Review: Albemarle Ramblers - Gentleman From Virginia

Albemarle Ramblers - Gentlemen From Virginia

Albemarle Ramblers - Gentlemen From Virginia

ALBEMARLE RAMBLERS
GENTLEMAN FROM VIRGINIA
Merriweather Records
No Number

Pete Vigour on fiddle and Dick Harrington on guitar are both from Virginia. Pete is known for the band Uncle Henry’s Favorites, among others. Dick recorded recently in Troublesome Creek. Arnie Naiman on banjo hails from Ontario where he plays in the band Ragged But Right.

They open with a medley of the West Virginia fiddle tune “Yew Piney Mountain” and Kentucky banjo player John Hammond’s song “My Mama Always Talked To Me” with Dick singing lead. Arnie leads on Uncle Dave Macon’s “From Earth To Heaven,” which features two banjos, Arnie on clawhammer, and Pete on twofinger-style. Two more are from Uncle Dave—“Way Down On The Old Plank Road” and “On The Dixie Bee Line.” Pete sings lead on “BlackEyed Susie.” The title cut is a fiddle tune from Tommy Hunter. There are two other cuts with no singing, a medley of an uncommon “Lady Of The Lake,” “Haning’s Farewell,” and “Falls Of Richmond,” and Arnie’s original “Walking The Dog.” “Wild Hog In The Woods” and “Lonesome Homesick Blues” are familiar songs done nicely here. “Glendy Burke” is a Stephen Foster song. “Home In That Rock” is an AfricanAmerican hymn. “Reuben’s Train” was learned from fellow Virginian and ace fiddler, Mark Campbell.

The Albemarle Ramblers is a tight oldtime stringband with strong arrangements, impeccable playing and singing, and an interesting collection of songs and tunes. Their CD is enjoyable listening and comes highly-recommended. (Pete Vigour, 3131 Sugar Hill Ln., Crozet, VA 22932, www.albemarleramblers.com.) SAG

Review: Benton Flippen & The Smokey Valley Boys - 270 Haystack Road

Benton Flippen & The Smokey Valley Boys - 270 Haystack Rd

Benton Flippen & The Smokey Valley Boys - 270 Haystack Rd

BENTON FLIPPEN & THE SMOKEY VALLEY BOYS
270 HAYSTACK RD
Music Maker Foundation
MMCD111

Benton Flippen is an institution in Surry County, N.C., and in the greater world of old-time music. He is a member in good standing of the true vine. Having fiddled for more than six decades and lived for nine, he was once a youngster in the membership of legendary Surry County fiddlers. Now he is the grand patriarch and, as such, is revered. There is little new here, but that is indeed the point.

The band is typical of a 1960s Surry County old-time band with two guitars, mandolin, banjo (either clawhammer or three-finger-style), all supporting the fiddle lead.That is the definition of an old-time band in those parts. Mr. Flippen still yields his surgical skills with the bow. His intonation is better than most and he’s able to drive a tune better than fiddlers half his age. The program includes twenty tested and true tunes. “Cacklin’ Hen,” “Logan County Blues,” “Cider” (a sweet fiddle/banjo duet), and “Sugar Hill” are all standards to the region. Flippen’s sure handedness on “Sunny Home In Dixie,” a real fiddle workout, sounds better than any version out there today.

The two guitars lay down a solid base for the band. The banjo shadows the fiddle, sliding with it and clucking the melodic highlights. Kevin Fore and Andy Edmonds share banjo duties. The mandolin, played by Wesley Clifton, grandson of the esteemed Vernon Clifton of the Camp Creek Boys, is strummed in a chunky rhythmic pattern unlike anything in bluegrass, just as his grandfather had done.

Andy Edmonds (on banjo) and Flippen flat out burn an old-time version of “Flop Eared Mule” with three-finger banjo and fiddle, backed by the band. If you are interested in old-time fiddling, old-time band sounds, or just great mountain music, don’t miss this release. It is amazing how good Benton Flippen is at nearly 90. (Music Maker Relief Foundation, 224 W Corbin St., Hillsborough, NC 27278, www.musicmakerstore.org.) RCB

Review: Brand New Strings - No Strings Attached

Brand New Strings - No Strings Attached

Brand New Strings - No Strings Attached

BRAND NEW STRINGS
NO STRINGS ATTACHED
Rural Rhythm
RHY 1057

Brand New Strings is just that, a brand new group based in Tennessee. Guitarist/lead vocalist Randall Massengill, bassist Tim Tipton, and resonator guitarist Matt Leadbetter are former members of Blue Moon Rising. Mandolinist/lead vocalist Mike Ramsey and banjoist Stuart Wyrick came over from New Road.

As New Road was a gospel band and Blue Moon Rising had strong ties to that genre, gospel songs are prominent. Of thirteen songs, no less than six fall in that category. “High On A Hilltop” is the closest thing to a standard here and is arguably the best gospel song on the album. Giving it a close run is Ramsey’s “Caught Up,” a rollicking tune set in motion by his propulsive mandolin.

Among the secular tracks, a few deserve special mention. “Merry Go Round,” from songwriter Alan Johnston, has a decidedly McCouryesque feel, notably from Ramsey’s vocal delivery. “Rainy Nights And Memories” sounds like pure, shuffling George Jones, soaring lines and the clipped word “night” and all. Ramsey’s “First Date” rounds out the album with a melodic look at a man bent on marriage after one date. What’s striking with this song and with “Merry Go Round” and “Caught Up,” as well, is how instantly familiar the material sounds. It would not be surprising to see several of them on the charts.

Nor would it be surprising to see this album chart as a whole. Great songwriting, excellent song selection, and arrangement. Classic traditional lead vocals from Ramsey and Massengill. All that equals an impressive debut. (Rural Rhythm Records, P.O. Box 660040 Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) BW

Review: Buddy Pendleton & Friends - Gems From A Master Fiddler

Buddy Pendleton & Friends - Gems From A Master Fiddler

Buddy Pendleton & Friends - Gems From A Master Fiddler

BUDDY PENDLETON & FRIENDS
GEMS FROM A MASTER FIDDLER
Summer Sky Prod.
No Label, No Number

This is a regional all-star project honoring Patrick County, Va., fiddler Buddy Pendleton. Buddy can be seen at local fiddle contests walking around carrying his fiddle case, wearing a cowboy hat that makes him look a bit taller than he really is, and looking for a welcoming jam. Once that fiddle comes out of the case, you’re in for a treat. Here the music is much like a jam. Fifteen cuts featuring fiddle tunes, old bluegrass gems, and some old-time songs, sparkle with decisive picking and singing and, of course, fine fiddling. With the likes of Sammy Shelor, the impeccable Hershel Sizemore, Johnny and Jeanette Williams to name a few, gathering around the mics and spicing up the proceedings we get a joyous collection with many musical highlights.

Pendleton is a veteran of many bands including Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, the Greenbriar Boys, and bands that featured many of the artists here. His fiddling is known for its quicksilver fluidity. There is no letdown here. He glides through each break, often putting in more notes than one can imagine as on “Tennessee Waltz.” He tackles traditional tunes with ease and glides through Vassar Clements’ “Lonesome Fiddle Blues.” His fills on the vocal cuts are spot on and his sweet take on old favorites such as “The Old Spinning Wheel In The Parlor” are textbook examples of notable fiddling.

The cast of singers and fellow pickers is large. Hershel Sizemore’s mandolin is a wonderful plus, as are the Williams’ fine vocals on lead and harmony throughout. There are too many musicians to name here, but their roles all add up to a great tribute to a great fiddler. It’s great to hear this collection of fine music and have the privilege to hear the great fiddling of this master fiddler in such a warm context. (Summer Sky Prod., 1017 Falls Ave., Madison, TN 37115, www.summerskyproductions.com.) RCB

Review: The Chapmans - Grown Up (A Revisionist History)

The Chapmans - Grown Up (A Revisionist History)

The Chapmans - Grown Up (A Revisionist History)

THE CHAPMANS
GROWN UP (A REVISIONIST HISTORY)
Compass Records
7 4532 2

Here’s a nifty twist for a retrospective album. Rather than compile a greatest hits from their twenty years as a group, the Chapmans gathered in their studio in Missouri, chose favorites from their early recordings, and rerecorded them with new arrangements and new guests. Now, I’d like to be able to compare them song by song, but the truth is that I only have one recording of one of the songs included here, “El Cumbanchero.” Then I got to thinking about it and realized that if you already follow the Chapmans, you’ll probably buy this to see how they changed the songs, and if you don’t know the band, you’ll consider it based on reviews of the quality of the music at hand.

All but two of the thirteen songs were originally recorded between 1993 and 1997. The other two, “River Of Sorrow” and “I Wanna Be Loved Like That,” are new. “River Of Sorrow” is a traditional waltztime tune about floating on a river of tears after a lover’s departure. “I Wanna Be Loved Like That” demands that if it isn’t like it is in the movies, better to keep looking. Both are slow, lyrical, and of excellent quality.

In fact, “excellent quality” is a phrase you can apply to much of this recording. Of excellent quality in the way the arrangements and production present thick rich sound that fills speakers and room. Harmonies of excellent quality that only family groups can truly achieve. There are instrumental performances of excellent quality, and you’ll find tracks of excellent quality from almost start to finish, be it the medium country bounce of “Why Did You Lie,” Buck Owen’s hopeful “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” the rolling “Rolling Away On A Big Sternwheeler,” the mandolinguitar weeper “Mommy Please Stay Home With Me,” or Sam Cooke’s doowop “Bring It On Home To Me.”

So there it is, a fresh retrospective of excellent quality. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.) BW

Review: Dailey & Vincent - Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Presents: Dailey & Vincent Sing The Statler Brothers

Dailey & Vincent - Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Presents: Dailey & Vincent Sing The Statler Brothers

Dailey & Vincent - Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Presents: Dailey & Vincent Sing The Statler Brothers

DAILEY & VINCENT
CRACKER BARREL OLD COUNTRY STORE PRESENTS: DAILEY & VINCENT SING THE STATLER BROTHERS
Rounder Records
11661-0640-2

Too often, “tribute” albums tend to be well intentioned, but tossed-off efforts lacking in the focus and innovation that gifted artists usually bring to new and original material. That’s certainly not the case with Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Presents: Dailey & Vincent Sing The Statler Brothers. Jamie Dailey and Darin Vincent are both devoted fans of the legendary Virginia-based country vocal quartet that dominated both the charts and country music awards throughout the 1970s and ’80s. D&V have also collaborated with the Statlers a time or two in the past and have developed a warm friendship.

Thus, it’s no surprise that the multi-award-winning, immensely talented duo breathes new fervor into this collection of 12 familiar and not so familiar Statler Brothers chart toppers with lovely, inventive harmonies and masterful bluegrass arrangements provided by the usual A-list of bluegrass pickers. Their inspired update of the Statlers’ signature song, “Flowers On The Wall” (a miniature slice of small-town Americana if there ever was one!) is a sheer delight. They also inject fresh immediacy into oldies like “I’ll Go To My Grave Loving You” and “Hello Mary Lou,” a bouncy tune that the Statlers re-popularized many moons ago.

Even a notch or two higher are D&V’s lovely vocal treatment of “Too Much On My Heart” and their poignant recasting of “Class Of ’57,” a song whose incisive commentary on lost dreams and waylaid ambitions rings as true today as ever. In short, Dailey & Vincent have done the Statlers proud, and then some. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.) BA

Review: A Deeper Shade Of Blue - Bluegrass To The Bone

Deeper Shade Of Blue - Bluegrass To The Bone

Deeper Shade Of Blue - Bluegrass To The Bone

A DEEPER SHADE OF BLUE
BLUEGRASS TO THE BONE
To The Bone Records
No Number

Even though they’ve been playing since 1998 and have recorded four previous selfreleased recordings, A Deeper Shade Of Blue is probably an unfamiliar name. The band consists of guitarist Troy Pope, mandolinist Jason Fraley, banjoist Jimmy Fraley, resonator guitarist Frank Poindexter, and bassist Brian Hinson. Most of their gigs have been local to North and South Carolina, and until now, their recordings were not sent for review or airplay. Bluegrass To The Bone, therefore, is something of a debut.

For that debut, the band has chosen five covers of traditional bluegrass standards: “Sweetheart You’ve Done Me Wrong,” “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight,” “I’ll Stay Around,” “Where We’ll Never Grow Old,” and “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar.” That may be a couple standards too many. “Sweetheart You’ve Done Me Wrong” with its high lonesome harmony, I would have kept, as I would also the wonderful “Where We’ll Never Grow Old” and the bluesy “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar.” That would have been enough. The other two, while done well enough, are not given any new feel and don’t add much.

Rounding out the 13 tracks are four lesserknown covers and four band originals, of which two are instrumentals. “Are You Thankful,” written by Pope and Poindexter, is the best of these. A threequarter time gospel tune, it weds a nice melody with a positive message. Close on its heels is a jaunty cover of “I Believe In The Old Time Way.”

Bluegrass To The Bone is a pleasant recording, wellexecuted both instrumentally (particularly the mandolin of Fraley and the reso-guitar of Poindexter) and vocally (Pope’s tenor range leads) and offers no less than five tracks that are on the very good level. (Frank Poindexter, 4319 Stack Rd., Monroe NC 28112, www.deepershadeofblue.com.) BW

Review: Donal Baylor - Town And Country Fiddler

Donal Baylor - Town And Country Fiddler

Donal Baylor - Town And Country Fiddler

DONAL BAYLOR
TOWN AND COUNTRY FIDDLER
No Label,
DB-01

In recent years, the IBMA has made an effort to reinforce the “International” part of the association’s name by reaching out to more artists overseas. There are vibrant, even if small, bluegrass scenes in places as diverse as the Czech Republic, Ireland, Japan, England, and even Brazil. On this new album by fiddler Donal Baylor, the bluegrass scene of Australia is featured front and center.

Baylor is a widely-respected fiddler in his native Australia where he’s played with Australian music veteran Slim Dusty, as well as American musician Mike Compton. On “Town And Country Fiddler,” he showcases his love of American bluegrass music with a little western swing thrown in the mix. When you listen to the first few songs on the CD, you’ll hear them played with a little bit of a different timing than what you hear in the U.S. I had this conversation with a musician friend from Canada last summer who pointed out that they play more up on their tippy toes, with a bounce to it, as opposed to American pickers who play (as she put it) “with their heel stomping in the dirt on the ‘one.’” Australians seem to have a similar beat as Canadians.

Baylor’s playing is very good with great double-stops and is backed by able musicians including a rare appearance by mandolin luthier Steve Gilchrist. Highlights include Baylor’s take on three Bill Monroe tunes, of whom he calls “the greatest composer of fiddle tunes ever.” The Monroe cuts are “Jekyll Island” and a couple that Monroe wrote, but never recorded, “Farewell To Long Hollow” and “My Father’s Footsteps.” Other standouts include a melancholy “Elzick’s Farewell” and a fired up “Kansas City Railroad Blues.” (Donal Baylor, 2 Adams Pl., Watson, ACT 2602, Australia, www.donalbaylor.com.)DH

Review: Jim Lloyd And The Skyliners - Songs From My Attic

Jim Lloyd And The Skyliners - Songs From My Attic

Jim Lloyd And The Skyliners - Songs From My Attic

JIM LLOYD AND THE SKYLINERS
SONGS FROM MY ATTIC
Mountain Roads Recordings
MRR-1008

Jim Lloyd is a banjo-picking barber from Rural Retreat, Va. Active in the old-time community of southwest Virginia, he and his band, the Skyliners, acquit themselves with aplomb on this outing of mostly novelty numbers and old country songs. The Skyliners are comprised of Mark Rose on bass and Trevor McKenzie plays guitar, mandolin, and banjo. Rose is a solid musician, his timing and note choice while walking through the project add a swinging underpinning to the project.

They open with “You Can’t Grow An Onion Upside Down,” a Tom T. and Dixie Hall number that is full of that great wit and common sense. McKenzie sings lead on a powerful rendition of “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down,” accompanying himself with some effective banjo playing. Lloyd struts his own banjo chops on “Waiting For The Robert E. Lee,” one of two tributes to the late, great banjo player from Gray, Tenn., Will Keys. The other Keys cover, “Evergreen,” is a strong tribute to the man who showed us all that there is another way to play old-time banjo.

The interplay between the guitar and banjo in the arrangements catches the best of that old-time stringband sound. That interplay that would morph into bluegrass under the hand of Bill Monroe, reflecting more contemporary sounds but still retaining something of the past. Here, the past is held high and sounds great. The casting of the Harley Carpenter song (not traditional as per the liner notes), “Three Men On A Mountain,” in the mold of Dock Boggs, gives this song a new dimension making it sound much older than its thirty-odd years.

The combination of Lloyd and the Skyliners works well. This is a fine program by folks who just sit down, sing, and play with honesty.“Valentines’ Day” features some nice twin guitar on the break. The inclusion of Fats Waller’s “Feet’s Too Big” really shows off Rose’s bass playing and a side of Jim Lloyd that often gets overlooked by the light his personality casts. This is recommended to all fans of honest, no pretense, old-time music. (Mountain Roads Recordings, 3192 Highway 412, Bristol, TN 37620.) RCB

Review: Larry Stephenson - 20th Anniversary

Larry Stephenson - 20th Anniversary

Larry Stephenson - 20th Anniversary

LARRY STEPHENSON
20th ANNIVERSARY
Whysper Dream
WDM7425

Larry Stephenson earned his bones while playing with Bill Harrell and then with the Bluegrass Cardinals. Since 1989, Larry has headed up his own band. This new project is a twentyyear celebration of that career and with this Larry brings together twenty great artists, many of whom he has worked with over the years. As Larry states in the liner notes, “I’ve had 11 guitar players, 5 banjo players, 10 bass players, 3 fiddle players, and around 20 others who were fillins.” And, he appreciates and thanks them all for helping him along the way.

Larry has played all over the country, Canada, and has played many times on the Opry. He is also a 1992 inductee to the Virginia Country Music Hall Of Fame. The 13 songs on this CD feature Larry singing in duos or trios with such fellow artists as Ricky Skaggs, David Parmley, Connie Smith, Marty Stuart, Ronnie Reno, Sonny Osborne, Dudley Connell, and others.

The musicians on the project are too many to list here, but include folks from Jason Barie, Aubrey Haynie, and Del McCoury to Jamie Dailey, Ben Surratt, and Darin Vincent. Larry has been with Pinecastle Records for over fifteen of his twenty years and has been one of the labels most popular artists. This project is sure to be a hit with Larry’s fans, old and new. (Whysper Dream Music, 1937 Upper Station Camp Ck. Rd., Cottontown, TN 37048, www.larrystephensonband.com.) BF

Review: Thomas Wywrot - Every Time I Walk This Road

Thomas Wywrot - Everytime I Walk This Road

Thomas Wywrot - Everytime I Walk This Road

THOMAS WYWROT
EVERY TIME I WALK THIS ROADD
Right Good Records
RGR- 0001

Thomas Wywrot is a guitarist, banjo picker, and singer from Ontario, Canada, who got the bluegrass bug at a young age. He played in a family band before heading south to become yet another successful alumnus of East Tennessee State University’s bluegrass program. Wywrot then went on to play with the Boohers, Mark Newton, and Alecia Nugent before settling in with the Isaacs. On his new solo album, “Every Time I Walk This Road,” Wywrot’s guitar, banjo, and harmony singing talent is backed by a stellar cast of musicians who cohesively round out his musical vision.

On this album, Wywrot chooses to sing harmony while letting others take on the lead vocals. Alan Bartram steps up to sing lead on three songs while Daniel Salyer sings lead on six other cuts with Bartram’s vocals being the stronger of the two. While Salyer hits the notes just fine, his voice is more smooth than powerful and it helps that he is backed by good harmony singers like Wywrot, Bartram, Laura Keel, and Alecia Nugent. The best way to describe this album is it is a sum of its parts, a collection of original and traditional songs where all of the various pieces successfully come together to produce some fine contemporary bluegrass. And, there is a positivity about this album that flows from Wywrot that is refreshing.

Wywrot’s guitar playing is tasteful and sweet. Backing him up instrumentally on the album is Bartram, Jason and Jeremy Chapman, Jim VanCleve, Randy Kohrs, Jesse Stockman, and Ashby Frank. Highlights include three original Wywrot tunes including two new instrumentals, “Meat Eater” and “F.T.L.” Salyer brings two original songs to the plate and there are other tracks written by Carter Moore, Ben Winship, Kevin Welch, as well as Michael Martin Murphy’s “Carolina In The Pines.” (Thomas Wywrot, 604 Harpeth Pkwy. E., Nashville, TN 37221, www.thomaswywrot.com.)

Review: Buddy Greene - A Few More Years

Buddy Greene - A Few More Years

Buddy Greene - A Few More Years

BUDDY GREENE
A FEW MORE YEARS
Rufus Music Co.
RMCD195315

Singer/songwriter, guitarist, and harmonica maven Buddy Greene has worked with dozens of country, gospel and bluegrass names in and out of Nashville, but one of his most important relationships was with former employer and mentor Jerry Reed. After the recent deaths of Reed and of Greene’s father, Greene was inspired to make A Few More Years, a 14-track acoustic gospel record that clocks in at a generous 57 minutes.

With plenty of harmonica, piano, and Celtic instrumentation, there’s no bluegrass music here per se, but this list of great pickers make this project attractive to bluegrass fans: Jerry Douglas (resonator guitar), bassists Dennis Crouch and Byron House, Pat Flynn (guitar and mandolin), Bryan Sutton (guitar), and fiddlers Aubrey Haynie and Luke Bulla. Also, Vince Gill contributes harmonies to the sweeping, ancient-toned title track, while Ben and Sonya Isaacs sing on the gorgeous “Shall We Gather At The River.”

Greene’s engaging vocal style comes across well on “Twelve Gates To The City,” “Denomination Blues,” “How Can I Keep From Singing,” and “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?” He also turns in a tour de force on Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times.” His originals “The God Who Rescued Me” and “In the New Jerusalem” fit right in, making this a heartfelt disc that will satisfy any fan of folk-tinged gospel music. (Buddy Greene, P.O. Box 3687, Brentwood, TN 37024, www.buddygreene.com.) AKH

Review: Steve Smith, Chris Sanders And Hard Road - Signs Along The Road

Steve Smith, Chris Sanders And Hard Road - Signs Along The Road

Steve Smith, Chris Sanders And Hard Road - Signs Along The Road

STEVE SMITH, CHRIS SANDERS AND HARD ROAD
SIGNS ALONG THE ROAD
No Label
DN747

There have been changes for Steve Smith, Chris Sanders, and Hard Road. Their third release introduces a totally revamped lineup. Of the band from the first two releases, only fiddler Nate Lee makes an appearance and then on only two songs, including a fine slithering solo on the funky “Isabella.” In their places step a couple of star players and a couple of soontobe star players. Bill Evans, a protege of Smith’s from Cloud Valley, joins on banjo. On bass is Bill Amatneek, formerly with the David Grisman Quintet. Also here are champion fiddler Megan Lynch and upancoming guitarist Aaron McCloskey.

What has not changed is Smith’s and Sanders’ vision and their dedication to presenting a wide variety of musical styles offered in packages that often swirl and change and break free from the usual pattern of verse, chorus, solo, and which are liberally punctuated with rhythmic interjections and interesting chord colorings. Contemporary bluegrass, country, country rock, jazz, folk, and gospel—each gets its moment in the sun. “The Same For You” and Smith’s mandolin instrumental, “Jon Seivert’s Blues” are both straight bluegrass, perhaps even traditional bluegrass in feel. From there it gets further out, culminating in the jazzinflected instrumental “Mice On The Stove.”

Smith and Sanders also continue writing lyrics that bounce between introspective psychological examinations and concrete stories, exploring such subjects as talking about “All Things Left Behind,” breaking free “Link By Link” from shackles mental and physical, making a plea that the actions of the young were once “The Same For You,” and detailing the life of an abused woman who relies on the “Kindness Of Strangers.” These combined with more traditional love and loss themes offer quite an array of emotions. Signs Along The Road refuses any one label, except perhaps that of good, evocative music. (Hard Road, P.O. Box 7892, Las Cruces, NM 88006, www.desertnight.com.) BW

Review: The Honey Dewdrops - If The Sun Will Shine

The Honey Dewdrops - If The Sun Will Shine

The Honey Dewdrops - If The Sun Will Shine

THE HONEY DEWDROPS
IF THE SUN WILL SHINE
No Label
No Number

The Honey Dewdrops is the duo of Laura Wortman and Kagey Parrish, and it’s hard to listen to them and not make comparisons to Gillian Welch and David Rawling’s earlier acoustic recordings. It’s not just the male/female/two guitars format, but the tone of their singing, the gently dark turns which their songs take, and the essences of bluegrass encapsulated in the instrumental breaks which strongly evoke Welch and Rawlings. Still, that’s not a bad influence to have, and repeated listening brings out the components that give this Virginiabased husband/wife duo their own sound.

By going with 11 original numbers, they’re able to stand on the solid foundation of their own musical vision. Their harmonies are sweet and moving, each of their voices standing on its own, but blending to good effect. Their bluegrass roots are a bit more upfront than most folk or oldtime duos, from songs such as “Wandering Boy” and the CD’s sole instrumental “1918” (featuring Parrish on mandolin) to the Tony Rice lick that pops up in “Without Tears.” “Stomping Ground” and “Bluest Blue Eyes” do come off as Welch/Rawlings outtakes, beautiful tracks if perhaps falling short of the timeless quality of the best of the latter’s music. But having one’s inspirations show is not necessarily a surprising thing for a debut recording, and the strong reliance on original material and a spare, live duet sound give ample hope that the Dewdrops will continue to build on their unique strengths. Their talent is such that it’s quite possible that a new band recording in the year 2020 might cite the Honey Dewdrops as a prime influence. (Honey Dewdrops, 7631 Fairview Farm, Scottsville, VA 24590, www.thehoneydewdrops.com.) HK

Review: Laurie Lewis - Blossoms

Laurie Lewis - Blossoms

Laurie Lewis - Blossoms

LAURIE LEWIS
BLOSSOMS
Spruce & Maple Music
SMM2005

If you’ve grown accustomed to the usual bouquet of beautiful bluegrass from Laurie Lewis, then you’ll certainly want to pick the fragrant new flower from her garden of music.

“Blossoms,” however, provides a different kind of offspring from the two-time IBMA Female Vocalist Of The Year. Cultivated for this 14-cut spray of tunes is a cross-pollination of genres from bluegrass, folk, and country. Unlike many CDs that kick off with a driving number, Lewis opts for the a cappella cut, “How Can I Keep From Singing,” a tune she has loved since her teenage years when she heard Pete Seeger’s version. The singer/songwriter also showcases her wonderful writing muse on songs like “Chain Of Letter,” “Sirens,” and “Return To The Fire.” Tim O’Brien lends his vocal talents on “The Roughest Road,” a lovely song on the gift of forgiveness. She even solicits the help of Tom and Ray Magliozzi (Click and Clack from NPR’s Car Talk) for a spoken word part on her hip traffic-jammed inspired song “Cool Your Jets.”

Lewis showcases her fiddling chops on two instrumentals, “Sophie’s House” along with Suzy Thompson and the traditional tune, “Beaver Creek.” Bandmates—Craig Smith, Tom Rozum, Todd Phillips, and Scott Hoffman—joined her in the studio, as did a host of other musicians. Thumbs up on this mixed arrangement of songs. Long may they blossom in your CD player! (Spruce & Maple Music, P.O. Box 9417, Berkeley, CA 94709, www.spruceandmaplemusic.com.) BC

Review: Scott Napier - All Out Front

HIGHLIGHT


Scott Napier - All Out Front

Scott Napier - All Out Front

SCOTT NAPIER
ALL OUT FRONT
No Label, No Number

If there’s a young mandolin player who deserves to be out front on today’s bluegrass scene, it’s Scott Napier. This southeastern Kentucky native has been an able sideman to such notables as Larry Sparks, Dale Ann Bradley, and Marty Raybon. Now comes his first solo CD, a swirl of tradition and innovation.

It’s a reviewer’s delight to encounter a musician who makes you put down your note-taking pencil and just listen. Scott Napier has the total package of technical virtuosity, great tone, good taste and just sheer fun with the mandolin. I was hooked from the first track, the bouncy and insinuating original instrumental “Blue Barn.” Another Napier tour de force is “Dash Hound” (check out those effortless triplets followed by shining harmonics and blazing-high position riffs).

Napier has recruited a stellar supporting cast—all of them truly out front—that makes this CD additionally appealing. Michael Cleveland fiddles on most of the tracks, and he’s at his best here; his playing both spirited and nuanced. Bobby Osborne contributes his instrumental “Cherokee Lady.” You can practically see him and Scott grinning, picker to picker, during their mandolin duets.

And there’s pleasing variety. One of the real keepers is a one-minute Napier solo “Intermission Blues” played on the resonator mandolin. He gets such a lonesome, compelling sound from the instrument that you wonder why it’s never caught on in bluegrass. Another original, “Young One,” shows that Napier and company can swing with jazzy, understated elegance. They also put their stamp on the Bill Monroe classic “Bluegrass Stomp.”

There are three vocal tracks, all noteworthy. Dale Ann Bradley beautifully interprets “Life’s Hourglass” (a touching original by Melinda Napier) with Don Rigsby adding harmony. Rigsby returns to sing a real home-in-the-hills lead on “Carbide Light,“ a Scott Napier composition that could pass as a century-old coal miner’s song. Marty Raybon is in equally fine form on the Rodney Crowell number “Long Hard Road.”

I don’t have space to praise all the other excellent musicians here, but special mention must be made of Clay Hess (flatpicking guitar) and Josh McMurray (banjo). They wonderfully compliment Napier’s mandolin stylings, and I hope we’ll hear more collaborations from them. Meanwhile, All Out Front should bring Scott Napier to a wider listenership. He’s earned it. (Scott Napier, P.O. Box 443, Clay City, KY 40312, myspace.com/scottnapiermandolin.) RDS

Review: The Haints - Shout Monah

HIGHLIGHT


The Haints - Shout Monah

The Haints - Shout Monah

THE HAINTS
SHOUT MONAH
No Label, No Number

The Haints is an oldtime trio which came together in far western Canada in 2007. Erynn Marshall, fiddle, banjouke, and vocals, is from Victoria, B.C., but has steeped herself in West Virginia and Kentucky fiddling and has previous recordings both solo and with Chris Coole. She also wrote Music In The Air Somewhere, about fiddling and singing in West Virginia. She now resides in Galax, Va. Pharis Romero, guitar and vocals, is also from British Columbia. Jason Romero (banjo, guitar, banjouke, and vocals) was making a name for himself as a banjo player and maker in Arcata, Cal., when he met Pharis on a trip up north. All the banjos he plays on this recording were made by him. Daniel Lapp joins the band on bass on “Jake’s Got A Bellyache” from the Hammons Family of West Virginia and on harmony fiddle on “Life’s Fortune,” which is a waltz that Erynn wrote for Pharis’ and Jason’s wedding. All three are fine singers, and their voices blend well.

Erynn, who won first place in fiddle at the 2008 Appalachian Stringband Festival in West Virginia, is a fine talent who plays with power and control and always sounds relaxed. Jason is accomplished at both clawhammer and fingerpicking on the banjo.

The CD opens with a fine version of “Knoxville Rag” from the Kentucky duo Burnett and Rutherford. There are nine instrumentals and six songs on the recording. “Lowe Bonnie” is a Jason/Pharis duet from Jimmie Tarlton. Jason leads on banjo with a medley of “Devil’s Dream” from Mike Seeger and “Last Chance” from Hobart Smith and on “Baptist Shout,” performed in a lovely oldtime threefinger-style. Erynn solos on French Carpenter’s haunting “Old Christmas Morning.” She learned “Eadle Alley” from Melvin Wine. Pharis’ clear voice takes the lead on Charlie Poole’s “Milwaukee Blues,” on Land Norris’ “Charming Betsy,” on “When The Good Lord Sets You Free,” from the Carolina Tar Heels, and on Henry Thomas’ song “Bob McKinney.” “Tupelo Blues” comes from the dynamic Hoyt Ming and His Pep Steppers, and the Haints capture the driving tension in the tune just right. Fans of fiddle banjo duets will enjoy the medley of “Chattanooga” with “Hogs Walking Through the

Pasture” which is done tuned down to F.

Each of the 15 pieces is performed wonderfully, with obvious love and respect for the sources. Lovers of oldtime string band music need this recording in their collections. (Jason Romero, 3600 Telegraph Rd., Cobble Hill, BC, VOR 1L4, Canada, www.thehaints.com.) SAG

HIGHLIGHT


Scott Napier - All Out Front

Scott Napier - All Out Front

SCOTT NAPIER
ALL OUT FRONT
No Label, No Number

If there’s a young mandolin player who deserves to be out front on today’s bluegrass scene, it’s Scott Napier. This southeastern Kentucky native has been an able sideman to such notables as Larry Sparks, Dale Ann Bradley, and Marty Raybon. Now comes his first solo CD, a swirl of tradition and innovation.

It’s a reviewer’s delight to encounter a musician who makes you put down your note-taking pencil and just listen. Scott Napier has the total package of technical virtuosity, great tone, good taste and just sheer fun with the mandolin. I was hooked from the first track, the bouncy and insinuating original instrumental “Blue Barn.” Another Napier tour de force is “Dash Hound” (check out those effortless triplets followed by shining harmonics and blazing-high position riffs).

Napier has recruited a stellar supporting cast—all of them truly out front—that makes this CD additionally appealing. Michael Cleveland fiddles on most of the tracks, and he’s at his best here; his playing both spirited and nuanced. Bobby Osborne contributes his instrumental “Cherokee Lady.” You can practically see him and Scott grinning, picker to picker, during their mandolin duets.

And there’s pleasing variety. One of the real keepers is a one-minute Napier solo “Intermission Blues” played on the resonator mandolin. He gets such a lonesome, compelling sound from the instrument that you wonder why it’s never caught on in bluegrass. Another original, “Young One,” shows that Napier and company can swing with jazzy, understated elegance. They also put their stamp on the Bill Monroe classic “Bluegrass Stomp.”

There are three vocal tracks, all noteworthy. Dale Ann Bradley beautifully interprets “Life’s Hourglass” (a touching original by Melinda Napier) with Don Rigsby adding harmony. Rigsby returns to sing a real home-in-the-hills lead on “Carbide Light,“ a Scott Napier composition that could pass as a century-old coal miner’s song. Marty Raybon is in equally fine form on the Rodney Crowell number “Long Hard Road.”

I don’t have space to praise all the other excellent musicians here, but special mention must be made of Clay Hess (flatpicking guitar) and Josh McMurray (banjo). They wonderfully compliment Napier’s mandolin stylings, and I hope we’ll hear more collaborations from them. Meanwhile, All Out Front should bring Scott Napier to a wider listenership. He’s earned it. (Scott Napier, P.O. Box 443, Clay City, KY 40312, myspace.com/scottnapiermandolin.) RDS


The Haints - Shout Monah

The Haints - Shout Monah

THE HAINTS
SHOUT MONAH
No Label, No Number

The Haints is an oldtime trio which came together in far western Canada in 2007. Erynn Marshall, fiddle, banjouke, and vocals, is from Victoria, B.C., but has steeped herself in West Virginia and Kentucky fiddling and has previous recordings both solo and with Chris Coole. She also wrote Music In The Air Somewhere, about fiddling and singing in West Virginia. She now resides in Galax, Va. Pharis Romero, guitar and vocals, is also from British Columbia. Jason Romero (banjo, guitar, banjouke, and vocals) was making a name for himself as a banjo player and maker in Arcata, Cal., when he met Pharis on a trip up north. All the banjos he plays on this recording were made by him. Daniel Lapp joins the band on bass on “Jake’s Got A Bellyache” from the Hammons Family of West Virginia and on harmony fiddle on “Life’s Fortune,” which is a waltz that Erynn wrote for Pharis’ and Jason’s wedding. All three are fine singers, and their voices blend well.

Erynn, who won first place in fiddle at the 2008 Appalachian Stringband Festival in West Virginia, is a fine talent who plays with power and control and always sounds relaxed. Jason is accomplished at both clawhammer and fingerpicking on the banjo.

The CD opens with a fine version of “Knoxville Rag” from the Kentucky duo Burnett and Rutherford. There are nine instrumentals and six songs on the recording. “Lowe Bonnie” is a Jason/Pharis duet from Jimmie Tarlton. Jason leads on banjo with a medley of “Devil’s Dream” from Mike Seeger and “Last Chance” from Hobart Smith and on “Baptist Shout,” performed in a lovely oldtime threefinger-style. Erynn solos on French Carpenter’s haunting “Old Christmas Morning.” She learned “Eadle Alley” from Melvin Wine. Pharis’ clear voice takes the lead on Charlie Poole’s “Milwaukee Blues,” on Land Norris’ “Charming Betsy,” on “When The Good Lord Sets You Free,” from the Carolina Tar Heels, and on Henry Thomas’ song “Bob McKinney.” “Tupelo Blues” comes from the dynamic Hoyt Ming and His Pep Steppers, and the Haints capture the driving tension in the tune just right. Fans of fiddle banjo duets will enjoy the medley of “Chattanooga” with “Hogs Walking Through the

Pasture” which is done tuned down to F.

Each of the 15 pieces is performed wonderfully, with obvious love and respect for the sources. Lovers of oldtime string band music need this recording in their collections. (Jason Romero, 3600 Telegraph Rd., Cobble Hill, BC, VOR 1L4, Canada, www.thehaints.com.) SAG

Albemarle Ramblers - Gentlemen From Virginia

Albemarle Ramblers - Gentlemen From Virginia

ALBEMARLE RAMBLERS
GENTLEMAN FROM VIRGINIA
Merriweather Records
No Number

Pete Vigour on fiddle and Dick Harrington on guitar are both from Virginia. Pete is known for the band Uncle Henry’s Favorites, among others. Dick recorded recently in Troublesome Creek. Arnie Naiman on banjo hails from Ontario where he plays in the band Ragged But Right.

They open with a medley of the West Virginia fiddle tune “Yew Piney Mountain” and Kentucky banjo player John Hammond’s song “My Mama Always Talked To Me” with Dick singing lead. Arnie leads on Uncle Dave Macon’s “From Earth To Heaven,” which features two banjos, Arnie on clawhammer, and Pete on twofinger-style. Two more are from Uncle Dave—“Way Down On The Old Plank Road” and “On The Dixie Bee Line.” Pete sings lead on “BlackEyed Susie.” The title cut is a fiddle tune from Tommy Hunter. There are two other cuts with no singing, a medley of an uncommon “Lady Of The Lake,” “Haning’s Farewell,” and “Falls Of Richmond,” and Arnie’s original “Walking The Dog.” “Wild Hog In The Woods” and “Lonesome Homesick Blues” are familiar songs done nicely here. “Glendy Burke” is a Stephen Foster song. “Home In That Rock” is an African-American hymn. “Reuben’s Train” was learned from fellow Virginian and ace fiddler, Mark Campbell.

The Albemarle Ramblers is a tight oldtime stringband with strong arrangements, impeccable playing and singing, and an interesting collection of songs and tunes. Their CD is enjoyable listening and comes highly-recommended. (Pete Vigour, 3131 Sugar Hill Ln., Crozet, VA 22932, www.albemarleramblers.com.) SAG

Benton Flippen & The Smokey Valley Boys - 270 Haystack Rd

Benton Flippen & The Smokey Valley Boys - 270 Haystack Rd

BENTON FLIPPEN & THE SMOKEY VALLEY BOYS
270 HAYSTACK RD
Music Maker Foundation
MMCD111

Benton Flippen is an institution in Surry County, N.C., and in the greater world of old-time music. He is a member in good standing of the true vine. Having fiddled for more than six decades and lived for nine, he was once a youngster in the membership of legendary Surry County fiddlers. Now he is the grand patriarch and, as such, is revered. There is little new here, but that is indeed the point.

The band is typical of a 1960s Surry County old-time band with two guitars, mandolin, banjo (either clawhammer or three-finger-style), all supporting the fiddle lead.That is the definition of an old-time band in those parts. Mr. Flippen still yields his surgical skills with the bow. His intonation is better than most and he’s able to drive a tune better than fiddlers half his age. The program includes twenty tested and true tunes. “Cacklin’ Hen,” “Logan County Blues,” “Cider” (a sweet fiddle/banjo duet), and “Sugar Hill” are all standards to the region. Flippen’s sure handedness on “Sunny Home In Dixie,” a real fiddle workout, sounds better than any version out there today.

The two guitars lay down a solid base for the band. The banjo shadows the fiddle, sliding with it and clucking the melodic highlights. Kevin Fore and Andy Edmonds share banjo duties. The mandolin, played by Wesley Clifton, grandson of the esteemed Vernon Clifton of the Camp Creek Boys, is strummed in a chunky rhythmic pattern unlike anything in bluegrass, just as his grandfather had done.

Andy Edmonds (on banjo) and Flippen flat out burn an old-time version of “Flop Eared Mule” with three-finger banjo and fiddle, backed by the band. If you are interested in old-time fiddling, old-time band sounds, or just great mountain music, don’t miss this release. It is amazing how good Benton Flippen is at nearly 90. (Music Maker Relief Foundation, 224 W Corbin St., Hillsborough, NC 27278, www.musicmakerstore.org.) RCB

Brand New Strings - No Strings Attached

Brand New Strings - No Strings Attached

BRAND NEW STRINGS
NO STRINGS ATTACHED
Rural Rhythm
RHY 1057

Brand New Strings is just that, a brand new group based in Tennessee. Guitarist/lead vocalist Randall Massengill, bassist Tim Tipton, and resonator guitarist Matt Leadbetter are former members of Blue Moon Rising. Mandolinist/lead vocalist Mike Ramsey and banjoist Stuart Wyrick came over from New Road.

As New Road was a gospel band and Blue Moon Rising had strong ties to that genre, gospel songs are prominent. Of thirteen songs, no less than six fall in that category. “High On A Hilltop” is the closest thing to a standard here and is arguably the best gospel song on the album. Giving it a close run is Ramsey’s “Caught Up,” a rollicking tune set in motion by his propulsive mandolin.

Among the secular tracks, a few deserve special mention. “Merry Go Round,” from songwriter Alan Johnston, has a decidedly McCouryesque feel, notably from Ramsey’s vocal delivery. “Rainy Nights And Memories” sounds like pure, shuffling George Jones, soaring lines and the clipped word “night” and all. Ramsey’s “First Date” rounds out the album with a melodic look at a man bent on marriage after one date. What’s striking with this song and with “Merry Go Round” and “Caught Up,” as well, is how instantly familiar the material sounds. It would not be surprising to see several of them on the charts.

Nor would it be surprising to see this album chart as a whole. Great songwriting, excellent song selection, and arrangement. Classic traditional lead vocals from Ramsey and Massengill. All that equals an impressive debut. (Rural Rhythm Records, P.O. Box 660040 Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) BW

Buddy Pendleton & Friends - Gems From A Master Fiddler

Buddy Pendleton & Friends - Gems From A Master Fiddler

BUDDY PENDLETON & FRIENDS
GEMS FROM A MASTER FIDDLER
Summer Sky Prod.
No Label, No Number

This is a regional all-star project honoring Patrick County, Va., fiddler Buddy Pendleton. Buddy can be seen at local fiddle contests walking around carrying his fiddle case, wearing a cowboy hat that makes him look a bit taller than he really is, and looking for a welcoming jam. Once that fiddle comes out of the case, you’re in for a treat. Here the music is much like a jam. Fifteen cuts featuring fiddle tunes, old bluegrass gems, and some old-time songs, sparkle with decisive picking and singing and, of course, fine fiddling. With the likes of Sammy Shelor, the impeccable Hershel Sizemore, Johnny and Jeanette Williams to name a few, gathering around the mics and spicing up the proceedings we get a joyous collection with many musical highlights.

Pendleton is a veteran of many bands including Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, the Greenbriar Boys, and bands that featured many of the artists here. His fiddling is known for its quicksilver fluidity. There is no letdown here. He glides through each break, often putting in more notes than one can imagine as on “Tennessee Waltz.” He tackles traditional tunes with ease and glides through Vassar Clements’ “Lonesome Fiddle Blues.” His fills on the vocal cuts are spot on and his sweet take on old favorites such as “The Old Spinning Wheel In The Parlor” are textbook examples of notable fiddling.

The cast of singers and fellow pickers is large. Hershel Sizemore’s mandolin is a wonderful plus, as are the Williams’ fine vocals on lead and harmony throughout. There are too many musicians to name here, but their roles all add up to a great tribute to a great fiddler. It’s great to hear this collection of fine music and have the privilege to hear the great fiddling of this master fiddler in such a warm context. (Summer Sky Prod., 1017 Falls Ave., Madison, TN 37115, www.summerskyproductions.com.) RCB

The Chapmans - Grown Up (A Revisionist History)

The Chapmans - Grown Up (A Revisionist History)

THE CHAPMANS
GROWN UP (A REVISIONIST HISTORY)
Compass Records
7 4532 2

Here’s a nifty twist for a retrospective album. Rather than compile a greatest hits from their twenty years as a group, the Chapmans gathered in their studio in Missouri, chose favorites from their early recordings, and rerecorded them with new arrangements and new guests. Now, I’d like to be able to compare them song by song, but the truth is that I only have one recording of one of the songs included here, “El Cumbanchero.” Then I got to thinking about it and realized that if you already follow the Chapmans, you’ll probably buy this to see how they changed the songs, and if you don’t know the band, you’ll consider it based on reviews of the quality of the music at hand.

All but two of the thirteen songs were originally recorded between 1993 and 1997. The other two, “River Of Sorrow” and “I Wanna Be Loved Like That,” are new. “River Of Sorrow” is a traditional waltztime tune about floating on a river of tears after a lover’s departure. “I Wanna Be Loved Like That” demands that if it isn’t like it is in the movies, better to keep looking. Both are slow, lyrical, and of excellent quality.

In fact, “excellent quality” is a phrase you can apply to much of this recording. Of excellent quality in the way the arrangements and production present thick rich sound that fills speakers and room. Harmonies of excellent quality that only family groups can truly achieve. There are instrumental performances of excellent quality, and you’ll find tracks of excellent quality from almost start to finish, be it the medium country bounce of “Why Did You Lie,” Buck Owen’s hopeful “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” the rolling “Rolling Away On A Big Sternwheeler,” the mandolinguitar weeper “Mommy Please Stay Home With Me,” or Sam Cooke’s doowop “Bring It On Home To Me.”

So there it is, a fresh retrospective of excellent quality. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.) BW

Dailey & Vincent - Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Presents: Dailey & Vincent Sing The Statler Brothers

Dailey & Vincent - Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Presents: Dailey & Vincent Sing The Statler Brothers

DAILEY & VINCENT
CRACKER BARREL OLD COUNTRY STORE PRESENTS: DAILEY & VINCENT SING THE STATLER BROTHERS
Rounder Records
11661-0640-2

Too often, “tribute” albums tend to be well intentioned, but tossed-off efforts lacking in the focus and innovation that gifted artists usually bring to new and original material. That’s certainly not the case with Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Presents: Dailey & Vincent Sing The Statler Brothers. Jamie Dailey and Darin Vincent are both devoted fans of the legendary Virginia-based country vocal quartet that dominated both the charts and country music awards throughout the 1970s and ’80s. D&V have also collaborated with the Statlers a time or two in the past and have developed a warm friendship.

Thus, it’s no surprise that the multi-award-winning, immensely talented duo breathes new fervor into this collection of 12 familiar and not so familiar Statler Brothers chart toppers with lovely, inventive harmonies and masterful bluegrass arrangements provided by the usual A-list of bluegrass pickers. Their inspired update of the Statlers’ signature song, “Flowers On The Wall” (a miniature slice of small-town Americana if there ever was one!) is a sheer delight. They also inject fresh immediacy into oldies like “I’ll Go To My Grave Loving You” and “Hello Mary Lou,” a bouncy tune that the Statlers re-popularized many moons ago.

Even a notch or two higher are D&V’s lovely vocal treatment of “Too Much On My Heart” and their poignant recasting of “Class Of ’57,” a song whose incisive commentary on lost dreams and waylaid ambitions rings as true today as ever. In short, Dailey & Vincent have done the Statlers proud, and then some. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.) BA

Deeper Shade Of Blue - Bluegrass To The Bone

Deeper Shade Of Blue - Bluegrass To The Bone

A DEEPER SHADE OF BLUE
BLUEGRASS TO THE BONE
To The Bone Records
No Number

Even though they’ve been playing since 1998 and have recorded four previous selfreleased recordings, A Deeper Shade Of Blue is probably an unfamiliar name. The band consists of guitarist Troy Pope, mandolinist Jason Fraley, banjoist Jimmy Fraley, resonator guitarist Frank Poindexter, and bassist Brian Hinson. Most of their gigs have been local to North and South Carolina, and until now, their recordings were not sent for review or airplay. Bluegrass To The Bone, therefore, is something of a debut.

For that debut, the band has chosen five covers of traditional bluegrass standards: “Sweetheart You’ve Done Me Wrong,” “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight,” “I’ll Stay Around,” “Where We’ll Never Grow Old,” and “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar.” That may be a couple standards too many. “Sweetheart You’ve Done Me Wrong” with its high lonesome harmony, I would have kept, as I would also the wonderful “Where We’ll Never Grow Old” and the bluesy “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar.” That would have been enough. The other two, while done well enough, are not given any new feel and don’t add much.

Rounding out the 13 tracks are four lesserknown covers and four band originals, of which two are instrumentals. “Are You Thankful,” written by Pope and Poindexter, is the best of these. A threequarter time gospel tune, it weds a nice melody with a positive message. Close on its heels is a jaunty cover of “I Believe In The Old Time Way.”

Bluegrass To The Bone is a pleasant recording, wellexecuted both instrumentally (particularly the mandolin of Fraley and the reso-guitar of Poindexter) and vocally (Pope’s tenor range leads) and offers no less than five tracks that are on the very good level. (Frank Poindexter, 4319 Stack Rd., Monroe NC 28112, www.deepershadeofblue.com.) BW

Donal Baylor - Town And Country Fiddler

Donal Baylor - Town And Country Fiddler

DONAL BAYLOR
TOWN AND COUNTRY FIDDLER
No Label,
DB-01

In recent years, the IBMA has made an effort to reinforce the “International” part of the association’s name by reaching out to more artists overseas. There are vibrant, even if small, bluegrass scenes in places as diverse as the Czech Republic, Ireland, Japan, England, and even Brazil. On this new album by fiddler Donal Baylor, the bluegrass scene of Australia is featured front and center.

Baylor is a widely-respected fiddler in his native Australia where he’s played with Australian music veteran Slim Dusty, as well as American musician Mike Compton. On “Town And Country Fiddler,” he showcases his love of American bluegrass music with a little western swing thrown in the mix. When you listen to the first few songs on the CD, you’ll hear them played with a little bit of a different timing than what you hear in the U.S. I had this conversation with a musician friend from Canada last summer who pointed out that they play more up on their tippy toes, with a bounce to it, as opposed to American pickers who play (as she put it) “with their heel stomping in the dirt on the ‘one.’” Australians seem to have a similar beat as Canadians.

Baylor’s playing is very good with great double-stops and is backed by able musicians including a rare appearance by mandolin luthier Steve Gilchrist. Highlights include Baylor’s take on three Bill Monroe tunes, of whom he calls “the greatest composer of fiddle tunes ever.” The Monroe cuts are “Jekyll Island” and a couple that Monroe wrote, but never recorded, “Farewell To Long Hollow” and “My Father’s Footsteps.” Other standouts include a melancholy “Elzick’s Farewell” and a fired up “Kansas City Railroad Blues.” (Donal Baylor, 2 Adams Pl., Watson, ACT 2602, Australia, www.donalbaylor.com.) DH

Jim Lloyd And The Skyliners - Songs From My Attic

Jim Lloyd And The Skyliners - Songs From My Attic

JIM LLOYD AND THE SKYLINERS
SONGS FROM MY ATTIC
Mountain Roads Recordings
MRR-1008

Jim Lloyd is a banjo-picking barber from Rural Retreat, Va. Active in the old-time community of southwest Virginia, he and his band, the Skyliners, acquit themselves with aplomb on this outing of mostly novelty numbers and old country songs. The Skyliners are comprised of Mark Rose on bass and Trevor McKenzie plays guitar, mandolin, and banjo. Rose is a solid musician, his timing and note choice while walking through the project add a swinging underpinning to the project.

They open with “You Can’t Grow An Onion Upside Down,” a Tom T. and Dixie Hall number that is full of that great wit and common sense. McKenzie sings lead on a powerful rendition of “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down,” accompanying himself with some effective banjo playing. Lloyd struts his own banjo chops on “Waiting For The Robert E. Lee,” one of two tributes to the late, great banjo player from Gray, Tenn., Will Keys. The other Keys cover, “Evergreen,” is a strong tribute to the man who showed us all that there is another way to play old-time banjo.

The interplay between the guitar and banjo in the arrangements catches the best of that old-time stringband sound. That interplay that would morph into bluegrass under the hand of Bill Monroe, reflecting more contemporary sounds but still retaining something of the past. Here, the past is held high and sounds great. The casting of the Harley Carpenter song (not traditional as per the liner notes), “Three Men On A Mountain,” in the mold of Dock Boggs, gives this song a new dimension making it sound much older than its thirty-odd years.

The combination of Lloyd and the Skyliners works well. This is a fine program by folks who just sit down, sing, and play with honesty.“Valentines’ Day” features some nice twin guitar on the break. The inclusion of Fats Waller’s “Feet’s Too Big” really shows off Rose’s bass playing and a side of Jim Lloyd that often gets overlooked by the light his personality casts. This is recommended to all fans of honest, no pretense, old-time music. (Mountain Roads Recordings, 3192 Highway 412, Bristol, TN 37620.) RCB

Larry Stephenson - 20th Anniversary

Larry Stephenson - 20th Anniversary

LARRY STEPHENSON
20th ANNIVERSARY
Whysper Dream
WDM7425

Larry Stephenson earned his bones while playing with Bill Harrell and then with the Bluegrass Cardinals. Since 1989, Larry has headed up his own band. This new project is a twentyyear celebration of that career and with this Larry brings together twenty great artists, many of whom he has worked with over the years. As Larry states in the liner notes, “I’ve had 11 guitar players, 5 banjo players, 10 bass players, 3 fiddle players, and around 20 others who were fillins.” And, he appreciates and thanks them all for helping him along the way.

Larry has played all over the country, Canada, and has played many times on the Opry. He is also a 1992 inductee to the Virginia Country Music Hall Of Fame. The 13 songs on this CD feature Larry singing in duos or trios with such fellow artists as Ricky Skaggs, David Parmley, Connie Smith, Marty Stuart, Ronnie Reno, Sonny Osborne, Dudley Connell, and others.

The musicians on the project are too many to list here, but include folks from Jason Barie, Aubrey Haynie, and Del McCoury to Jamie Dailey, Ben Surratt, and Darin Vincent. Larry has been with Pinecastle Records for over fifteen of his twenty years and has been one of the labels most popular artists. This project is sure to be a hit with Larry’s fans, old and new. (Whysper Dream Music, 1937 Upper Station Camp Ck. Rd., Cottontown, TN 37048, www.larrystephensonband.com.) BF

Thomas Wywrot - Everytime I Walk This Road

Thomas Wywrot - Everytime I Walk This Road

THOMAS WYWROT
EVERY TIME I WALK THIS ROADD
Right Good Records
RGR- 0001

Thomas Wywrot is a guitarist, banjo picker, and singer from Ontario, Canada, who got the bluegrass bug at a young age. He played in a family band before heading south to become yet another successful alumnus of East Tennessee State University’s bluegrass program. Wywrot then went on to play with the Boohers, Mark Newton, and Alecia Nugent before settling in with the Isaacs. On his new solo album, “Every Time I Walk This Road,” Wywrot’s guitar, banjo, and harmony singing talent is backed by a stellar cast of musicians who cohesively round out his musical vision.

On this album, Wywrot chooses to sing harmony while letting others take on the lead vocals. Alan Bartram steps up to sing lead on three songs while Daniel Salyer sings lead on six other cuts with Bartram’s vocals being the stronger of the two. While Salyer hits the notes just fine, his voice is more smooth than powerful and it helps that he is backed by good harmony singers like Wywrot, Bartram, Laura Keel, and Alecia Nugent. The best way to describe this album is it is a sum of its parts, a collection of original and traditional songs where all of the various pieces successfully come together to produce some fine contemporary bluegrass. And, there is a positivity about this album that flows from Wywrot that is refreshing.

Wywrot’s guitar playing is tasteful and sweet. Backing him up instrumentally on the album is Bartram, Jason and Jeremy Chapman, Jim VanCleve, Randy Kohrs, Jesse Stockman, and Ashby Frank. Highlights include three original Wywrot tunes including two new instrumentals, “Meat Eater” and “F.T.L.” Salyer brings two original songs to the plate and there are other tracks written by Carter Moore, Ben Winship, Kevin Welch, as well as Michael Martin Murphy’s “Carolina In The Pines.” (Thomas Wywrot, 604 Harpeth Pkwy. E., Nashville, TN 37221, www.thomaswywrot.com.)

Buddy Greene - A Few More Years

Buddy Greene - A Few More Years

BUDDY GREENE
A FEW MORE YEARS
Rufus Music Co.
RMCD195315

Singer/songwriter, guitarist, and harmonica maven Buddy Greene has worked with dozens of country, gospel and bluegrass names in and out of Nashville, but one of his most important relationships was with former employer and mentor Jerry Reed. After the recent deaths of Reed and of Greene’s father, Greene was inspired to make A Few More Years, a 14-track acoustic gospel record that clocks in at a generous 57 minutes.

With plenty of harmonica, piano, and Celtic instrumentation, there’s no bluegrass music here per se, but this list of great pickers make this project attractive to bluegrass fans: Jerry Douglas (resonator guitar), bassists Dennis Crouch and Byron House, Pat Flynn (guitar and mandolin), Bryan Sutton (guitar), and fiddlers Aubrey Haynie and Luke Bulla. Also, Vince Gill contributes harmonies to the sweeping, ancient-toned title track, while Ben and Sonya Isaacs sing on the gorgeous “Shall We Gather At The River.”

Greene’s engaging vocal style comes across well on “Twelve Gates To The City,” “Denomination Blues,” “How Can I Keep From Singing,” and “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?” He also turns in a tour de force on Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times.” His originals “The God Who Rescued Me” and “In the New Jerusalem” fit right in, making this a heartfelt disc that will satisfy any fan of folk-tinged gospel music. (Buddy Greene, P.O. Box 3687, Brentwood, TN 37024, www.buddygreene.com.) AKH

Steve Smith, Chris Sanders And Hard Road - Signs Along The Road

Steve Smith, Chris Sanders And Hard Road - Signs Along The Road

STEVE SMITH, CHRIS SANDERS AND HARD ROAD
SIGNS ALONG THE ROAD
No Label
DN747

There have been changes for Steve Smith, Chris Sanders, and Hard Road. Their third release introduces a totally revamped lineup. Of the band from the first two releases, only fiddler Nate Lee makes an appearance and then on only two songs, including a fine slithering solo on the funky “Isabella.” In their places step a couple of star players and a couple of soontobe star players. Bill Evans, a protege of Smith’s from Cloud Valley, joins on banjo. On bass is Bill Amatneek, formerly with the David Grisman Quintet. Also here are champion fiddler Megan Lynch and upancoming guitarist Aaron McCloskey.

What has not changed is Smith’s and Sanders’ vision and their dedication to presenting a wide variety of musical styles offered in packages that often swirl and change and break free from the usual pattern of verse, chorus, solo, and which are liberally punctuated with rhythmic interjections and interesting chord colorings. Contemporary bluegrass, country, country rock, jazz, folk, and gospel—each gets its moment in the sun. “The Same For You” and Smith’s mandolin instrumental, “Jon Seivert’s Blues” are both straight bluegrass, perhaps even traditional bluegrass in feel. From there it gets further out, culminating in the jazzinflected instrumental “Mice On The Stove.”

Smith and Sanders also continue writing lyrics that bounce between introspective psychological examinations and concrete stories, exploring such subjects as talking about “All Things Left Behind,” breaking free “Link By Link” from shackles mental and physical, making a plea that the actions of the young were once “The Same For You,” and detailing the life of an abused woman who relies on the “Kindness Of Strangers.” These combined with more traditional love and loss themes offer quite an array of emotions. Signs Along The Road refuses any one label, except perhaps that of good, evocative music. (Hard Road, P.O. Box 7892, Las Cruces, NM 88006, www.desertnight.com.) BW

The Honey Dewdrops - If The Sun Will Shine

The Honey Dewdrops - If The Sun Will Shine

THE HONEY DEWDROPS
IF THE SUN WILL SHINE
No Label
No Number

The Honey Dewdrops is the duo of Laura Wortman and Kagey Parrish, and it’s hard to listen to them and not make comparisons to Gillian Welch and David Rawling’s earlier acoustic recordings. It’s not just the male/female/two guitars format, but the tone of their singing, the gently dark turns which their songs take, and the essences of bluegrass encapsulated in the instrumental breaks which strongly evoke Welch and Rawlings. Still, that’s not a bad influence to have, and repeated listening brings out the components that give this Virginiabased husband/wife duo their own sound.

By going with 11 original numbers, they’re able to stand on the solid foundation of their own musical vision. Their harmonies are sweet and moving, each of their voices standing on its own, but blending to good effect. Their bluegrass roots are a bit more upfront than most folk or oldtime duos, from songs such as “Wandering Boy” and the CD’s sole instrumental “1918” (featuring Parrish on mandolin) to the Tony Rice lick that pops up in “Without Tears.” “Stomping Ground” and “Bluest Blue Eyes” do come off as Welch/Rawlings outtakes, beautiful tracks if perhaps falling short of the timeless quality of the best of the latter’s music. But having one’s inspirations show is not necessarily a surprising thing for a debut recording, and the strong reliance on original material and a spare, live duet sound give ample hope that the Dewdrops will continue to build on their unique strengths. Their talent is such that it’s quite possible that a new band recording in the year 2020 might cite the Honey Dewdrops as a prime influence. (Honey Dewdrops, 7631 Fairview Farm, Scottsville, VA 24590, www.thehoneydewdrops.com.) HK

Laurie Lewis - Blossoms

Laurie Lewis - Blossoms

LAURIE LEWIS
BLOSSOMS
Spruce & Maple Music
SMM2005

If you’ve grown accustomed to the usual bouquet of beautiful bluegrass from Laurie Lewis, then you’ll certainly want to pick the fragrant new flower from her garden of music.

“Blossoms,” however, provides a different kind of offspring from the two-time IBMA Female Vocalist Of The Year. Cultivated for this 14-cut spray of tunes is a cross-pollination of genres from bluegrass, folk, and country. Unlike many CDs that kick off with a driving number, Lewis opts for the a cappella cut, “How Can I Keep From Singing,” a tune she has loved since her teenage years when she heard Pete Seeger’s version. The singer/songwriter also showcases her wonderful writing muse on songs like “Chain Of Letter,” “Sirens,” and “Return To The Fire.” Tim O’Brien lends his vocal talents on “The Roughest Road,” a lovely song on the gift of forgiveness. She even solicits the help of Tom and Ray Magliozzi (Click and Clack from NPR’s Car Talk) for a spoken word part on her hip traffic-jammed inspired song “Cool Your Jets.”

Lewis showcases her fiddling chops on two instrumentals, “Sophie’s House” along with Suzy Thompson and the traditional tune, “Beaver Creek.” Bandmates—Craig Smith, Tom Rozum, Todd Phillips, and Scott Hoffman—joined her in the studio, as did a host of other musicians. Thumbs up on this mixed arrangement of songs. Long may they blossom in your CD player! (Spruce & Maple Music, P.O. Box 9417, Berkeley, CA 94709, www.spruceandmaplemusic.com.) BC