Archive for the ‘Ralph Stanley’ Tag

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.

 

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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.

Ralph Stanley & Friends- Man of Constant Sorrow review   Leave a comment

untitledI’ve been to Starbucks many, many times. I’ve always felt the best thing about the stores was the CDs they had on offer. Now I hear they are going out of the music business.

I’ve been to Cracker Barrel once. I know the best thing about the restaurant is the CDs they have on offer.

Last spring, while driving through Springfield, MO I convinced my wife we needed to stop for an early supper at the Cracker Barrel. I figured our US adventure wouldn’t be complete without a meal at the popular restaurant.

Man, was that a bad decision. Still, I was able to secure a copy of the very good Mandy Barnett Don Gibson-tribute album that I would have otherwise missed.

My review of the new Ralph Stanley & Friends Man of Constant Sorrow album (available only at Cracker Barrel stores) is up at the Lonesome Road Review.

Buy the album; pass on the chicken and dumplings.

Posted 2015 February 23 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Review: Dolly Parton, Town Mountain, Lewis & Kallick, Ralph Stanley   Leave a comment

A few reviews have been posted over at the Lonesome Road Review.

untitledLaurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick’s tribute to Vern Williams and Ray Park is a stunning bluegrass collection.

I was asked to submit a version of my Ralph Stanley & Ralph Stanley II duets album of earlier this year.

Rising bluegrass band Town Mountain has released a ‘stop-gap’ live set that is brief, but still pretty enjoyable.

Finally, I was assigned Dolly Parton’s latest. Despite having enjoyed her music for decades, I wasn’t impressed this time out.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

Ralph Stanley & Ralph Stanley II- Side By Side   Leave a comment

A mini-review of the duo’s recent album, as well as a thought or two about how ‘more’ bluegrass and bluegrass information may be causing us to overlook what really matters. Here’s the link that will get you to the article over at Country Standard Time. Slow down this summer, and listen to this wonderful little album.untitled

As always, I thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Originally published at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, June, 2014:

87 years is a long time to live. To be a vital recording artist at that age is highly unusual, but that is what we find today when we consider Ralph Stanley.

Recorded last year- so more accurately 86 year old as a recording artist- “Side By Side” is a duet album recorded by Stanley and his son, Ralph Stanley II, and released this past February on Rebel Records. I purchased the album while on a spring break trip to Missouri, and it immediately went into regular rotation in the Fervor Coulee F-150.

It is the first time the two have stood, well, side by side in the studio as equals rather than as ‘boss’ and Clinch Mountain Boy. The selection of songs- four of which feature Ralph in strong, lead voice- are almost exclusively older and well-known: the album kicks off with Wild Bill Jones, goes Walking With You In My Dreams, asks Are You Waiting Just For Me, and concludes with I’ve Still Got 99.

The musicianship is classic sounding- fresh and relaxed with a professional sheen that doesn’t get in the way of the emotions of the music. Clinch Mountain Boys alumni John Rigsby (fiddle and mandolin), Randall Hibbitts (bass), and Steve Sparkman (banjo) are the core band, with Two doing double duty on lead and rhythm guitar. Dr. Ralph lays out clawhammer-style on a solitary track, the appealing Battle Ax.

Doubting the senior Stanley’s vocal capabilities? Don’t. Instead, give Don’t Weep for Me, or appreciate his excellent tenor contributions to any number of these songs including Don’t Step Over An Old Love, Nobody Answered Me, or Carolina Mountain Home.

Two has become a fine singer in his own right, one of my favorites. If you haven’t heard him before, also consider his album of a couple years back “Born To Be A Drifter.” White & Pink Flowers is a sentimental weeper, while Dirty Black Coal is more my style. Start to finish, “Side By Side” is a superior album of bluegrass.

Perusing these song titles, it is readily apparent what Two and co-producer Rigsby had in mind- a celebration of the Stanley mountain music legacy. And they have pulled such off in a significant way.

My question is, Has anyone noticed?

Googling around a bit this week, I found only a handful of full reviews of this album. I may have missed them, but I don’t recall seeing these songs on recent airplay charts. The various bluegrass discussion boards have either ignored the album entirely, or acknowledged it only in passing. There was an initial spurt of one-sheet rewrites back in February, and at least one insightful interview with Two published, but it certainly hasn’t been highlighted to any other significant degree on the major bluegrass websites. I know some in my acquaintance weren’t even aware the album was even released-admittedly, their bad.

All of which is a shame. “Side By Side,” from where I’m sitting in central Alberta, is cause for celebration. We all know Ralph Stanley had planned on retiring this year, but with his continuing good health delaying that decision one of the last true ‘first generation’ bluegrass singers continues to make appearances. And his latest album is as good as anything- and certainly superior to some- he has recorded in the past twenty years.

I wonder if we are losing sight of what really matters when it comes to bluegrass. Information about the musicians is available to us like never before- if we don’t get a Tweet about someone’s daughter’s graduation, we’re reading another birth announcement. We get updates weekly about fiddle players we’ve never heard of either leaving or joining bands we haven’t encountered. We can find the latest song by the ‘next big thing’ in seconds, but how often do we actually listen?

We hear more, read more, know more than ever before. But, have we forgot to listen? To contemplate and understand?

These are mighty great days to be a fan of bluegrass music. In our haste to glean a little of everything, let’s not ignore those who got us here.

I would suggest that “Side By Side” should be added to everyone’s summer listening list.

 

Don Rigsby- Doctor’s Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley review   Leave a comment

Jeff at Country Standard Time asked me to condense my review of Doctor’s Orders for use on the website, and I was pleased to do so. The (much) briefer more brief piece has been posted HERE. I like the freedom to write as much as I like here at Fervor Coulee and at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, but also enjoy the challenge of being more concise with my opinions and descriptions when under someone else’s guidelines. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Don Rigsby- Doctor’s Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley review   Leave a comment

untitledThere are days when I am simply plum-tickled to have the opportunity to write about bluegrass music. This is one of them. My review of Doctor’s Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley is posted over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass. In a year that has already produced several excellent albums, this may be the album of the year.

It is only now that I’ve posted the album that I realize, within the review’s 600+ words I fail to mention Rigsby’s amazing vocals. I am a dunce. I guess I could make the argument that anyone who would expect anything less than bluegrass vocal perfection from Rigsby hasn’t likely been listening.

The first time I heard the album’s lead track, “The Mountain Doctor,” I was pulling into the parking lot of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Missouri at the edge of the Ozarks. While those mountains and Dr. Ralph’s mountains are separated by several hundred miles, while listening I had me a profound and lasting bluegrass moment, one that will stick in my memory for a long while.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. And thanks to Rebel Records for keeping me in the loop; I appreciate it. Donald