Archive for the ‘James Reams & the Barnstormers’ Tag

Bluegrass Albums of 2016   Leave a comment

Here is my list of Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2016. Of course, your kilometreage will vary: I once received a perplexing, cranky email from the father of a fairly prominent bluegrasser whose album I didn’t include on such a list several years ago. For those such inclined, I repeat—these are my favourite bluegrass albums of the year. Not the best, ’cause that is silly. And all I can base it on is those albums I’ve heard, and maybe I somehow missed your son’s album…talk to his publicist.

  1. untitledLaurie Lewis & the Right Hands- The Hazel & Alice Sessions (Spruce and Maple) Laurie Lewis places Hazel Dickens with the bluegrass vocal big-three: Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, and Lester Flatt. Alice Gerrard is a fearsome master of vocal folk, old-time, and bluegrass. The Hazel and Alice Sessions is not only a worthy tribute to a key bluegrass partnership, but an entertaining and formable collection of music. For me, undoubtedly the bluegrass album of the year. Nominated for a Grammy this time out, I could listen to this one every day. Also, if taken together with the rest of the roots and Americana world, my favourite album of the year.

2. 307217534cdbb2ec36864489b286660fSister Sadie- Sister Sadie (Pinecastle) It remains rare for an all-female outfit featuring well-established personalities to come together to perform and record. Sister Sadie is one hell of a band! Presenting Dale Ann Bradley, Tina Adair and Gena Britt with Deanie Richardson and Beth Lawrence, Sister Sadie not only has individual name recognition, but an appealing, unified bluegrass approach. Dedicating the album to bluegrass innovator Lynn Morris, Sister Sadie has paid homage to the power of their gender’s role in bluegrass and country music.

3. the-earls-of-leicester-rattle-and-roar-album-coverThe Earls of Leicester- Rattle & Roar (Rounder Records) Like the Bluegrass Album Band did three decades ago, The  Earls of Leicester are more than a bluegrass supergroup. They deftly remind the bluegrass community of what this music is about: no ‘nod’ to the roots of the music, this is a full-blown tribute to the sturdy trunk that has supported the many branches of bluegrass for 70 years. While one may not ‘hear’ that the album was largely cut live with the musicians playing simultaneously within the same room, you can certainly ‘feel’ the intimacy of the experience. Everything is precise and note-perfect of course, but listening to “Why Did You Wonder?” one can envision Jerry Douglas nodding to Paul Warren to take a fiddle break after a chorus, Shawn Camp encouraging Charlie Cushman to step-up to deliver a memorable fill, and Jeff White grinning to Barry Bales as the song is brought home. With great regard for the tradition and even greater understanding of the precision required to make this music appear effortless—and the ability to pull it off—Rattle & Roar is another outstanding bluegrass recording from The Earls of Leicester.

4. TheMoreILearnBryanSuttonBryan Sutton- The More I Learn (Sugar Hill Records) Hands down, Bryan Sutton is the preeminent contemporary bluegrass guitar player. With clarity, precision, and enthusiasm born of ingenuity and good-taste, he is the ‘go-to’ player within both the bluegrass and Nashville-country studio recording worlds. All the while, Sutton has maintained a recording presence. While early recordings focused primarily (although not exclusively) on impressive interpretations of familiar instrumentals and fiddle tunes, Sutton has pushed himself on latter albums to develop his songwriting while also presenting himself as a singer. This progression continues with The More I Learn, with seven originals and co-writes and nine songs featuring Sutton in the lead position. A very satisfying recording that will appeal to those who have come to appreciate Sutton’s tasteful approach to bluegrass and acoustic music.

5. balsam-rangeBalsam Range- Mountain Voodoo (Mountain Home) Balsam Range is a band that encapsulates all that modern bluegrass represents. So consistently impressive that we no longer expect their albums to be ‘better than their last,’ in less than a decade Balsam Range has hit the plateau of excellence few groups achieve. Like The Del McCoury Band, Blue Highway, and Alison Krauss & Union Station before them, a new release from Balsam Range is measured against their individual legacy. Mountain Voodoo lacks nothing.

6. unnamedJames Reams & the Barnstormers- Rhyme & Season (Mountain Redbird) I’ve never hidden the fact that James Reams is one of my favourite people in bluegrass. He gets to the heart of the music each and every time, whether interpreting an under-heard classic of the genre, reinventing a country song, or performing one of his many excellent original numbers. Now based in Arizona, the longtime Brooklyn bluegrass mainstay returned this spring with a wonderful new album, Rhyme & Season. Rhyme & Season is most deliberately a concept album, a rarity in bluegrass circles. It includes songs from Mike Stinson (“Angel of the Evening,” Marty Stuart (“Rough Around the Edges,”) and Lawrence Shoberg (“Born to Roll”) and from the catalogs of Porter Wagoner (“$100 Funeral”) and Charley Pride (“Special,”) songs that capture the experiences of life’s outliers, the lost and often invisible.

7. rightbesideyou_280Jeff White- Right Beside You (Jeff White Bluegrass Records) Right Beside You is simply a terrific bluegrass album, one provided shades of influence from the Americana tree. As a result of the familiarity of the material, Right Beside You sounds classic. Because of the quality of performance, it is.

8. blue_highway_original_traditional_cover_rgbBlue Highway- Original Traditional (Rounder Records) Their eleventh album and first since Rob Ickes departed, continues Blue Highway’s recent blueprint: original music written or co-written by band members along with a single traditional song. The album’s title alludes to the group’s tendency to bridge the generations of bluegrass through recognition and reverence for the traditions of the music while ensuring a contemporary, original perspective is always present. With three formidable lead vocalists and key songwriters—Tim Stafford, Shawn Lane, and Wayne Taylor— along with Jason Burleson’s alternately aggressive and pensive, propulsive and sympathetic banjo presence (his tune “Alexander’s Run” is a highlight of the recording) and an instrumental lineup as strong as has ever been staged, Blue Highway is one of the top bands in the business. And this is an excellent bluegrass album.

9. paisleyDanny Paisley & Southern Grass- Weary River (Patuxent Music) Weary River was released in late 2015, too late to be considered for most year-end lists including my own, but the album received its due in 2016. For those who continue to appreciate bluegrass unadorned by passing fancy, this album has much to offer.

10. 1455228838118Del McCoury Band- Del and Woody (McCoury Music) As produced previous sets from Billy Bragg & Wilco, Jay Farrar, et al, and The Klezmatics, lyrics stored within the Woody Guthrie Archives were turned over to McCoury to be repurposed. This rootsy set, fully bluegrass in sound and intent, is the result and the first thing one may notice is how much it sounds like a typical Del McCoury Band album: if unaware of its genesis, one wouldn’t be surprised by anything included here. The musicianship is naturally first-class. McCoury has crafted these 12 songs within the well-established family oeuvre, balancing up tempo, but still substantial numbers and reflective, even maudlin songs. Del and Woody should satisfy those searching for fresh takes on Guthrie lyrics as well as the legion that devours music of The Del McCoury Band.

11. Sam Bush- Storyman (Sugar Hill Records) Sam Bush, it can be argued, is the most significant mandolin player of the last fifty years. Bowling Green, Kentucky’s favoured son has long been the bellwether of all things acoustic and ‘grassy. Storyman comes almost seven years after the exceptional Circles Around Me, an album that signified a high-point in Bush’s considerable solo output. As strong as that album was (it made my Top Ten for 2009 and, in hindsight, it would now be certain of a Top 5 berth) Storyman is an even more complete encapsulation of Bush’s approach to acoustic, bluegrass shaded Americana.

12. Special Consensus- Long I Ride (Compass Records) For more than forty years, Greg Cahill has been making bluegrass music as leader of the Special Consensus. Never in that time, as far as I’m aware, has he experienced the type of success as seen in the past few years since signing on with Compass Records and Alison Brown, who also produces this record. They are a stellar bluegrass group, one of the finest in the business. Long I Ride is further evidence of this true life fact.

13. The Grascals- …and then there’s this (Mountain Home) One of bluegrass music’s strongest and most engaging performing groups, The Grascals have consistently freshened traditional sounds with modern, progressive elements. From start to finish, in this case Bill Monroe’s plaintive “Highway of Sorrow,” this album maintains the best parts of The Grascals’ country-tempered style of bluegrass, with lots of banjo from Kristin Scott Benson: The Grascals are back at the top of their game with …and then there’s this.

14. Town Mountain- Southern Crescent (LoHi Records) Southern Crescent isn’t so much a departure from previous albums, especially 2012’s excellent Leave the Bottle, as it is an intense continuation of their southern influences and hard-scrabble bluegrass sound. As raucous as this approach is, there is a place within the (sometimes) staid and constrained bluegrass community for exactly this type of music. It isn’t trying to be country, it sure isn’t leaning toward easy listening, NPR pap—it is bluegrass, just not the type favoured by Bill Monroe. For that matter, it isn’t of the flavour projected by Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Lonesome River Band, or most of today’s mainstream headliners.

15. The Boxcars- Familiar With the Ground (Mountain Home) Continuing their own tradition of excellence, with the self-produced Familiar With the Ground, The Boxcars ably demonstrate that there is nothing better than a five-piece bluegrass band.

16. Kristin Scott Benson- Stringworks (Mountain Home) A beautifully balanced bluegrass album, one that alternates between instrumentals and songs. A very well-constructed and superbly executed bluegrass release, one that reveals the continued growth of one of bluegrass music’s most respected banjoists and personalities.

17. Audie Blaylock & Redline- The Road That Winds (Patuxent Music) Like his previous releases, The Road That Winds is a bluegrass album firmly down the dotted, middle line—it holds a steady course without drifting toward the edges, meeting anything in its way head on. Blaylock comes from the Jimmy Martin school, and his music will always be rooted in that tradition. However, over the course of their evolution, the younger members of the group—and obviously, Blaylock, too—have kept their sights on progressing with their music, ensuring they remain relevant as artists and entertainers. It’s straight-ahead bluegrass, but forward looking in execution.

18. Corrina Rose Logston- Bluegrass Fiddler (Patuxent Music) The title of the album is an acute summation. This is a bluegrass fiddle album, and a darned fine one. While I will sometimes drift-off (to use a polite term for ‘fall asleep’) listening to a fiddle-dominated recording, Bluegrass Fiddler kept me intrigued from start to finish. No doubt part of the reason was that Logston’s assembled band keeps things interesting, not just supporting her fiddling showcase, but sounding like a true band who has worked up a strong set of numbers.

19. Josh Williams- Modern Day Man (Rounder Records) A stunning bluegrass vocalist and guitarist, Williams’ contributions to Rhonda Vincent’s concert appearances are significant, never failing to impress. With the release of Modern Day Man, Williams delivers evidence that second chances must be earned through honesty, acceptance and no little bit of hard work.

20. Jeff Scroggins & Colorado- Ramblin Feels Good (Self-released) With flashes of greatness, Ramblin Feels Good is an above-average bluegrass release from a group that has quietly established a reputation as one of the more satisfying bands working the bluegrass circuit.



Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2016   1 comment


Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass (and eventually I will cross-post here) I have meticulously and expertly (!) compiled my list of my favourite bluegrass album of the year 2016. Please realize, these are my favourite bluegrass albums meaning, a) your list may be different, b) I don’t pretend to know what is best, and c) your definition of bluegrass may be different from mine. After much nasal grazing, these are the twenty I came up with, the albums I most enjoyed, most frequently listened to, and most highly regarded.

By a fairly large measure, Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands’ The Hazel and Alice Sessions topped my list. The complete article is posted HERE.


James Reams & the Barnstormers- Rhyme & Season   Leave a comment


I’ve never hidden the fact that James Reams is one of my favourite people in bluegrass. He gets to the heart of the music each and every time, whether interpreting an underheard classic of the genre, reinventing a country song, or performing one of his many excellent original numbers. Now based in Arizona, the longtime Brooklyn bluegrass mainstay returns this spring with a wonderful new album, “Rhyme & Season.”

Over at Country Standard Time, we’ve posted three articles that-taken together-take the reader through the project’s germination. If you have the patience, here is James Reams and “Rhyme & Season,” mostly in his own words.

Part One: the main article-

Part Two: a little bit more-

Part Three: song-by-song-

After reading, I hope you are as enthused about James Reams & the Barnstormers as I have been for a dozen years.


Call to support- James Reams & the Barnstormers   Leave a comment

unnamedI like to believe-and perhaps it is a false belief-that I’ve been a good friend to bluegrass music for the past twenty-some years.

I’ve spent more money on bluegrass than I hope my wife ever knows-concerts, festivals, compact discs, various merch such as t-shirts, sponsorship of radio stations near and far-I’ve done my share.

Add in the thousands of volunteer hours supporting the playing of bluegrass, of organizing and promoting bluegrass concerts, as well as the hours writing about this darned music, sometimes feeling like I’m advocating for something that is working against itself, and it is no wonder I’m feeling older than I should.

Not complaining, just observing.

I’ve made friends within this music, folks that I care about even though I may go a year or more without communication. That’s part of the bluegrass community-you can go years without seeing an acquaintance before running into them at an event and picking up right where you left off.

I know bluegrass music has made me a better person: more patient and accepting, less judgemental and definitely less certain of what I believe I know.

One of the best friends I’ve made in bluegrass music is James Reams. With his now departed partner in life and music Tina Aridas, James allowed me to peer into the independent bluegrass industry from the perspective of a rank outsider. I gained great insight from his and Tina’s experiences, learning every step of the way the importance of personal relationships within this small world.

2-James-Reams-200x300James remains one of my favourite bluegrass bandleaders and performers. One of my favourite people, period. I’ve attempted to plan a holiday around his Arizona appearances, and one day-hopefully soon-I’ll find a way to head south to catch he and The Barnstormers performing. I am confident in my belief that he has created one of the richest and most diverse recording catalogues over the past two decades. If you haven’t listened to James Reams & the Barnstormers, do some Googling and listening. Start here. Or here.

Within the next four days, James’ current Kickstarter campaign will come to a close. With great support from his fans, James has raised almost 70% of his very modest goal to allow himself to begin the production of his next album Rhyme & Season, his first since leaving New York City three years ago. James has continued to lead The Barnstormers, maintaining a band on the east coast and one out west. As he states, “Bring a bandleader for bands on both coasts has been challenging, but mostly it has been rewarding.” His new recording will feature both of his bands, and James promises some additional, exciting surprises.

James will donate part of the proceeds from album sales to projects benefiting the homeless. Now retired after a career as a school teacher, James has recently shared his experience as a homeless teenager. When he started putting together songs for this new recording, James “was struck by the broad variety of folks that are technically homeless: truckers, prisoners, addicts, and the elderly,” among others. In addition to those typically identified as homeless, James is willing to examine the experiences of others who are displaced, including recent immigrants to the United States. As someone who has written frankly in the past about mountain top removal, social injustice, and the plight of the forgotten, one trusts that Reams will create an incredible collection of songs for this release, anticipated this autumn.

According to James, “My intention is to embrace a wide range of human emotion from happiness and love to loss and sorrow, and over it all to express the hope I feel about the future. As I listened to some old gems, I was once again amazed at the depth that bluegrass music brings to understanding the human character. These songs inspired me to add my own contribution to the album in the form of original material that touches on similar issues affecting our world today.”

Please consider supporting this next project from James Reams & the Barnstormers. Visit his Kickstarter page here.  I have every confidence that you will be pleased that you did.

Roots Song of the Week- featuring James Reams & the Barnstormers   Leave a comment

ReamsThis week’s Roots Song of the Week is not a single song. I would like to join the bluegrass community in celebrating the release of James Reams’ long anticipated DVD production Making History with  Pioneers of Bluegrass. (I wish I could share how great the movie is, but my copy hasn’t yet arrived…I have now been hopelessly disappointed daily for the last two weeks, but I know it will get here soon.)

We first heard of The Early Days of Bluegrass several years ago when James included a sampler within the packaging of his magnificent Troubled Times album. As James freely admits, the journey toward fruition of this project has been much delayed. However, during the past year James has managed to finish the project with the assistance of supporters through a modest Kickstarter campaign. The DVD was released July 22, but I’ve held off for my copies to arrive…but, thought I needed to write about it today.

Below is the press release information, followed by links to this week’s Roots Songs of the Week:

After 11 years in the making the DVD documentary “Making History with Pioneers of Bluegrass: Tales of the Early Days in Their Own Words” has been released. This labor of love went through a whole gamut of production interruptions, any one of which would have stopped a less dedicated producer. When James decided to start shooting at the Grand Opening of the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, KY, [in 2002] he had no idea that over the next decade he would suffer many personal losses including the death of his long time partner Tina Aridas, his early collaborator Walter Hensley, and most recently, his mother, before the film was finally completed. In the process, computer glitches resulted in clips being lost or having to be re-edited to the point that funds finally ran out on the project.

When it looked like these interviews would never see the light of day, James decided to send out an appeal through Kickstarter to generate the final funding to “git ‘er done!” And you came through for him. The modest funding goal was reached, final editing completed, and now…drum roll, please…the film is only available for purchase online through CD Baby, by mail order to James Reams (click here for the order form) or from the gift shop at the International Bluegrass Music Museum. Don’t wait…get your copy today!


To mark the release of this movie, featuring interviews with some of the pioneers of bluegrass- Jimmy Martin, Art Stamper, Mac Wiseman, Kenny Baker, and more- I’d like to feature a few songs from James Reams and the Barnstormers.

At James’ website, he has four audio files for sharing, including the original number “River Rising,” Stonewall Jackson’s “You Can Almost Hear the Blues,” the gospel song “City That Sits Foursquare” and the instrumental “Rocky Creek.” You can find all those songs right here. Additionally, there are several recent video clips featuring the Arizona-based Barnstormers including “You Can Almost Hear the Blues” and “Roanoke.”

I appreciate James Reams’ music and his devotion to the early days of bluegrass. I highly recommend all of his albums, especially One Foot In the Honky Tonk.

BTW, I’m now on Twitter, @FervorCoulee. I have no idea what to do with it.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

James Reams at 20   Leave a comment

Just released by James Reams is a video documenting his 20th anniversary as a bluegrass bandleader. I’ve written about James many times, here at Fervor Coulee and elsewhere. I’ve always found his brand of bluegrass appealing. From James’ presser:

It’s a wrap! The video celebrating James Reams’ 20th anniversary as a bandleader has been completed. You can check it out on YouTube: This video contains many never-before-seen photos of his childhood in Kentucky, band performances across the country, new footage of live performances featuring songs from the most recent album, and more. Putting this together and compressing 20 years into about 6 minutes was a tremendous task. It’s like time lapse photography – looking back on early roots and seeing how the tree has grown and spread (now with two bands on both coasts) – is quite a revelation and hopefully will encourage new bands just getting their start.

So far, the 20th Anniversary Coast-to-Coast Celebration has been fantastic with shows in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, New York, and New Jersey. James Reams & The Barnstormers have even headlined a few festivals. Reunion shows with former bandmembers are coming up culminating in an “All Star Jam” at the 14th Annual Bluegrass and Oldtime Music Jamboree in Brooklyn, Sept. 27 and 28, that James originated.

Twenty years in the business and going stronger than ever, James is looking forward to what’s in store for the next 20 years.

The Story Behind…James Reams & the Barnstormers   Leave a comment

PioneersOfBluegrassScreenSaverI’ve added a second story to my ongoing series The Story Behind…over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, part of the Country Standard Time site. On this final day of March, I share James Reams’ recollections on how he came to use the Barnstormers name. James has posted a trailer for his Pioneers of Bluegrass film which will soon be released on DVD. Those of you who purchased his Troubled Time CD have seen some of the footage already, and I am eagerly awaiting the release of the completed project.

As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald