Review: Various Musicians - Old Time Smoky Mountain Music

HIGHLIGHT


Bluegrass Unlimited - Various Musicians - Old Time Smoky Mountain MusicVARIOUS MUSICIANS
OLD-TIME SMOKY MOUNTAIN MUSIC
Great Smoky Mtns. Assoc., No Number

All the music on the 34 tracks of this CD was recorded in 1939 in the Smoky Mountains by Joseph S. Hall, a college teacher from California. To learn the full story of how he came to do that, you will have to read the very extensive liner notes. This is the first time these recordings have been made available, aside from visiting the Park Archives or the Archives Of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University.

There are songs such as “My Home Is In The Smoky Mountains” by John Hannah and “Down In The Willow Garden” by Bessie Raab and fiddle tunes such as “Bonaparte’s Retreat” by Willis and Dexter Bumgarner and “Sourwood Mountain” by the Cataloochee Trio (Wayne Wright, Slick Wilson, and David Proffitt). Some of the other performers recorded include Myrtle Conner, Jack Johnson, Bill Moore, the Leatherman Brothers, Clarence Sutton, and far too many more to list here. The repertoire includes traditional British and American ballads, blues, hymns, gospel, more contemporary songs, and fiddle and banjo tunes. A few titles to give a feel of the contents are “The Ramshackle Shack,” “Crying Holy Unto The Lord,” “The Girl I Love Don’t Pay Me No Mind,” “John Henry,” “Cackling Hen,” “Chinese Breakdown,” “Ticklish Rubin,” “Conversation With Death,” and “The Big Bend Killing.” The version of “Polly Put The Kettle On” by the Bumgarners is unique and unusual. Most of the recordings are clear and of quality; a few are a bit rough sounding.

Some of the singing is a cappella, though there are also string bands. Most of the songs and tunes are familiar. What is special about it is the time and place of the recordings. Hall was trying to document a culture being displaced by the creation of a National Park, and these recordings were a critical part of that culture. Others had written about the mountain culture, notably Horace Kephart in his Our Southern Highlanders published in 1913 and 1922. And, Alan Lomax had recorded samples of music in widely varying locales. What Hall did was to record hundreds of songs and tunes from one place. He recorded much more than that, too, including stories and speech, which were his real interest. This recording is both a slice of musical history and fine music in its own right. Lovers of old-time mountain music need to have it in their collections. (Great Smoky Mtns. Assoc., 115 Park Headquarters Rd., Gatlinburg, TN 37738.) SAG

Review: Wildfire - Crashcourse With The Blues

Bluegrass Unlimited - Wildfire - Crash Course In The BluesWILDFIRE
CRASH COURSE IN THE BLUES
Lonesome Day Records
LDR 034

To mark its first decade as a band, Wildfire has come through with a mighty impressive album powered by assured singing and picking along with inspired song choices including gems by Vince Gill, Keith Whitley, Steve Wariner, Bill Howard, and a pair of exquisite originals from Wildfire co-founder Robert Hale. Hale, who sings and plays guitar, previously founded the band Live Wire.

Wildfire is rounded out with Hale’s fellow co-founder Curt Chapman (who, as a bass player, previously spent 15 years with J.D. Crowe & the New South) and the more recently arrived Steve Thomas (mandolin, fiddle, and vocals), Johnny Lewis (banjo), and Matt Despain (reso-guitar and vocals). There are also guest appearances by Scott Vestal on banjo and Chris Davis on vocals.

What really stands out here is the range and subtlety of emotion that the band delivers on songs running the gamut from lighthearted (Bill Howard’s “She Burnt The Little Roadside Tavern Down”) to sorrowful and tragic (“Lies That You Told,” a sardonic murder ballad penned by Hale, and a confessional of barely endurable heartache called “Used To The Pain,” written by Anthony Jerome Martin). They even manage a convincing bluegrass retrofit of “Oh No,” a syrupy Lionel Richie pop ballad of yesteryear.

Wildfire also evinces a magical touch for down-home nostalgia on Keith Whitley’s “Daddy Loved Trains” and Hale’s “In This Town,” while also taking an excursion to the dark side with Vince Gill’s haunting “Lifetime Of Nighttime.” By any measure, the performances on Crash Course In The Blues demonstrate that Wildfire can hold its own in any lineup of bluegrass’s hottest contemporary mainstream bands. (Lonesome Day Records, 143 Deaton Rd., Booneville, KY 41314, www.lonesomeday.com.) BA

Review: Wayne Taylor And Appaloosa - Out In The Middle Of Nowhere

Bluegrass Unlimited - Wayne Taylor And Appaloosa - Out In The Middle Of NowhereWAYNE TAYLOR AND APPALOOSA
OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
No Label
No Number

Wayne Taylor is a songwriter and storyteller. Here, he gives us some fine stories and well-constructed songs. His backup band is where they have to be when they need to be there. When not singing his own songs, he has picked some dandies from other writers. “Southern Rail Road Line” and “The Wages Of Sin” from David Parker are strong pieces.Two fine songwriters who are no longer with us provide some great songs. Lester Flatt is tapped for three numbers and Jake Landers’ “Secret Of The Waterfall” all stand well with Taylor’s five originals. The inclusion of “Ole Slew Foot,” as well-played as it is, is probably the weak point of this project.

The band is solid. Emory Lester’s mandolin shines from the jazzy splash it makes on the opening title cut, throughout the whole project. Lee Marcus punches up the sound with his banjo and Kene Hyatt ties it all together on bass.

This is a fine program, rich in interesting songs that tell stories without preaching or delving deeply into the realm of songwriter angst that shrouds so many new songs in some coded mystery. If you enjoy bluegrass with a folky edge, this project will find a lot of playing time. (www.waynetaylorandappaloosa.com.) RCB

Review: No One You Know - Calm Before The Storm

Bluegrass Unlimited - No One You Know - Calm Before The StormNO ONE YOU KNOW
CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Mountain Fever Records
MFR100831

Four members of this Clarksburg, W.Va., band contribute original songs for this their debut recording. Rachel Burge, who sings and plays mandolin, opens the album with her minor/modal-tinged declaration of “Looking For A Sign” for when it’s time to let go of a relationship. Thirteen songs later, reso-guitarist Bruce Jones closes the recording with his solo instrumental, “Peaceful Journey,” a meditative piece that provides a fitting contrast to the thicker sound of the other tunes. In between are five originals from singer/banjoist Ramie Bennett and four written by singer/bassist Don Anderson. There are two standards, one, “Ashes Of Love,” with some new flourishes, the other, “One Tear,” rather straight.

Looking at the original songs, I felt the melodies are reasonably good, though not overly catchy. I also thought the themes and story lines were somewhat conventional; the rambling life (“The Gambler”), crime and redemption (“In Her Prayers”), hard times (“Year Of The Locust”), longing for the country (“Big City” and “West Virginia In My Rearview”), to name a few.

However, and it is on this that the album succeeds, the attention to detail in the production and the arranging is of a high order. Obviously a good bit of thought went into the arrangements. This is not just an album of verse, chorus, solo (although there are a few such instances—which is not a bad thing), but rather one of nicely orchestrated parts, ensemble passages, lively rhythmic punctuations and pre-arranged solos and fills, coupled with the use of studio effects such as chorus and reverb to help create a unique and engaging sound. Add to that three excellent lead voices, good harmony and tight instrumental work from all the members, including guitarist Lance Gainer, and you have a debut that settles in at the good-to-very-good level. Keep them in mind and ear. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.) BW

Review: Various Artists - The All-Star Jam: Live At Graves Mountain

Bluegrass Unlimited - Various Artists - Rural Rhythm All-Star Jam: Live At Graves MountainVARIOUS ARTISTS
THE ALL-STAR JAM: LIVE AT GRAVES MOUNTAIN
Rural Rhythm
RUR-1073

The annual Graves Mountain bluegrass festival held in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia has come to hold a symbolic and even spiritual meaning for the bluegrass community. So it’s fitting that Rural Rhythm Records chose it as a showcase for its impressive talent roster and to celebrate the label’s fiftieth anniversary.

To listen to this live album (recorded on June 4 of last year at the 18th Annual Graves Mountain Festival Of Music) in the dead of winter is a special delight. I can gaze out the window at the brown grass, muddy ice, and frozen puddles while conjuring up comforting images of better times; of great bluegrass music wafting through the early summer heat beneath the shade trees in the shadow of Graves Mountain. They could have easily called this album One Magical Day In Early June.

This live compilation features a lot of the immediacy and spontaneity that you find at most bluegrass festivals, but which can’t always be captured in the studio. Thus, we get some pluperfect live performances by Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, the Lonesome River Band, Lou Reid & Carolina, the Crowe Brothers, Carl Jackson, Audie Blaylock & Redline, and Carrie Hassler with Brand New Strings. There’s even more magic when individual members of these top-flight bands team up and share the stage in various combinations. For instance, Russell Moore, Lonesome River Band’s banjo player Sammy Shelor, and LRB fiddle player Mike Hartgrove join the Crowe Brothers for a rousing rendition of “More Pretty Girls Than One.” Similarly, Russell Moore teams with Lou Reid & Carolina for a powerful reprise of Carter Stanley’s “Lonesome River.” The album abounds with such collaborations.

The entire presentation is highlighted by “Graves Mountain Memories,” a song written especially for the occasion by Carl Jackson and sung by an all-star ensemble that includes Jackson, Audie Blaylock, Lou Reid, Russell Moore, and Carrie Hassler. (Rural Rhythm Records, P.O. Box 660040, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) BA

Review: Ola Belle Reid - Rising Sun Melodies

Bluegrass Unlimited - Ola Belle Reid - Rising Sun MelodiesOLA BELLE REED
RISING SUN MELODIES
Smithsonian Folkways
SFW CD 40202

If you have heard Del McCoury or Marty Stuart sing “High On A Mountain,” then you already have a passing acquaintance with composer Ola Belle Reed. Singer, songwriter, guitarist, clawhammer banjo player, and humanitarian, Ola Belle was a fixture on stage at New River Ranch (Rising Sun, Md.) and Sunset Park (West Grove, Pa.) in the ’50s and ’60s. Later she and her husband Bud became familiar faces on the folk music circuit. When she died in 2002, she left behind quite a musical legacy.

Rising Sun Melodies pulls eleven numbers from two Folkways albums and eight from previously unreleased live recordings of 1972 and 1976. Bud backs her here, as does son David, along with Kevin Roth on dulcimer and John Coffey on fiddle. Over half of these songs are Ola Belle originals including three of her most famous, “I’ve Endured,” “High On A Mountain,” and “My Epitaph.” Of the live material, which includes “I Saw The Light” and “Foggy Mountain Top,” “I Am The Man, Thomas,” is the most intriguing selection. Ola Belle follows Ralph Stanley’s version closely and the liner notes say she learned it from his Cry From The Cross album.

Naturally, the studio cuts are the more polished, but the live numbers give a glimpse of Ola Belle in the raw, so to speak. If you are accustomed to hearing the mellifluous tones of Alison Krauss or the pitch-corrected vocals from just about everybody nowadays, then Ola Belle’s low, practically growling voice may take a little getting used to. She says, “I’m gonna sing it the hillbilly way,” and she does. Listening to Ola Belle is not for the faint of heart or the narrow of mind. But getting to know her music is so worth it, and this CD, which includes a forty-page booklet, is a good introduction. (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Washington, DC 20560, www.folkways.si.edu.) MHH

Review: Joe Diffie - Homecoming

Bluegrass Unlimited - Joe Diffie - Homecoming: The Bluegrass AlbumJOE DIFFIE
HOMECOMING
Rounder Records
11661-0649-2

As the title says, this is country music star Joe Diffie’s homecoming to his bluegrass roots, and because of those roots and because of his considerable singing talents, the result is a good one with several very good to excellent tracks. There are 12 songs of which only one, “Lonesome Tonight,” is a standard. One other, Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle,” is far outside the pale, but translates to bluegrass well. Rock fans will most likely recognize it as a hit for the Black Crowes in the 1990s. Diffie takes the song at a brisk pace and with auctioneer-like vocals, giving it just the right amount of chutzpah and makes it a rousing album closer.

All the other songs come from contemporary bluegrass songwriters such as Harley Allen, Larry Cordle, Shawn Camp, and Carl Jackson. Three are co-written by Diffie himself. Allen’s story of a “Tall Cornstalk” and its fear of butter and salt and windstorms is a standout track for both the spirit and vocal bends that Diffie brings to it and for the clever lyrics. Allen’s other contribution, “Free And Easy,” which nicely juxtaposes the concept of free (spirit) and paying (a cost), is also on that level, as are Jackson’s portrait of a street preacher, “Fit For A King,” Camp’s “Stormy Weather Once Again,” and Galen Griffin’s “Route 4 Box 109.” The latter is like those catchy memory/catalogue-type songs the Statler Brothers made famous. It should prove a favorite.

All of those suit well Diffie’s low and buttery vocal timbre and the phrasing he has honed over many years of singing country music. In fact, with the exception of “Somehow Tonight” on which that phrasing betrays him slightly, Diffie backed with high-quality from Sutton, Ickes, Haynie, Compton, Cushman and Fain, and on one track by the Grascals, turns in a solid vocal performance throughout this recording. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.) BW

Review: Lou Reid & Carolina - Sounds Like Heaven To Me

Bluegrass Unlimited - Lou Reid & Carolina - Sounds Like Heaven To MeLOU REID AND CAROLINA
SOUNDS LIKE HEAVEN TO ME
Rural Rhythm
RCH-2006

Lou Reid is back with an all-gospel project that spreads the work around and visits many song styles. This is a project that Reid feels The Lord has led him to record. It is a powerful statement of faith not just for Reid, but also for the whole band. The band is tight and of one voice instrumentally and vocally. The two a cappella numbers, “It’s Hard To Stumble (When You’re Down On Your Knees)” and “Lord Have Mercy (On My Soul)” stand with any performances in that vein. They ring with that old-time theology that spoke to so many generations over the years.

The message is optimistic and full of hope and faith, as the opening cut “God’s Front Porch” and “Carry Me” demonstrate. This is a singing bunch and everyone takes a turn at lead except Trevor Watson, who plays some sanctified banjo and adds spot-on vocal harmonies. Ron Stewart guests on fiddle and does much to punch up the band sound. Christy Reid’s bass playing is in the pocket and her vocals shine, including her heartfelt reading of the old standard “Sweet By And By”.

This is a well-recorded project. The performances are all first-rate. This recording will stand as a personal statement for Reid and the band and will find great favor with those who love solid bluegrass gospel. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 660040, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066.) RCB

Review: High Country - Perfect Companions

Bluegrass Unlimited - High Country - Perfect CompanionsHIGH COUNTRY
PERFECT COMPANIONS
Squirty Records
SR-013

For forty three years, Butch Waller has lead California-based High Country with blues-tinged mandolin picking and no-frills vocals, and Perfect Companions should appeal to fans of straight-up bluegrass grown directly from rich Monroe/Stanley/Flatt & Scruggs musical soil. Play it in mono on a lo-fi system and you might think it was recorded circa 1955.

The rest of the band—Larry Cohea (banjo), Jim Mintun (resonator guitar), Tom Bekeny (fiddle), Bob Waller (guitar), Glenn Dauphin (bass)—help Butch in confounding anyone asked to guess their geographic origin. The rhythm playing is solid, supporting soloing that is rhythmically sound with ideas that explore possibilities while never dipping a toe in newgrass waters. The repertoire mixes tried and true bluegrass and classic country with originals that are cut from the same cloth. The vocals, if not always tonally rich, tend toward the high-lonesome model, with pungent harmonies and duets performed with style and accuracy by Mintun, Dauphin, Butch, and Bob.

The two instrumentals encapsulate their approach. Butch Waller’s original “Butch’s Blues” finds the composer and the rest of the group paying tribute to Monroe, while the somewhat (and appropriately) fiddle-centric “Uncle Pen Medley” is even more explicitly Monroe-esque, combining three tunes from the classic instrumental Uncle Pen album, which (to put this band’s longevity in even greater perspective) was yet to be recorded at the time of High Country’s formation. (Butch Waller, P.O. Box 10414, Oakland, CA 94610.) DR

Review: Thomas Porter

Bluegrass Unlimited - Thomas PorterTHOMAS PORTER
No Label
TVPIV0001

Released to showcase the songwriting skills of Thomas Porter, this eponymous solo album is comprised of eleven songs and two tunes written and arranged by Porter. Even if Thomas Porter is a glorified songwriter demo, it proves a thoroughly enjoyable recording project. Good songs, carefully arranged, and performed by some of the best in the business today generally works well, as it does on this release.

The CD features noted musicians including, but not limited to, Ron Block, Adam Steffey, Sierra Hull, Clay Hess, Cody Kilby, Charlie Cushman, Jens Koch, and Eric Uglum. Recorded at no less than nine different studios, the baker’s dozen tracks offer nine different ensembles with only Porter appearing on all thirteen. Austin Ward handles the bass and Christian Ward the fiddle on all ten cuts that feature a full band.

Porter had already achieved composing success in 2010 when Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver’s gospel album Light On My Feet, Ready To Fly included his young-fellow-called-to-preach song, “Teddy Bear Revival,” which also appears on Thomas Porter. Porter indeed demonstrates the ability to write new sacred material that sounds not just traditional, but based in an old-time religion just as much as the call-response form of the chorus, as in “Touch My Scar.” The song is performed as a trio with Uglum and Jeff Farias: Have faith…believe…reach out…and see/Put your hands here upon my wounded side/Oh and blessed be all those who have not seen/Oh Thomas reach out and touch my scar.

Although Porter often turns to lost love and the wild side of life, he connects Saturday to Sunday morning in the lyrics of songs such as the lead-off “Cold, Drunk, And Lonesome”: Preacher said on Sunday, you reap just what you sow/Well I don’t know just what I did, to make these thorns to grow/But I asked the Lord to give me peace, that somethin’ I can’t find/I’m cold, drunk, and lonesome, with you on my mind. Although he can deliver a fine contemporary bluegrass composition such as “Don’t Know What I Have Done,” Porter mostly uses his ability to write new songs that sound old, but lack any hint of camp. Most of the time on Thomas Porter, this works brilliantly, as in the above pieces or “Thousand Acre Farm,” which takes a couple through their entire life together in just 16 lines. Occasionally, however, Porter’s roots show through too clearly. For example, “I May Not Be Your First Love,” with absolutely killer Reno-style picking from Cushman, works powerfully as a song on an album, but from the songwriting perspective, a bit too much Don Reno shows through. Bands should check out Thomas Porter for the songs, but I’d guess that most readers would enjoy the album simply for enjoyable listening. (Thomas Porter, 5154 N. 13th Pl., Phoenix, AZ 85014, www.thomasporter.com.) AM

Review: Volume Five - Down In A Cell

Bluegrass Unlimted - Volume Five - Down In A CellVOLUME FIVE
DOWN IN A CELL
Mountain Fever Records
MFR100817

Although Down In A Cell is the first album by a band that debuted three years ago, each member of Volume Five has held tenure with national touring bands prior to their collective start. Mississippian Glen Harrell, who had fiddled with Marty Raybon and Full Circle for five years, began pulling the group together late in 2007. Adam Duke (guitar) from Cullman, Ala., performed all over with David Davis & the Warrior River Boys, while Georgia bass player Chris Williamson spent two years with Randy Kohrs. Alabama school teacher and mandolinist Jesse Daniel played briefly with Kohrs and Anita Fisher. Patton Wages, who spent four years with Raybon and Full Circle replaced Casey Colwell (and Shane Blackwell) on banjo shortly after the recording of Down In A Cell.

Down In A Cell includes 11 tracks with four originals written by members of Volume Five (“Down In A Cell” by Adam Duke, “Busy City”, “These Lies”, and “Ride Ruby Ride” by Jesse Daniel) along with songs penned by popular writers such as Whitey Shafer (“Baptism Of Jesse Taylor”) and Dottie Rambo (“Sailing On”). The CD also features a great bluegrass re-make of “Home”, originally a hit for country music star Joe Diffie. Possibly the most interesting aspect of Down In A Cell is the lead vocals shared between Glen Harrell and Adam Duke, both soulful singers, but each with a distinctive style all their own.

Volume Five has all the tools and competencies of a modern professional bluegrass band in 2011. They have two good lead singers, some original songs and good taste in covers, and fine picking. What remains to be seen is whether Volume Five can be heard and stand out on their own in a bluegrass world evermore crowded with talented, contemporary bands. The answer will lie in whether the bandmembers can employ the skills they amply exhibit on Down In A Cell in creating a distinctive sound immediately recognizable as Volume Five. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd; Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.) AM

Review: Rodney Dillard & The Dillard Band - I Wish Live Was Like Mayberry

Bluegrass Unlimited - Rodney Dillard & The Dillard Band - I Wish My Life Was Like MayberryRODNEY DILLARD & THE DILLARD BAND
I WISH LIFE WAS LIKE MAYBERRY
Rural Rhythm
RUR-1068

After 28 years performing in Branson, Mo., Rodney Dillard has formed his new Dillard Band. Taking his musical adventures from his days as a member of TV’s Darling Family on the Andy Griffith Show and his membership in the groundbreaking Dillards bluegrass band, Rodney and the new band is reprising many of the songs from that era when things seemed a lot simpler—just like in Mayberry.

The project is a wonderful collection which includes “The Darlin’ Boys” and “There Goes The Neighborhood,” both songs commemorating those backwoods boys, and of course “There Is A Time” which was performed three times on the Griffith program. Dillard favorites include “Dooley,” “Doug’s Tune,” “Salty Dog Blues,” “Ebo Walker,” and “Banjo In The Hollow,” all from those great Dillard years which included brother Doug, Dean Webb, and Mitch Jayne.

Musicians and singers on the project include Steve Bush, George Giddens, Tim Crouch, David Creech, Boone Carlin, Beverly Cotton-Dillard, and Brian Dillard. Rodney’s current band is: Rodney, guitar; Beverly Cotten-Dillard, banjo; George Giddens, fiddle and mandolin; Shane Lail, bass; and Patrick McDougal, banjo. Also included on the CD are five excerpts from Rodney’s Mayberry Minute radio program with some interesting philosophical observations. (Rural Rhythm Records, P.O. Box 660049, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) BF

Reviews: Jim & Valerie Gabeheart - It's My Turn

Bluegrass Unlimited - Jim & Valerie Gabeheart - It's My TurnJIM & VALERIE GABEHART
IT’S MY TURN
No Label
JVG-8952

It’s My Turn is the latest music production from the husband and wife team of Jim (banjo and vocals) and Valerie (guitar and vocals) Gabehart. Their West Virginia-based group also features daughter Amy (vocals), son Charles (vocals), Brandon Shuping (mandolin and vocals), and Joe Vance, Jr., (bass and vocals). For these particular recordings, the band traveled to the studio of Steve Thomas in Hendersonville, Tenn. Steve is also featured on multiple instruments and vocal parts along with guest pickers Jason Carter (fiddle) and resonator guitarist Rob Ickes.

The dozen selections include four Jim Gabehart compositions, “Daddy’s Little Man,” the title song, “What Kind Of Tomorrow,” and “Grandpa Was An Old Time Preacher Man.” Also featured are outstanding renditions of “How’s The World Treating You,” Jimmie Rodgers’ “Peach Pickin’ Time” in Georgia, “Heart Of The Wood,” and an interesting little ditty “I’m The Boss,” which comes from the pen of country music songwriter Harlan Howard. It’s My Turn is exciting contemporary bluegrass with a tinge of originality and certain to bring the talents of Jim and Valerie Gabehart to the attention of bluegrass listening audiences everywhere. (Jim Gabehart, 292 Trace Creek Rd., Hamlin, WV 25523, www.jimandvaleriegabehart.com.) LM

Review: Chad Fadely - iMando

Bluegrass Unlimited - Chad Fadely - iMandoCHAD FADELY
IMANDO
No Label
No Number

This project showcases the talents of multi-instrumentalist Chad Fadely who plays not only mandolin, but also mandola, mandocello, guitar and bass. Fadely is accompanied on this project by Alex Hargreaves on fiddle, Bill Neaves on guitar, Ivan Rosenberg on resonator guitar, Rick Ryan on bass, Mary Sackmann on bass, and Steve Taft on banjo. The Montana-based Fadely has produced a delightful 12-song all-instrumental project of mostly original material such as “Orcas Isle,” “Cold Snowy Morning,” “Ode To Joy,” and the title cut “iMando.” The covers include “Liza Jane” and “Texas Gales.” These are all good musicians and the production is clear and well-balanced. The packaging is a simple sleeve, but provides a good format for this type of release. Look for more to come from Chad Fadely. (www.chadfadely.com) BF

Review: Cats And The Fiddler - Come Back To Me

Bluegrass Unlimited - Cats And The Fiddler - Come Back To MeCATS AND THE FIDDLER
COME BACK TO ME
No Label
No Number

Come Back To Me is the latest release from Michigan’s Cats And The Fiddler (BU, Aug. ’09). This talented trio of teenage musicians consists of brothers Shaun and James Richardson along with Carmen Gibes. All three musicians are adept on several instruments and display skills far beyond their youthful years. Most of the 13 selections are original compositions like “Give Me A Reason,” “Shovelin’ Coal,” “Old Noah,” and the instrumental “Breakaway.” Also featured are captivating arrangements of “Blue Trail Of Sorrow,” “Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses,” and the Claire Lynch gospel number “I Believe In Forever.” Come Back To Me showcases the talents of Cats And The Fiddler and confirms that they are poised to become prolific contributors to the world of bluegrass music in ensuing years. (Cats And The Fiddler, 1306 Evergreen, Milford, MI 48380, www.catsandthefiddler.com.) LM

Review: River Boy: Acoustic, Bluegrassy Music

Bluegrass Unlimited - River Boy - River Boy: Acoustic, Bluegrassy MusicRIVER BOY
RIVER BOY: ACOUSTIC, BLUEGRASSY MUSIC
River Boy Music
No Number

“River Boy is a band, an album, and a song,” according to its website. Although from South Carolina, River Boy frequently offers a relaxed style that reminds one of the best Yankee traditional ’grass of the 1970s. The headwaters of River Boy are Shayne Floyd, who had been singing and playing on guitar the original songs he composed for years when he hooked up with a pair of professionals in 2008. Walter Biffle (guitar, banjo, bass, and tenor singing) and Bob Sachs (mandolin and baritone harmonies) began working with Floyd on shaping ten of his songs and his slightly Celtoid tune “River Boy,” plus Ian Tyson’s “Summer Wages” (well-known in bluegrass from the New South’s rendition) into River Boy: Acoustic, Bluegrassy Music.

What the subtitle is trying to say is that River Boy consists of mostly straightforward bluegrass songs and a couple pieces, such as “Cameron Grove,” that could be called original music performed on bluegrass instruments. Even those would fit in the set lists of most contemporary bluegrass bands without raising a ruckus.

Floyd exhibits the ability to compose bluegrass songs in a variety of tempos and settings on a number of different themes. “Caroline” reminds one of some of the most popular bluegrass titles of the 1970s, while “Walkin’” would easily fit with many of today’s bluegrass acts. “Christ The Savior” could be covered by bands from any era of bluegrass history. “Harlan, KY” enjoys some of the sweetest picking on River Boy, but lyrically lacks authenticity. It doesn’t sound like a song someone from Harlan would write; there is not word one about coal. Otherwise, River Boy works as both an enjoyable listening experience and a nice set of generally cover-worthy songs. (River Boy Music, 708 Condon Dr., Charleston, SC 28412, www.riverboymusic.com.) AM

Reviews: Bull Harman & Bull's Eye - Aiming To Please

Bluegrass Unlimited - Bull Harman & Bull's Eye - Aiming To PleaseBULL HARMAN & BULL’S EYE
AIMING TO PLEASE
Bull’s Eye Records
BER-0426

Mixing selections from folk, rock, country, bluegrass, and a couple of originals, this new project from Bull Harman and Bull’s Eye will certainly be a must for fans and newcomers alike. The project shows the band’s maturity over the past ten years with continued growth in both instrumental presentation and vocal tightness. The husband and wife team of Bull (guitar) and Tammy Harman (bass) are joined here by regulars Hal Cottrell (mandolin) and Steve Cox (banjo), with guest Jimmy Campbell (resonator guitar). Familiar chestnuts like “Black Eyed Susie,” “Body & Soul,” “Take This Hammer,” and “Last Thing On My Mind” are sprinkled throughout. There is a grassy version of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and a nice version of The Dillards “There Is A Time.” Cottrell contributes two originals “FiddleFest” and “Lord Down Deep.” The CD closes with a wonderful solo guitar in a mild-tempoed version of “St. Anne’s Reel.” The band set out with the hope of aiming to please, and this project proves that they succeeded. (Bull’s Eye Records, P.O. Box 2024, Florissant, MO 63032, www.bulllharman.com.) BF

HIGHLIGHT


Bluegrass Unlimited - Various Musicians - Old Time Smoky Mountain MusicVARIOUS MUSICIANS
OLD-TIME SMOKY MOUNTAIN MUSIC
Great Smoky Mtns. Assoc., No Number

[snip]All the music on the 34 tracks of this CD was recorded in 1939 in the Smoky Mountains by Joseph S. Hall, a college teacher from California. To learn the full story of how he came to do that, you will have to read the very extensive liner notes. This is the first time these recordings have been made available, aside from visiting the Park Archives or the Archives Of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University.[/snip]

There are songs such as “My Home Is In The Smoky Mountains” by John Hannah and “Down In The Willow Garden” by Bessie Raab and fiddle tunes such as “Bonaparte’s Retreat” by Willis and Dexter Bumgarner and “Sourwood Mountain” by the Cataloochee Trio (Wayne Wright, Slick Wilson, and David Proffitt). Some of the other performers recorded include Myrtle Conner, Jack Johnson, Bill Moore, the Leatherman Brothers, Clarence Sutton, and far too many more to list here. The repertoire includes traditional British and American ballads, blues, hymns, gospel, more contemporary songs, and fiddle and banjo tunes. A few titles to give a feel of the contents are “The Ramshackle Shack,” “Crying Holy Unto The Lord,” “The Girl I Love Don’t Pay Me No Mind,” “John Henry,” “Cackling Hen,” “Chinese Breakdown,” “Ticklish Rubin,” “Conversation With Death,” and “The Big Bend Killing.” The version of “Polly Put The Kettle On” by the Bumgarners is unique and unusual. Most of the recordings are clear and of quality; a few are a bit rough sounding.

Some of the singing is a cappella, though there are also string bands. Most of the songs and tunes are familiar. What is special about it is the time and place of the recordings. Hall was trying to document a culture being displaced by the creation of a National Park, and these recordings were a critical part of that culture. Others had written about the mountain culture, notably Horace Kephart in his Our Southern Highlanders published in 1913 and 1922. And, Alan Lomax had recorded samples of music in widely varying locales. What Hall did was to record hundreds of songs and tunes from one place. He recorded much more than that, too, including stories and speech, which were his real interest. This recording is both a slice of musical history and fine music in its own right. Lovers of old-time mountain music need to have it in their collections. (Great Smoky Mtns. Assoc., 115 Park Headquarters Rd., Gatlinburg, TN 37738.)  SAG

Bluegrass Unlimited - The BoxcarsTHE BOXCARS
Mountain Home Music
MH13092

This is a new group that has a super abundance of talent, and this is a debut recording that shows that talent many times over. Start with Keith Garrett, former guitarist for Blue Moon Rising. He’s the centerpiece voice, singing lead on seven of the album’s thirteen tracks and displaying a clear, polished middle register. He brings intensity when needed, as on the tale of a man confessing on the stand to murdering his cheating wife on “December 13th,” suppressed anguish when a song such as the lilting “Hurtin’ Inside” calls for it, and yearning when relating the life of a man who everyone thinks a potential star, but who “Never Played The Opry.” He can sing country. He can sing straight traditional. He can sing in a contemporary style—all with conviction. And he wrote five of the songs.

Then there is John Bowman, the group’s fiddler and tenor. Also clear and smooth, but a bit more high-lonesome in sound. He sings two: the dark but positive message song “In God’s Hands,” and the album’s only true standard, “Log Cabin In The Lane.” To mandolinist Adam Steffey with his lower, softer voice are given two of the most traditional sounding songs, one new, one old. The first is Ron Block’s “You Can Take Your Time,” a tune that sounds happy melodically, but is really about a man losing his girl and telling her how quick to come back. The other is Earl Taylor’s semi-classic, “I Could Change My Mind.” Taylor’s version was more forceful, but Steffey brings to it a welcome nuance and wistfulness. Banjoist Ron Stewart has the low lead, the growly, gritty timbre that suits the growly, gritty boast about living life “The Hard Way.” Only bassist Harold Nixon doesn’t handle a lead, but he’s busy footing the solid rhythm for this fine debut of good singing, good writing, diversity of style and, of course, instrumental work to rival any in the business. (Crossroads Music, P.O. Box 829, Arden NC 28704, www.crossroadsmusic.com.) BW

Bluegrass Unlimited - Wildfire - Crash Course In The BluesWILDFIRE
CRASH COURSE IN THE BLUES
Lonesome Day Records
LDR 034

To mark its first decade as a band, Wildfire has come through with a mighty impressive album powered by assured singing and picking along with inspired song choices including gems by Vince Gill, Keith Whitley, Steve Wariner, Bill Howard, and a pair of exquisite originals from Wildfire co-founder Robert Hale. Hale, who sings and plays guitar, previously founded the band Live Wire.

Wildfire is rounded out with Hale’s fellow co-founder Curt Chapman (who, as a bass player, previously spent 15 years with J.D. Crowe & the New South) and the more recently arrived Steve Thomas (mandolin, fiddle, and vocals), Johnny Lewis (banjo), and Matt Despain (reso-guitar and vocals). There are also guest appearances by Scott Vestal on banjo and Chris Davis on vocals.

What really stands out here is the range and subtlety of emotion that the band delivers on songs running the gamut from lighthearted (Bill Howard’s “She Burnt The Little Roadside Tavern Down”) to sorrowful and tragic (“Lies That You Told,” a sardonic murder ballad penned by Hale, and a confessional of barely endurable heartache called “Used To The Pain,” written by Anthony Jerome Martin). They even manage a convincing bluegrass retrofit of “Oh No,” a syrupy Lionel Richie pop ballad of yesteryear.

Wildfire also evinces a magical touch for down-home nostalgia on Keith Whitley’s “Daddy Loved Trains” and Hale’s “In This Town,” while also taking an excursion to the dark side with Vince Gill’s haunting “Lifetime Of Nighttime.” By any measure, the performances on Crash Course In The Blues demonstrate that Wildfire can hold its own in any lineup of bluegrass’s hottest contemporary mainstream bands. (Lonesome Day Records, 143 Deaton Rd., Booneville, KY 41314, www.lonesomeday.com.) BA

Bluegrass Unlimited - Wayne Taylor And Appaloosa - Out In The Middle Of NowhereWAYNE TAYLOR AND APPALOOSA
OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
No Label
No Number

Wayne Taylor is a songwriter and storyteller. Here, he gives us some fine stories and well-constructed songs. His backup band is where they have to be when they need to be there. When not singing his own songs, he has picked some dandies from other writers. “Southern Rail Road Line” and “The Wages Of Sin” from David Parker are strong pieces. Two fine songwriters who are no longer with us provide some great songs. Lester Flatt is tapped for three numbers and Jake Landers’ “Secret Of The Waterfall” all stand well with Taylor’s five originals. The inclusion of “Ole Slew Foot,” as well-played as it is, is probably the weak point of this project.

The band is solid. Emory Lester’s mandolin shines from the jazzy splash it makes on the opening title cut, throughout the whole project. Lee Marcus punches up the sound with his banjo and Kene Hyatt ties it all together on bass.

This is a fine program, rich in interesting songs that tell stories without preaching or delving deeply into the realm of songwriter angst that shrouds so many new songs in some coded mystery. If you enjoy bluegrass with a folky edge, this project will find a lot of playing time. (www.waynetaylorandappaloosa.com.) RCB

Bluegrass Unlimited - No One You Know - Calm Before The StormNO ONE YOU KNOW
CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Mountain Fever Records
MFR100831

Four members of this Clarksburg, W.Va., band contribute original songs for this their debut recording. Rachel Burge, who sings and plays mandolin, opens the album with her minor/modal-tinged declaration of “Looking For A Sign” for when it’s time to let go of a relationship. Thirteen songs later, reso-guitarist Bruce Jones closes the recording with his solo instrumental, “Peaceful Journey,” a meditative piece that provides a fitting contrast to the thicker sound of the other tunes. In between are five originals from singer/banjoist Ramie Bennett and four written by singer/bassist Don Anderson. There are two standards, one, “Ashes Of Love,” with some new flourishes, the other, “One Tear,” rather straight.

Looking at the original songs, I felt the melodies are reasonably good, though not overly catchy. I also thought the themes and story lines were somewhat conventional; the rambling life (“The Gambler”), crime and redemption (“In Her Prayers”), hard times (“Year Of The Locust”), longing for the country (“Big City” and “West Virginia In My Rearview”), to name a few.

However, and it is on this that the album succeeds, the attention to detail in the production and the arranging is of a high order. Obviously a good bit of thought went into the arrangements. This is not just an album of verse, chorus, solo (although there are a few such instances—which is not a bad thing), but rather one of nicely orchestrated parts, ensemble passages, lively rhythmic punctuations and pre-arranged solos and fills, coupled with the use of studio effects such as chorus and reverb to help create a unique and engaging sound. Add to that three excellent lead voices, good harmony and tight instrumental work from all the members, including guitarist Lance Gainer, and you have a debut that settles in at the good-to-very-good level. Keep them in mind and ear. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.) BW

Bluegrass Unlimited - Various Artists - Rural Rhythm All-Star Jam: Live At Graves MountainVARIOUS ARTISTS
THE ALL-STAR JAM: LIVE AT GRAVES MOUNTAIN
Rural Rhythm
RUR-1073

The annual Graves Mountain bluegrass festival held in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia has come to hold a symbolic and even spiritual meaning for the bluegrass community. So it’s fitting that Rural Rhythm Records chose it as a showcase for its impressive talent roster and to celebrate the label’s fiftieth anniversary.

To listen to this live album (recorded on June 4 of last year at the 18th Annual Graves Mountain Festival Of Music) in the dead of winter is a special delight. I can gaze out the window at the brown grass, muddy ice, and frozen puddles while conjuring up comforting images of better times; of great bluegrass music wafting through the early summer heat beneath the shade trees in the shadow of Graves Mountain. They could have easily called this album One Magical Day In Early June.

This live compilation features a lot of the immediacy and spontaneity that you find at most bluegrass festivals, but which can’t always be captured in the studio. Thus, we get some pluperfect live performances by Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, the Lonesome River Band, Lou Reid & Carolina, the Crowe Brothers, Carl Jackson, Audie Blaylock & Redline, and Carrie Hassler with Brand New Strings. There’s even more magic when individual members of these top-flight bands team up and share the stage in various combinations. For instance, Russell Moore, Lonesome River Band’s banjo player Sammy Shelor, and LRB fiddle player Mike Hartgrove join the Crowe Brothers for a rousing rendition of “More Pretty Girls Than One.” Similarly, Russell Moore teams with Lou Reid & Carolina for a powerful reprise of Carter Stanley’s “Lonesome River.” The album abounds with such collaborations.

The entire presentation is highlighted by “Graves Mountain Memories,” a song written especially for the occasion by Carl Jackson and sung by an all-star ensemble that includes Jackson, Audie Blaylock, Lou Reid, Russell Moore, and Carrie Hassler. (Rural Rhythm Records, P.O. Box 660040, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) BA

Bluegrass Unlimited - Ola Belle Reid - Rising Sun MelodiesOLA BELLE REED
RISING SUN MELODIES
Smithsonian Folkways
SFW CD 40202

If you have heard Del McCoury or Marty Stuart sing “High On A Mountain,” then you already have a passing acquaintance with composer Ola Belle Reed. Singer, songwriter, guitarist, clawhammer banjo player, and humanitarian, Ola Belle was a fixture on stage at New River Ranch (Rising Sun, Md.) and Sunset Park (West Grove, Pa.) in the ’50s and ’60s. Later she and her husband Bud became familiar faces on the folk music circuit. When she died in 2002, she left behind quite a musical legacy.

Rising Sun Melodies pulls eleven numbers from two Folkways albums and eight from previously unreleased live recordings of 1972 and 1976. Bud backs her here, as does son David, along with Kevin Roth on dulcimer and John Coffey on fiddle. Over half of these songs are Ola Belle originals including three of her most famous, “I’ve Endured,” “High On A Mountain,” and “My Epitaph.” Of the live material, which includes “I Saw The Light” and “Foggy Mountain Top,” “I Am The Man, Thomas,” is the most intriguing selection. Ola Belle follows Ralph Stanley’s version closely and the liner notes say she learned it from his Cry From The Cross album.

Naturally, the studio cuts are the more polished, but the live numbers give a glimpse of Ola Belle in the raw, so to speak. If you are accustomed to hearing the mellifluous tones of Alison Krauss or the pitch-corrected vocals from just about everybody nowadays, then Ola Belle’s low, practically growling voice may take a little getting used to. She says, “I’m gonna sing it the hillbilly way,” and she does. Listening to Ola Belle is not for the faint of heart or the narrow of mind. But getting to know her music is so worth it, and this CD, which includes a forty-page booklet, is a good introduction. (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Washington, DC 20560, www.folkways.si.edu.) MHH

Bluegrass Unlimited - Joe Diffie - Homecoming: The Bluegrass AlbumJOE DIFFIE
HOMECOMING
Rounder Records
11661-0649-2

As the title says, this is country music star Joe Diffie’s homecoming to his bluegrass roots, and because of those roots and because of his considerable singing talents, the result is a good one with several very good to excellent tracks. There are 12 songs of which only one, “Lonesome Tonight,” is a standard. One other, Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle,” is far outside the pale, but translates to bluegrass well. Rock fans will most likely recognize it as a hit for the Black Crowes in the 1990s. Diffie takes the song at a brisk pace and with auctioneer-like vocals, giving it just the right amount of chutzpah and makes it a rousing album closer.

All the other songs come from contemporary bluegrass songwriters such as Harley Allen, Larry Cordle, Shawn Camp, and Carl Jackson. Three are co-written by Diffie himself. Allen’s story of a “Tall Cornstalk” and its fear of butter and salt and windstorms is a standout track for both the spirit and vocal bends that Diffie brings to it and for the clever lyrics. Allen’s other contribution, “Free And Easy,” which nicely juxtaposes the concept of free (spirit) and paying (a cost), is also on that level, as are Jackson’s portrait of a street preacher, “Fit For A King,” Camp’s “Stormy Weather Once Again,” and Galen Griffin’s “Route 4 Box 109.” The latter is like those catchy memory/catalogue-type songs the Statler Brothers made famous. It should prove a favorite.

All of those suit well Diffie’s low and buttery vocal timbre and the phrasing he has honed over many years of singing country music. In fact, with the exception of “Somehow Tonight” on which that phrasing betrays him slightly, Diffie backed with high-quality from Sutton, Ickes, Haynie, Compton, Cushman and Fain, and on one track by the Grascals, turns in a solid vocal performance throughout this recording. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.) BW

Bluegrass Unlimited - Lou Reid & Carolina - Sounds Like Heaven To MeLOU REID AND CAROLINA
SOUNDS LIKE HEAVEN TO ME
Rural Rhythm
RCH-2006

Lou Reid is back with an all-gospel project that spreads the work around and visits many song styles. This is a project that Reid feels The Lord has led him to record. It is a powerful statement of faith not just for Reid, but also for the whole band. The band is tight and of one voice instrumentally and vocally. The two a cappella numbers, “It’s Hard To Stumble (When You’re Down On Your Knees)” and “Lord Have Mercy (On My Soul)” stand with any performances in that vein. They ring with that old-time theology that spoke to so many generations over the years.

The message is optimistic and full of hope and faith, as the opening cut “God’s Front Porch” and “Carry Me” demonstrate. This is a singing bunch and everyone takes a turn at lead except Trevor Watson, who plays some sanctified banjo and adds spot-on vocal harmonies. Ron Stewart guests on fiddle and does much to punch up the band sound. Christy Reid’s bass playing is in the pocket and her vocals shine, including her heartfelt reading of the old standard “Sweet By And By”.

This is a well-recorded project. The performances are all first-rate. This recording will stand as a personal statement for Reid and the band and will find great favor with those who love solid bluegrass gospel. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 660040, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066.) RCB

Bluegrass Unlimited - High Country - Perfect CompanionHIGH COUNTRY
PERFECT COMPANIONS
Squirty Records
SR-013

For forty three years, Butch Waller has lead California-based High Country with blues-tinged mandolin picking and no-frills vocals, and Perfect Companions should appeal to fans of straight-up bluegrass grown directly from rich Monroe/Stanley/Flatt & Scruggs musical soil. Play it in mono on a lo-fi system and you might think it was recorded circa 1955.

The rest of the band—Larry Cohea (banjo), Jim Mintun (resonator guitar), Tom Bekeny (fiddle), Bob Waller (guitar), Glenn Dauphin (bass)—help Butch in confounding anyone asked to guess their geographic origin. The rhythm playing is solid, supporting soloing that is rhythmically sound with ideas that explore possibilities while never dipping a toe in newgrass waters. The repertoire mixes tried and true bluegrass and classic country with originals that are cut from the same cloth. The vocals, if not always tonally rich, tend toward the high-lonesome model, with pungent harmonies and duets performed with style and accuracy by Mintun, Dauphin, Butch, and Bob.

The two instrumentals encapsulate their approach. Butch Waller’s original “Butch’s Blues” finds the composer and the rest of the group paying tribute to Monroe, while the somewhat (and appropriately) fiddle-centric “Uncle Pen Medley” is even more explicitly Monroe-esque, combining three tunes from the classic instrumental Uncle Pen album, which (to put this band’s longevity in even greater perspective) was yet to be recorded at the time of High Country’s formation. (Butch Waller, P.O. Box 10414, Oakland, CA 94610.) DR

Bluegrass Unlimited - Thomas PorterTHOMAS PORTER
No Label
TVPIV0001

Released to showcase the songwriting skills of Thomas Porter, this eponymous solo album is comprised of eleven songs and two tunes written and arranged by Porter. Even if Thomas Porter is a glorified songwriter demo, it proves a thoroughly enjoyable recording project. Good songs, carefully arranged, and performed by some of the best in the business today generally works well, as it does on this release.

The CD features noted musicians including, but not limited to, Ron Block, Adam Steffey, Sierra Hull, Clay Hess, Cody Kilby, Charlie Cushman, Jens Koch, and Eric Uglum. Recorded at no less than nine different studios, the baker’s dozen tracks offer nine different ensembles with only Porter appearing on all thirteen. Austin Ward handles the bass and Christian Ward the fiddle on all ten cuts that feature a full band.

Porter had already achieved composing success in 2010 when Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver’s gospel album Light On My Feet, Ready To Fly included his young-fellow-called-to-preach song, “Teddy Bear Revival,” which also appears on Thomas Porter. Porter indeed demonstrates the ability to write new sacred material that sounds not just traditional, but based in an old-time religion just as much as the call-response form of the chorus, as in “Touch My Scar.” The song is performed as a trio with Uglum and Jeff Farias: Have faith…believe…reach out…and see/Put your hands here upon my wounded side/Oh and blessed be all those who have not seen/Oh Thomas reach out and touch my scar.

Although Porter often turns to lost love and the wild side of life, he connects Saturday to Sunday morning in the lyrics of songs such as the lead-off “Cold, Drunk, And Lonesome”: Preacher said on Sunday, you reap just what you sow/Well I don’t know just what I did, to make these thorns to grow/But I asked the Lord to give me peace, that somethin’ I can’t find/I’m cold, drunk, and lonesome, with you on my mind. Although he can deliver a fine contemporary bluegrass composition such as “Don’t Know What I Have Done,” Porter mostly uses his ability to write new songs that sound old, but lack any hint of camp. Most of the time on Thomas Porter, this works brilliantly, as in the above pieces or “Thousand Acre Farm,” which takes a couple through their entire life together in just 16 lines. Occasionally, however, Porter’s roots show through too clearly. For example, “I May Not Be Your First Love,” with absolutely killer Reno-style picking from Cushman, works powerfully as a song on an album, but from the songwriting perspective, a bit too much Don Reno shows through. Bands should check out Thomas Porter for the songs, but I’d guess that most readers would enjoy the album simply for enjoyable listening. (Thomas Porter, 5154 N. 13th Pl., Phoenix, AZ 85014, www.thomasporter.com.) AM

Bluegrass Unlimted - Volume Five - Down In A CellVOLUME FIVE
DOWN IN A CELL
Mountain Fever Records
MFR100817

Although Down In A Cell is the first album by a band that debuted three years ago, each member of Volume Five has held tenure with national touring bands prior to their collective start. Mississippian Glen Harrell, who had fiddled with Marty Raybon and Full Circle for five years, began pulling the group together late in 2007. Adam Duke (guitar) from Cullman, Ala., performed all over with David Davis & the Warrior River Boys, while Georgia bass player Chris Williamson spent two years with Randy Kohrs. Alabama school teacher and mandolinist Jesse Daniel played briefly with Kohrs and Anita Fisher. Patton Wages, who spent four years with Raybon and Full Circle replaced Casey Colwell (and Shane Blackwell) on banjo shortly after the recording of Down In A Cell.

Down In A Cell includes 11 tracks with four originals written by members of Volume Five (“Down In A Cell” by Adam Duke, “Busy City”, “These Lies”, and “Ride Ruby Ride” by Jesse Daniel) along with songs penned by popular writers such as Whitey Shafer (“Baptism Of Jesse Taylor”) and Dottie Rambo (“Sailing On”). The CD also features a great bluegrass re-make of “Home”, originally a hit for country music star Joe Diffie. Possibly the most interesting aspect of Down In A Cell is the lead vocals shared between Glen Harrell and Adam Duke, both soulful singers, but each with a distinctive style all their own.

Volume Five has all the tools and competencies of a modern professional bluegrass band in 2011. They have two good lead singers, some original songs and good taste in covers, and fine picking. What remains to be seen is whether Volume Five can be heard and stand out on their own in a bluegrass world evermore crowded with talented, contemporary bands. The answer will lie in whether the bandmembers can employ the skills they amply exhibit on Down In A Cell in creating a distinctive sound immediately recognizable as Volume Five. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd; Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.) AM

Bluegrass Unlimited - Rodney Dillard & The Dillard Band - I Wish My Life Was Like MayberryRODNEY DILLARD & THE DILLARD BAND
I WISH LIFE WAS LIKE MAYBERRY
Rural Rhythm
RUR-1068

After 28 years performing in Branson, Mo., Rodney Dillard has formed his new Dillard Band. Taking his musical adventures from his days as a member of TV’s Darling Family on the Andy Griffith Show and his membership in the groundbreaking Dillards bluegrass band, Rodney and the new band is reprising many of the songs from that era when things seemed a lot simpler—just like in Mayberry.

The project is a wonderful collection which includes “The Darlin’ Boys” and “There Goes The Neighborhood,” both songs commemorating those backwoods boys, and of course “There Is A Time” which was performed three times on the Griffith program. Dillard favorites include “Dooley,” “Doug’s Tune,” “Salty Dog Blues,” “Ebo Walker,” and “Banjo In The Hollow,” all from those great Dillard years which included brother Doug, Dean Webb, and Mitch Jayne.

Musicians and singers on the project include Steve Bush, George Giddens, Tim Crouch, David Creech, Boone Carlin, Beverly Cotton-Dillard, and Brian Dillard. Rodney’s current band is: Rodney, guitar; Beverly Cotten-Dillard, banjo; George Giddens, fiddle and mandolin; Shane Lail, bass; and Patrick McDougal, banjo. Also included on the CD are five excerpts from Rodney’s Mayberry Minute radio program with some interesting philosophical observations. (Rural Rhythm Records, P.O. Box 660049, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) BF

Bluegrass Unlimited - Jim & Valerie Gabeheart - It's My TurnJIM & VALERIE GABEHART
IT’S MY TURN
No Label
JVG-8952

It’s My Turn is the latest music production from the husband and wife team of Jim (banjo and vocals) and Valerie (guitar and vocals) Gabehart. Their West Virginia-based group also features daughter Amy (vocals), son Charles (vocals), Brandon Shuping (mandolin and vocals), and Joe Vance, Jr., (bass and vocals). For these particular recordings, the band traveled to the studio of Steve Thomas in Hendersonville, Tenn. Steve is also featured on multiple instruments and vocal parts along with guest pickers Jason Carter (fiddle) and resonator guitarist Rob Ickes.

The dozen selections include four Jim Gabehart compositions, “Daddy’s Little Man,” the title song, “What Kind Of Tomorrow,” and “Grandpa Was An Old Time Preacher Man.” Also featured are outstanding renditions of “How’s The World Treating You,” Jimmie Rodgers’ “Peach Pickin’ Time” in Georgia, “Heart Of The Wood,” and an interesting little ditty “I’m The Boss,” which comes from the pen of country music songwriter Harlan Howard. It’s My Turn is exciting contemporary bluegrass with a tinge of originality and certain to bring the talents of Jim and Valerie Gabehart to the attention of bluegrass listening audiences everywhere. (Jim Gabehart, 292 Trace Creek Rd., Hamlin, WV 25523, www.jimandvaleriegabehart.com.) LM

Bluegrass Unlimited - Chad Fadely - iMandoCHAD FADELY
IMANDO
No Label
No Number

This project showcases the talents of multi-instrumentalist Chad Fadely who plays not only mandolin, but also mandola, mandocello, guitar and bass. Fadely is accompanied on this project by Alex Hargreaves on fiddle, Bill Neaves on guitar, Ivan Rosenberg on resonator guitar, Rick Ryan on bass, Mary Sackmann on bass, and Steve Taft on banjo. The Montana-based Fadely has produced a delightful 12-song all-instrumental project of mostly original material such as “Orcas Isle,” “Cold Snowy Morning,” “Ode To Joy,” and the title cut “iMando.” The covers include “Liza Jane” and “Texas Gales.” These are all good musicians and the production is clear and well-balanced. The packaging is a simple sleeve, but provides a good format for this type of release. Look for more to come from Chad Fadely. (www.chadfadely.com) BF

Bluegrass Unlimited - Cats And The Fiddler - Come Back To MeCATS AND THE FIDDLER
COME BACK TO ME
No Label
No Number

Come Back To Me is the latest release from Michigan’s Cats And The Fiddler (BU, Aug. ’09). This talented trio of teenage musicians consists of brothers Shaun and James Richardson along with Carmen Gibes. All three musicians are adept on several instruments and display skills far beyond their youthful years. Most of the 13 selections are original compositions like “Give Me A Reason,” “Shovelin’ Coal,” “Old Noah,” and the instrumental “Breakaway.” Also featured are captivating arrangements of “Blue Trail Of Sorrow,” “Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses,” and the Claire Lynch gospel number “I Believe In Forever.” Come Back To Me showcases the talents of Cats And The Fiddler and confirms that they are poised to become prolific contributors to the world of bluegrass music in ensuing years. (Cats And The Fiddler, 1306 Evergreen, Milford, MI 48380, www.catsandthefiddler.com.) LM

Bluegrass Unlimited - River Boy - River Boy: Acoustic, Bluegrassy MusicRIVER BOY
RIVER BOY: ACOUSTIC, BLUEGRASSY MUSIC
River Boy Music
No Number

“River Boy is a band, an album, and a song,” according to its website. Although from South Carolina, River Boy frequently offers a relaxed style that reminds one of the best Yankee traditional ’grass of the 1970s. The headwaters of River Boy are Shayne Floyd, who had been singing and playing on guitar the original songs he composed for years when he hooked up with a pair of professionals in 2008. Walter Biffle (guitar, banjo, bass, and tenor singing) and Bob Sachs (mandolin and baritone harmonies) began working with Floyd on shaping ten of his songs and his slightly Celtoid tune “River Boy,” plus Ian Tyson’s “Summer Wages” (well-known in bluegrass from the New South’s rendition) into River Boy: Acoustic, Bluegrassy Music.

What the subtitle is trying to say is that River Boy consists of mostly straightforward bluegrass songs and a couple pieces, such as “Cameron Grove,” that could be called original music performed on bluegrass instruments. Even those would fit in the set lists of most contemporary bluegrass bands without raising a ruckus.

Floyd exhibits the ability to compose bluegrass songs in a variety of tempos and settings on a number of different themes. “Caroline” reminds one of some of the most popular bluegrass titles of the 1970s, while “Walkin’” would easily fit with many of today’s bluegrass acts. “Christ The Savior” could be covered by bands from any era of bluegrass history. “Harlan, KY” enjoys some of the sweetest picking on River Boy, but lyrically lacks authenticity. It doesn’t sound like a song someone from Harlan would write; there is not word one about coal. Otherwise, River Boy works as both an enjoyable listening experience and a nice set of generally cover-worthy songs. (River Boy Music, 708 Condon Dr., Charleston, SC 28412, www.riverboymusic.com.) AM

Bluegrass Unlimited - Bull Harman & Bull's Eye - Aiming To PleaseBULL HARMAN & BULL’S EYE
AIMING TO PLEASE
Bull’s Eye Records
BER-0426

Mixing selections from folk, rock, country, bluegrass, and a couple of originals, this new project from Bull Harman and Bull’s Eye will certainly be a must for fans and newcomers alike. The project shows the band’s maturity over the past ten years with continued growth in both instrumental presentation and vocal tightness. The husband and wife team of Bull (guitar) and Tammy Harman (bass) are joined here by regulars Hal Cottrell (mandolin) and Steve Cox (banjo), with guest Jimmy Campbell (resonator guitar). Familiar chestnuts like “Black Eyed Susie,” “Body & Soul,” “Take This Hammer,” and “Last Thing On My Mind” are sprinkled throughout. There is a grassy version of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and a nice version of The Dillards “There Is A Time.” Cottrell contributes two originals “FiddleFest” and “Lord Down Deep.” The CD closes with a wonderful solo guitar in a mild-tempoed version of “St. Anne’s Reel.” The band set out with the hope of aiming to please, and this project proves that they succeeded. (Bull’s Eye Records, P.O. Box 2024, Florissant, MO 63032, www.bulllharman.com.) BF