Bluegrass Unlimited - Ola Belle Reid - Rising Sun MelodiesOLA BELLE REED
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, MHH