’s voice and light, southern drawl ideally suited to the meandering song.

An album of considerable variation, an acceptance of life’s departures is an apparent theme. Whether pining for a distant love (“Where The Whippoorwill Is Whispering Goodnight”) within a song replete with acute detail (“Around that door the same old ivy vine is clinging,” a vivid image of desolation), cutting off a proposal (“One Moonlight Night”), or acknowledging the ways of a family’s ‘black sheep’ (“He Rambled”), one senses that Davis and Montgomery were attracted to songs where everything wasn’t necessarily going to plan.

The ‘Frankie and Johnny’ lovers of “Leaving Home” reveal different strategies for moving on from their troubled relationship, and the protagonist of “May I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight, Mister?” should have anticipated the ‘fox and henhouse’ outcome of his hospitality.

Does sentimentality get better than the included renditions of “Old and Only In The Way” and “Goodbye Mary Dear,” an enduring war-time tale? I suspect not. The bluesy “Highwayman” fits alongside additional ‘blues’ numbers including “Ramblin’ Blues” and “Milwaukee Blues,” a song previously recorded with a different vocal arrangement on Troubled Times and which led Davis on his Charlie Poole exploration.

Long-time Warrior River Boys Marty Hayes (lead and harmony vocals, bass) and Robert Montgomery (banjo) remain within the fold, with Davis contributing his classic-styled mandolin playing and distinctive voice with Stan Wilemon on guitar. Guest fiddler Billy Hurt is featured across the album. The instrumentation is, as expected, top drawer. The closing “Sweet Sunny South” is extended a mite, allowing  all the players to be showcased to excellent effect. Wilemon’s guitar runs on “Ramblin’ Blues” are especially appealing, as are Hurt’s fiddle fills, while Montgomery gets great tone on the opening title track.

Whatever are the reasons, it has been much too long since David Davis & the Warrior River Boys released an album. Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole is more than a welcome return; this album allows the listener to travel back in time and witness bluegrass’ evolution from old-timey string band and blues foundations to the music we embrace today. More than academic exercise, Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole is an exemplary example of modern, traditional bluegrass.

 

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.