Archive for the ‘Bluegrass Music’ Tag

Carolina Chimes: Rudi Ekstein’s All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase review   Leave a 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:


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.


O Brother, Ralph Stanley, & Dolly Parton reviews   Leave a comment

More roots review from the extensive if not valued Fervor Coulee Archive:

O_Brother,_Where_Art_Thou__(soundtrack)Various Artists O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack Mercury Universal (2000)

Musical luminaries diverse as John Hartford, Norman Blake, Dan Tyminski, and the Fairfield Four came together to record the music for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, providing stellar performances of early bluegrass, traditional country, and Appalachian ballads.

Highlights include songs by strong female vocalists such as the Whites, the Cox Family, and Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and Gillian Welch which are important as glorious performances of historical songs for a new generation. The inclusion of Ralph Stanley’s chilling a cappella rendition of “O Death” solidifies the album.

(originally published February 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate)

RalhoRalph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys Man of Constant Sorrow Rebel Records (2001)

Long associated with the song “Man of Constant Sorrow,” featured prominently in O Brother, Where Art Thou? , Ralph Stanley lends legitimacy to the soundtrack. Stanley was a contemporary of Bill Monroe, and was elemental in establishing the sound of bluegrass.

Man of Constant Sorrow, Stanley’s latest, is a compilation of recordings from the last 25 years, and serves as a companion piece to the O Brother soundtrack.

Bluegrass gospel numbers such as “I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)” and “I Have Seen The Rock of Ages” find Stanley and his band in fine form. Alongside these are “Old Richmond Prison” and “Poor Rambler” which capture the pain and depth of bluegrass.

(originally published February 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate) Side note: This was the first album I received for review from Rebel Records; I was completely chuffed that they took a chance on me in 2001. Still am each time a disc shows up in the mail!

DollyDolly Parton Little Sparrow Sugar Hill Records (2001)

Little Sparrow continues the path Dolly Parton has been on recently bringing spirited vocals to several traditional sounding numbers including “Seven Bridges Road” and “Marry Me.”

She has also assembled a crack selection of the bluegrass elite to give her self-penned numbers an authentic instrumental base. Parton continues to resurrect her career by harvesting the sounds of her childhood.

Superior releases such as Little Sparrow broaden and enrich the audience of traditional music forms while further establishing a commercial presences for roots music.

(originally published February 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate)

Kathy Kallick Band- Horrible World review   Leave a comment

kallickKathy Kallick Band Horrible World Live Oak Records

I’ve been writing about Kathy Kallick almost as long as I’ve been writing about roots music.

With others, I produced a concert for the Kathy Kallick Band, have bought several CDs—and been afforded others— and spent time listening to her music at multiple festivals and various stages—I am positive both as a reformed Good Ol’ Persons (although I can locate no record of such) and as the KKB—while having a couple semi-private chats with her. She is undoubtedly one of my favourite bluegrass and Americana performers.

Kathy Kallick’s voice is always warm and inviting, even when singing songs with the coldest of themes: she knows her way around a murderin’ outlaw song as well as anyone, and yet can embrace the complexities of relationships and daily life with seeming ease. While she can and does perform in a range of situations, never is she so strong than when fronting a vibrant, driving bluegrass band, and over the past many years has been releasing complex and engaging albums with her band.

Warmer Shade of Blue reached a level few bands can ever achieve, and yet she built upon that with Between the Hollow & the High-Rise and FoxhoundsFoxhounds while never faltering. Her recording of a few years back with Laurie Lewis honouring Vern & Ray also deserves recognition.

Horrible World (countered both in song and on the back cover with “It’s A Beautiful World”) continues the Kathy Kallick Band’s streak of excellence. As always, her songs are deep and meaningful creations, ones that find a way to speak to innermost thoughts. She balances these heady moments with unconventional renditions of familiar songs, for example recreating “Cotton-Eyed Joe” as a pensive 3/4 time ballad, before shifting gears ala Monroe’s post-Presley “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Tom Bekeny (mandolin) has been part of the group since the start and Walkin’ In My Shoes, and is as central to the KKB sound as is its namesake. His interaction with bandmates during the extended instrumental break within the telling “Nothin’ So Bad (It Can’t Get Worse)” is notable. The lineup of the group remains consistent from Foxhounds: Annie Staninec (fiddle), Greg Booth (Dobro and banjo), and Cary Black (bass) along with Kallick (guitar) and Bekeny. As usual, everyone sings various bits and parts.

With a trio of instrumentals—one near-grass (“Cascade Blues”), one western swingin’ (“Boot Heel Drive”) and one bonafide ‘grass (Bekeny’s “Edale)”—and familiar songs including “My Honey Lou” and “Dark As The Night (Blue As The Day,)” which I swear I have heard Kallick sing previously, [ed.note: and I have, if not in concert at least on the live Good Ol’ Person’s release, Good ‘n’ Live; thanks Mr. Thompson] leading the way, Horrible World is a very accessible bluegrass release.  This interpretation of “Dark As The Night” is stellar, bluesy and pure yearnsome. “Pockets Full of Rain” is a hopeful (vaguely familiar sounding) new-folk song, and “Ride Away” is a spirited ‘bad guy’ tale, and Kallick goes hard—as she often does—to give voice to this spritely number. “Solid Gone” incorporates years of folk-country-and bluegrass tradition within its words and melody, and Staninec’s singing style is well-suited to this old-timey song.

The album closing “This Beautiful World,” a John Reischman-Kallick co-write is a gentle meditation for hope and faith, as is “The Sunday Road,” albeit with a bit more pep.

The Kathy Kallick Band is one of the strongest, most consistent and satisfying bluegrass bands going. That they never receive their due from the IBMA voting membership come awards time is a shame. An album like Horrible World could change that, should folks in positions of influence ever bleeding notice. But I’ve been saying similar for 15 years.

Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard- Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969 review   Leave a comment

Hazel and Alice

Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969
Free Dirt Records

Rare, archival material from the most important female duo in bluegrass history will always be welcomed.

The contributions made by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard have long been acknowledged by people who have chosen to delve into their music and the events surrounding their recording and performing careers, both individually within bluegrass and old-time music and as a pioneering duo. That it took the International Bluegrass Music Association until 2017—six years after Dickens’ passing—to welcome them into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame was nothing short of shameful.

Recorded rehearsal tapes captured between jobs and child-rearing responsibilities—and at times with children running about—illuminate the process the musical partners engaged in to develop their raw and unblemished interpretation of bluegrass. Considering the intent and circumstance of the recording, the fidelity of the nineteen included songs is surprisingly acute. Recorded contemporaneously and subsequently to their initial Folkways set, these songs and recordings provide a hint into the woodshedding the pair undertook while developing their identifiable sound.

Only “James Alley Blues” has previously been released by Hazel and Alice (on the second Rounder album), and the accompaniment on these songs is minimal. We are invited guests into intimate, unfettered, and still intense rehearsals; one can easily imagine sitting at a Formica table with a cup of black coffee while watching these proceedings. Gerrard’s autoharp can be heard, setting the pace for songs as diverse as Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s “Bye Bye Love.” While most of the instrumentation is guitar, banjo leads the way on the spirited “Let Me Fall” and “Bound to Ride.”

Hazel and Alice never had much time for trifflin’, and that is clearly communicated in “I’ll Wash Your Love From My Heart,” “Why Not Confess,” and “Will You Miss Me.” “Tell Me That You Love Me” and “Are You All Alone” finds them softening their stance, while “This Little Light of Mine,” “No Telephone In Heaven,” and “No One To Welcome Me Home” have Hazel and Alice exploring the folk and country songbooks. On “No One To Welcome Me Home,” their voices blend and blur, with Hazel cutting through in supporting harmony. Hard times—a frequent Hazel and Alice subject—are explored in a rough take of “In The Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad).” “Cannonball Blues” and “Seven Year Blues” are exceptional takes.

While definitely adding to the Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard canon, these rehearsal takes also reveal the development of the singers; several tracks begin almost hesitantly, their confidence developing over the course of two or three minutes. A very welcome addition to my collection.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald