FGM Records FGM 128
“Flatpicking Bluegrass” is the latest installment in the Flatpicking Guitar Magazine album series. As one would expect, some of the best flatpick guitarists are brought in to show their wares. But, what’s cool about this project is the way it was put together with an excellent band brought in to flesh out a set of bluegrass songs so they stand on their own. Then, once the base is built, the guitarists are encouraged to take that extra break or two to flesh out the premise of the album at both fast and slower tempos.
Put together by Dan Miller of FGM and produced by Tim May, the album highlights a list of accomplished guitarists that include May, Stephen Mougin, Brad Davis, Jim Hurst, Tim Stafford, John Chapman, Chris Jones, Josh Williams, Jim Nunally, Jeff White, Richard Bennett, and Kenny Smith. The backing band consists of Shad Cobb, Chris Joslin, Dave Harvey, and Charlie Chadwick, with backing vocals by Jeremy and Jason Chapman, Brad Davis, Wil Maring, Patty Mitchell, Amanda Smith, and Alan O’Bryant. As far as the lead vocals, the guitarists themselves provide their own.
There are some barnburners on here including John Chapman taking on “East Virginia Blues,” Josh Williams on “Long Journey Home,” and Kenny Smith ripping on “Air Mail Special On The Fly.” Those wonderful cuts are balanced by the more midtempo numbers, showing that flatpick guitar playing can also be done slower and sweeter. Some fine examples of this are Jim Hurst on an old school countrified version of “When The Golden Leaves Begin To Fall,” Stephen Mougin’s take on “My Home’s Across The Blue Ridge Mountains,” Tim Stafford on “I’ll Stay Around,” Jeff White on “Six White Horses,” and Brad Davis on the classic “Banks Of The Ohio.” (FGM Records, P.O. Box 2160, Pulaski, VA 24301, www.fgmrecords.com.)
LOST & FOUND
LOVE, LOST AND FOUND
Rebel Records REBCD 1829
With Dempsey Young’s tragic death in 2006, bluegrass music lost a master mandolin stylist whose smooth, melodic playing helped define the sound of a highly distinctive band. Thankfully, the Lost & Found’s latest release contains Young’s last studio recordings, seven tracks on which he plays and one of which also features his lead vocal.
One only has to listen to the effortless kickoff on “I Want To Be Wanted,” the tasteful, sweet fills on “Don’t Let Your Sweet Love Die,” or his slinky break on “Trail Of Sorrow” to know how different Young’s approach was from most other mandolin pickers. His work on “Waltz Medley” is typically gorgeous; so is his bouncy playing in support of Scottie Sparks’ country vocal on Ernest Tubb’s “Ill Always Be Glad To Take You Back.” The Pete Goblepenned “Pretty Roses Remind Me Of You” features more of Young’s concise, yet emotional, phrases paired with Ronald Smith’s banjo in between Allen Mills’ sincere vocals, all perfect for a love song. Young sings the nostalgic “A Daisy A Day,” a performance sure to bring a tear to many an eye.
The six tracks on which Young does not appear are every bit as worthy of the Lost & Found brand, with Scott Napier performing more than ably in the impossible task of filling Young’s spot. In particular, “If Today Was The Last Day” showcases Napier’s style, which is clearly influenced by, but not a copy of, Young’s. With Smith’s strong, subtle banjo picking and Sparks and Mills dividing lead vocal duties, the disc as a whole, which benefits by adhering for the most part to the love song theme, is a worthy addition to the band’s canon, made with grace under tough circumstances. (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906, www.rebelrecords.com.) AKH
BLUE SKY BOYS (BILL & EARL BOLICK)
ARE YOU FROM DIXIE?
Gusto Records GT70549
This CD came as a total surprise. In 2008, while attending Bill Bolick’s funeral in Hickory, N.C., the thought occurred to me that we’d probably seen the last Blue Sky Boys reissues. After all, we’d been blessed with several fine releases in recent years. With the last of the Blue Sky Boys passed from the scene, I feared that any chance of additional releases would diminish with time.
I didn’t reckon with Copper Creek Records’ Gary Reid, who’d also attended Bill’s funeral. He convinced the folks at IMG, owners of the Starday/King catalog, to reissue (as a memoriam on a single CD) two LPs the Blue Sky Boys cut for Starday Records; a gospel set and a secular set.
These were the first studio recordings made by the Bolicks following their 1951 departure from music. Starday’s Don Pierce had contacted the brothers in 1961, wanting them to record. After a decade out of music, they declined, but Bill provided some 1940s radio transcriptions to Pierce, which were released in 1962. The album did well, and Pierce persisted with his pleas for them to record.
In August 1963, Bill and Earl journeyed to Nashville, where they made these two historic albums. But, things didn’t proceed without a hitch. The Starday producers wanted to “update” the pristine sound of the Blue Sky Boys with extraneous Nashville instruments. The Bolicks were against it, but finally compromised; if they could cut the gospel album with just the addition of fiddle and bass, they would record the secular set as the producer’s wished. They reasoned that since they’d been out of the loop so long, Starday would know better what the public would buy.
The secular recordings include steel guitar, electric guitar, drums, and occasional piano. Happily, for the most part the extra instruments don’t intrude as much as one would expect—only on about a half dozen songs. On 27 of the 28 titles, the lead instruments are the mandolin and fiddle (the exception is “In The Pines,” which features uncredited resonator guitar). The choice of Hank Snow’s fiddler, Tommy Vaden, was inspired. Tommy sounds as if he’d worked with the Blue Sky Boys for years; interplay between fiddle and mandolin is flawless.
This is some of the Blue Sky Boys’ finest work, and two thirds of these songs don’t appear elsewhere by the brothers—four of them previously unreleased. And there’s a wonderful set of notes by Gary Reid. In spite of the tracks with Nashville instruments, this album gets my hearty recommendation. (Gusto Records, 1900 Elm Hill Pike, Nashville, TN 37210, www.countrymusicusa.com.) WVS
DOORS AND WINDOWS
7 4502 2
I have been listening to Bearfoot for a couple of years now. They have a reputation for sounding as wonderful in concert as they do on their albums. The core of the group, Kate Hamre on bass and lead vocals, Angela Oudean on fiddle and vocals, Mike Mickelson on guitar and vocals, and Jason Norris on mandolin and vocals are from Alaska. Not long ago, the group added a mainlander to the fold with fiddler, songwriter, vocalist, and former Biscuit Burner, Odessa Jorgenson, who’s rounded out the Bearfoot sound wonderfully.
Bearfoot is a part of the newer side of bluegrass where the younger generation brings in modern yet downtoearth sensibilities and influences to the music. The end result is a fiddle based sound supported by sweet vocals that exude a sense of life lived and loved. The opening cut, the Megan McCormick penned “Oh My Love,” is a perfect example of this—infectious and Sunday-drive worthy.
The guest musicians brought in for this Garry West produced album include the Infamous Stringdusters’ Andy Hall on resonator guitar, Alison Brown on banjo, Todd Phillips on bass, Andrea Zonn on fiddle, and Larry Atamanuik on drums. Highlights include the upbeat traditional “Single Girl,” some unique takes on John Hiatt’s “Before I Go” and the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” and a couple of wonderful sliceoflife cuts in “Heaven” and “Northward Bound.” (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.) DH
Left of Center Records
Scratch the surface of the musical mainstream and you’re bound to find countless niches of musical brilliance. “Hornography” is an inspired showcase for one of these niches. It represents a musical convocation of various masters of the resonator guitar composing songs and collaborating in various configurations with their different sizes, shapes and models of Tim Scheerhorn’s much soughtafter Scheerhorn guitars.
This 17-track collection is, of course, a musthave for resonator guitar aficionados. Yet with its dazzling musicianship, imaginative original compositions and stylistic range (everything from progressive and traditional bluegrass to blues and the occasional jazz flavored forays), it will also delight mainstream listeners.
Jimmy Ross came up with this Scheerhorncentric album concept. He also served as executive producer and brought on board Jim Scheerhorn who testdrives his own guitars on several tracks, including on an evocative instrumental called “Autumn Sunset,” which he also wrote. Ross also enlisted noted producer/multi-instrumentalist Randy Kohrs, who besides producing, engineering and mixing many of the tracks, also wrote, sings, and plays on several tracks.
The other namebrand contributors to this inspired project are too numerous to list here, but Bruce Bouton, Rob Ickes, Todd Livingston, Andy Leftwich, Alan Bibey, Scott Vestal, and Adam Steffey are just a few of the masters who lent their talent and expertise to “Hornography.” (Left of Center Records, 2322 Foster Ave., Nashville, TN 37210, myspace.com/hornographycd.) BA
IT’S ABOUT TIME
I met LeRoy Mumma (pronounced MOOmaw) in the late 1960s. He was playing with Charlie Bailey when I joined Charlie’s band. LeRoy also appeared with the Bailey Brothers on a number of gigs, including the Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. LeRoy’s a fine fiddler, the kind of musician who makes others look good, even when they’re not—which was the case with yours truly. I was struggling to keep up with those guys, all of whom were professionals.
LeRoy played solid backup, with doublestops often reminiscent of Tater Tate. That may have partly been why the Baileys liked him. Tater was their favorite fiddler and LeRoy had some of the same licks. We played a few shows together in the 1970s with Charlie and Dan Bailey, but more often just Charlie. Banjo pioneer Johnnie Whisnant worked some of those shows, too; LeRoy also fiddled on Johnnie’s Rounder album.
When Charlie moved from Wilmington, Del., back to Tennessee, I lost contact with LeRoy, who was living in Pennsylvania. The next time I ran into LeRoy Mumma was the early 1980s at the Gettysburg, Pa., bluegrass festival. He was working with Bob Paisley, with whom he cut five albums. He also played with the Spirits Of Bluegrass for a while, but recently he’s been freelancing.
For this project (his first CD on his own), LeRoy chose a nice mixture of standards and obscure (at least to me) tunes. He enlisted his old associates, Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass, to back him—good choice. They provide sympathetic accompaniment, and the interplay with mandolin and banjo makes for an exciting fiddle album. (LeRoy Mumma, 1281 Kramer Mill Rd., Denver, PA 17517, firstname.lastname@example.org.) WVS
NEW FOUND ROAD
SAME OLD PLACE
This project shows the maturity a band can have in both vocal and song arrangement. In my opinion New Found Road has quietly become one of the best bluegrass/country flavored groups of the modern bluegrass era. Selecting songs from a variety of writers such as Sonya Isaacs, Tim Stafford, Larry Sparks, Ronnie Bowman, and Carter Stanley, NewFound Road shows that it can handle songs as varied as an old Del Reeves tune “On The Back Row” to a barnburning instrumental “Piledriver” written by Justin Moses. For this project, the band consists of Tim Shelton on guitar and lead vocal, Joe Booher on mandolin, Justin Moses on resonator guitar, JR Williams on banjo and Randy Barnes on bass. The group has additional help from Brandon Godman and Jim VanCleve on fiddles and vocals. The CD kicks of with a driving version of Sonya Isaacs’ “Try To Be” and other selections include Ronnie Bowman’s “River Of Pain,” Larry
Sparks “Brand New Broken Heart,” and Tim O’Brien’s “Full Circle.” The highlights for me are the wonderful a cappella of “Give Me Jesus,” and from the Stanley’s, Ralph’s “I Am The Man Thomas” and Carter’s “Lonesome River.”
Please note as of this writing Randy Barnes has been replaced on bass by Jamey Booher and Junior Williams has been replaced on banjo by Josh Miller. This leaves Tim Shelton as the only remaining founding member. But if this project is any example, Shelton and New Found Road will have a good future with old and new fans alike. (Rounder Records, One Burlington Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.) BF
Every note is perfect. Each vocal inflection, harmony part, and timing increment is perfectly placed. Rhonda Vincent’s new Rounder album, “Destination Life” is about as technologically flawless as it can get. So what is there to talk about?
Well, we might mention that, for the first time, to achieve such perfection Rhonda needed to look no further than her own group. Stalwart fiddler Hunter Berry, coproducer of the album with Rhonda, and longtime bassist Mickey Harris are joined by Rage newbies Ben Helson on guitar and Aaron McDaris on banjo. When you’ve got a road band this good, why look elsewhere?
Then there are the songs, many of which are compositions in the modern bluegrass vein. They run the gamut from the odd chords of the opener “Last Time Loving You” to Pete Goble’s slow countryinflected “I Can Make Him Whisper I Love You” to the gutwrenchingbuthopeful “Destination Life.”
Standouts include the duet with Ben Helson on “Crazy What A Lonely Heart Will Do” which features the resonator guitar work of Mickey Harris (who knew?), and “Stop The World (And Let Me Off)” whose rumba beat provides a nice break from the stricter bluegrass meters.
Still and yet, after a rimption (if I may use that good old Southern word) of heartbreak, it is refreshing to hear the band launch into the old fiddle tune “Eighth Of January” on which Rhonda demonstrates that her mandolin playing is still solid as a rock. Another nod to tradition comes from Aaron McDaris’s fingerpicked guitar (dare I say Scruggsstyle guitar?) on “I Heard My Savior Calling Me.”
Rhonda continues to charge full-speed ahead through the bluegrass world, living her dream, singing her heart out, and cranking out album after album of intense, high quality music. “Destination Life” is another stellar addition to the Rhonda Vincent catalog. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.) MHH
WAY UP ON A MOUNTAIN
Spring Creek, the young Colorado based quartet, hits the nail squarely on the head with “Way Up On A Mountain,” their third and best CD. They’ve chosen new material perfectly suited to their intense traditional bluegrass sound. They wrote half of the tracks themselves, five more come from various songsters, and the sole traditional offering, “In Despair,” is a relatively obscure Monroe classic, performed with conviction.
The band members share the vocal duties in different duo and trio combinations, for a nice variety. Especially effective is the highbaritone trio on the chorus of “It’s Alright My Darlin’,” and the fullout trio arrangement on “Lonesome Town.” Taylor Smith plays driving rhythm guitar, tasteful lead, and sings four songs, including the title track. Jessica Smith lays her bass playing right in the pocket and wrote two of the three songs she sings here.
Alex Johnstone plays a refreshingly Monroe-influenced downstroke-style mandolin. Chris Elliot’s solid banjo reflects his years of study with Alan Munde and Pete Wernick and his tunes “Cuba Vera Swing” and “Under The Gun” demonstrate his versatility and originality, with a particularly nice use of Keith tuners on the latter. Michael Cleveland and Sally Van Meter appear as guests and their playing adds depth and fullness while not overshadowing the core group.
The music ranges from dark and bluesy (“Tangled In The Pines”) to swingy and lighthearted (“Drivin’ Me Crazy”), and everything in between. With this release the band’s sound has jelled and shows the tight precision of musicians who have played together regularly for years. Some credit for this surely goes to record producer Jeff White. The members of Spring Creek are living up to their considerable potential and with a little luck they will go far. (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906, www.springcreekbluegrassband.com.) CAH
TWO HIGH STRING BAND
HOT TEXAS BLUEGRASS BURRITO
The Two High String Band from Texas is a sixpiece bluegrass band featuring some pretty familiar names. Try banjo great Alan Munde, mandolinist Billy Bright (once part of Tony Rice’s touring band), and bassist Mark Rubin (formerly of the Bad Livers), along with Erik Hokkanen on fiddle, and Brian Smith and Geoff Union on guitars and vocals. Eight of the twelve tracks on their “Hot Texas Bluegrass Burrito” are originals, augmented by covers ranging from standards like “I’ve Just Seen The Rock Of Ages” to unlikely but inspired covers such as John Coltrane’s “Lazy Bird.”
Like with most burritos, the ingredients can range from mouthwatering to joltingly spicy. Also like real burritos, it can only take a few bad tasting items to spoil the overall flavor, and that’s the case with this CD, as well. It’s a shame, too, because there’s a lot of brilliant playing here. Alan Munde is absolutely on top of his game, tossing out one tasty and tasteful break after another, and Bright matches him with a host of fine solos, as well as original instrumentals like “Jerusalem Café,” “Waltz Into Morning,” and “E. Compton Blues,” all of which show a healthy Monroe influence.
As with many hot picking bands, it’s the vocals that suffer. Also, as with many contemporary CDs, the notes don’t indicate which of the band’s four vocalists are featured on any given track. But, lead vocals are just shaky enough and wavering on pitch to detract from the overall positive effect of the picking. Hokkanen’s fiddle work is a bit inconsistent, too, playing a nice solo on “High On The Ohio,” but starting off with a slightly sour intro. His background drones on “Waltz Into Morning” distract from an otherwise gorgeous and moody instrumental.
So it’s hard to speculate as to why the end results came out this way. Certainly fans of Alan Munde, good mandolin picking, and new Monroeesque instrumentals will find a lot of pleasure in this CD. Those whose tastes run towards smoother singing might have to look elsewhere. (Two High String Band, 1809 Stanley Ave., Austin, TX 78745, www.highstring.com.) HK
WAYNE TAYLOR & APPALOOSA
Since retiring from the Navy and as lead singer head of their Country Current bluegrass ensemble, Wayne Taylor has had the musical freedom he has been seeking where he can showcase his own material. Taylor is a strong guitarist, vocalist and songwriter whose talents have become well known amongst his peers. After a year or so of sideman duties with such bands as Bill Emerson’s Sweet Dixie, Taylor decided to venture out and form his own group. To that end Taylor has pulled together an experienced and solid band with Emory Lester on mandolin, Mark Delaney on banjo, Kip Martin on bass, and Dave Giegerich on resonator guitar; all familiar names. All the material on this project was either written or cowritten by Taylor with the exception of “Bury Me In Dixie” by David Parker, “Dancin’ With Judy” by Chris & Karen Walls, and “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by Craig & Charlie Reid. The songs include the melodic “Cold Cold River,” the Gospels of “Heaven’s Door,” and “Jesus And Me,” the oddtempo of “40 Years,” and the lookingback of “Dirt Roads.”
The project was produced by Taylor and Emory Lester and was solidly recorded and mixed at George Hodgkiss’ Phoenix studios in Browntown, Va. This collection is sure to be a hit with Taylor’s many fans and will provide song fodder for those searching for new tunes. (Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa,1751 Regents Park Rd., West Crofton, MD 21114, www.waynetaylorandappaloosa.com.) BF