Archive for the ‘Town Mountain’ Tag

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.

 

Advertisements

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.

Town Mountain- Southern Crescent review   2 comments

SouthernCrescentCover-e1457723219310-300x262Town Mountain Southern Crescent LoHi Records

To suggest bluegrass music is at a railway crossing of style and substance at this particular moment in its 70-plus history is to not have been listening for the past several decades.

Bluegrass has been simmering and evolving since the beginning, and although some of the changes were not as apparent to many, whether because they were temporary, ill-advised, or not enthusiastically influential, [ed. note: or, just plain stupid] with the world smaller than ever all adjustments are now given the opportunity to be perceived by the wider listening population. There should be room for all spectrums of bluegrass, and Town Mountain is staking out its own little territory.

Town Mountain, a hard-driving Asheville, NC outfit, has produced their fifth album. Southern Crescent isn’t so much a departure from their 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.

With Dirk Powell co-producing, it isn’t surprising that the group’s sound fully embraces Americana sounds, be they via the 70s (The Band, most obviously) and today—is there anyone else working this seam as effectively outside The SteelDrivers? While embroidering their approach with threads of different colours, Town Mountain doesn’t neglect the foundational fabric. When Town Mountain is on the stereo, there is no modern, progressive bluegrass band I would rather be listening to—the windows fly open, the sun streams in, and the cats are allowed to race about the place!

Opening with the fiddle theme “St. Augustine,” (Bobby Britt) a nod to the customs of the music when radio shows and live sets opened with similar touches, Southern Crescent is a thoroughly modern approach to the traditions of the music. Yes, Powell plays drums on five tracks (but, not in a way that distracts) and there is piano on a single cut. There aren’t an abundance of G-runs or other obvious ‘grass trappings. Rather than ‘high and lonesome,’ Town Mountain go low and aggressive.

What Southern Crescent reveals is an energetic, driving approach to acoustic music. The band members all take their breaks, and there are plenty of nice fills to augment their collective sound. Vocals, whether from Phil Barker (mandolin,) Jesse Langlais (banjo,) or Robert Greer (guitar,) are this side of gruff, unadorned by prettification: they sing like your cousin Jake, and Jake is a darned fine singer. When Greer starts in about “if you got the notion, I’m willing and able” in “House with No Windows,” you are ready to cut and run with him no matter where it leads.

With songs like “Wildbird” and “Long Time Comin’” preventing mid-album doldrums from settling in, the now four-piece (Jon Stickley has departed to front his own group, and bass is handled by Nick DiSebastian) ably demonstrate that they are unique. By the time they arrive at “Whiskey With Tears,” one is ready to recommend them to country radio not because they sound like they belong there, but because you wish radio sounded like Town Mountain.

Town Mountain- The Dead Session review   Leave a comment

untitledI was planning on being productive today; it isn’t every week I have a five-day weekend, certainly, and one should make use of such to accomplish some writing. But, finding myself in the middle of those five days today, someone on Twitter sent out a link to a 2011 Ray Wylie Hubbard concert on YouTube, and well—you should be able to figure out the rest.

One of the things I was going to do today was write about a nifty little 2-song single put out today by Town Mountain, an Asheville, NC bluegrass band that I quite like. I’ve written about the group a couple times. My review of Leave the Bottle was favourable, and in retrospect, too restrained; I think I was feeling that I had written too many 4- star reviews around then, and pulled them back to 3.5.  I was less enthusiastic about their live release of last year.

Town Mountain has devoted considerable effort to producing what appears intended as a one-off, a two-song set entitled The Dead Session. Given the strength of this recording, the talented outfit may be well-advised to consider a full album release of Grateful Dead songs.

The two songs chosen for this set are “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” (just as I was typing ‘Mississippi’ there, Ray Wylie introduced his most excellent song “Mississippi Flush,” saying ‘Mississippi’ just as I typed the third ‘s’…which was awesome enough to mention, me thinks) and “Big River.” Yes, I’m still listening to the live show; how can you turn off Ray Wylie Hubbard mid-show?

I’ll pause Ray Wylie to allow myself to get the soaring sounds of Town Mountain back into my head, not that I really need to because I’ve already listened to the single four or five times since receiving in the mail on Monday.

Okay, I lied; didn’t mean to, though. I was going to pause Ray Wylie, but then he started in on another story—this one about prayer —and I couldn’t…so, I pause the writing of this little blurb for another 30 minutes. The world will survive, and Town Mountain will understand. (BTW, Twitter tells me it is his birthday, too.)

At a mere eleven minutes, one wonders why the group bothered pressing up physical copies of this little pair (hard to imagine they’ll make their money back) but one is glad they did—and even more pleased that their publicist sent a copy my way. The cover art is gorgeous (by a noted Dead poster artist Taylor Swope), and almost nothing beats holding music in your hand.

As sung by Jerry Garcia, “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” is an archetypal Dead song—groovy, flowing (meandering, perhaps, depending on one’s perspective), and lyrically woolly. I’m far from a Grateful Dead connoisseur, and wasn’t familiar with the song until I Googled it the other day; shoot me. I have six or eight of their albums on the shelf, and enjoy them when I play them, but I certainly am no expert.

Town Mountain’s version is even more appealing to me—the incorporation of bluegrass elements like 5-string and harmony parts strengthens the song. Bobby Britt’s fiddle playing also brightens “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” and while Garcia’s voice isn’t something one soon forgets, Robert Greer more than holds his own; his distinctive singing is certainly a Town Mountain highlight. Town Mountain stretches out a little here, and I quite like what they’ve done.

The information at the Town Mountain website tells me that The Grateful Dead performed Johnny Cash’s “Big River” almost 400 times. I did not know that. Again, the band does the job on this one. Jesse Langlais’ banjo sets the tone for this rendition, and they keep things concise while providing sufficient instrumental interplay, including pedal steel from Jack Deveraux.

So, for a couple bucks on iTunes you can get a pretty cool listening experience courtesy of Town Mountain. I would certainly suggest the disc, available from the band’s website. Even if you aren’t one for following every dead-end and detour the Dead have sent out, this is a listening journey that I believe is well worth exploring.

Posted 2015 November 13 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

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

 

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