Review: Still Inside: The Tony Rice Story - Tim Stafford & Caroline Wright

HIGHLIGHT


Still Inside: The Tony Rice Story - Tim Stafford & Caroline Wright - Introduction by Ricky SkaggsSTILL INSIDE: THE TONY RICE STORY
BY TIM STAFFORD & CAROLINE WRIGHT

Word of Mouth Press 9780578051130.
Hardcover, 315 pp., photos, $24.99.
(Word of Mouth Press, 406 Shelby St., Kingsport, TN 37660, www.wordofmouthpress.us.)

Simply put, this is the most thorough, fascinating biography of a musician I have ever read. Authors Tim Stafford and Caroline Wright have written a rich, informative, entertaining account of the life and music of Tony Rice, the most influential and widely—if not wildly—imitated guitarist in bluegrass history. The structure of the book is unique. Each chapter includes an introduction to an era of Tony’s life, a firstperson narrative created from interviews of Tony covering those years, along with brief quotes from musicians, friends, and fans. The last are not gratuitous, but lend another angle in illuminating a very complex personality. I found myself skipping around and reading different sections out of order, but this worked well. The sections are clearly presented and the more than a hundred photographs capture some important moments in Tony’s life and bluegrass history. I found the last two chapters especially interesting: one on Tony’s life offstage and another on the famous 1935 D28 guitar once owned by Clarence White. The book includes a complete timeline of Tony’s life and career, an exhaustive discography, and a thorough bibliography. They could easily have titled the book The Complete Tony Rice.

There is so much here that stays with you, but especially Tony’s own words. What comes across is an open, honest person who cares about connecting with others musically and personally. That came as a surprise since, in the past, Tony has had an aura of mystery and sometimes seclusion. Several myths are dispelled here, but what is mostly illustrated is the spiritual relationship Tony has with music. It manifests itself in a degree of attention to detail that is mindboggling. But besides the exquisite tone, timing, and touch, there is passion that drives the technique.

Nothing is swept under the rug here. His failures as well as his successes are discussed. This book is one of the few biographies of a musician that gets at the heart of where life and art intersect. Stafford and Wright have left their egos at the door and present Tony in his own terms. A wonderful book and essential reading for anyone interested in the life of a complex, influential musician. CVS

Review: Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road - Carolina Hurricane

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road - Carolina HurricaneLORRAINE JORDAN & CAROLINA ROAD
CAROLINA HURRICANE
Rural Rhythm
RHY-1062

Veteran IBMA award winning, North Carolina singer/bandleader Lorraine Jordan and her band Carolina Road come through with flying colors on their first release for Rural Rhythm Records.

Jordan’s traditional-style CD is powered with first class picking, imaginative song choices, and Jordan’s lowkey, but compelling vocal performances. The singer and her gifted ensemble serve up rousing versions of timeless gems by Bill Monroe (“Stay Away From Me”), Ernest Tubb (“You Won’t Ever Forget Me”), Hank Bowman (“You Don’t Know The Blues”), and Don Robertson (“Born To Be With You”).

This solid collection is rounded out with the commanding title tune (penned by Louisa Branscomb), a pair of lovely ballads by Paula Breedlove (“Carolina Blue” and “No Smokey Mountains”), and a couple of Jordan’s own fine originals, the lovely “Carolina Memories” and her elegant theme song “Lady Of Tradition.” (Rural Rhythm Records, P.O. Box 660040, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) BA

Review: Tyler Grant - Tyler Grant's Flatpicking Up The Neck

Tyler Grant - Tyler Grant's Flatpicking Up The NeckTYLER GRANT
TYLER GRANT’S FLATPICKING: UP THE NECK
Grant Central Records
GCR1001

Instrumental bluegrass albums have a long history, with many of the biggest names having produced at least one such record during their careers. Flatpicking guitar, which entered the bluegrass world long after banjo, fiddle, and mandolin emerged as lead instruments, has followed a similar path, with musicians ranging from Norman Blake, Clarence White, Dan Crary, Tony Rice, Bryan Sutton, David Grier, Cody Kilby, Steve Kaufman, and many more producing outstanding albums of instrumental bluegrass. Tyler Grant, a former National Flatpicking Guitar Champion of the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kans., has emerged in recent years as one of the brightest talents on guitar, producing everything from brilliantly orchestrated guitar-contest pieces to memorable original instrumental tunes to some great instructional materials.

On his latest release Up The Neck, Grant says he wanted to produce an album focused solely on his guitar playing. That’s a big task for any guitarist, but Grant backs up his objective over 14 instrumental tunes, several of which are his compositions. For listeners interested in hearing the intricate, highly-arranged contest-tune style of guitar, Grant obliges with gorgeous renditions of “Forked Deer,” “Beaumont Rag,” and “I Don’t Love Nobody.” He stretches his musical boundaries on his broadly themed originals “Springtime Flatpicking,” “Hippie Guitar,” and “Cache La Poudre.” And, he is joined by fellow flatpicking icon Bill Nershi (who also engineered the project) for a sweet guitar duet on “President Garfield’s Hornpipe.” Infamous Stringdusters banjo ace Chris Pandolfi also sits in on a tune named in Chris’s honor.

Up The Neck is filled with inventive, well-executed flatpicking guitar music ranging from the traditional to the progressive ends of the musical spectrum. Grant is a skilled and talented player who has crafted an enjoyable and highly entertaining CD that will please not only hardcore guitar fans, but many bluegrass lovers who enjoy the instrumental side of our music. In my book, Up The Neck gets a definite thumbs up! (Grant Central Records, P.O. Box 1931, Lyons, CO 80540, www.tylergrant.org.) DJM

Review: Ned Crisp and Bottomline - Taking The Back Roads Home

Ned Crisp and Bottomline - Taking The Back Roads HomeNED CRISP AND BOTTOMLINE
TAKING THE BACK ROADS HOME
Blue Circle Records
BCR025

With “Danville Prison Grave,” this album starts slow. That its tempo is slow is not a problem. Starting an album with a slow song is no crime, and there are several songs included here that could have filled the bill, such as their fine cover of Tim O’Brien’s “Wishin’ Hard” or their equally fine rendering of guitarist Brandon Adams’ “Please Go Slow.” Tempo aside, what makes “Danville…” a slow opener is a modal melody and a set of words that sound both shopworn and like any number of similarlythemed songs. Compared to Johnny Cash’s “I Got Stripes,” a song also about prison life that comes later on the CD, it is no contest. If a prison song was what they wanted to use for an opener, “Stripes” would have been a better choice.

Fortunately, over the next four songs the band moves through three tunes that cry out for attention, deservedly so, beginning with Adams’ lilting and airy “Yesterday’s Gone” and soon followed by their vocalonly cover of the traditional spiritual “Angels Watching Over Me,” followed in turn by the album’s lone instrumental, “Hillbilly Water Park.” The latter two, for differing reasons, merit comment. “Angels…” is one of those feel-good gospel singalong songs that lifts the spirits, and the band gives it an especially bouyant reading. “Hillbilly…” succeeds on a solid drive, on the nice interplay among the soloists and on the work of mandolinist Zach Rambo. Throughout the recording, it is his mandolin work that garners the highest praise.

The album then drifts a spell, then closes well with the aforementioned run of “I Got Stripes,” “Wishin’ Hard,” and “Please Go Slow.” A brief slow start to get past, but once past, this album rewards with solid overall playing, some standout mandolin, and quite a few toprate songs. (Blue Circle Records P.O. Box 681286, Franklin, TN 37068, www.bluecirclerecords.com.) BW

Review: Rich In Tradition - Black Mountain Special

Rich In Tradition - Black Mountain SpecialRICH IN TRADITION
BLACK MOUNTAIN SPECIAL
Mountain Roads Recordings
MRR1010

Following an album of wellknown standards, one of gospel songs, and one in tribute to the songs of Cullen Galyean, Rich In Tradition has released its most balanced recording to date. Starting the CD off on the right footing is their cover of Cullen Galyean’s love song to a train, “Black Mountain Special.” Immediately, the listener should be drawn to the song’s irresistable drive and to the fragments of the melody of “Bound To Ride” blended into the verses. Underscoring its appeal is a performance that showcases what make this such a fine regional band.

Black Mountain Special is one of four songs included here that are tied either specifically or vaguely to a subtheme of railroading. Of the four, the other standout tune is the cover of the Gussie Davis/Harry Neal 1898 sentimental song, “Red And Green Signal Lights,” in which an engineer learns of his ill daughter’s status by noting whether his wife hangs a red (she’s passed away) or green (she’s getting better) lantern as he steams past their trackside home. The band’s trio harmonies are of special note, rising above what is an album of good vocals.

Of equal interest are two nonrailroad band originals. One is bassist Brad Hiatt’s smooth, melodic take on a guy who can’t see why he can’t be the “Only One Calling You Baby.” In it can be heard a touch of the Dillard’s in their “Decade Waltz” period, and it provides a nice contrast to the more traditional sounds found throughout the album. The second is Greg Jones’ slow, country “Lost, Heartbroke And Lonesome,” a tune that creates interest with a nice shuffle and a nifty twist to a standard chord progression. Throw in an excellent cover of the gospel song “Let’s All Go Down To The River,” a couple of solid originals and some wellplayed standards, and this recording has much to recommend. (Mountain Roads Recordings, 3192 Highway 421, Bristol, TN 37620, www.mountainroadsrecordings.com.) BW

Review: Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand

ON THE EDGE

Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand - All The Good SummersANDREW AND NOAH VanNORSTRAND
ALL THE GOOD SUMMERS
Great Bear Records
GBR CD005

This CD of contemporary acoustic/alternative folk music from brothers Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand showcases the siblings’ creative energies at their best. The multi-talented performers do it all on All The Good Summers, a blend of oldtime country and bluegrass, swing and jazz, Celtic and contra, and alternative folk-rock. The VanNorstrands wrote the music and lyrics, produced the CD, and put their fingers into overdrive on a variety of instruments. Andrew (vocals, fiddle, acoustic and electric guitars, octave mandolin, banjo) and Noah (vocals, fiddle, mandolin, tenor guitars, acoustic guitar, and percussion) also brought in Noah’s wife Kailyn on vocals, Dana Billings and CV Abdallah on drums, Rachel Bell on accordion, Kevin Dorsey on acoustic and electric bass, and Pete Sutherland on piano, keyboards, and pump organ.

Love permeates this album with “bye-bye” love (“Faded To A Dream” and “You Are The One In My Dreams”), just missed love (“Love And Winter”), and love separated by class distinction (“Elinor”). Kudos to the guys on their magnificent instrumentals including “The Wasp’s Goggles,” “Lady Pole (Or A Night At LostHope),” and “A Song For Reverend PD Midget III.” They wrap up the 11track disc with “Where Should I Go”—a song that my five-year-old shouted for “again!” and “again!” It’s just the accolade any musician wants to hear. (Great Bear Records, 1509 Co. Route 57, Fulton, NY 13069, www.andrewandnoah.com.) BC

HIGHLIGHT


Still Inside: The Tony Rice Story - Tim Stafford & Caroline Wright - Introduction by Ricky SkaggsSTILL INSIDE: THE TONY RICE STORY
BY TIM STAFFORD & CAROLINE WRIGHT

Word of Mouth Press 9780578051130.
Hardcover, 315 pp., photos, $24.99.
(Word of Mouth Press, 406 Shelby St., Kingsport, TN 37660, www.wordofmouthpress.us.)

Simply put, this is the most thorough, fascinating biography of a musician I have ever read. Authors Tim Stafford and Caroline Wright have written a rich, informative, entertaining account of the life and music of Tony Rice, the most influential and widely—if not wildly—imitated guitarist in bluegrass history. The structure of the book is unique. Each chapter includes an introduction to an era of Tony’s life, a firstperson narrative created from interviews of Tony covering those years, along with brief quotes from musicians, friends, and fans. The last are not gratuitous, but lend another angle in illuminating a very complex personality. I found myself skipping around and reading different sections out of order, but this worked well. The sections are clearly presented and the more than a hundred photographs capture some important moments in Tony’s life and bluegrass history. I found the last two chapters especially interesting: one on Tony’s life offstage and another on the famous 1935 D28 guitar once owned by Clarence White. The book includes a complete timeline of Tony’s life and career, an exhaustive discography, and a thorough bibliography. They could easily have titled the book The Complete Tony Rice.

There is so much here that stays with you, but especially Tony’s own words. What comes across is an open, honest person who cares about connecting with others musically and personally. That came as a surprise since, in the past, Tony has had an aura of mystery and sometimes seclusion. Several myths are dispelled here, but what is mostly illustrated is the spiritual relationship Tony has with music. It manifests itself in a degree of attention to detail that is mindboggling. But besides the exquisite tone, timing, and touch, there is passion that drives the technique.

Nothing is swept under the rug here. His failures as well as his successes are discussed. This book is one of the few biographies of a musician that gets at the heart of where life and art intersect. Stafford and Wright have left their egos at the door and present Tony in his own terms. A wonderful book and essential reading for anyone interested in the life of a complex, influential musician. CVS

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road - Carolina HurricaneLORRAINE JORDAN & CAROLINA ROAD
CAROLINA HURRICANE
Rural Rhythm
RHY-1062

Veteran IBMA awardwinning, North Carolina singer/bandleader Lorraine Jordan and her band Carolina Road come through with flying colors on their first release for Rural Rhythm Records.

Jordan’s traditional-style CD is powered with firstclass picking, imaginative song choices, and Jordan’s lowkey, but compelling vocal performances. The singer and her gifted ensemble serve up rousing versions of timeless gems by Bill Monroe (“Stay Away From Me”), Ernest Tubb (“You Won’t Ever Forget Me”), Hank Bowman (“You Don’t Know The Blues”), and Don Robertson (“Born To Be With You”).

This solid collection is rounded out with the commanding title tune (penned by Louisa Branscomb), a pair of lovely ballads by Paula Breedlove (“Carolina Blue” and “No Smokey Mountains”), and a couple of Jordan’s own fine originals, the lovely “Carolina Memories” and her elegant theme song “Lady Of Tradition.” (Rural Rhythm Records, P.O. Box 660040, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) BA

Tyler Grant - Tyler Grant's Flatpicking Up The NeckTYLER GRANT
TYLER GRANT’S FLATPICKING: UP THE NECK
Grant Central Records
GCR1001

Instrumental bluegrass albums have a long history, with many of the biggest names having produced at least one such record during their careers. Flatpicking guitar, which entered the bluegrass world long after banjo, fiddle, and mandolin emerged as lead instruments, has followed a similar path, with musicians ranging from Norman Blake, Clarence White, Dan Crary, Tony Rice, Bryan Sutton, David Grier, Cody Kilby, Steve Kaufman, and many more producing outstanding albums of instrumental bluegrass. Tyler Grant, a former National Flatpicking Guitar Champion of the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kans., has emerged in recent years as one of the brightest talents on guitar, producing everything from brilliantly orchestrated guitar-contest pieces to memorable original instrumental tunes to some great instructional materials.

On his latest release Up The Neck, Grant says he wanted to produce an album focused solely on his guitar playing. That’s a big task for any guitarist, but Grant backs up his objective over 14 instrumental tunes, several of which are his compositions. For listeners interested in hearing the intricate, highly-arranged contest-tune style of guitar, Grant obliges with gorgeous renditions of “Forked Deer,” “Beaumont Rag,” and “I Don’t Love Nobody.” He stretches his musical boundaries on his broadly themed originals “Springtime Flatpicking,” “Hippie Guitar,” and “Cache La Poudre.” And, he is joined by fellow flatpicking icon Bill Nershi (who also engineered the project) for a sweet guitar duet on “President Garfield’s Hornpipe.” Infamous Stringdusters banjo ace Chris Pandolfi also sits in on a tune named in Chris’s honor.

Up The Neck is filled with inventive, well-executed flatpicking guitar music ranging from the traditional to the progressive ends of the musical spectrum. Grant is a skilled and talented player who has crafted an enjoyable and highly entertaining CD that will please not only hardcore guitar fans, but many bluegrass lovers who enjoy the instrumental side of our music. In my book, Up The Neck gets a definite thumbs up! (Grant Central Records, P.O. Box 1931, Lyons, CO 80540, www.tylergrant.org.) DJM

Ned Crisp and Bottomline - Taking The Back Roads HomeNED CRISP AND BOTTOMLINE
TAKING THE BACK ROADS HOME
Blue Circle Records
BCR025

With “Danville Prison Grave,” this album starts slow. That its tempo is slow is not a problem. Starting an album with a slow song is no crime, and there are several songs included here that could have filled the bill, such as their fine cover of Tim O’Brien’s “Wishin’ Hard” or their equally fine rendering of guitarist Brandon Adams’ “Please Go Slow.” Tempo aside, what makes “Danville…” a slow opener is a modal melody and a set of words that sound both shopworn and like any number of similarlythemed songs. Compared to Johnny Cash’s “I Got Stripes,” a song also about prison life that comes later on the CD, it is no contest. If a prison song was what they wanted to use for an opener, “Stripes” would have been a better choice.

Fortunately, over the next four songs the band moves through three tunes that cry out for attention, deservedly so, beginning with Adams’ lilting and airy “Yesterday’s Gone” and soon followed by their vocalonly cover of the traditional spiritual “Angels Watching Over Me,” followed in turn by the album’s lone instrumental, “Hillbilly Water Park.” The latter two, for differing reasons, merit comment. “Angels…” is one of those feelgood gospel singalong songs that lifts the spirits, and the band gives it an especially bouyant reading. “Hillbilly…” succeeds on a solid drive, on the nice interplay among the soloists and on the work of mandolinist Zach Rambo. Throughout the recording, it is his mandolin work that garners the highest praise.

The album then drifts a spell, then closes well with the aforementioned run of “I Got Stripes,” “Wishin’ Hard,” and “Please Go Slow.” A brief slow start to get past, but once past, this album rewards with solid overall playing, some standout mandolin, and quite a few toprate songs. (Blue Circle Records P.O. Box 681286, Franklin, TN 37068, www.bluecirclerecords.com.) BW

Rich In Tradition - Black Mountain SpecialRICH IN TRADITION
BLACK MOUNTAIN SPECIAL
Mountain Roads Recordings
MRR1010

Following an album of wellknown standards, one of gospel songs, and one in tribute to the songs of Cullen Galyean, Rich In Tradition has released its most balanced recording to date. Starting the CD off on the right footing is their cover of Cullen Galyean’s love song to a train, “Black Mountain Special.” Immediately, the listener should be drawn to the song’s irresistable drive and to the fragments of the melody of “Bound To Ride” blended into the verses. Underscoring its appeal is a performance that showcases what make this such a fine regional band.

Black Mountain Special is one of four songs included here that are tied either specifically or vaguely to a subtheme of railroading. Of the four, the other standout tune is the cover of the Gussie Davis/Harry Neal 1898 sentimental song, “Red And Green Signal Lights,” in which an engineer learns of his ill daughter’s status by noting whether his wife hangs a red (she’s passed away) or green (she’s getting better) lantern as he steams past their trackside home. The band’s trio harmonies are of special note, rising above what is an album of good vocals.

Of equal interest are two nonrailroad band originals. One is bassist Brad Hiatt’s smooth, melodic take on a guy who can’t see why he can’t be the “Only One Calling You Baby.” In it can be heard a touch of the Dillard’s in their “Decade Waltz” period, and it provides a nice contrast to the more traditional sounds found throughout the album. The second is Greg Jones’ slow, country “Lost, Heartbroke And Lonesome,” a tune that creates interest with a nice shuffle and a nifty twist to a standard chord progression. Throw in an excellent cover of the gospel song “Let’s All Go Down To The River,” a couple of solid originals and some wellplayed standards, and this recording has much to recommend. (Mountain Roads Recordings, 3192 Highway 421, Bristol, TN 37620, www.mountainroadsrecordings.com.) BW

ON THE EDGE

Andrew and Noah VannNorstrand - All The Good SummersANDREW AND NOAH VanNORSTRAND
ALL THE GOOD SUMMERS
Great Bear Records
GBR CD005

This CD of contemporary acoustic/alternative folk music from brothers Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand showcases the siblings’ creative energies at their best. The multi-talented performers do it all on All The Good Summers, a blend of oldtime country and bluegrass, swing and jazz, Celtic and contra, and alternative folk-rock. The VanNorstrands wrote the music and lyrics, produced the CD, and put their fingers into overdrive on a variety of instruments. Andrew (vocals, fiddle, acoustic and electric guitars, octave mandolin, banjo) and Noah (vocals, fiddle, mandolin, tenor guitars, acoustic guitar, and percussion) also brought in Noah’s wife Kailyn on vocals, Dana Billings and CV Abdallah on drums, Rachel Bell on accordion, Kevin Dorsey on acoustic and electric bass, and Pete Sutherland on piano, keyboards, and pump organ.

Love permeates this album with “bye-bye” love (“Faded To A Dream” and “You Are The One In My Dreams”), just missed love (“Love And Winter”), and love separated by class distinction (“Elinor”). Kudos to the guys on their magnificent instrumentals including “The Wasp’s Goggles,” “Lady Pole (Or A Night At LostHope),” and “A Song For Reverend PD Midget III.” They wrap up the 11track disc with “Where Should I Go”—a song that my five-year-old shouted for “again!” and “again!” It’s just the accolade any musician wants to hear. (Great Bear Records, 1509 Co. Route 57, Fulton, NY 13069, www.andrewandnoah.com.) BC

DVD

BARRY BALES
A SOLID FOUNDATION TO ACOUSTIC BASS
AcuTab, No Number. Includes tab booklet, $35. (AcuTab Publications, P.O. Box 21061, Roanoke, VA 24018, www.acutab.com.)

The newest in AcuTab’s series of artist-focused DVDs, and their first acoustic bass instructional product, is Barry Bales’ A Solid Foundation To Acoustic Bass. This two-hour and twenty-minute disc is presented much like a bass workshop—AcuTab founder John Lawless leads Bales through a discussion of his playing techniques and philosophies—a format which lends itself nicely to watching the entire disc straight through. The eight songs they touch on are demonstrated by Bales (front and center for a nice change), and topnotch backing band: Adam Steffey on mandolin, Jim Mills on banjo, and Kenny Smith on guitar.

Bales, long-time member of Alison Krauss + Union Station, as well as the Dan Tyminski Band, covers a lot of territory here, talking about everything from basic left-hand position and right-hand attack to subtle “ghost notes,” from an unadorned one-five pattern on “Fireball Mail” through a constantly-walking western-swing-type bass line on “East Tennessee Blues.” He stresses listening deeply to a lot of music and consciously trying to develop your ear. And he sums up his advice to all bassists: “Be solid. Be confident in your playing. Have fun with it.”

The information on this DVD is so wide ranging that almost any bass player will come away with new and useful knowledge. Those who will benefit most, however, are those who have been playing for a while, already have a firm grasp on the basics, and are looking to hone their technique and kick their game up to the next level. CAH