Archive for the ‘Sister Sadie’ Tag

Fervor Coulee’s Ten Favourite Roots Albums of 2018   Leave a comment

Throughout December I have been posting a series of columns reflecting on the year-in-roots-music past. I hope you have been inspired to locate albums that had passed you by, and are enjoying what I have recommended.

Readership at Fervor Coulee has steadily increased the last three years with growth of 10% and 20% the previous two years. However, things went crazy this past year with an 70% increase in readership: simply incredible. [This increase in traffic makes 2018 the second highest in Fervor Coulee’s history, almost reaching the lofty heights of 2011.] REVISION: A late year surge of visitors put 2018 over the top: the most ‘successful’ since the site launched in 2008, and an 85% increase in readership over 2017. Thank you all. I am pleased that so many who appreciate roots music are visiting here to ‘take in’ my Roots Music Opinion: I don’t usually feature the biggest or most-PR driven releases-Horse Hats of Indianapolis and Broken Heathens with Semi-Ironic Beards, for example, received no coverage- I take pride on featuring roots music larger, more-renowned music sites miss. Twitter activity has also been positive with the reach of my various reviews more-or-less increasing monthly.

2018 saw 86 posts at Fervor Coulee, most featuring one- or two- reviews; I am guessing I featured about a hundred albums this year. Beyond that, I likely heard another hundred fifty, and heard samples from so many- via WDVX, CKUA, my Polaris Music Prize duties, and other outlets (often places where I will first hear an album to explore further)- so when I finalize my Favourite Roots Albums of 2018- as I am doing here- I am drawing on a fairly well-informed pool.

Thank you for your ongoing readership and exchange of ideas. Without readers, this whole endeavour would be absolutely pointless.

To determine my Ten Favourite Roots Albums of 2018, I draw upon my previous published year-end lists- Favourite Bluegrass, Blues, Roots/Singer-Songwriters, and Reissue, Archival, Live, Tribute, Re-recording, and Compilations- and simply select the ten I most enjoyed: it isn’t scientific, fair, or necessarily consistent. Here we go:

Fervor Coulee’s Ten Favourite Roots Albums of 2018:

  1. Bobbie Gentry- The Girl From Chickasaw County box set- an absolute essential marvel, discussed here as my # 1 Roots Reissue, Archival, Live, Tribute, Re-recording, and Compilations list I have never before considered naming an archival release as my favourite of the year: this 8-disc set certainly is deserving of the accolades it has received.
  2. Mike Plume Band- Born By the Radiodiscussed here as my #1 Roots/Singer-Songwriters list
  3. The Travelin’ McCourys- The Travelin’ McCourysdiscussed here as my #1 Bluegrass album of 2018
  4. David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poolediscussed here as #2 Roots Reissue, Archival, Live, Tribute, Re-recording, and Compilations and # 3 on the Bluegrass lists
  5. Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard- Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969discussed here as #2 Roots Reissue, Archival, Live, Tribute, Re-recording, and Compilations and as an Honourable Mention on the Bluegrass lists
  6. Pharis & Jason Romero- Sweet Old Religion– discussed here as my #2 Roots/Singer-Songwriters listhttps://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2018/12/16/fervor-coulees-favourite-roots-and-singer-songwriter-albums-of-the-year-2018/
  7. Sister Sadie- IIdiscussed here as my #2 Bluegrass album of 2018
  8. John Wort Hannam- Acres of Elbow Roomdiscussed here as my #3 Roots/Singer-Songwriters list
  9. Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar- Run to Mediscussed here as my #1 Blues album of the year
  10. Rory Block- A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smithdiscussed here as my #2 Blues album of the year

See previous Favourites of the Year using the search function, or look here to see the top album of each of the previous years going back to 2000.

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Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2018   1 comment

Favourite, not best. I happen to consider them the best, but you certainly may feel different. One will notice no ‘big tent’ bluegrass on this list-the furthest afield I go is with my #1 album, which is still fair solid bluegrass.

These are the albums I felt delivered in 2018.

1. The Travelin’ McCourys- The Travelin’ McCourys An incredible album. Featuring three capable (and better) lead vocalists and five earth-shattering musicians, The Travelin’ McCourys deliver a set of complex bluegrass that remains firmly rooted while extending branches toward the light. Wonderful stuff: powerful, masterful, and most importantly, memorable. Their live presentation is also aces. (Purchased)

2. Sister Sadie- II There are a lot of great bluegrass bands working today: I would put Sister Sadie up against any one of them. II is even more unified than their debut with the group having melded into a seamless force greater than its exceedingly impressive parts. The quintets’ natural essence is given prominence, a traditional vision bolstered by contemporary approaches. (Serviced by PR)

3. David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole David Davis is a true follower of The Monroe Doctrine. “Didn’t He Ramble” is a well-considered collection of music from the early years of the twentieth century. Many of the songs are well-known, but Davis and co-producer Robert Montgomery also include less familiar numbers. An album of considerable variation, an acceptance of life’s departures is an apparent theme; one senses Davis and Montgomery drawn to songs where everything doesn’t go to plan. An exemplary example of modern, traditional bluegrass. (Serviced by PR)

4. Rudi Ekstein- Carolina Chimes This ‘All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase’ is 34-minutes of tunes sounding fresh, invigorated, and powerful. The twelve numbers flow brilliantly, a set of mandolin-based bluegrass the likes we haven’t experienced in years. An absolute stunner of a bluegrass album.  (Serviced by PR)

5. High Fidelity- Hills and Home Hills and Home serves as an appealing versatile introduction to this quintet’s energetic, foundationally strong, and vocal-focused representation of contemporary bluegrass. The group presents bluegrass that captures the old-time sounds influenced by Reno & Smiley, with shades of the Louvins in their arrangement choices and production approaches. High Fidelity is bringing bluegrass music’s rich history forward to today’s audience.  (Serviced by label)

6. Special Consensus- Rivers and Roads I didn’t write about this album. I just listened to it about thirty times. I haven’t been disappointed in an album from Special C in a long time, and given the strength of this set, I won’t be in the foreseeable future. A core of solid songs, lively singing, a few notable guest spots, and blazing instrumentation: my kinda bluegrass mix. (Purchased download)

7. Peter Rowan- Carter Stanley’s Eyes An acute reminder of that, when performed with talent, inspiration, and respect, bluegrass is a very powerful thing. Rowan-the target of the infamous Bill Monroe quote, “Don’t go too far out on that limb, there’s enough flowers out there already”-has frequently ventured well-outside the bluegrass realm. He returns to the formidable truck of the bluegrass tree with an album-long tribute to the music and its originators, especially Carter and Ralph Stanley. The light still shines in Peter Rowan’s eyes: that he loves bluegrass music is doubtless. Neither is his ability to create a masterful album of bluegrass classics. 
(Serviced by label)

8. Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road- True Grass Again Carolina Road has always been strongest following Jordan’s keen vision of bluegrass. Here Carolina Dream create a faithful, refreshing representation of the ever-evolving genre by ensuring a secure grounding in the traditional substratum of bluegrass. “True Grass Again” is a fine return to form for this well-established and soulful outfit. (Serviced by PR)

9. Various Artists- Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey A lovingly assembled testament to the status John Duffey attained and the influence he continues to impart upon bluegrass music. Compiled from numerous sessions over almost 20 years, it also serves as acknowledgment to the devotion of its producers, Bluegrass 45s’ Akira Otsuka and Ronnie Freeman. Despite being assembled track-by-track, including 53 musicians and singers making contributions in a variety of makeshift studio settings, the 46-minute, 17-song set is coherent, bound as it is by the tensile strength of the bluegrass community. (Serviced by PR)

10. Del McCoury Band- Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass With the exception of the lead track “Hot Wired,” on which Del and the Boys seem to be trying too hard to be edgy, this album delivers on the faith we’ve been placing in Mr. McCoury from the first day we heard him thirty-some years ago. McCoury’s voice isn’t what it once was, but that it just fine; when performances are as strong and true as these, we’ll forgive the effects of time’s passage. (Purchased download)

A note: Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard- Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969 is not included simply because it isn’t fully a ‘bluegrass’ album. While there is no doubting Hazel and Alice was bluegrass and this archival release is tremendous , these practice sessions/kitchen tapes feature little to no bluegrass instrumentation, and are as such ‘just a bit outside’ my definition of bluegrass for the purposes of this list. Without a doubt, it remains one of my favourite five roots releases of the year.

Thoughts or reactions? fervorcoulee@gmail.com

Best to you for the Christmas and holiday season and a terrific New Year. Donald

Addendum: When the Bluegrass Grammy nominees were announced December 7, I was surprised to find three of my top six included: The Travelin’ McCourys, Sister Sadie, and The Special Consensus. I don’t know if such has previously occurred- out of necessity, I take some pride in being a bluegrass outlier. Glad to see that the industry is finally aligning- for one brief moment- with my way of thinking. The other 2 Grammy nominees were two album I didn’t encounter. I might have noticed Mike Barnett’s all-star fiddle album had he and his Kentucky Thunder band-mates (and boss) made an effort to bring merch and shake & howdy at the mercantile at Blueberry this summer, but they didn’t bother. I learned of the existence of Wood & Wire today.

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.”

 

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

untitled

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. Enjoy.

At the end of each year, writers and broadcasters get to indulge themselves and-one hopes-their readers and listeners with their judgements on the year past. I’ve spent considerable time reviewing the bluegrass albums I heard during the past year, and have come up with my definitive (at least for today) list of Favorite Bluegrass Albums of 2016. Of course, your mileage will vary: I once received a 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 favorite 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. Laurie 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.

2. Sister 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 & 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. Bryan 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 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. James 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. Jeff 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” (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. Danny 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. Del 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.

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