PROF. DAN BONER

Dan BonerPROF. DAN BONER
WEST OF WEST VIRGINIA

No Label
No Number

Professor Dan Boner is the Director of Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Studies at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn. This is Boner’s third self-produced project and includes a number of familiar selections and a few originals. Boner plays guitar and fiddle and is joined here by some of his regular backers (some ETSU grads)—Daniel Salyer (guitar), David Babb (bass), Jason Crawford (resonator guitar), and Will Parsons (banjo). He’s also joined on many cuts by Adam Steffey (mandolin), Dwayne Anderson (bass), and Brandon Green (banjo). Other guests include Hunter Berry (fiddle), Sally Sandker (vocals), Josh Argo (fiddle), Aynsley Porchak (fiddle), Cara Oliphant (mandolin), Buck Trent (banjo), and Rhonda Vincent (vocals).

Original tracks include “You’re Not Fooling Me” and “Quiet House.” Familiar selections include “Where Grass Won’t Grow,” “Here Today And Gone  Tomorrow” featuring Rhonda Vincent, “Darby’s Castle,” “Why Don’t You Tell Me So,” “The Last Thing On My Mind,” with Buck Trent and Sally Sandker, and Bill Monroe’s “Roanoke” which features Boner and Hunter Berry on twin fiddles. The title-cut comes from Tim Stafford and Terry Herd and is a poignant look at a family’s life and hardships. This is a well-produced project and is sure to become part of many a listener’s collection. (www.dansmusiconline.com)BF


APPALACHIAN ROAD SHOW

APPALACHIAN ROAD SHOWAPPALACHIAN ROAD SHOW
TRIBULATION

Billy Blue Records
BBR1323

Appalachian Road Show’s sophomore album is an ambitious concept brilliantly executed. The 16 tracks on Tribulation, including a series of meditative spoken passages linking the songs into an overall theme, capture the celebration and sorrow, loss and regeneration, faith and perseverance of that unique and often troubled region called Appalachia.

The five members of Appalachian Road Show—Barry Abernathy (founding member of Mountain Heart), Jim VanCleve (another Mountain Heart alumnus), Darrell Webb, Zeb Snyder, and celebrated bass player Todd Phillips—all hail from Appalachia. When they joined forces several years ago, they set out to, in Abernathy’s words, “bring to light the culture and lifestyle of the Appalachian music we grew up in.”

The songs create a rich and vibrant tapestry that highlights the various musical forms and styles that seeped into Appalachia’s mountains and hollows over the past three centuries from as far afield as Africa and old-world Scotland, Ireland, and England. War and its attendant losses and dislocations is a recurring theme that’s vividly fleshed out in songs such as Tim Erickson’s mournful “I Wish The Wars Were All Over” and Frank Proffitt’s “Goin’ Across The Mountain.” Though this collection’s overall mood (as its title attests) tends toward the somber and meditative, there are flashes of old-time humor, as in VanCleve’s comic “Goin’ To Bring Her Back” and Dorsey Dixon and Wade Mainer’s tongue-in-cheek Depression Era “Sales Tax On The Women.”

On various tracks, the band has assists from a number of all-star studio hands, including Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, and Shawn Lane. One of many standout cuts is an exquisite rendition of Stephen Foster’s oft-recorded “Hard Times Come Again No More.” All told, Tribulation is a rustic, heartfelt masterwork and a stirring musical history lesson that grows richer with each listen. (Billy Blue Records, 124 Shivel Dr., Hendersonville, TN 37075, www.billybluerecords.com.)BA


THOMM JUTZ

Thomm JutzTHOMM JUTZ
TO LIVE IN TWO WORLDS, VOLUME I

Mountain Home
MH18592

   Nashville-based singer/guitarist Thomm Jutz presents the first of two all-original albums on the Mountain Home Music label. Originally from Germany, Jutz has become captivated by the music and history of the American South. Fourteen originals are presented here, co-written with Mark Milan, Trey Hensley, Tammy Rogers, Tim Stafford, Jon Weisberger, John Hadley, Charley Stefl, and Peter Cooper. Thomm’s fine lead vocals and exquisite guitar work are backed by Mark Fain, Tammy Rogers, Mike Compton, Justin Moses, Trey Hensley, and Mark Milan.

“Milltown Blues” is an uptempo tribute to Charlie Poole, who grew up in the cotton mill belt of the Piedmont region of North Carolina. The song captures Poole’s hardscrabble existence and the joyful exuberance of his popular, if not lucrative, music and career. “I Long To Hear Them Testify,” played in a 1920s bluesy guitar style, is a tribute to Blind Willie McTell, Skip James, and Charlie Poole. With a tangible longing for the past, Jutz says he has one foot in a world that’s gone and one foot here today. What I wouldn’t give to hear them sing and play. “Where The Bluebirds Call” begins with a delicate guitar melody and tells the story of English song collector Cecil Sharp. The story of “Barbara Allen” is quoted in the lyrics about a man looking for British ballads and tunes still alive in the Appalachian Mountains.

“Blind Alfred Reed,” who recorded for Ralph Peer in Bristol, walked three miles to set up on Temple Street in an un-named West Virginia town to sell his song sheets, playing for penny tips in a tin can. Visually impaired or not, he did what he could to support his family. In “Hartford’s Bend,” the steamboat captains still blow their whistles when they round the curve in the Cumberland River where the late John Hartford’s house stands. “Jimmie Rodgers Rode A Train” ends with a blue yodel guitar riff, and “Mighty Dark To Travel” borrows a line from Bill Monroe. You have to feel sorry for the protagonist in “Wilmer McLean,” a man who had the misfortune of seeing a cannonball come down his kitchen chimney in Manassas, Virginia during the first battle of the Civil War. You’ll have to listen to the rest of the song to hear what happened at his new house in Appomattox.

More and more artists are recording Thomm Jutz songs and for good reason. It’s great to hear the talented musician present his own music on this new solo effort. We’ll look forward to part two! (Mountain Home Music, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com.)NC


STEVE THOMAS AND THE TIME MACHINE

Steve Thomas and the Time MachineSTEVE THOMAS AND THE TIME MACHINE
ALL OF THESE YEARS

Bonfire Recording Company
BRC-5015

Thomas and company have made a strong recording of modern bluegrass. Part country-rock, a splash of classic country, and even some straight-up old-school bluegrass fill the tracks on this album. Thomas is in great form with his vocals and on fiddle, guitar, and mandolin. There are several guests on this project, most notably Del McCoury singing tenor on the title-track. The band is not above dressing up old favorites, such as “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight,” with some new chord changes and flashy harmony. Thomas penned four of the 12 tunes here, Guitarist Jason Owen wrote “Daddy’s Twin I-Beam” which he sings with the voice of experience.

The band comes charging out on this program, but really reach a boil on Monroe’s “Rocky Road Blues,” then they sway through the country shuffle of “My Heart Is Always Headed Back To You.” The band displays its versatility throughout the project, covering country, pop, and other styles with ease. Josh Matheny burns up the resonator guitar and Scott Vestal appears on a couple of cuts really nailing the banjo parts. “The Rat Race” is a funky rock-infused piece sans banjo. They close out the program with a fine reading of “We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart,” reminding us that they can flat-out get it when they turn to straight bluegrass.

The Time Machine is a highly versatile band that plays a range of ear-grabbing music. Thomas shines throughout the project while playing a wide range of instruments and singing each song for all it is worth. (www.stevethomasmusic.net)RCB


FLASHBACK

FlashbackFLASHBACK
BLUES AROUND MY CABIN

Pinecastle Records
PRC 1236

Flashback is a super group with band members who are all long-time veterans of bluegrass music. These veteran musicians are Stuart Wyrick (banjo), Don Rigsby (mandolin, fiddle, guitar, percussion), Curt Chapman (bass), and Richard Bennett (guitar). While the individuals had many of their own solo projects and projects with other groups, they are best known as members of J.D. Crowe’s New South prior to his retirement in 2015. In early 2016, the band reformed as Flashback with Wyrick coming on as banjoist.

Wyrick had played with the group Brand New Strings as well as with Dale Ann Bradley. Rigsby is known for his solo projects as well and his time spent with the Lonesome River Band, Longview, Rocky County, his own band Midnight Call, and with Dudley Connell. Chapman is a veteran of the band Wildfire, and Bennett had his own number of solo releases plus stints with Jimmy Gaudreau, Mike Auldridge, and Bobby Osborne. Flashback’s two previous releases include Foxhound And Fiddles and Denver Snow.

With this third project, the group mixes a collection of contemporary and traditional along with original material from the band members. One highlight is “Take Me To The River” written by J.P. Pennington from the band Exile, who also adds vocals and guitar on the cut. Selections from Bennett include “John Henry Holliday,” “Dixon Farm,” and “Virginia In The Springtime.” Rigsby contributed “Will You Fold My Flag For Me” and “When The Blues Come Around My Cabin Door” co-written with Billy Droze and features Jim Hefferman on pedal steel. Wyrick adds his “Tater Valley Chimes.” Other selections include “This Old Town,” “Just Dreamin’” and “Queen Of The Bar,” also with Hefferman on pedal steel. Solid arrangements, vocals, and instrumentation make this new Flashback project another stellar output from this super group. (Pinecastle Records,  2514 River Rd., Ste. 105, Piedmont, SC 29673, www.pinecastlemusic.com.)BF


HIGH FIDELITY

High FidelityHIGH FIDELITY
BANJO PLAYER’S BLUES

Rebel Records
REB-CD-1874

   Remember the first time you heard bluegrass? The thrill in that banjo sound? The plaintiff vocals over the rapid paced music? The searing edge of the fiddle as it glides in and out of the proceedings and the cut of that mandolin as it jumped to the fore in that powerful sound? Do you remember that thrill? Well, here it is again. The rhythms are true bluegrass. This music does not want to be anything else. No outside influences from all that has transpired in the last seventy years. This is bluegrass like it was in the golden era of the 1950s and ’60s.

Jeremy Stephens and Kurt Stephenson can play their banjos in great harmony and then jump on guitar when needed. Daniel Amick holds down the mandolin slot until he slides over to guitar. Vickie Vaughn not only sings like an angel, her bass playing is spot-on. Corrina Rose Logston, Stephens’ wife, is a force of nature on the fiddle, as one listen to her version of “Turkey In The Straw” confirms. The whole band sings and does so with power that comes from a well of soul. These guys are Christians and let you know it. They sing some of the best gospel one is apt to hear these days. The polyphony of “His Charming Love” is extremely effective. “Dear God” and “Got A Little Light” capture more of the depth and range in this realm.

One warhorse shows up here, Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith’s “Feuding Banjos.” This blazing example of instrumental prowess will send you back to the original 1955 recording that can be found online to compare. Those guys were hot, but these guys are hotter. It will take several concentrated listenings to discern just what they are doing on this cut. Throughout this project, the double banjos really make a powerful statement.

Jesse McReynolds, one of their heroes, joins them on “Tears Of Regret,” a long lost tract by the McReynolds brothers. Even at his advanced age, McReynolds still sounds great. This review could be much longer, but suffice it to say, this is the best pure bluegrass album to come along since the last one by this band. (www.rebelrecords.com)RCB


THE VW BOYS

VW BOYSTHE VW BOYS
ACTING OUR AGE

Fat Dog
FD1119

In these times of coronavirus, Saharan dust, killer hornets, social unrest, and Lord knows what else, we can give thanks for silliness and the VW Boys. Tim White (banjo, five-string resonator banjo and jaw harp), Dave Vaught (guitar), and Fat Albert Blackburn (bass) bring their sense of humor, strong musicianship and expressive vocal abilities to a wealth of material in a time when we need more good, clean, fun.

The songs presented here range from Jerry Reed’s “South Bound And Down” to the 18th track, David Sevelle’s (remember The Chipmunks?) “Witch Doctor” from the 1950s. We are treated to tunes ranging from humorous ditties to uplifting and emotional songs to some interesting picking. They have scoured the best of (or at least best remembered by those of a certain age) pop music and old folk tunes and some underdone bluegrass to present quite an entertaining program. There are songs this reviewer has long forgotten, but recognized again within three to five notes.

The song list here is long, but let’s just say they cover everything from a Scott Joplin ragtime to Dion & The Belmonts to The Eagles and John Denver. As for bluegrass, there are two pieces from The Dillards—“Doug’s Tune” and “There Is A Time.” There are some guest pickers here. Eddie Bond shows up laying down old-time fiddle on “Good Old Mountain Dew.” Scott Freeman on mandolin and fiddle and Leon Frost on percussion appear where needed.

This is entertainment first and foremost. It demonstrates that these gentlemen have loads of talent and a varied taste that will more than likely appeal to those who aren’t purists, but do want to be entertained. Alas, it seems that their magic tricks are harder to record. (www.fatdogrecords.com)RCB


BUNCOMBE TURNPIKE

Buncombe Turnpike

BUNCOMBE TURNPIKE
THESE WALLS WOULD SING

No Label
BT-07242

Lead singer and bass player Tom Godleski began Buncombe Turnpike in the fall of 1997. Since then, the band has recorded eight albums. They hail from western North Carolina and their music represents the region nicely. Bluegrass with a touch of folk and old-time make their highly listenable brand of music a hit with many folks.

Godleski wrote three of the pieces here including the title-song, “Asheville Summertime Saturday Night” (an ode to an institution in Asheville, N.C., called Shindig On The Green), and the train song “I Love Trains.” Guitarist Kory Warren shares lead vocals with Godleski, both sing harmonies, as does Don Lewis. Lewis plays some fine fiddle, banjo, and mandolin throughout the project. Elaine Trasker adds some harmony vocals, and George Buckner plays some nice banjo on several tracks. David Hyatt shows up on an original song he wrote singing and playing clawhammer banjo on “Flower Sack Dress.” They turn to some classic bluegrass on the final three cuts and nail “Little White Washed Chimney,” “Road To Columbus” (with some real fine fiddle work by Lewis) and “Walking In Jerusalem” (incorrectly credited to Bill Monroe).

There is a folk element to the downhome music here. They are not taken to emulating the latest styles, but play good old bluegrass as folks have in western North Carolina for decades. They pay homage to the first-generation masters with their approach. Lewis’ fiddle quotes Benny Martin, and Buckner plays the banjo straight-ahead Scruggs-style. This is fine mainstream bluegrass that is bound to please. The music is played with both feet planted squarely on the ground and not that city asphalt.(www.buncombeturnpike.com)RCB


FIRESIDE COLLECTIVE

Fireside CollectiveFIRESIDE COLLECTIVE
ELEMENTS

Mountain Home
MH18952

   If you’re a fan of energetic and innovative bluegrass sounds, keep reading. If you’re also a fan of bands like the early New Grass Revival, Crucial Smith, or the Farewell Drifters, you should enjoy this debut from Fireside Collective. If all three of these bands had come of age in the same decade, they would probably have been jam buddies.

Joe Cicero (guitar), Alex Genova (banjo), Jesse Iaquinto (mandolin), Tommy Maher (resonator guitar and lap steel), and Carson White (acoustic bass) make up Fireside Collective based in Asheville, N.C. They all sing, and four members contribute songs for this all-original set.

“Winding Road” (with a five-part vocal stack) and “Circles” are introspective songs about life’s meandering and circular journey. “Back To Caroline” is about a guy laying train rail in Virginia, hoping to hitch a ride back to his blue-eyed girl in Carolina. On “Done Deal,” the song begins and ends with the provocative question: I crossed every mountain and line in the sand, but how in the hell did I get to Cheyenne?

“Bring It On Home,” with a funky groove and a tasteful bass solo, is about being dumped some time ago, but remaining optimistic that the woman will come home. “Where The Broad River Runs” has the great line: All I need is a fiddle and a loaded whisky jar, and a barefoot girl to help me still my mind. “Night Sky From Here” is an instrumental that paints panoramic scenes—perhaps of mountains and rivers in North Carolina. “She Was An Angel” is about losing someone to the type of situation you can’t save someone else from and ends with a prayer for divine intervention. “Fast Train” is an optimistic bluegrass barn burner about moving on, complete with resonator slide train whistles and banjo-powered locomotion. Highly recommended. Keep an eye on this band. (Mountain Home, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com.)NC

 


THE FAMILY SOWELL

FAMILY SOWELLTHE FAMILY SOWELL
SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT

No Label
No Number

This is the latest project from the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Family Sowell, previously known as the Sowell Family Pickers. The family members are Abigail Sowell (mandolin), Jacob Sowell (banjo, guitar), John-Mark Sowell (fiddle), Joshua Sowell (guitar, mandolin), Justus Sowell (resonator guitar), Naomi Sowell (bass), and Cindy Sowell (vocals). The project is a mix of upbeat secular and gospel tunes featuring wonderfully tight sibling harmonies and superb musicianship from this young family.

A number of the selections are written or co-written by band members along with help from other writers such as Donna Ulisse, David Morris, and Jerry Salley. Songs include the title-cut “Same Kind Of Different,” “Good Place,” “In My Bible,” “Something ’Bout Love,” “I See Him,” “Let Me Be The Dove,” “Key Of Love,” and the John Hartford instrumental “Squirrel Hunter.” Again, it is hard to beat sibling harmony with many of the lead vocals coming from Abigail, Naomi, and Cindy. Each member is quite adept on their chosen instrument and blend well with the harmonies and arrangements. Let’s hope there’s lots more coming from this wonderful family ensemble. (www.thefamilysowell.com)BF