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Bronwyn Keith-Hynes

Bronwyn Keith-Hynes
Sugar Petunia Records

SPR0027

Keith-Hynes is originally from Charlottesville, Virginia but now lives in Nashville where in 2014 she founded the Mile Twelve band which for the past six years has toured world-wide and released two projects. She has been playing fiddle since she was three years old and first became immersed in Irish music prior to becoming a fan of bluegrass. She has been recognized as the winner of the 2014 Winfield Fiddle Championship and in 2018 she was named IBMA Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year. 

On this debut solo release, she is joined by a host of artists. Her core group includes Harry Clark (mandolin), Wes Corbett (banjo), Jake Stargel (guitar), and Jeff Picker (bass), Her guests are Sarah Jarosz (mandolin), Laura Orshaw (fiddle), Sierra Hull (mandolin), James Kee (mandolin), Tim O’Brien (vocal, mandolin), and Chris Eldridge (guitar). Her originals include “Hendersonville Hop,” “Open Water” (with Sierra Hull), “North Garden” (with Chris Eldridge), and “Michelle’s Waltz.” Sarah Jarosz is featured on “Last Train,” Laura Orshaw on “Fiddler’s Pastime,” Tim O’Brien on “The Minstrel Boy,” James Kee on “Hello Trouble” (with O’Brien), Chris Eldridge on “Natchez Whistle,” Kee and O’Brien are featured again on “I Don’t Know Why” and Corbett’s banjo featured on “Happy Hollow.”

This collection of course features Keith-Hynes’ excellent fiddle work but the guest performers are superbly included in the arrangements and are given plenty of opportunity to make their own mark. A fine new release for this excellent artist.

www.bronwynkeithhynes.com


Thomm Jutz

Thomm Jutz
To Live in Two Worlds, Vol. 2

Mountain Home Music

Released in September, Volume 2 of To Live In Two Worlds continues the musical arc singer-songwriter Thomm Jutz began with Volume 1, released in March of 2020. A self-professed “chronicler of emotions,” German-born Jutz (now a naturalized citizen) leverages both his unique multi-cultural perspective and a prodigious songwriting ability (nominated multiple times for IBMA Songwriter of the Year) to immerse the listener into 13 lyrical stories. The topics range widely, from the Nashville flood of 2010 (“The Flood of 2010,” as both an ensemble and a solo recording), the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral (“Pieta”), harmonica legend DeFord Bailey, (“Evening Prayer Blues Revisited”), the struggle of a Black cotton farmer in the years after the Civil War (“Emancipation Blues”), and a cowboy homage to departed friend (“Adios Boys”), and from the spiritual (“Suffering’s Gonna Find You” and “No One Knows”) to the tragic (“New River Gorge” and “In This House”).  

Writing with a variety of collaborators—Jon Weisberger, Charley Stefl, Tammy Rogers (who receives co-author credit on 6 tunes), Milan Miller, Sierra Hull, Mark Fain, Julie Lee, Jefferson Ross, and Tim Stafford—and performing with a stellar group of artists (Mark Fain, Mike Compton, Justin Moses, and Tammy Rogers), Jutz celebrates the lives and emotions of the famous and not-so-famous, laying them bare with a surgeon’s skill. 

mountainhomemusiccompany.com

REVIEWED BY Chris Thiessen


Protobilly

Protobilly
The Minstrel and Tin Pan Alley
DNA of Country Music

JSP Records

JSP5202

You probably think you know where bluegrass tunes like “Bully of the Town,” “Arkansas Traveler,” “Turkey in the Straw,” “Are You From Dixie,” “Under the Double Eagle” and more came from. Like me, you’re probably wrong about most. Because these tunes and many other familiar refrains in bluegrass and old-time country didn’t arrive with Scottish, Irish and European immigrants bringing their traditional music with them. In fact, they were written by professional songwriters in Tin Pan Alley during the 1910s and ‘20s, or from the minstrel show circuit of that era.

Protobilly: The Minstrel and Tin Pan Alley DNA of Country Music is a masterful, scholarly bit of musicology and folklore that tracks down 81 original recordings and shows us one or more examples of how those songs, written with surgical precision for the record-buying public of that era, evolved and adapted to changing cultural standards.

I haven’t met Henry Sapoznik, but I know for sure he’s a mensch. The work, devotion and passion he put into this project is most impressive. The 3-CD box set includes detailed liner notes by Sapoznik, not only on the songs themselves, but how the record buying habits of Americans in the decades after the turn of the last century demanded racial content that would today ignite street riots.

Don’t even think about approaching this project if you are of the opinion there should be political correctness in all things, past and present. Drawing from the original sources—which is the project’s entire point—means the earlier versions of these tunes were marketed under derisive terms like “race” or “hillbilly” records, or careful euphemisms like “New York’s latest Ethiopian Craze.” 

Today’s listener will wince early and often as the performers freely use racial stereotypes and slurs. But that was the cultural norm of the day, which the record companies deliberately exploited for profit by marketing them strategically to black and rural audiences. That approach, indeed, triggered huge sales and created an enormous recording industry. Any objections over racial terms today must also be offset by an appreciation that these recordings enabled talented Black and white musicians to tour, record, and make a living outside of the mines, factories and the fields. It also helped pave the path for many bluegrass stars a generation or two later such as Dom Flemons who contributed notes.

Listen (if you can) to May Irwin’s May 20, 1907 recording of “The Bully Song,” which uses the n-word as often as a Richard Pryor stand-up set from the ‘70s. Then hear how the CD immediately replies with Gid Tanner & the Skillet Lickers’ “Bully of the Town,” which eliminates the now-offensive language on the original. Even the original sheet music cover for “The Bully Song” is beyond reprehensible by modern standards. But, one hopes, we learn from such history.

Major kudos must go out to David Giovannoni and Doug Benson for the amazing job reengineering and mastering the early recordings, some of which were reproduced from the primitive original cylinders and disks. There’s nary a hiss, pop or scratch to be heard.

Protobilly is an absorbing history lesson not just in cultural change through music, but also of the early growth of the recording industry. Work through these CDs and notes and you’ll come away with a fresh, accurate perspective on how much of the music we love to play actually came from and how much it influences even contemporary bluegrass and Americana.

 www.jsprecords.com

REVIEWED BY David McCarty


Wood & Wire

Wood & Wire
No Matter Where it Goes from Here

“Lightning in a bottle” – that’s the phrase that’s apt to leap to mind when listening to the latest release from this four-piece Texas-based outfit.

Wood & Wire’s music is infused with a delicious mix of virtuosity, exuberance and youthful bravado.

The band’s lineup features Trevor Smith on banjo and vocals; Dom Fisher on bass and vocals; Tony Kamel on guitar and vocals and Billy Bright on mandolin, mandola, guitar and vocals.

Wood & Wire’s official bio stresses the diversity of the bandmembers’ geographical backgrounds and individual musical influences, which run the gamut from Willie Nelson and J.D. Crowe to Bela Fleck and punk rock.

These disparate influences do crop up now and again in this nine-track collection, which is the follow-up to the band’s 2018 Grammy-nominated North of Despair. 

Even so, W&W’s musical bedrock is vintage newgrass bolstered with fiery picking, fine singing and evocative song choices.

In fact, several of these tracks, including the romantic lament “Can’t Keep Up With You” (penned by Billy Bright) bring to my mind images of a young Tim O’Brien backed by the legendary Newgrass Revival band of yesteryear.

The album opens with “John” (also written by Bright), a loping celebration of all the world’s well-intentioned misfits, outsiders and drifters that makes passing reference to Jack Kerouac.

“Pigs” (cowritten by Tony Kamel and Silas Lowe) is a tour de force that heaps well-deserved condemnation on reality TV stars, televangelists and grifting politicians who seek to divide rather than unite us.

“Roadie’s Circle” is a rollicking yet melancholic instrumental tribute composed by Trevor Smith in memory of his late border collie. “Spirit of `94” (written by Jeff Union of the band Ragged Union) is a powerful folk-flavored ballad that offers up a vivid fictional first-hand account of Pennsylvania’s 1794 Whiskey Rebellion.

This album’s title, No Matter Where It Goes From Here, has a tentative ring to it, at least to my ears. Could it concern the band’s future?

Well, that’s doubtful…But if so, I have a rhetorical reply: Based on the aforementioned cuts, along with additional stand-out tracks, I’d say for these guys the sky’s the limit.

www.woodandwireband.com

REVIEWED BY Bob Allen


Mark Stoffel

Mark Stoffel
Coffee & cake

Mark Stoffel isn’t a name heard much in mandolin circles. That’s about to change.

With the release of his solo CD, Coffee & Cake, Stoffel, who holds the mandolin chair in Chris Jones and the Night Drivers, has created a strong personal mandolin brand that charms and beguiles rather than overwhelms. Stoffel focuses deliberately on what he does best: writing memorable and engaging original tunes, and rendering them with a full dose of emotion, style and intelligence to make them shine.

A deep listen to his work here reveals a right hand with the buoyancy, speed and control of David Grisman in his prime, like his startling break on Night Driver’s Rag. But he’s certainly no Dawg clone. Stoffel’s playing reflects other major influences like John Reischman in his tone production and compositional style. And then there’s the dazzling Monroe quote he inserts into his solo on Make A Little Boat, or the cool mandolin harmonics that open Ying and Yang.

For Coffee & Cake, Stoffel surrounds himself with some of bluegrass’ best, including fiddlers Becky Buller and Jeremy Garrett, Ned Luberecki and Gina Furtado on banjo, Rob Ickes on dobro, and an international cast of mandolin greats on the online group recording of Glen Miller’s swing standard “In The Mood.”

Eleven of the tunes here are originals, helping create a real sense of style and purpose to the project. Stoffel clearly lives and breathes these songs. In addition to his engaging melodies, he teamed up with a great engineering and mastering team including Ben Surratt and Steve Rashid to create a beautiful live-inside-the-studio sounding record. The recording is so good, you can hear the faintest squeak of Mark’s fingers sliding on the strings during his elegant, moving “March of the Lemmings.”

What Stoffel understands instinctively is that the primary role of the instrumentalist is to connect with the audience, not try to impress with hypersonic licks and technique. This project shows a road-seasoned bluegrass mandolinist in peak form, creating an instrumental mandolin CD that lets the melodies sing freely. You might be more of a tea and pastries kind of listener, but however you have breakfast, Coffee & Cake is a great start to any day. 

markstoffel.com

REVIEWED BY David McCarty


Lindley Creek

Lindley Creek

Freedom, Love And The Open Road

Pinecastle PRC-1244

This band is a family affair from the Missouri Ozarks, Lindley Creek presents a contemporary approach to bluegrass. Jim VanCleve does an outstanding job on the production and the result is a highly listenable project.

On live shows, Lindley Creek is Kathie Greer, guitar, John Greer, bass, Katie Greer, mandolin and Jase Greer, fiddle. They all sing.  Here they are backed by A team session players and the Greer’s concentrate on singing, which they do quite well.  When you have the likes of Rob Ickes, Arron Ramsey and Todd Phillips, playing on a project you know what to expect instrumentally.

The songs are strong and the Greer’s can all sing well. The bulk of the leads are handled by Katie and Kathy. Jase does a fine job on “Right Back Where I Started.”  Katie gets to the core of “The Mockingbird’s Voice,” and sounds like the voice of experience on the original, “Grounded.”  The material also includes Dylan’s “Forever Young.” “Old Soul” starts with an electric guitar, another indication that bluegrass is a good point of departure for this band.

If you are a fan of the more progressive aspects of bluegrass this project will appeal to you. This is better than most of the country music out there and shares some of the values of bluegrass with a wide range of settings that are mostly acoustic and are presented with top notch production values. The feel here is definitely more Americana than bluegrass but it is very bluegrass friendly. Top quality songs, great vocals and topnotch instrumental support make this a strong release by this family band.

www.pinecastlemusic.com

REVIEWED BY Robert C. Buckingham


We Shall All Be Reunited

We Shall All Be Reunited
Revisiting The Bristol Sessions

Bear Family Records
BCD 17592

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a century since the renowned recording sessions arranged by Ralph Peer in Bristol.  The music captured those few weeks in late summer 1927 helped to catapult Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family to national prominence.  As Ted Olson emphasizes in his extensive album notes, the impact of those two acts on popular music have eclipsed the significance of the diversity and range of both the Bristol sessions and other aural harvests of similar scope organized in Johnson City, Knoxville and in other southern locales.

The Bear Family label has previously released box sets containing the complete recordings from Bristol, Johnson City and Knoxville, but the focus of We Shall All  Be Reunited is to serve as a single-disc anthology of the roster of regional performers whose music was captured in Bristol, both in 1927 and a subsequent lesser-known Peer session in 1928.  The sheer variety of the 26 tracks included here certainly give weight to the argument that the Bristol sessions’ significance exceeds that of its two renowned stars.

As you explore this time capsule, you’ll hear the precursors of familiar songs like “East Virginia Blues,” “Girl I Left Behind Me,” “In the Pines,” “Rough and Rocky,” and other still vibrant songs.  A close examination of the personnel reveals ancestors of Sammy Shelor and Jesse McReynolds, and brilliant African-American performers such as harmonica player El Watson (who spontaneously joined the next recording duo and received the one-man billing of the “Tennessee Wildcats” for a quietly significant racially integrated performance) and the dazzling pairing of Stephen Tarter and Harry Gay.

What may leave the most lasting impression is the knowledge that, while Rodgers and the Carters are represented here, they don’t stand out any more than some of the other musical highlights on this collection.  There’s the crisp banjo and vocal solo by B.F. Shelton, the rollicking Smyth County Ramblers, the polished a cappella gospel of the Alcoa Quartet, the lovely harmonies of the Palmer Sisters, and the driving fiddle/banjo frenzy of  J.P. Nester paired with Norman Edmonds.  Listeners and readers also can gain insight into the subtle manipulations of Peer in guiding the players’ material, emphasizing vocals over instrumentals, looking out for potentially popular gospel and original material, and even repackaging a 20-piece church choir and branding them the Tennessee Mountaineers.

Alfred G. Karnes’ closing track serves as the title track of the compilation, but also, as Olson states, it functions as a statement of unity for the performers immortalized at the Bristol sessions.  A patient exploration of the music contained in We Shall All Be Reunited will bring a renewed respect for the wide-ranging talent contained herein. 

info@BearFamilyProductions.com

www.bear-family.com

REVIEWED BY Henry Koretzky

 


Roger Cline

Roger Cline
So Inclined

Walnut Run Music
WRM0002

     Marylander Roger Cline began playing guitar in the late ‘60s, eventually turning to bluegrass and acoustic music in the ‘90’s. He began writing songs and also picked up the mandolin. On this debut project, Cline features his songwriting, his singing and playing and is accompanied by a number of his friends and other talented players. 

Cline is backed on most cuts by Nick Goad (mandolin), John Boulding (resonator guitar), Billy Hawks (fiddle), and Debbie Durant and Tom Hensler (bass) are on various cuts. Other players include Tom Beers (mandolin), Colleen Craven (guitar), Michael Gaudreau (bodhran, strumstick & bones), Dennis Hertzog (fiddle), Jody King (banjo), Andy McIntyre (bass), and John Scott Walker (banjo).  Harmonies on various cuts include Beers, Craven, Durant, and Jeanette Williams, Johnny Williams. 

     Ten of the thirteen cuts were written or co-written by Cline. Cline is an excellent guitarist throughout, especially on the instrumentals “Easy Street,” “Monarch Evening,” and “The Distant Shore.” Many of the songs have Gospel or spiritual themes including “Why Do You Treat Him Like You Do?,” “The Wind And The Waves,” “Maple Leaves,” and “The Outlaw” with just guitar. 

     Jeanette Williams sings a beautiful lead on “At The Journey’s End.” Cline’s love songs are “You Fell From The Sky,” “Lover’s Moon,” and “Flat River Girl.” Cline’s very pleasant voice is backed by this collection of well written songs, great arrangements and solid playing. 

Walnut Run Music, LLC, 

PO Box 113, Landenberg, PA 19350

www.walnutrunmusic.com

www.rogerclinemusic.com

REVIEWED BY Bill Foster


Jon Stickley Trio

Jon Stickley Trio
Scripting the flip

Since Bill Monroe first played what we would come to know as bluegrass, the bluegrass world has been split into two factions, those who never want to see the music change from what he first created so many years ago and those who happily wish to see the music evolve in bold, innovative new directions.  The irony of that is Monroe himself was breaking rules as he was crafting what we would come to know as bluegrass.  Following in that Monroe tradition of rule breaking is the Jon Stickley Trio, a forward-thinking acoustic band built upon the powerful flatpicking guitar of Jon Stickley, the adventurous fiddling of Lyndsay Pruett, and the complex-drumming of Hunter Deacon.

With their latest release, Scripting the Flip, the Jon Stickley Trio has crafted an album with no limitations, that is rooted in a familiar traditional sound, but miles away from the bluegrass your grandfather first listened to on his porch.  Even with its traditional soul, Scripting the Flip is a genre-defying album that moves across musical barriers and bridges genres with graceful ease.  It slides easily from the banjo-breakdown of “Driver” that features Leftover Salmon’s Andy Thorn, to the latin-jazz tinged “Ashtabula” and “Animate Object,” to the Tony Rice-esque “Bluegrass in the Backwoods.”

If Thom Yorke and Radiohead started a bluegrass band it would probably sound like the Jon Stickley Trio.  If they made an album it would be Scripting the Flip.  And all of that is a good thing.  A real good thing.  Just as Radiohead has toyed with the fabric of rock music, the Jon Stickley Trio has done the same with bluegrass, pushing, pulling, stretching, and twisting until it just barely is recognizable, but in that same moment, still just as appealing.  It allows the listener the ability and freedom to explore, but from the safety of familiar confines.  “We embrace some elements of music that are very non-bluegrass,” says Stickley, “and we hope that those elements may be able to grab a listener’s attention and draw them in before they realize that what they are listening to is actually very bluegrass.”

REVIEWED BY TIM NEWBY