Archive for the ‘Mountain Home’ Tag

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.

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New bluegrass from Sideline   Leave a comment

Sideline has a new album coming soon. Entitled Front and Center, the album will serve as the group’s first for Mountain Home and I am fortunate to have a copy in-hand. The album has at least five top-notch songs that I can recall after only a pair of listens. The best may be one entitled “Lysander Hayes” while “Old Time Way,” if memory serves, borrows the “Ground Hog” instrumental refrain. The group has released a pair of videos in advance of the album release in late April. “Thunder Dan” currently sits at #2 on the Bluegrass Today chart; Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter’s Night” may not prove to be as chart-friendly simply because it isn’t as mainstream a song. Popularized in bluegrass by Tony Rice, this take features Skip Cherryholmes in the lead position.

 

Posted 2018 March 11 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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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.

 

The Grascals- Before Breakfast review   Leave a comment

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The Grascals Before Breakfast Mountain Home Music Company

The Grascals can be counted on to deliver, every eighteen months or so, another collection of mountain solid, formidable and smooth bluegrass.

Over nine albums and one very fun EP, The Grascals have consistently been one of bluegrass music’s stellar outfits. While not everything they have ever attempted has resonated with me (I felt their The Grascals and Friends country-hybrid project was—to be generous—uneven) there are few bluegrass bands I would rather encounter than The Grascals.

Before Breakfast is as strong an album as the group has released. From the catchy opener “Sleepin’ With the Reaper,” a fine Becky Buller-Grant Williams addition to the bluegrass canon of fidelity, through to the closing sing-a-long rambunctiousness of “Clear Corn Liquor” The Grascals present a well-rounded collection of bluegrass excellence.

John Bryan has been an outstanding addition to the group. His vocals on not only the lead track, but additional and quite diverse songs including the excellent “Delia” (coming from Jon Weisberger, Charlie Chamberlain, and Charles R. Humphrey III) and “I’ve Been Redeemed” are uniformly impressive.

One of three remaining original members of the group, Terry Eldredge offers up his always appreciated, earthy approach to tender songs. “Demons” faces down the temptations we all face, while “He Took Your Place” is a familiar song of faith worthy of modern interpretation.  “Beer Tree” and “Clear Corn Liquor” (from Tim Stafford and Bobby Starnes) are less weighty, but no less worthy.

Bassist Terry Smith takes the lead position on a single song, “Lonesome,” (co-written with sibling Billy) and one wishes the album had another couple samples of his country-inspired approach to bluegrass singing (without subtracting anything—running 38 minutes, five or six more minutes featuring Smith would have comfortably stretched Before Breakfast.)

I’ve listened the this album fifteen or twenty times this month, and each time I notice another little fill or roll from Kristin Scott Benson. While her 5-string sounds are all over the album, there are places—as on “Beer Tree” and “Delia”—where her contribution is so subtle you almost miss it; once recognized, it is impossible to again miss and one realizes the importance of every single element within the greater expanse of this bluegrass combo—nothing is included out of habit or obligation, each note serves a purpose.

Danny Roberts, with Eldredge and Smith forming the august original core of the group, is like Benson a proverbial master of his instrument if under-recognized, and his mandolin playing is well-featured, never more so on his instrumental romp (co-written with fiddler Adam Haynes) “Lynchburg Chicken Run.” Roberts and Haynes work together well as on “He Took Your Place” and on Kelsi Harrigill’s (Flatt Lonesome) “There Is You” Haynes adds depth to a rather sentimental set of lyrics.

“Pathway of Teardrops” is a well-established bluegrass harmony showcase going back to The Osborne Brothers, and The Grascals’ interpretation goes toe-to-toe with that venerable classic rendition: not better, but equally their own. No matter where The Grascals go, they never stray too far from the foundation.

Before Breakfast, after lunch, and during supper—there is no bad time for The Grascals. Now, would someone bring them to Alberta—it has been a dozen too many years since I’ve seen the group live!

 

 

 

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver- Life Is A Story review   Leave a comment

LifeIsaStory

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver Life Is A Story Mountain Home Music Company

Let’s be honest up front, and I trust that is why you visit Fervor Coulee—Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver were one of the first bluegrass bands I experienced (on album) and I have spent many hours enjoying their music. When I first encountered them live in 2001, I was rocked. While the names and voices may change, the quality is always apparent, and if I think the peak of the group was more than a decade ago when Jamie Dailey, Barry Scott, Terry Baucom, and Jesse Stockman recorded Dig A Little Deeper with Doyle, I can also allow that others have a different view.

Here is the honest part—I find much of the music that DLQ has recorded since to be—at turns—trite, heavy-handed, or sanctimonious. At best each album, no matter the year, had two or three songs that just rubbed me the wrong way.

With that out of the way, there is a lot to appreciate about Life Is A Story. As strong an album as the previous In Session was, Life Is A Story is a touch more impressive. With the band lineup solidified—at least for now—with Josh Swift (resophonic, lead guitar, and percussion,) Joe Dean (banjo and guitar,) Dustin Pyrtle (vocals and guitar,) Eli Johnston (vocals and bass,) Stephen Burwell (fiddle,) and Lawson (vocals, mandolin and mandola)—a true band sound emerges. I am not privy to how the album was recorded, but is certainly has a feel of a group working together to create a collection of songs with a consistent feel.

There are several highlights, and these will vary between listeners depending on tastes. “What Am I Living For” is a strong vocal showcase, featuring rich harmonies and a strong lead; unfortunately I don’t know if it is Pyrtle or Johnston, but it sounds real fine, and is perhaps the album’s strongest performance. The O’Kanes’ “Bluegrass Blues” has been a song deserving of a high profile recording for decades, and it given its due here. “Guitar Case” is a nice Donna Ulisse-Marc Rossi narrative, and the treatment it is given here is both lonely and hopeful; this song may be familiar from Nu-Blu’s recording of a few years back.

Less successful are the album’s two lead tracks. “Kids These Days” recalls a time that may (or may not) have existed forty or fifty years ago, but certainly not the “twenty years ago” it claims, and whether the elements held up as exemplary are indeed entirely positive will depend on personal beliefs; for me, the song falls flat.  “Little Girl,” John Michael Montgomery final #1,  is a lot too judgmental and contrived for this listener.

While the lyrical elements of “Life of a Hard Workin’ Man” and “I See a Heartbreak Comin’,” two of the band-written songs, are very familiar within the bluegrass world, the performances here are spot-on and represent this edition of DLQ at their finest. Lawson sounds a bit thin on “Cry Across Kansas,” but this road-weariness complements the song and it may be my favourite song on the album. “Drivin’ It Home” does exactly that, closing the album on lively notes.

Without question, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver remain one of bluegrass music’s most highly considered outfits. Nominated this year as both Entertainer of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year, and with Josh Swift getting a nod as Reso Player of the Year, the IBMA continues to acknowledge their expertise. With Life Is A Story the group continues to produce the type of music that has made DLQ one of the most successful bluegrass bands in history; that not every song or production decision appeals to me doesn’t discount the quality of their performances. Maybe for fans only, but that is a fairly sizeable contingent!

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers- Made to Move review   2 comments

made_to_move

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers Made to Move Mountain Home Music Company

It is ridiculous that we expect groups and artists to constantly out-do themselves from one album to the next. Once a pinnacle is reached, perhaps we should be pleased when a group simply maintains their standards.

Therefore, I’m not going to suggest Made to Move is better than Chris Jones & the Night Drivers’ previous recording, the hit-laden collection Run Away Tonight. Indeed, it may not be. No, that future classic was a mighty high bar, but if Made to Move doesn’t exceed it, it certainly matches that recording as a set of original bluegrass that is superior to the majority encountered.

The album kicks off with a healthy Chuck Berry vibe (“All the Ways I’m Gone,”) that complements Jones’ confident low-nsome vocal canter. Before the song is out, we’ve heard memorable, stellar picking from not only Jones, but mandolinist Mark Stoffel and co-producer Dobroist Tim Surrett.

And things just continue to get better with each passing song.

Newest Night Driver Gina Glowes’ vocal harmony contributions are noticed and appreciated, giving a new depth to the group’s well-established sound. Her 5-string chops are obvious throughout, but especially on more reflective pieces such as the already chart-topping “I’m A Wanderer” and “Living Without.” “Last Frost” is the album’s banjo instrumental, and it is a fully-developed musical landscape that the imaginative can read like a story. On this tune, bassist Jon Weisberger’s tone is notable.

Weisberger, who co-wrote half the songs on the album, is a formidable bass presence. He doesn’t impede with his presence, of course, but no one in bluegrass seems to be able to do exactly what he does—perhaps it is just a testament to the way the group records, but his bass rhythms are never experienced as an apparent afterthought.

With his bold, baritone voice, Jones is easy to listen to and his mild-mannered approach to a song allows him to connect with listeners in a way some vocalists never master. A story song such as “The Old Bell” pulls one into its history within seconds, while the ‘coming home’ “Range Road 53” appeals in a similar manner if with increased tempo. “Silent Goodbye” may remind listeners of a previous Jones-Weisberger co-write, “Final Farewell.”

Stoffel is known as a tasteful accompanist, and his contributions to songs including “Rainbows Fell” will have some listeners leaning in toward the speakers. His mando-laden “What the Heck?!” closes the set, and is a fitting way to wrap-up the album, one that is as fresh and sparkling as its coda.

Clowes’ approach to “Dark Hollow” is readily apparent and perhaps even innovative, but it is Stoffel’s notes that I gravitate toward. The Night Drivers present an interesting arrangement of the old warhorse, one that obviously sparked the band’s interest as they worked it up together. By modulating the tempo mid-song, the Night Drivers encourages one to re-engage with the oft-heard standard.

Finally, I know Jones has recorded albums without a Tom T. Hall song, but not often. Made to Move‘s offering is a gentle interpretation of the Johnny Rodriguez co-write “You Always Come Back (To Hurting Me,)” a #1 from 1973.

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers are undoubtedly one of bluegrass music’s strongest instrumental bands. Each of the musicians is a master of their craft, and together they produce a style of bluegrass that is most likely unique. With Jones as their lead singer, they are blessed with one of the strongest, most recognizable vocal stylists the music offers. Will 2017 finally be the year that the band are recognized by the International Bluegrass Music Association when it comes time to complete ballots? One hopes so, because they truly have earned it.

Made to Move is another top-notch album from Chris Jones & the Night Drivers.

Darin & Brooke Aldridge- Faster and Farther review   Leave a comment

dbacover-300x263My review of the sixth album of new material from Darin and Brooke Aldridge has been posted to Country Standard Review. They have become one of bluegrass music’s most reliable acts.

http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6272 will get you there.

Donald

 

Posted 2017 February 17 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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