Archive for the ‘Bluegrass Music’ Tag

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2018   Leave a comment

Favourite, not best. I happen to consider them the best, but you certainly may feel different. One will notice no ‘big tent’ bluegrass on this list-the furthest afield I go is with my #1 album, which is still fair solid bluegrass.

These are the albums I felt delivered in 2018.

1. The Travelin’ McCourys- The Travelin’ McCourys An incredible album. Featuring three capable (and better) lead vocalists and five earth-shattering musicians, The Travelin’ McCourys deliver a set of complex bluegrass that remains firmly rooted while extending branches toward the light. Wonderful stuff: powerful, masterful, and most importantly, memorable. Their live presentation is also aces. (Purchased)

2. Sister Sadie- II There are a lot of great bluegrass bands working today: I would put Sister Sadie up against any one of them. II is even more unified than their debut with the group having melded into a seamless force greater than its exceedingly impressive parts. The quintets’ natural essence is given prominence, a traditional vision bolstered by contemporary approaches. (Serviced by PR)

3. David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole David Davis is a true follower of The Monroe Doctrine. “Didn’t He Ramble” is a well-considered collection of music from the early years of the twentieth century. Many of the songs are well-known, but Davis and co-producer Robert Montgomery also include less familiar numbers. An album of considerable variation, an acceptance of life’s departures is an apparent theme; one senses Davis and Montgomery drawn to songs where everything doesn’t go to plan. An exemplary example of modern, traditional bluegrass. (Serviced by PR)

4. Rudi Ekstein- Carolina Chimes This ‘All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase’ is 34-minutes of tunes sounding fresh, invigorated, and powerful. The twelve numbers flow brilliantly, a set of mandolin-based bluegrass the likes we haven’t experienced in years. An absolute stunner of a bluegrass album.  (Serviced by PR)

5. High Fidelity- Hills and Home Hills and Home serves as an appealing versatile introduction to this quintet’s energetic, foundationally strong, and vocal-focused representation of contemporary bluegrass. The group presents bluegrass that captures the old-time sounds influenced by Reno & Smiley, with shades of the Louvins in their arrangement choices and production approaches. High Fidelity is bringing bluegrass music’s rich history forward to today’s audience.  (Serviced by label)

6. Special Consensus- Rivers and Roads I didn’t write about this album. I just listened to it about thirty times. I haven’t been disappointed in an album from Special C in a long time, and given the strength of this set, I won’t be in the foreseeable future. A core of solid songs, lively singing, a few notable guest spots, and blazing instrumentation: my kinda bluegrass mix. (Purchased download)

7. Peter Rowan- Carter Stanley’s Eyes An acute reminder of that, when performed with talent, inspiration, and respect, bluegrass is a very powerful thing. 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. He 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. The light still shines in Peter Rowan’s eyes: that he loves bluegrass music is doubtless. Neither is his ability to create a masterful album of bluegrass classics. 
(Serviced by label)

8. Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road- True Grass Again Carolina Road has always been strongest following Jordan’s keen vision of bluegrass. Here Carolina Dream create a faithful, refreshing representation of the ever-evolving genre by ensuring a secure grounding in the traditional substratum of bluegrass. “True Grass Again” is a fine return to form for this well-established and soulful outfit. (Serviced by PR)

9. Various Artists- Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey A lovingly assembled testament to the status John Duffey attained and the influence he continues to impart upon bluegrass music. Compiled from numerous sessions over almost 20 years, it also serves as acknowledgment to the devotion of its producers, Bluegrass 45s’ Akira Otsuka and Ronnie Freeman. Despite being assembled track-by-track, including 53 musicians and singers making contributions in a variety of makeshift studio settings, the 46-minute, 17-song set is coherent, bound as it is by the tensile strength of the bluegrass community. (Serviced by PR)

10. Del McCoury Band- Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass With the exception of the lead track “Hot Wired,” on which Del and the Boys seem to be trying too hard to be edgy, this album delivers on the faith we’ve been placing in Mr. McCoury from the first day we heard him thirty-some years ago. McCoury’s voice isn’t what it once was, but that it just fine; when performances are as strong and true as these, we’ll forgive the effects of time’s passage. (Purchased download)

A note: Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard- Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969 is not included simply because it isn’t fully a ‘bluegrass’ album. While there is no doubting Hazel and Alice was bluegrass and this archival release is tremendous , these practice sessions/kitchen tapes feature little to no bluegrass instrumentation, and are as such ‘just a bit outside’ my definition of bluegrass for the purposes of this list. Without a doubt, it remains one of my favourite five roots releases of the year.

Thoughts or reactions? fervorcoulee@gmail.com

Best to you for the Christmas and holiday season and a terrific New Year. Donald

Addendum: When the Bluegrass Grammy nominees were announced December 7, I was surprised to find three of my top six included: The Travelin’ McCourys, Sister Sadie, and The Special Consensus. I don’t know if such has previously occurred- out of necessity, I take some pride in being a bluegrass outlier. Glad to see that the industry is finally aligning- for one brief moment- with my way of thinking. The other 2 Grammy nominees were two album I didn’t encounter. I might have noticed Mike Barnett’s all-star fiddle album had he and his Kentucky Thunder band-mates (and boss) made an effort to bring merch and shake & howdy at the mercantile at Blueberry this summer, but they didn’t bother. I learned of the existence of Wood & Wire today.

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Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge- Songs From the Blue Ridge review   Leave a comment

Gaylean

Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge
Songs From the Blue Ridge
Rebel Records

Unheralded bluegrass bands performing music to the highest quality abound.

Hailing from the Blue Ridge Mountain area of Virginia and North Carolina, Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge have been performing and developing without the benefit of overbearing promotional folks and management. They are doing it honestly: woodshedding, performing, and recording. Their previous release, My Daddy’s Grass, was an impressive collection of new songs (“I Found My Daddy’s Grass,” “Brother Paul,” and “I’d Have A Dime”) via Rick Pardue (and his collaborators) and bandleader Galyean (“Home With The Blues”) further strengthened with powerful interpretations of familiar chestnuts (“It’s A Cold, Cold World,” “Dark As A Dungeon,” and “We’ll Be Sweethearts in Heaven.”)

Songs From the Blue Ridge is every bit its equal.

Recorded ‘the old fashioned way’ by the band members—Galyean (guitar, lead vocals), Pardue (banjo, tenor vocals), Brad Hiatt (acoustic bass, baritone vocals), and Billy Hawks (fiddle)—in a single studio without guest appearances, Songs From the Blue Ridge is a collection of songs that will provide endless entertainment.

While few of us ever need to hear “Dixieland For Me” again, the remaining eleven selections are without fault—and “Dixieland For Me” suffers only because it is overly familiar. The album’s centerpiece is a driving rendition of the Johnson Mountain Boys’ “Too Late to Say Goodbye,” a Dudley Connell song that we haven’t heard recorded in much too long. Another classic seldom encountered is John Duffey’s hopeful (and somewhat self-centered, demanding, and presuming) “Wear a Red Rose,” while “The Drunkard’s Dream” is oft-heard, but seldom with such musically dark overtones. Nice.

The new material is as inspiring. Pardue again comes through for his cohorts with both “You Can Go to Heaven” and a song many of us can relate to, “No Candy in My Bluegrass.” Over a strong bass rhythm and a mess of impressive banjo rolls, we hear words like an elixir:

He was standing in the back row shaking his head,
Considering the fact all his heroes were dead.
He was hearing something that he didn’t rightly know—
Was it souped-up country or bad rock and roll.
Don’t put no candy in my bluegrass,
I don’t want my whiskey watered down.
Don’t give me no electrified baloney—
I just want to hear that mountain sound!

Preachin’ to the converted, and no complaints about it.

Galyean’s songwriting contribution is similarly well-conceived. “Now I’m Losing You” is a ‘woe, you’re leaving me’ number with some flair, not the least of which is Hawks’ fiddle work. His father Cullen’s “The Blue Ridge Mountains” ties the project together amid “tall lonesome old pines.” Brad Hiatt’s “She’s Gone” is memorable, a somewhat empowering tale of self-determination, and Hawks’ fiddle showcase “Outback” is more than filler—Hiatt’s rhythm sets the pace, but it is the interplay of Hawks and Pardue that sets the tune apart.

Filled-out by terrific readings of the thematically linked “The Convict and the Rose” and “These Old Prison Bars,” Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge have created an intriguing, lasting bluegrass recording. Rebel Records has done it again!

As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road- True Grass Again review   1 comment

True Grass

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road
True Grass Again
Pinecastle Records

When we last heard from venerable bluegrass vets Carolina Road, the Lorraine Jordan-led group was teaming with 70s and 80s country chart toppers including Eddy Raven, John Conlee, Lee Greenwood, Crystal Gayle, and John Anderson for a disc of ‘grassified, rearview-mirror country imaginings. The results were enjoyable if not breathtaking; such projects suffer an uneasy dichotomy featuring singers unwilling or unable to divert from the vocal cadence they’ve employed for forty years—the music is bluegrass, but the singing remains within a familiar country mold.

While capable and comfortable finding veins between country and bluegrass, Carolina Road has always been strongest following Jordan’s keen vision of bluegrass. Songs such as “Can’t You Hear the Mountains Calling,” “Back to My Roots,” “Cold Kentucky Snow,” and “A Stop in Southport Towne” are bluegrass, through and through. Fully realized with True Grass Again, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Dream create a faithful, refreshing representation of the ever-evolving genre by ensuring a secure grounding in the traditional substratum of bluegrass.

Carolina Road remains Jordan (mandolin, vocals), Ben Greene (banjo, vocals), Josh Goforth (fiddle, vocals), Tommy Long (guitar, vocals), and Matt Hooper (fiddle), with bluegrass veteran Randy Graham (Bluegrass Cardinals, Quicksilver, Continental Divide) now joining on bass and vocals. All appear throughout True Grass Again, although not all the band members are featured instrumentally. Jason Moore and Terry Smith share bass duties, while Will Jones handles the majority of the guitar parts, with several guest vocalists—including Graham—featured.

The North Carolina-based group doesn’t waste any time laying down their manifesto. Joined by traditional stalwarts Danny Paisley and Junior Sisk, Tommy Long and his cohorts flat declare:

Well ol’ Cord had it right about crime down on the Row,
They murdered country music, tore out its heart and soul.
Now they’re trying to kill the ‘grass handed down by Bill Monroe,
Maybe someday they’ll find their way to just leave us alone.

“True Grass” isn’t the first song declaring a bluegrass reconfiguring is desired in this ‘big tent,’ all-encompassing industry, one which appears to continually attempt to redefine itself. The C. David Stewart song nails the conviction while ignoring the reality: to pay the bills, the genre must evolve. And there’s the rub: how do those who love the traditions of bluegrass compete within a crowded Americana-dominated world?

If bluegrass has taught us anything over its seventy-plus years, it is that we are great at ignoring financial reality: bluegrass isn’t about paying a mortgage as much as it is the sweet harmonies, “old fiddles, a guitar and mandolin, with a banjo, a Dobro, and an old bass walkin’ in.” And True Grass Again delivers on this promise.

“Run Little Fox,” “Little Country Home,” and “Portrait of the Blues” are they types of songs and performances that have made bluegrass what it is and always should be. This tradition is further entrenched by a terrific, lively rendition of “Preaching, Praying, Singing” and the more temperate “I Hear Angels Calling Your Name.” Randy Graham is given three leads, including “Pickin’ Rock Out of the Bluegrass” and “Poor Monroe.” Jordan’s “Another Soldier,” sung by Goforth, is a song that could find itself becoming a bluegrass standard.

Within “True Grass,” the lyric, “If we are true to our roots, our music might survive” closes the final verse. Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road appear to have recommitted themselves to this mission as their bluegrass promise. True Grass Again is a fine return to form for this well-established and soulful bluegrass outfit.

As always, thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

 

Carolina Chimes: Rudi Ekstein’s All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase review   1 comment

RudiRudi Ekstein Carolina Chimes Rudi Ekstein’s All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase
FoxFire Recordings

One of the strongest bluegrass sets of the year comes from a name most bluegrass aficionados, me wee self included, are unfamiliar with prior to its release.

Rudi Ekstein is an absolutely beautiful mandolin player, and while his name may not roll off the tongue like his more prominent eight-string colleagues, his latest collection deserves significant attention.

Upon first listen, I was really quite taken aback: Who is this guy I’ve never heard of playing with such notable bluegrassers including Stuart Duncan (fiddle, natch), Jeff Autry (guitar), Mark Schatz (bass), and Patrick Sauber (banjo on four tracks, Seth Rhinehart on another pair)?

A couple days later, listening to the area alternative radio network, CKUA, I started to hear songs from the album outside the weekly bluegrass showcase: that was even more surprising, but so well-deserved. Rudi Ekstein’s All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase is 34-minutes of original tunes sounding fresh, invigorated, and powerful, accessible to even the most sceptical of ears.

I’ll leave others better suited to tell the Rudi Ekstein story; I’ll simply concentrate on my impressions of this dynamic album of modern bluegrass well-rooted in traditions perfected over the course of seventy years.

“Cornerstone” is no doubt a fair number with which to kick-off the album as it oozes with the moody sensibility for which bluegrass’s father was perhaps most appreciated. Elsewhere, as on “Dixie Sunset,” mandolin trills reveal wisps of the ancient tones so often referenced by Mr. Monroe. “Back Drag” captures more up-tempo spirits of similar heritage and “Rockalachia” is a jaunty tune containing a playful Monroe bounce.

“Spikebuck,” a spicy instrumental, could be culled from the latest album from any number of name bands, but most strongly brings to mind Mark Stoffel’s playing with Chris Jones & the Night Drivers. “Jessy’s Fancy” contains welcome echoes of country music’s past, perhaps of “Just Someone I Used to Know.” A breakdown, “Bacon In the Pan,” is another highlight.

These twelve original numbers flow brilliantly, a set of mandolin-based bluegrass the likes we haven’t experienced in a number of years. I’ve hit ‘repeat’ more than once listening to the set, the minutes passing by much too quickly.

An absolute stunner of a bluegrass album.

 

The Earls of Leicester- Live at the CMA Theater…Fame review   Leave a comment

EARLS_LIVEatCMA_COVER_comp4My regard for The Earls of Leicester is no secret. Funny that the member of the band I first appreciated was lead singer Shawn Camp, not only for his long-ago country albums but most importantly for his long ago live album recorded at The Station Inn. Jerry Douglas is fine, I suppose, for a Dobro player (I jest), but I can’t say I was ever a big fan of his type of stuff- too many bad memories of outta control jam busters wielding the hubcap guitar. Anyhow, my review of their latest album, a long-titled live one is up over at Country Standard Time. Enjoy.

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From the extensive if not valued Fervor Coulee Archive:

Hillman

The Coal PortersThe Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts (Prima SID 013) 52:03

Within a band of fascinating characters, Chris Hillman was, for me, always the most cool of the Flying Burrito Brothers.  I would like to think it was because I sensed the soulful spirit of bluegrass he brought to their albums.  Perhaps it was the solid sense of musicianship and stability he projected while surrounded by an occasionally raggle-taggle group of musicians.  Maybe it was simply because he co-wrote “Wheels.”  It could have been the hair.

Whatever his reasons, Sid Griffin was similarly taken by the California-born Hillman.

The Coal Porters, Griffin’s (ex-Long Ryders, current music journalist and performer) long running England-based group seemingly dedicated to promoting all things Gram Parsons, turn their collective heads in a respectful nod to Hillman- ex-Byrd, ex- Flying Burrito, ex- Desert Rose Band, and current member of Out Of The Woodwork.

Despite being recorded at various gigs in London, Nashville, Louisville, and New York City and with a variety of sidemen, this album is remarkably cohesive and provides a tremendous overview of the bluegrass tinged legacy and being that is Chris Hillman.

Completely acoustic, there is no arguing the instrumental chops and motivation of eighth generation (both sides) Kentuckian Griffin and his compatriots of Irish, Scottish, and English ancestry.   This is an entertaining, high-octane bluegrass homage to a country-rock pioneer.

The playing is loose- comfortably relaxed, never sloppy- without the gloss of a precision bluegrass band.  The heartfelt intent is to pay tribute to an idol and icon.

The banjo playing of Pat McGarvey is at the forefront of most numbers including a version of Leon Payne’s “The Lost Highway” (sung here by Neil Robert Herd) and “I Am A Pilgrim,” a cut Hillman sang on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo album.  Griffin’s mandolin performance, while not stellar in the sense of a Thile or Bush, is enthusiastic and spot on.

For those who remember Hillman from the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers (or at least have heard the reissued disc) to those who thought the Desert Rose Band was the brightest spot in the late-eighties neo-traditional country landscape, The Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts is a must purchase.

In true bluegrass spirit the album closes with Griffin’s voice over the P.A.- “CDs in the lobby!”

Originally published 2001, Bluegrass Now; I am fairly certain the editor worked overtime to turn this into something publishable. One day, I will be brave enough to compare the printed copy (in a box somewhere) and what I submitted, this.

 

Auldridge, Bennett, & Gaudreau- Blue Lonesome Wind review   Leave a comment

From the extensive if not valued Fervor Coulee Archive:

ABGAuldridge, Bennett & Gaudreau- Blue Lonesome Wind (Rebel REB-CD-1768) 44:44

Auldridge, Bennett & Gaudreau inhabit that frequently uncomfortable place between retro- traditionalism and artistic experimentation; with Blue Lonesome Wind, their sophomore effort, ABG has achieved a melding of musical alchemy which should satisfy fans of all bluegrass genres.

No one can argue the pedigrees of these masters.  Mike Auldridge, long an upper echelon resophonic player, has consistently produced inspired and progressive accompaniment with the Seldom Scene and Chesapeake.  Mandolinist Jimmy Gaudreau, also formerly of Chesapeake, has lent his deft playing to the Tony Rice Unit and J. D. Crowe & the New South; Gaudreau was featured on Crowe’s classic Live in Japan.  Richard Bennett, has quietly establishing his presence in the bluegrass world with smooth flatpicking and a gentle voice ideally suited to the music we love.

Four of the numbers, including three instrumentals, were written by Bennett and Gaudreau, while ABG have selected others by talents such as Liz Meyer and Rodney Crowell.

While their instrumental mastery is inarguable, what raises ABG above some other performers is the rich authenticity of these distinct yet complementary vocalists.  The pearl glistening most true is Richard Bennett’s home spun vocals, at times vaguely reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot, harkening a generation without a splash of false showmanship; his self-penned “Satisfied To Stay” should have been written in the ‘50s.

The album’s showcase piece may be “Sweet Prairie Hay,” written by Bill Caswell.  The entire band demonstrates expressive musicality while giving credence to the adage ‘less is more’; each instrumentalist is allowed to shine without resorting to one-upmanship.  On this number, Gaudreau’s tenor is ideally suited to the forsaken reminiscences of a condemned prisoner.

The instrumental “Welcome to New York” was originally a banjo showpiece when recorded by the Country Gentleman.  Arranged to feature Mike Auldridge’s resophonic guitar, it provides stark juxtaposition to the “long and empty” days in the “City of Lost Souls,” the number it precedes; Richard Bennett, plunging to the depths of bluegrass soul, captures the sense of aimlessness felt by many existing within urban business environments.

Another instrumental, “Dog Pause,” could be retitled “Dawg Paws” as, to this listener’s ears, it pays tribute to the lasting effect David Grisman has had by extending the parameters of bluegrass.

Blue Lonesome Wind is a definite ‘A’ List recording- strong in spirit, sincere in execution.

Origninally published in 2001Bluegrass Now. My first piece for them, I believe.