Archive for the ‘Pinecastle Records’ Tag

Recent Roots Writing   Leave a comment

I haven’t done a great deal of writing during the past month, but I have placed a few pieces recently.

I posted my review of Phil Leadbetter’s new album The Next Move over at Fervor Coulee untitledBluegrass. With a bluegrass heart at the core of the album, Leadbetter and his many collaborators have created a wonderful disc that should find favour with those who are open to strong country influences. The reigning IBMA Dobro Player of the year has done very well here, and has enlisted strong singers including John Cowan, Steve Gulley, Dale Ann Bradley, Con Hunley, and especially Shawn Camp to give voice to the songs.

A few reviews went up at the Lonesome Road Review over the last month.

My take on Alice Gerrard’s new album Follow the Music is something you may be interested in if you appreciate strong folk music with an old-time bent. If you are not familiar with Gerrard, she has been a mainstay in the old-time music world for more than forty years, and prior to alicethat was without a doubt ‘a pioneering woman of bluegrass’ through her long association with the dearly missed Hazel Dickens. Not one to rest on her laurels, Gerrard has teamed with the principals of Hiss Golden Messenger to produce an album every bit as compelling as last year’s Bittersweet.

Fayssoux McClain may not be familiar to you, but if you have listened to the early albums from Emmylou Harris, you’ve heard her voice. Recording under her given name, Fayssoux has found a homealbumart with the Red Beet Records conglomeration- Peter Cooper and Eric Brace. If you are missing country sounds and tradition in the ‘country’ music of today, I Can’t Wait may be what you should be seeking.

Dublin’s I Draw Slow, beyond having a non-traditional sounding name for a bluegrass band also have a rather non-traditional draw slowapproach to the music. Still, there is something here that will be of interest to those who come to the music with rather open ears. I won’t be listening to this album as frequently as I do the music of James Reams, Flatt & Scruggs, or Dale Ann Bradley, but I found a great deal to appreciate within their album White Wave Chapel.

Walter Salas-Humara has been a central figure within the world that was once (for a few years) classified as, roots rock, or No Depression music. As the mainstay and chief songwriter for The Silos, Salas-Humara has released a whole lot of music walterover the last (almost) 30 years. Curve and Shake is his latest solo release, and it is a grand recording that I find myself returning to weeks after writing the review, a rare occurrence.

On second thought, I guess I have been doing enough writing these past weeks! Still, there are many albums sitting on the pile awaiting my attention- just need to find the time.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald




Gold…In A Way- The Circuit Riders- Let the Ride Begin   Leave a comment

Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I’ve posted a new edition of Gold…In A Way, my once-in-a-long-while, but-still-semi-regular feature that takes a look back at an album I enjoyed at some point in the past twenty years.

CircuitToday, while doing some research on early-80s bluegrass bands, I came across The Circuit Riders’ album Let the Ride Begin, released in late 2006. The album is available digitally and at online retailers- this is the band formed by former members of The Country Gentlemen, and has nothing to do with the group of the same name that recorded in the ’90s or since.

I most likely hadn’t listened to the album since it was released, but had positive memories of it. Listening to the disc today, I appreciate the recording all the more.

My piece can be located HERE.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Gold…In A Way- David Parmley & Continental Divide: Three Silver Dollars   Leave a comment

untitledGold…In A Way is an opportunity for me to occasionally re-examine a bluegrass album that I believe deserves a second listen. This time out I look at David Parmley & Continental Divide’s 2009 album Three Silver Dollars. Featuring a title cut from Tom T. Hall and outstanding playing from Parmley, Dale Perry, Ron Spears, Ron Stewart, and Kyle Perkins, this was without doubt one of the finest albums of 2009. It stands up five years later. This link will get you over to Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, where the piece is published.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald @FervorCoulee

Town Mountain- Leave the Bottle review   Leave a comment

My review of Town Mountain’s brand new album Leave the Bottle has been posted to the Lonesome Road Review. A very promising album and group, I believe.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Town Mountain
Leave the Bottle
Pinecastle Records
3.5 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

Town Mountain release their fourth album, and second for Pinecastle, this autumn. Leave the Bottle is a darn strong bluegrass album featuring original, band-written music, a powerful instrumental presence, and vocal diversity and dexterity.

From Asheville, N.C., Town Mountain has garnered considerable airplay with previous releases. As well, the still youthful group has traveled far and wide playing their music; they have appeared at IBMA, performed internationally, and toured with respected bluegrass and jam bands. Further, their song “Diggin’ on the Mountain” was featured on the recent Putumayo bluegrass compilation.

Town Mountain is a band that finds their inspiration both in the traditions of bluegrass—traditions that include both Jimmy Martin and New Grass Revival—and in the increasingly expansive world of the jam bands. Much like the Steep Canyon Rangers, Town Mountain has found a way to bridge these seemingly disparate universes, appealing to audiences of all types.

Without doubt, this band has fine writing chops. Either as co-writers or singular offerings, eleven of the dozen songs originate within the group. “Lawdog,” written by mandolinist Phil Barker, is a law-breaking throwback to the days of the Osborne Brothers; with Barker singing high and plaintive on this one, Bobby O naturally comes to mind. This may prove to be the album’s most popular track.

Another Barker song, “Greenbud on the Flower,” is more meditative; sung by Robert Greer, this one comes near the conclusion of the album and is of the “hard times aim to movin’ on” variety. Barker also writes two songs with frequent collaborator Charles Humphrey III. “Don’t Go Home Tonight” closes the album and is a plea for the party not to end while “Lookin’ in the Mirror,” the album’s spirited lead track, perhaps tells the rest of the story.

Also presenting songs is banjo player Jesse Langlais with three including the album’s title lament. Sung by Greer and with nice mando fills from Barker, “Leave the Bottle” is a traditional “drinkin’ on the road” song: “Hey, bartender, leave the bottle, because the drink helps to keep her far away.” The song could be taken a couple different ways, depending on whether you’re the one leaning on the bar or are the one left behind. He also wrote the very excellent song of questionable decision-making, betrayal, death, and a cold, lonesome corpse, “Away From Home.”

Greer also contributes a cut. “Up the Ladder” reminds one of both “Hard to Handle” (the Otis Redding song later cut by the Black Crowes) and “White Lightning”: it is a hard times tune disguised as a romp. Fiddler Bobby Britt weaves a bit of magic on the album’s instrumental, his own “Four Winds.”

Whereas the band’s previous albums featured covers of songs written by Springsteen, Van Zandt, and Hank III, Leave the Bottle’s sole cover  is of more obscure origin. “Loaded” comes from the Wood Brothers featuring a laid-back, Chatham County Line approach that deviates only a few beats per minute from the original: a very effective tactic for a blurry-eyed song of self-destruction.

Robert Greer sings the lead the majority of the time. His voice and approach is every bit as distinctive as Chris Stapleton’s, and this certainly helps Town Mountain separate themselves from the pack.

Produced by Mike Bub with Scott Vestal handling the knobs, Leave the Bottle has every element needed to help Town Mountain expand their presence within their bluegrass world

23 String Band and Nu-Blu reviews posted   Leave a comment

Talk about black and white.

Two very different types of bluegrass are represented by The 23 String Band and Nu-Blu, and my reviews of each band’s new release have been posted over at the Lonesome Road Review.

The edges of bluegrass and jamgrass meet at The 23 String Band while Nu-Blu takes a more smooth, overtly “commercial” approach. I wasn’t much interested in the Nu-Blu album at first listen, and found it a bit syrupy in places but found myself giving it a proper listen last weekend and discovered quite a bit more to appreciate than to criticize. While not the type of album I’m likely to pull off the shelf very often, I can see why many people will enjoy listening to it; it is well executed and features strong vocals.

On the other hand, The 23 String Band appealed from almost the first note, it is a little greasy- but not too greasy- and has an abundance of good material.

Different strings for diffferent folks.

The 23 String Band
Catch 23
No label
4 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

On his very strong new album, Junior Sisk sings, “A Far Cry from Lester and Earl” and I suspect that outfits like The 23 String Band would be among those feeling his wrath for drifting too far from Carter, Ralph, and “the love of a sweet mountain girl.” Recent online treatises from Chris Pandolfi and Travers Chandler, reasoned as they are, provide further fuel to a misinterpreted belief that bluegrass must evolve away from itself to survive.

The 23 String Band would most likely find themselves agreeing with those on all sides of the big tent, and would encourage those seeking shelter there to stop talking (and writing) and get pickin’.

Like Joy Kills Sorrow, the Steeldrivers, and the Infamous Stringdusters, the 23 String Band doesn’t seem to much care about labels and genre constructs. Rather, their focus is on making music that seems to aggressively poke at the very core of bluegrass before revealing itself to have as much in common with the sound as it does stylistically and atmospherically with popular bluegrass-based acoustiblue bands, the ones that get lumped into the “jam band” category.

None of which would matter if the music didn’t hold up to repeated listening. Fortunately, with their sophomore album—and I’ll be buying that first album first chance I get—this Kentucky-based group has produced an album that entertains while it challenges.

Singing with bleeding-throat intensity softened by an awareness of bluegrass precision, Chris Shouse is the most obvious place to start when examining the 23 String Band’s sound. Always in control, in spots (“Fat Frankie”) Shouse pushes his voice while elsewhere—“Leave Everything to Me,” for example—he gently swings with an old-timey ease; apt comparisons might be Ketch Secor (Old Crow Medicine Show) and Chris Robinson (Black Crowes).

From first listen, T. Martin Stam’s bass and Scott Moore’s fiddle provide a depth of texture that one isn’t accustomed to encountering on relatively unheralded acoustic Americana releases. Mountain Blues indeed is the term that comes to mind listening to tunes such as “Fat Frankie,” “Hey Pretty Mama,” and the title track, an extended instrumental.

Everyone in the band receives vocal credit although Shouse takes all the leads. Dave Howard (mandolin) and Curtis Wilson (banjo) more than round-out the band’s full-frontal aural attack. John Hartford’s “Long Hot Summer Days” is just one of the songs providing ample evidence of Howard’s and Wilson’s talents: the mid-song instrumental interlude is almost trance-inducing.

With most of the eleven tunes being original, the traditions of the music are further explored through choice covers. “Cripple Creek” and “Raleigh & Spencer” are taken for rides. The obligatory rock n’ roll cred-check is provided with a more than satisfactory reading of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ “Listen to Her Heart.” Why do I always think of Lucinda Williams when I hear that song?

With so much music coming our way, it is often difficult for an album or band to distinguish themselves from the pile. With an affable quality of performance, The 23 String Band has solved their self-defined Catch 23.

Recommended for fans of Chatham County Line, The Earl Brothers, and Acoustic Syndicate, Catch 23 presents an impressive cohesiveness of style that bodes well for the future of the 23 String Band.

The Blu-Disc
Pinecastle Records
3.5 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

Nu-Blu’s backstory is one that publicists salivate over.

A young band, founded by a couple soon-to-be in love and just starting their journey in the bluegrass world, is derailed by a life-threatening catastrophe only to persevere to be the initial signing of a resurrected label.

While it may not work as fiction, the tale of Nu-Blu’s Daniel and Carolyn Routh makes for captivating reading. Shortly after striking out on their own as Nu-Blu, Carolyn suffered a pair of strokes which cost her her voice, the use of her right side, and very nearly her life. During recovery, Daniel was a faithful companion and the pair married a few years later. With several years on the circuit under their belts, the North Carolina-based group was the first band to be signed when Pinecastle was re-launched a year ago.

Nu-Blu’s overall sound is hardly high and lonesome, but works well within the contemporary definition of bluegrass. With definite country overtones and a bluegrass approach that has been influenced by, one imagines, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Nu-Blu’s The Blu-Disc should appeal to a wide segment of the bluegrass population. Heck, “the storm is raging”—from the pen of Mark Brinkman but a line written for RV if there ever was one—even appears in “Must Be The Wind.”

“Any Stretch of Blacktop” and “Every Shade of Blue” are up-tempo songs that contain unrestrained bluegrass drive while “That’s Who I’m Supposed to Be” and “Look to You” feature more subdued approaches. Finely performed, the former song attempts to provide a face to the recent and ongoing financial crisis; instead, the song’s protagonist comes across as a self-deluding complainer and provides the album with its least-satisfying moments.

Coming from the same songwriting team—Marc Rossi and Donna Ulisse—that produced “That’s Who I’m Supposed to Be,” “The Guitar Case” is more successful. The story isn’t unique, but buoyed by Daniel’s vocal performance accompanied by lonesome fiddle from guest Greg Luck, the tale of lost affection, a motel room, and drinking resonates as genuine.

Among the album’s finest songs are two which feature Carolyn’s expressive vocals. “Family Quilt” is as the title suggests a retrospective of the memories and meanings of the fabrics that bind a family. “Roses and Rust,” paired with gravel and dust, provides insight to the life of one who outlives her peers.

Carolyn Routh (bass and vocals) and husband Daniel (guitar and vocals) are augmented throughout by Kendall Gales (mandolin) and Austin Levi (banjo, reso, and vocals) who also takes the lead vocal spot on “Lonesome Heartache Blues,” another album highlight. Greg Luck provides fiddle on a number of cuts while Rob Ickes makes a handful of appearances on Dobro. Christy Reid sings harmony on “Other Woman’s Blues,” a song that has generated airplay.

Nu-Blu doesn’t play the brand of bluegrass I usually find appealing, but their ability on The Blu-Disc to engrain their music with a variety of voices, tempos, and approaches eventually won me over. It is most definitely an album that became more appealing with multiple listenings.

I’m glad I didn’t rush to judgement because Nu-Blu has certainly produced an album of which they can be proud.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald


Pinecastle Records 1990-2010   Leave a comment

I guess I should have seen this one coming. Pinecastle Records have announced that they will cease business as of February 1.

Cort Riggs released a statement to The Bluegrass Blog stating: ” Given recent events related to my father’s health and the current business environment, we find it necessary to cease operation of Pinecastle Records effective February 1, 2010.

Artists and distributors will be able to purchase Pinecastle product through Music Shed, the retail/wholesale outlet started by my father and myself more than 22 years ago. Music Shed will continue to operate from our current location in Columbus, NC and can be reached at 828-894-2446.

We will soon begin exploring how to best preserve the vast catalog Tom, the artists and talented staff of Pinecastle have amassed over the 20-year history of the label.

Tom will be settling in to a skilled nursing facility, close to our family, and in the near future we hope to visit with our many old friends at shows and festivals.”

Pinecastle Records was a truly independent label, releasing some incredible bluegrass music over their twenty years. Some of my favourite albums and artists were associated with Pinecastle over the years, including Dale Ann Bradley, the New Coon Creek Girls, Grasstowne, David Parmley & Continental Divide, The Special Consensus, John Cowan, and The Osborne Brothers, whose historical Detroit to Wheeling project is in my Top 30 bluegrass albums of all-time. (And if I ever actually made such a list, I’m certain other Pinecastle titles would be in there.)  Additionally, their innovative ‘Sideman’ series of releases provided instrumentalists an opportunity to step-out on their own to focus on their own creativity. Pinecastle had high quality releases right to the end with The Dixie Bee-Liner’s Susanville, a brilliant ‘concept’ album that works.

Personally, Pinecastle was one of the first labels to take a flier on me and support my writing by supplying me with copies of albums to review. We’ve seen many bluegrass friendly labels stepback, slow down, or disappear in recent years- Copper Creek, Acoustic Disc, CMH, Lavenir, Hay Holler, Doobie Shea- and others releasing fewer projects than previously, and so it is with some concern that we witness the shutdown of yet another label.

Please continue to support the label and the Riggs family through purchasing through the Music Shed They’re good folks.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Posted 2010 January 31 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Dixie Bee-Liners & Steep Canyon Rangers reviews   Leave a comment

I’ve just submitted two new reviews to Aaron at the Lonesome Road Review, a nice little site with some very good writing. Susanville, the new one from the Dixie Bee-Liners and Deep in the Shade from the Steep Canyon Rangers are the two albums I consider.

Steep Canyon Rangers
Deep In The Shade
Rebel Records
4.5 stars (out of 5)

While the bluegrass world is chock-a-block with exciting, young contemporary outfits, no other excites and impresses in the manner of the Steep Canyon Rangers.

The Rangers are on a roll. While they didn’t appear on Steve Martin’s popular and impressive The Crow last year, they gained considerable exposure appearing with the arrow-headed one at several high-profile gigs last fall: Hardly Strictly, Letterman, and Carnegie Hall. That explosive momentum is maintained by the dozen tracks comprising Deep In The Shade.

Having previously released four albums, each stronger and more distinctive than its predecessor, the Steep Canyon Rangers have the experience and chops to continue this unbroken string. Again working with producer Ronnie Bowman, the band hasn’t significantly altered their approach or sound. And while on some bands this may appear stagnant or limited, with the Rangers the impression is of consistency and capability.

Woody Platt’s voice is one of the group’s strongest features. It is south of high lonesome, inhabiting the mountainside between old-time and country, similar to Leigh Gibson (The Gibson Brothers). His voice is smooth and controlled, yet peppered with flavor that encourages one to return for additional helpings.

As always, the band is a cohesive unit, each part contributing to the high quality presentation. I’ve written previously of the interplay between Nicky Sanders’ fiddling and Graham Sharp’s banjo, and this impressive element remains apparent, especially on a track such as “I Thought That She Loved Me.” One day, and hopefully soon, the blistering mandolin talent of Mike Guggino will be recognized by those who vote on such things within the professional bluegrass community. Like all good bass players do, Charles Humphrey III keeps things between the lines while laying down a solid foundation on which the others build.

The songs, all but two band-written, are exceptional. Well-balanced between reflective lopers and the lively sounds most generally associated with bluegrass, there doesn’t appear to be an after-thought amongst the tracks. From the failed infidelity of the radio friendly “Have Mercy” to the Asheville-bound romp that is “Turn Up the Bottle,” the Rangers cover territory expected of quality bluegrass bands.

But they also gently push boundaries. Their four-part a capella treatment of the blues-standard “Sylvie” is spellbinding. The neo-folkiness of “The Mountain’s Gonna Sing” is like few other songs recently encountered:

Beneath the laurels, pearls of rain,
fall and shatter and sink into the clay.
Wash away these hills, wash away the dawn,
somehow there’s still the strength to carry on.
The spirit ever lingers in a song,
and the mountain’s gonna sing this song for me…
and rock me off to sleep.

As they did on 2007’s Lovin’ Pretty Women, the Steep Canyon Rangers again demonstrate that a band can be musically innovative while reaching into the past. Like other younger bands, Steep Canyon Rangers straddle the blurred edges of traditional and progressive bluegrass; that they do so as successfully as they do is a testament to their continued and expanding appeal.

Like I did while listening to Deep In the Shade over and over, I think you’ll find yourself exclaiming, “Damn, that’s good!”

The Dixie Bee-Liners
Pinecastle Records
4 stars (out of 5)

Susanville is a grand recording, a concept album within a field where such is uncommon.

Its premise is one each of us has likely considered while staring through the windshield at the black ribbon: what are the stories of the faces we see sharing our road? The Dixie Bee-Liners—primarily Brandi Hart, Buddy Woodward, and Rachel Renee Johnson with a talented slate of supporters—delve into the idea that “every car on the highway has a story;” Susanville is their attempt to capture these in a loose narrative.

A dramatic bluegrass and Americana band, The Dixie Bee-Liners’ second album (an eight-song EP was the band’s introduction in 2006) is a departure from their previous Pinecastle album, 2008’s Ripe. The band has pulled back a bit from typical bluegrass trappings, successfully aiming toward an “acoustiblue” recipe that is more in keeping with that of Robinella or The Everybodyfields. This disc appears to be a continuation of select stories captured on Ripe; “Down on the Crooked Road” and “Lost in the Silence” would nicely complement these tales.

The band begins their two-thousand mile journey across the United States with a Steve Earle-inspired mando lick kicking off “Heavy.” This song allows Hart to introduce the first of her several voices; the youthful adventurer of this song is a very different character from the road-weary highway veteran following a “string of rubies trailed in the dust” in “Brake Lights.” Woodward takes a few lead vocals, most passionately on “Down” and when revealing the grim desperation of “Truck Stop Baby.”

Naturally, Susanville works best when as a continuous listen, when one can absorb the emotions and experiences that connect the various travelers. The dozen songs are bridged by instrumental snippets and GPS directions linking the loose narrative. Guest vocalist (and 1965 Academy of Country Music Top New Female Vocalist) Kay Adams gets the juiciest song, the lively “Trixie’s Diesel-Stop Café”; singing of her ‘Tiger Puddin’’, one discovers that Ms. Adams’ (best known for “Little Pink Mack”) might still make a trucker blush. Her voice remains distinctively sassy.

Nonetheless, most of the songs stand on their own. A lone extended instrumental entitled “Albion Road” holds the listener’s attention with intriguing flatpicking and mandolin. “Lead Foot” brings Simon & Garfunkel sweetness in the harmony while Sam Morrow’s banjo runs through. Other songs such as “(I Need) Eighteen Wheels,” “Find Out” and the title track could develop into radio favorites.

Susanville is a quality project, one whose very ambitions may out-strip its commerciality. Those who take the time to experience the disc will find lovely vocals, spirited and challenging instrumentation, and perhaps a perspective on those we pass within the bustle of our lives.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald