Archive for the ‘Pinecastle Records’ Tag

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

 

 

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Sister Sadie II review   1 comment

Sister Sadie wSister Sadie II Pinecastle Recording Company

There are a lot of great bluegrass bands working today, and I would put Sister Sadie up against any single one of them.

There remains novelty being an all-female bluegrass group. We should be beyond it, but as an industry we aren’t near there yet. We are not yet past the point where festival bookers tell prospective acts, “Sorry, we already have our girl act for the weekend.”

Sister Sadie may well be on a mission to slap the hell out of that worn, blinkered attitude. When skills are to the level of distinction found within this quintet, gender should not and cannot be a factor of limitations. Sister Sadie’s debut album was among the finest to be released in 2016, and II is stronger—even more unified, the group has melded into a seamless force greater than its exceedingly impressive parts. There is sufficient polish provided to the recordings, produced by the band and engineered, mixed, and mastered by Scott Vestal, but not so much shine is applied that the music sounds artificial or over-produced. The quartet’s natural essence is given prominence, a traditional vision bolstered by contemporary approaches.

With Dale Ann Bradley (guitar) and Tina Adair (mandolin and guitar) leading the way, and Gena Britt (banjo) singing a couple, Sister Sadie has a lead and harmony vocal presence no bluegrass combo can match.

Tina Adair sings lead on four numbers. The album’s lead track is the no-nonsense and soulful “Losing You Blues,” written by Adair and Doug Bartlett. Throughout the album, Adair proves that she hasn’t finished defining herself as a bluegrass singer and songwriter; her “Jay Hugh” is an old-time bluegrass character study of multi-dimensional complexity. The sorrow conveyed in Woody Guthrie’s “900 Miles” is palatable, honest and profound, and neither Linda Ronstadt or Bonnie Raitt sang “Love Has No Pride” with greater intensity than does Adair.

Listening to Dale Ann Bradley sing is always a treat, and she clears her very high bar of performance on this recording. Her temperate approach is ideally suited to these songs including the formidable “I’m Not a Candle in the Wind” and “No Smoky Mountains,” while the group picks things up for Dan Fogelberg’s “Morning Sky.” Bradley’s interpretation of newly inducted Bluegrass Hall of Fame member Tom T. Hall’s “I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew” is as fine as any recorded within the genre, with Deanie Richardson’s mournful fiddle adding atmosphere. Bradley’s guitar playing on this country classic is also impressive.

Richardson also takes a prominent position within “When I Lay My Burden Down,” with Bradley’s inspired lead voice complemented by Britt and Adair’s harmony.

Gena Britt doesn’t possess the vocal heft of Bradley and Adair, and her considerable charm emanates from the lightness of her approach. “It’s You Again” is a fairly grave song of longing and distance, but Sister Sadie’s rendition—sung by Britt—has a gentle hopefulness that Skip Ewing’s lacked. “Something to Lose” has a Bradley-like feel, and Britt delivers this sermon to maturity with worldly awareness. Her “Raleigh’s Ride” is well-named, a jaunty traverse through traditional sounds. Beth Lawrence’s steady bass rhythm, here and throughout the album, provide Sister Sadie their rock-solid foundation.

Sister Sadie is no novelty or off-season ‘super-group.’ They are a bona fide bluegrass force, more than capable as festival headliners. That they have now released a second album of soon-to-be classic performances is testimony to their ascension within the ever-expanding bluegrass field. Hopefully II forever retires the phrase, “pretty good for a girl.”

 

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.

Dale Ann Bradley- Self-titled review   2 comments

Dale Ann Bradley Dale Ann Bradley Pinecastle Records

DAB

From its beautifully framed cover illustration through each note within its 36-minute running time, Dale Ann Bradley is an album to celebrate.

Having written numerous reviews of Dale Ann Bradley’s albums over the past 15 years, I am no longer surprised by the quality the East Kentucky native’s recorded music. Here. Here, too.

She is included in this annotated list of my favourites of the first decade of this century; she came in at #2! Also, at #6 on the same list. Recently elected to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, Bradley is a perennial Female Vocalist of the Year nominee within the IBMA, and has received the honour on five occasions.

Again producing herself, as she did on the previous Pocket Full of Keys, Bradley has crafted a cohesive bluegrass album. Developing themes of family, belonging, and faith across its eleven tracks, Bradley sings with mountain-born conviction perhaps no more freely than on Bud Chambers’ gospel standard, “One More River.”

On Sister Sadie’s debut album of last year, Lenny LeBlanc’s “Falling” was given a bluegrass treatment; Bradley record’s his 1980 song “Champagne Lady” here, and the Louisiana-flavoured number works terribly well as a bluegrass song, thematically and musically, further elevated by Greg Blaylock’s Dobro fills.

More than any other thematic element, belonging appears to weave itself through most of Dale Ann Bradley’s songs.

The album opens with a new song co-written by Bradley, Ronnie Miracle, and Donna Sullivan, a heartfelt piece that shares a musical echo of “Me and Bobby McGee’s” free-spirited independence balanced with the aching pull of home. The song features Bradley playing cross-picking style guitar to excellent effect.

“Going Back to Kentucky,” a thoroughly contemporary Mark Brinkman and Tresa Jordan song celebrating the rejuvenating powers of home (and satellite radio playing The Stanley Brothers), is another performance highlight. “Blackberry Summer” is drips with emotion, but not syrup: Bradley’s forte is making us feel the emotional connection she solidifies within her music, and this is a prime example of her abilities.

Continuing this theme of familial closeness, and bringing the album to a close, is Bradley and Jon Weisberger’s “Now and Then (Dreams Do Come True)” on which Greg Davis (banjo) and Casey Campbell (mandolin) are given all the room they need to shine.

Vince Gill joins Bradley for The Stanley Brothers’ timeless “I’ll Just Go Away,” and if there was any justice left in the world of country radio…but we know there isn’t. [In a related aside, if you want to hear this song performed by Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys—featuring Keith Whitley—in a 1977 public television broadcast.] Heartfelt, without doubt. “This Is My Year For Mexico” was recorded by Crystal Gayle on her first album with slightly different lyrics than here, and The Rarely Herd brought it to bluegrass in the early 90s, but Bradley’s reflective interpretation of this ‘long goodbye’ is definitive.

I don’t recall if Bradley has attempted a four-part acapella number in the style of “Stand By Me” before, but this is certainly successful. Joined by frequent vocal partner Steve Gulley—who sings harmony on several songs, and takes a lead on the chorus of “Our Last Goodbye”—Debbie Gulley, and Vic Graves, an honest and true vocal showcase is presented, one devoid of artifice. This is a pure expression of faith.

Charlie Cushman appears on a pair of tracks, and Alison Brown  on one, but Greg Davis handles most of the banjo and is well-represents himself on the 5-string throughout. Tim Dishman contributes most of the guitar and bass while another member of Bradley’s touring group, Scott Powers, is the featured mandolinist on four tracks. Sister Sadie’s Deanie Richardson (fiddle and mandola) and Tina Adair (harmony vocals) appear on multiple songs, as does Kim Fox (harmony.)

Bluegrass doesn’t come better than this. Many years ago I wrote that Dale Ann Bradley was “as mountain as rock,” and my editor questioned me about such a term. I knew what I meant then, and listening to Dale Ann Bradley, I still do. No one is capable of doing what Bradley accomplishes, and this album is ample demonstration of her revered status within the bluegrass field. Over the years, her music has become more sophisticated, but at its core it remains pure and true.

A video of an hour-plus Bradley (almost solo) performance is up and features some new songs. It is an intimate performance that shows a most appealing side of DAB.

Blue Mafia and Wildfire reviews   1 comment

I don’t understand why record labels and bands release ‘regular’ albums in December. For gift giving and year-end splurges, I understand the compilations, box sets, and special editions being released late in the year.

Pinecastle Records released two bluegrass albums in December, 2016. Both are really strong and distinctive albums, but weren’t heard until most of the ‘year-end’ lists were compiled. A shame because-a month after their release-they haven’t received as much attention as I think they deserve.

hangingtree Blue Mafia is one of my favourite bluegrass bands. I’ve yet to catch them live-living on the edge of the frozen prairies and forests of Alberta does have some drawbacks-but their two previous albums were immediately appealing. Their third release is just as strong, and is one that I’m going to be listening to a lot as the next months unfold. My review has been posted at Country Standard Time.

My review of their second album, Pray For Rain, is posted here. My Cold Heart, one of the finest bluegrass debuts I’ve reviewed, is written about here.

wildfireWildfire is a group I’ve been listening to since their first album was released in 2001. They have undergone all sorts of lineup changes over the year, but Robert Hale and Curt Chapman have been the consistent members and have just released their fifth recording. My review has been posted at Country Standard Time.

An excellent start to the 2017 bluegrass season. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Grascals, Honeycutters, Travers Chandler, & Sister Sadie- lost/found   Leave a comment

Starting the ‘year-end’ process, and in doing so I found a couple reviews posted elsewhere that I didn’t link through here at Fervor Coulee.

Very early this year, The Grascals released their eighth album ..and then there’s this. Country Standard Time published my review. It was a great way to start off what turned out to be a better than typical year of bluegrass albums. grascals

This summer, The Honeycutters knocked me out with their exceptional album On The Ropes. That review was published at Lonesome Road Review. the-honeycutters-on-the-ropes

Travers Chandler’s Archaic was released a few months back, and my review was published over at Country Standard Time; the typo is likely entirely my own danged fault. Some good ones on here, but a couple clunkers, too. archaic

Finally, can’t believe I missed putting up a link to one of my favourite albums of the year, Sister Sadie’s debut release. What a set- over at Country Standard Time.

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Careless on my part- sometimes it is hard to keep up. Best to you- listen to some roots music. Maybe even buy it! Donald

Blue Mafia- Pray For Rain review   1 comment

untitledBlue Mafia Pray For Rain Pinecastle Records

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

An Indiana-based bluegrass outfit, Blue Mafia returns with their sophomore album. Their stealthy, self-produced debut My Cold Heart was a bluegrass highlight of 2013, notable for its creative songwriting, strong vocal execution, clear production values, and fine instrumental balance.

Those elements remain within Pray For Rain, and this album meets the rising expectations that come with a second release. Admittedly, the album didn’t hit me upside the head as My Cold Heart did; that could have at least as much to do with me as it does Blue Mafia.

Dara Wray, who wrote the majority of the material on the previous album, has only three songs on this set. Of these, the title cut (sung by Kent Todd) may be the most complete: the harmonies, a band strength, are especially appealing here, while the song’s loping, change-of-pace gait is appreciated. “One Bad Day” is appealingly dark with “Consider It Goodbye,” a kiss-off song, having a challenging rhythm and lively arrangement.

The quintet’s lineup remains consistent. Cody Looper continues to make a positive impression on the 5, and Todd’s fiddling enlivens many a performance while Michael Gregory’s bass playing is simultaneously solid and unobtrusive. Meanwhile, Dara and Tony Wray share the lead vocal work with Todd while also handling the mandolin and lead guitar.

Mainstays from the  Stanley Brothers (“I’m Lonesome Without You” and “East Virginia Blues”), Peter Rowan (“Moonshiner”), and Pete Goble and Leroy Drumm (“I’d Like To Be A Train”) are skilfully presented; these familiar songs may draw some listeners to a still-relatively under-known band, but those already committed to the group may initially be disappointed with this reliance on outside material.

However, it is with these songs that Blue Mafia prove themselves most adaptable. “Moonshiner” explodes out of the gate, “East Virginia Blues” is afforded an arrangement that is fresh and unusual, at least to these ears, and I don’t believe I’ve previously heard “I’d Like To Be A Train” given a female perspective.

Blue Mafia gained considerable momentum with the success of their first release. Pray For Rain should find them appealing to an even wider audience.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald