Reviewing this entire CD was tough, because I kept hitting repeat on the title track. Like “Caney Fork River” from the quintet’s previous project, “Trains I Missed” is an irresistible slice of pop/bluegrass (that’s a good thing) featuring deep lyrics, Buddy Melton’s sensitive, southernflavored lead vocals, and a sweeping chorus with impeccable harmonies.
The instrumental lineup—Melton (fiddle), Darren Nicholson (mandolin), Marc Pruett (banjo), Caleb Smith (guitar) and Tim Surrett (bass, resonator guitar)—is formidable, handling ballads like “The Touch” and “Meanwhile” with equal ease as burners like “The Other Side,” “Callin’ Caroline,” and “East Virginia Blues.”
Nicholson and Smith also get more than one turn each on lead vocals, giving Balsam Range a triplethreat lead attack not unlike Blue Highway, with Smith’s honkytonk “Heart That Won’t Stop Loving You” of deserving special mention. Even Surrett, formerly of The Isaacs, gets in on the lead vocal act with the gospel of “Gonna Be Movin’.” In keeping with bluegrass tradition, the group has included an excellent bootleg whiskey song (“Hard Price To Pay”) along with a sunnysounding killin’ song (“On The Run”).
Though they’ve been around a short time, this CD ought to prove to anyone listening that Balsam Range belongs on bluegrass music’s Alist, and they’re likely to be there for a while. (Mountain Home Records, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.crossroadsmusic.com.) AKH
The more some things change, the more they stay the same. Sammy Shelor has kept this band going for sometime now, and while personnel changes mark the years, like other great bands, LRB keeps playing great bluegrass. Shelor’s banjo is all tone and timing and one of the constants that defines the band’s sound. Another constant has been a varied and interesting repertory. Older gems that could have fallen through the cracks pop up like “Don’t Cry Blue” and Merle Haggard’s, “Red Bandana.” Both receive strong interpretations. Brandon Rickman turns in a great performance on the title cut, a powerful original. He has three originals on this project and they are all very good. “As Wild As I Get” is a minor masterpiece in its honesty. Rickman is an amazing songwriter.
Fiddler Mike Hartgrove has been playing great bluegrass fiddle for decades. His presence here makes the band sound great without ever compromising his tasteful style. His breaks and fills push a tune along skillfully and subtly. His work is outstanding throughout but the fun tune, “Jack Up The Jail” shows him at home racing along at breakneck speed. Shelor and Hartgrove work well together. Their take on the old-time fiddle tune, “Pretty Little Girl,” stays true to the tune while making a darned good bluegrass instrumental.
Shelor uses his banjo to find ways to express the melody and fills and are as understated as they are bold. Working within a traditional framework, he finds new ways to bring the melody to the fore. Andy Ball’s mandolin is clean and rapid and on the mark at all times. Rickman’s guitar is in the pocket with Mike Anglin’s bass, underpinning the leads and providing a strong band sound.
If you like contemporary bluegrass rooted in the tradition, this is a don’t miss release. The fine playing, the superior vocals highlight the above average material. This band charges ahead like a well-tuned internal combustion engine on the straightaway. This is one of those recordings that gets better each time you listen to it. (Rural Rhythm Records, Box 660040, Dept D, Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.)RCB
Today, it is refreshing to hear a band doing what they do without the help of session musicians. This band has an unmistakable sound. It is country-rock attitude played as bluegrass. As the industry emasculates the music of the real people, it is great to hear a band that knows who they are and how to get it done. The mix on the project is dark, thick and gothic. It works with their material.
It is not just the strong lead vocals of Chris Stapleton, it is the powerful combination of Tammy Rogers’ fiddling matched with Richard Bailey’s subtle but driving banjo that does much to turbo charge this project. Mike Henderson’s mandolin and slide resonator guitar playing puts the mud in the fissures created by the band’s ability to amalgamate the blues and bluegrass into a personal statement. The tight band arrangements set up some of the best new material out there. Rogers’ fiddling is down and dirty, gritty and sharp in turns. Her harmonies punctuate the choruses with searing soul. Mike Fleming is a masterful bassist. He and Rogers supply some wonderful harmonies that don’t always follow the bluegrass mold. The interplay of the instruments demonstrates that this is first and foremost a band, and not a showcase for one member over another.
While “Good Corn Liquor” seems to be getting airplay, the complex ballad “Where Rainbows Never Die” demonstrates another dimension of this complicated band. They are not content to skim the surface. They get to the core of feeling, the message, and the song. “Ghosts Of Mississippi” quotes the late Delta blues legend Son House, “the blues came walking like a man,” all the while capturing the sound and feel of another long-gone blues stylist and songwriter, J.B. Lenoir.
Mr. Monroe caught something of the blues in his music—actually, a great deal. But the world has changed to a large extent since then, and both bluegrass and the blues have changed along with it. The SteelDrivers tap into the symbiosis of these forms, melding them into an uptodate synthesis.
If you like blues-infused bluegrass, this is an essential recording. The bad news is Chris Stapleton, whose vocals take this band to a higher level, has sadly has left the group. He cowrote a lot of the material on this project with Mike Henderson. The good news is we have this fine recording that represents a time and place in history when some stars aligned to present us with a most powerful musical statement of our time. One more bit of good news is there are four sound files on their website featuring their new lead singer, Gary Nichols, so all is not lost. (Concord Music Group Inc., 100 N. Crescent DR., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, www.rounder.com.) RCB
IF TROUBLE DON’T KILL ME: A FAMILY’S STORY OF BROTHERHOOD, WAR, AND BLUEGRASS
BY RALPH BERRIER, JR.
Random House 9780307463067. Softcover, 284 pages, b&w photos, $25.
(Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019, www.randomhouse.com.)
Twin brothers Clayton and Saford Hall from Ararat, Va., played with Roy Hall (no relation) and His Blue Ridge Entertainers from 1939 until 1941 when World War II “ended all the band’s dreams.” Clayton played guitar and banjo and Saford played fiddle, but it was their singing and their “twinness” that landed them the job.
Brought up poorer than church mice, the brothers lapped up music “like it was plates of hog jowls and pintos.” According to one family anecdote, the boys walked barefoot to a fiddlers’ convention (partly in the rain which caused the blue dye in their new clothes to run down their arms and legs) and won first place after singing “T For Texas.”
Author and fiddler Ralph Berrier, Jr., grandson of Clayton, fills the book with tales such as this, sharing the lives of his family in a downhome easytoread style. He doesn’t shy away from the grittier details either, such as Saford’s propensity for picking fights (which Clayton helped finish) or the fact that their mother was not married to their father—whoever he was. Both brothers saw combat in World War II and the stories of their service are some of the most riveting parts of the book. Back home, they got a second chance at a music career when they joined Tommy Magness and the Orange Blossom Boys, but the golden opportunity imploded when the whole band quit, fed up with Tommy’s drinking.
Like many musicians, Clayton and Saford went on to hold day jobs, play music on the side, and live to ripe old ages. If this sounds mundane, the story of their relationship makes it anything but. If Trouble Don’t Kill Me was obviously a labor of love for Berrier and, as he says, “a tribute to two great, flawed men.” It also provides an upcloseandpersonal look at the early days of the music that became bluegrass. A welcome and entertaining read. MHH
James Alan Shelton’s website identifies him as a “bluegrass guitarist.” But that’s way too modest. He’s an engaging vocalist and multiinstrumentalist with great talents in selecting and interpreting material. And as this CD proves, he’s quite good as a recording artist/producer.
Born in Tennessee, Shelton was raised in Virginia near the region that produced A.P. Carter. He later mastered the crosspicking guitar style of George Shuffler that became a pillar of the Stanley Brothers sound. Appropriately enough, Shelton was hired by Ralph Stanley in 1994 and remains a stalwart of the Clinch Mountain Boys.
Not surprisingly, Shelton shines here on such bluegrass and early country classics as “Cherokee Shuffle,” “Rose Conley” and “Home Sweet Home.” (Just when you think that particular musical edifice would could never get a bright new coat of paint, sure enough, Shelton applies it). But he’s also included very fine arrangements of songs that emerged from or were popular during the folk music revival of the 1950s and ’60s. “Catch The Wind” by Donovan, “Pastures Of Plenty” by Woody Guthrie and the title track “Where I’m Bound” by Tom Paxton are all beautifully realized by Shelton and his collaborators.
A genial singer, Shelton also shines as an instrumentalist. Simply put, it’s just a pleasure to listen to him. At a time when many flatpicking guitarists blitz their audiences with flashy fireworksstyle solos, it’s so refreshing to hear Shelton thoughtfully roll out a touching, nuanced, melodyilluminated version of The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow The Sun.”
The overall production deserves special comment. With a few exceptions, Shelton recorded these tracks on home studio equipment (the liner notes contain useful information about the process). And although he gets able support from several friends (notably fiddler Dewey Brown, mandolinist Audrey Ratliff, and vocalist Savannah Vaughn), Shelton is a fine oneman studio band, overdubbing lead and rhythm guitars, bass, banjo (he’s very accomplished on the fivestring), and even occasional light percussion.
James Alan Shelton is bound for greater success. Presentation skills and talent this enjoyable will just keep him traveling. (Sheltone Records, 129 Will Simpson Rd., Church Hill, TN 37642, www.jamesalanshelton.com.) RDS
Summertown Road came together with the melding of parts of two traditional bands, and their sound is a tribute and extension, in many ways, of the groups’ collective history. Two years after forming they have released their first Rounder record with their selftitled debut. Now, as often happens during the summer band shuffle, only two members of the recording band are still with the group. While guitarist and vocalist Bo Isaacs and bassist Randy Thomas continue on as Summertown Road, they are joined on this recording by Jonathan Rigsby on vocals, mandolin, and fiddle, Jack Hicks on banjo, and produced by Don Rigsby.
Nine of the album’s 14 songs were written or cowritten by band members. The five remaining songs fit seamlessly in to the traditional style of the group and come from writers Tom T. and Dixie Hall, Tony Arata, Karen Kouns, and Brantley C. George. Particular standouts are the bands current single, the swinging kissoff “If I Win,” where no matter the outcome, the protagonist is “better off without you.” A great story song of heroism and responsibility is “Two Medals,” while “Right Back To The Start” is the story of a man catching his train out of town. “Fiddlin’ John,” written about the band’s own Jonathan Rigsby, allows Rigsby to really showcase his excellent playing. Keeping pace on this song, as well as throughout the album, is Hicks’ driving banjo playing. Both men’s playing harkens back to the driving pairups of the early days of bluegrass. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.) CEB
Maro Kawabata is a superb guitarist, and he chooses others with superb voices—Don Rigsby, Andy Ball, Patty Mitchell, Richard Bennett—to sing on his solo album. Sunset Drive is a collection of modern, straightahead bluegrass delivered with feeling while maintaining a somewhat understated profile. His fellow pickers seemed more relaxed than reignedin, but those seeking highvoltage might be underwhelmed. I’m not. This is satisfying, beautiful stuff.
Keith Little’s “The Gift,” nicely sung by Mitchell, is a good example of Kawabata’s music that is emotionallycharged while never breaking a sweat or pushing into desperation. Even the instrumentals (five out of a total of twelve tracks), often the part of an album where players let it fly, sustain this mood, sharing more with the classic tradition of “Wildwood Flower” than “Wheel Hoss.” Each is a gem, and his players know how to get the most out of a tune without stepping over the line Kawabata draws. Relative to much of their work elsewhere, Wyatt Rice, Rickie Simpkins, Sammy Shelor, Adam Steffey, and Ronnie Rice pull back, but don’t pull away, and they have helped Kawabata create a successful disc that only sounds better with repeated hearings. (FGM Records, P.O. Box 2160, Pulaski, VA 24301, www.fgmrecords.com.) DR
Though I haven’t heard their recording of three years ago, in all probability the Swanson Family has made important improvements to their music. The three sons, who are now at the center of the group’s sound, Eric on vocals, mandolin and guitar, Tyler on vocals and banjo, and Travis on vocals and fiddle, now aged 21, 17 and 15, have added three years experience since and that makes a world of difference at that age. The band has also added Megan Bradley on lead and harmony vocals, and she turns in several fine performances, most notably on “Blue Night,” which is given a slowed down rock beat over light percussion; it’s one of the album highlights. She also gives a breezy reading to Niall Toner’s gospel tune, “Walk On The Water.”
Of the group, Travis is the best singer. His voice has a good traditional feel and an engaging touch of unbridled enthusiasm. Of his five leads, the ones that stand out are his cover of Blake Williams’ “Pleasant Hill”—a song that sounds like a hybrid of “Cherokee Shuffle” and “Pig In A Pen” with new words—and his two originals, “Still Wondering,” and the gospel tune “Ashamed.” “Still Wondering” is a fine piece of writing. Good melody. Good hooks. Gentle flowing country beat. Travis brings to it a wistful, longing quality that makes this the recording’s best cut.
For their part, Eric and Tyler give the best instrumental performances. Eric’s mandolin work in particular displays a high degree of technique and a good rounded tone to go along with some good musical ideas. Together they wrote the instrumental “Rica Shea,” a tune that mixes the feel of a fiddle dance number with contemporary styles. It reminded me of the kind of driving, melodic, fiddle tune influenced tunes that appeared on Alan Bibey’s “In A Blue Room.” This is a recording with much good music and lots of promise. (The Swanson Family 5335 W. Bonanza Dr., Beverly Hills, FL 34465, www.swansonfamilybluegrass.com.) BW
Jett’s Creek is a group from the Ohio area, formed around the talents of Jon and Adam McIntosh and Angie Young. This 12song project consists of selections of original material, plus covers of such writers as Jerry Salley, Larry Gatlin, Pete Goble, ‘Brink’ Brinkman, and Miranda Lambert. These songs include Salley’s “Baby You Ain’t Baby,” Gatlin’s “Denver,” Goble/Drumm’s “Georgia Girl” and Brinkman’s “This Old Hammer.” Original material includes Young’s “Please” and “One Small Problem” and Adam McIntosh’s “He Loves Me.” I liked this group and found this project to be an enjoyable listen as their vocals, harmonies and instrumental prowess are pleasantly presented throughout. What I found lacking was in the accompanying booklet. Although there were lots of ‘thank you’ from each member of the group, there was no information about the group themselves, who they are and where they are based. Nor did the booklet provide any information on how to contact the group. This kind of information is essential for marketing and promotion. Overall this is a good project and deserves a good listen. BF
A country singer who left the road to be with family in 2000, Mellons promises on this album “bluegrass and acoustic country music with a fresh contemporary flavor.” Not unlike a recent album by fellow country music refuge Joe Diffie, he delivers just that with the aid of his booming honkytonk voice and a stellar squad of session players and guest harmonizers.
That list includes Darrin Vincent (bass, vocals), Cody Kilby (guitar), Adam Steffey (mandolin), Joe Caverlee (fiddle), Ron Stewart (banjo) and Rob Ickes (resonator guitar), along with singers Vince Gill, Larry Cordle, Dale Ann Bradley, Steve Gulley and Sonya Isaacs.
The diversity of material and Mellons’ ability to get it across with passion is impressive, including the country weepers “Blue Wind,” “I’m Just A House” and “A Cold One Can’t Cure”; bluegrass rompers “Memory Remover,” “Tennessee Ridge Runner,” and “Take It Like A Man”; and classics like Larry Sparks’ “Don’t Neglect The Rose” and Jimmy Martin’s “Tennessee.”
“Still They Call Me Love” and “Still Brand New” definitely fall into the “acoustic country” side of the ledger, departing from the bluegrass edge and lyrical simplicity of the rest of the record, but the combination of Mellons’ voice with Isaacs’ make them work. The bluesy “King Of Kings” wraps things up with gospel style, rounding out a wellrounded effort from a singer whose bluegrass chops are sharp. (Jukebox Junkie Ent., 313 Jacksonian Dr., Hermitage, TN 37076, www.kenmellons.net.) AKH
ON THE EDGE
Scheckenburger is a Vermont fiddler steeped in the Yankee fiddle tradition. This is a collection of northern fiddle tunes drawn from that rich well and often heard at contra dances throughout the land. Matter of fact, the cues for each dance are written below each tune title so it’s possible for a budding fiddler to study how each tune links to the different dance moves. The CD liner notes also provide more information on the sources for the dance cues (or calls). As often is the case with dances, there are sets or medleys of tunes to match the specific dance. The motion of the tunes is matched to the motion of the dance, and this project is full of motion.
The accompanying musicians are all well versed in the genre and include Jeremiah McLane on piano accordion, Bethany Waickman on guitar, and Corey DiMarco on bass. The arrangements are very contemporary with a smooth professional quality to the final mix.
The tunes range from contemporary (Bob McQuillen’s “Eugenia’s Waltz”) to tunes as old as the hills (“Lamplighter’s Hornpipe,” “Money Musk,” “Huntsman’s Chorus,” and “Fisher’s Hornpipe”). Sheckenburger’s command of the fiddle and attention to melodic detail make for a most rewarding listen. Along with her assembled musicians, we are treated to a stirring set of tunes, arranged and performed with a depth of talent that nutures repeated listening. The subtle use of percussion and brass add to the vigor and texture of the recording. This is an exquisite program from a promising young fiddler. (Footprint Records, 311 S. Main St., Brattleboro, VT 05301, www.lissafiddle.com.) RCB
Rockin’ Acoustic Circus is an intriguing new sixpiece band from Oklahoma. Lonestar Lullabye gives the impression they’re less a bluegrass band that plays Americana than an acoustic Americana band that also plays bluegrass. Instrumentation is fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, bass, and cello, with two strong lead vocalists.
Both Eric Dysart (fiddle) and Emma Hardin (cello) have distinctive singing voices, with quirky phrasing that fits their sometimes quirky songs (the lion’s share of which are written by Ronnie Wiggins). It’s surprisingly effective when Dysart launches into the straightahead bluegrass number, “Money In The Bank,” with the whole band holding its own quite well. Their instrumental tracks, “Bethany,” “Wolf Tone,” and a “Cello Medley” (all fiddletune standards), show an adventurous spirit and eclectic tastes. The playing is excellent, although occasionally the fiddle skids a bit on sharp corners. The group pays attention to creating interesting arrangements, bringing in elements of reggae and swing in order to keep things interesting and unpredictable.
The CD jacket lists nine tracks, but there are four unlabeled bonus tracks, which include a laid-back cover of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and a rendition of David Grisman’s “Opus 38.”
Wide ranging stylistic influences, original material with imaginative approaches, and unique instrumentation all combine to make this a very interesting and unpredictable music experience. In a time where copycat bands abound, Rockin’ Acoustic Circus delivers a fresh approach to new acoustic music. (Rockin’ Acoustic Circus, 13031 S. 143rd E. Ave., Broken Arrow, OK 74011, www.rockinacousticcircus.com.) HK
Though it’s a folkrock/Americana album, Ronnie King’s Free Of Guilt is of note to bluegrass fans because of the artist’s career with the band New River Line and the presence on this album of the incomparable Dale Ann Bradley, whose excellent backup singing on ten of 12 tracks is worth the price of admission alone.
There’s also good instrumental work from King (mandolin, guitar), Matt DeSpain (resonator guitar) and Daniel Carwile (fiddle), but once you’re in the door, it’s King’s songwriting that keeps you in your seat. The wistful “I’d Like To See You” is Dylanesque, while “Pretty Little Gypsy” channels a bit of Robert Earl Keen, whose voice and delivery King’s somewhat resembles.
But King definitely has a voice of his own, which comes through loud and clear on standouts like “Do You Think He’d Like My Style,” a roundabout tribute to Jesse James, the pensive “My Last Days On Earth,” and the philosophical “Shrug It Off.” There’s plenty here to enjoy for its own sake, and perhaps some material for an adventurous bluegrass band to take a shot at. (Kindred Records, 65 Scott Hill Rd., Irvine, KY 40336, www.kindredrecords.com.) AKH
3 Penny Acre is a young trio from the Midwest who’ve assembled an understated collection of ten original songs. While there is a smattering of appearances by banjo and fiddle on a few of the tracks, the overall approach is simply the three voices of Bryan and Bernice Hembree and Bayard Blain supported by mandolin, guitar and bass.
It’s a folksy sound and the themes of their songs stay true to that. The CD features predominantly story songs of rural life and smalltown characters, told simply and without flourishes. The harmonies are sweet and strong, and each lead singer in turn does a fine job, with Bernice Hembree’s voice perhaps being better featured on the gentler songs such as “Highway 71” and “Ballad Of John Lambeth” than on a piece on which she wails with abandon like “I Ain’t Blind.”
Highway 71 is definitely more of a songwriter’s and singer’s album, which may limit its appeal to those who prefer an inyourface driving bluegrass sound. Many of the songs don’t lodge themselves in my mind’s ear, which in many ways might be the ultimate litmus test for a project like this. All in all this band might be best suited for a folk/Americana audience than a bluegrass one, until such time as the songs themselves speak with a more memorable voice. (Jared Ingersol, 21 Vineyards Ct., St. Charles, MO 63304, www.3pennyacre.com.) HK
BLUEGRASS AND BEYOND
Bluegrass legend Jesse McReynolds explores the soul of a legend from another musical genre on his latest CD. In tribute to Jerry Garcia, the mandolin maestro makes songs from the Grateful Dead like “Standing On The Moon,” “Loser,” “Fire On The Mountain” his own on this 13cut disc. A musical idol of Jim & Jesse, Garcia likely would be smiling if he heard how the surviving brother had paid homage to the rock band’s musical legacy with unique interpretations of Garcia’s work. McReynolds picked out 12 songs that Robert Hunter composed and Garcia arranged, adding his own licks and styling and rich vocal delivery. Jesse also teamed up with Hunter to pen the new tune, “Day By Day.” Special guests David Nelson (New Riders Of The Purple Sage) and Stu Allen (JGB Band) complement with their guitar work while Jesse’s grandchildren—Garrett and Amanda McReynolds—harmonize, Tommy White picks steel guitar, the Grand Ole Opry’s Buck White jams on piano and Sandy Rothman sits in on the traditional “Deep Elem Blues.” Bluegrass meets rock in a tour de force that fans from both sides will appreciate. (Woodstock Records, P.O. Box 158, Woodstock, NY 12498, www.woodstockrecords.com.) BC
ALL ABOUT RHYTHM MANDOLIN
ALL ABOUT LEAD MANDOLIN
One DVD each, one hour and forty minutes each, $29.95 each. (Homespun Tapes, P.O. Box 340, Woodstock, NY 12498, www.homespun.com.)
These instructional videos represent, by my count, the fourth and fifth releases by mandolin giant Sam Bush for Homespun, and both are good. Much of the information (chops, right-hand technique, speed building, pulloffs, etc.) has been covered on his other Homespun videos, but whereas those were larger overviews of mandolin playing as a whole, and these are more specific to certain subjects, it gives the buyer options. Moreover, some of the duplication results from an attempt to respond to questions sent to the Mandolin Café website.
What is new with each is the songs used as teaching examples. Bush’s Circle Around Me was his newest CD at the time, and so on All About Lead Mandolin, there are three tracks from that recording: a G minor Monroelike waltz called “Old North Woods”; a fast, seminewgrass tune in A called “Blue Mountain”; and the classic “Midnight On The Stormy Deep.” Bush also demonstrates “Fisher’s Hornpipe” and his original “Cloverleaf Rag.” All About Rhythm Mandolin uses three songs to illustrate its techniques: “You Left Me Alone”; “Girl From The North Country”; and “Sailin’ Shoes.”
Both videos start with some basic concepts, but quickly move up the ladder of difficulty. Even though some of those concepts are really basic, particularly on the rhythm DVD, it’s probably best if you have a bit of playing under your belt. Once you get into the songs, beyond “Fisher’s Horpipe” for example, you’ll need to have some intermediate-level skills to get the most out of these good videos. BW
BLUEGRASS JAMMING ESSENTIALS
BILL EVANS & MEGAN LYNCH FEATURING ADAM STEFFEY, DAVID THOMAS & TIM STAFFORD
AcuTab Video, P.O. Box 21061, Roanoke, VA 24018, www.acutab.com. Eight p. booklet, one DVD, 2 hrs. 30 min., $35.
What I like most about this DVD is what it’s not: a list of “rules” of jamming. Instead, Bill, Megan and the band present topics that cover the fundamentals of playing well with others: getting and staying in tune, listening, tempo, keys, repertoire, the role of each instrument, backup and fills, soloing, harmony singing, the number system, drive, song structure, communication and having fun. The last is important, otherwise what’s the point?
The band is made of some of the finest players in bluegrass: Megan Lynch on fiddle, Bill Evans on banjo, Tim Stafford on guitar, Adam Steffey, on mandolin and David Thomas on bass. Though the presentation starts a little stiff, they quickly relax and have fun while teaching some important fundamentals of bluegrass jamming. And at 2.5 hours, there’s a lot of information here as well as great playing and singing—well worth the price.
The teaching is geared toward those new to jamming, but even experienced players will benefit from hearing these pros discuss their playing. Bill and Megan have taught at many workshops and camps and their organization, experience and delivery really show. No one plays down to the viewer, but presents his or her best playing in a real jam situation. Each instrument is given equal time and the song choices are from the standard repertoire: “Nine Pound Hammer,” “Your Love Is Like A Flower,” “Sitting On Top Of The World,” “Gold Rush,” “Clinch Mt. Backstep,” “Soldier’s Joy,” “Don’t Lie To Me,” “Rambling Heart,” “My Rose Of Old Kentucky,” “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” “Rebecca,” and “Knoxville Girl.” Included is a nice booklet with the chord structure of each song.
Highly recommended for those new to jamming, but thoughtful and well presented material for the more advanced player as well. CVS
BLIND BUT NOW I SEE: THE BIOGRAPHY OF MUSIC LEGEND DOC WATSON
BY KENT GUSTAVSON
Blooming Twigs Books 9781933918433. 333 pp., $14.95.
(Blooming Twigs Books, P.O. Box 4668 #66675, New York, NY 10163, www.docwatsonbook.com.)
Hard to believe it’s been fifty years since Ralph Rinzler first introduced guitarist Doc Watson to the larger world. It’s a fitting anniversary, then, for the first booklength biography on Doc to appear. It was long overdue, and while a more complete work might still be waiting to be written, this is a valuable, anecdotal work that anyone interested in Doc’s music and life will enjoy reading.
Kent Gustavson, a musician, author and adjunct professor at Stony Brook University in New York, has written a loving and well researched account of Doc’s life and music with quotes and stories from people such as Jerry Douglas, Marty Stuart, Norman Blake, Tony Rice, Peter Rowan, Tony Trischka, Sam Bush, Tom Paxton, Alice Gerrard and many more.
Though this is an unauthorized biography, the best quotes are those from Doc himself, especially as it relates to his son Merle Watson’s life and Doc’s deep religious faith. Some great photographs and scanned original documents are included, although the simplistic drawings don’t add much to the text.
The author does a good job of placing the events of Doc’s life in the context of the times, especially his relationship with Ralph Rinzler in the 1960s. Well worth buying and an informative, enjoyable read. CVS