After making his mark as a successful pop country artist, Dierks Bentley is taking a risk with his much anticipated Up On The Ridge. But, great music awaits, as it turns out to be a strong statement by a mature and confident artist. Bentley’s love and respect for bluegrass music is well known, and he confirms it in perhaps the best recording of his career.
The opening title track is pretty much the only hint of the featherweight pop that’s formed much of the foundation of Bentley’s success. But with that out of the way, the album embarks on a well crafted journey through a landscape of music gems. Bentley and producer Jon Randall draw from the best known names in bluegrass and country music. Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury, Rob Ickes, Randy Kohrs, Alison Krauss, and more lend their immense talents.
Highlights are many: a delightfully wry “You’re Dead To Me,” co-written by Tim O’Brien, Randall, and Bentley; the quietly romantic “Draw Me A Map”; and the wrenching “Down In The Mine” are just a few. He gets solid contributions from country hard-ballers Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson on “Bad Angel” and the mighty Kris Kristofferson on “Bottom Of The Bottle.” But, the real genius is best found on the cuts with the Punch Brothers (Chris Thile, Gabe Witcher, Noam Pikelney, Chris Eldridge, and Paul Kowert), supplying some serious bluegrass punch. One is an immensely powerful rendering of Bob Dylan’s “Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)” on which Bentley’s world-weary baritone is perfectly complemented by Thile, who has developed into a mature and expressive singer. Del McCoury provides some passionate and hair-raising vocals on U2’s “In The Name Of Love.” And, both Bentley and the Punch Brothers throw down their bluegrass bona fides with a smokin’ version of “Roving Gambler,” breathing fire into a well-worn, perhaps even overdone classic tune.
Ultimately, Up On The Ridge is more country music than by-the-book bluegrass, but worthy of special attention to bluegrass lovers. It’s what we wish country music was still like, but, in most cases, no longer is. Mostly acoustic with profoundly good songwriting, tasteful production and strongly bluegrass-influenced, all wrapped into in a modern, forward looking package, this is an important recording for listeners and for Dierks Bentley. If it reflects his genuine vision for his music, let’s have more like it…please. (Capitol Records, 3322 West End Ave., 11th Fl., Nashville, TN 37203, www.capitolnashville.com.) AWIII
THE McCORMICK BROTHERS
SOMEWHERE IN TIME
It was 1954 when I first heard a McCormick Brothers recording, “Red Hen Boogie,” a Louvin Brothers creation that the McCormicks masterfully brought to life. Soon, an instrumental titled “The Mad Banjo” hit the market, and I was hooked. The tune received considerable airplay in my home turf of northern Virginia; one local DJ even adopted it as his show theme. In those days, the McCormick Brothers consisted of Kelly (mandolin), Lloyd (guitar), and Haskell (banjo), and over the next decade they continued to release strong titles for the Hickory label. Younger brother, William, joined as bass player and, even later, another brother, Gerald, joined.
In their heyday, the McCormick Brothers were a force to be reckoned with. Their songs were topnotch, but many folks focused on their instrumentals featuring the brilliant banjo work of Haskell. By the end of the 1950s, rock’n’roll was seriously impacting traditional music. Still, the McCormicks survived for many years hosting a popular and heavily attended weekly square dance in Gallatin, Tenn. After several attempts at releasing LPs in the 1960s, their recording career began to wind down, and they eventually faded into undeserved obscurity—all except Haskell, who worked a tour with Lester Flatt’s Nashville Grass.
Sadly, band pioneers Lloyd and Kelly have passed away. But, now, Haskell and his younger brothers William and Gerald have revitalized the band, releasing this excellent album. Second generation family members show up, and some guests appear, too, most notably Michael Cleveland on fiddle and mandolin.
Here we have the updated McCormick sound. The set of 17 titles (and one bonus track) opens with a new tune (at least to me) “Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You,” one of the set’s highlights. There are also fine versions of the gospel favorite “Camping In Canaan’s Land,” a banjo/fiddle duet, “Old Joe Clark,” and “You Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You,” another tune I’d not heard. The boys offer a pleasing mix of new pieces and familiar ones, all powerful performances including a fine new version of “Red Hen Boogie.” It’s great to have the McCormick Brothers back. Recommended. (Stonewall Records, 110 River Rd., Hendersonville, TN 37075, www.stonewallrecords.com.) WVS
THE OLD CROW ROAD
This is the third solo CD for this 13 year old banjo picker from Beaver, W.Va. He sounds as if he’s been playing for years. And, he has—four years as a matter of fact. He has a good grasp of Scruggs-style banjo and the melodic-style and he aptly demonstrates it on a dozen standard bluegrass instrumentals. His touch is remarkable as he plays with a sureness that belies his age. His teacher, Brandon Green, plays most of the rhythm instruments, some mandolin, and reso guitar. Daniel Boner plays fiddle, and Alex Hibbitts plays some mighty fine mandolin on the tracks Green doesn’t play.
On “Wayfaring Stranger,” Johnson plays fingerstyle guitar. Otherwise, he tears up the banjo parts, adding a little something of his own to pieces by famous forbearer Earl Scruggs— “Randy Lynn Rag,” “Nashville Skyline Rag,” and “Ground Speed.”
The picking throughout this project is accomplished and makes for good listening. The recording quality is good enough, although overall, the final mix lacks real representation of the lead instruments. This is a worthy project by a promising young talent that we no doubt will hear much more from in the future. (Blaine Johnson, P.O. Box 732, Beaver, WV 25813, myspace.com/blainebanjoboy.) RCB
The Brothers hail from Virginia and play a solid traditional style of bluegrass. The inclusion of original material here adds interest to the program. Their vocals reflect the life they sing about, and the lonesome mountain sound predominates. As this band grows, they continue to absorb influences from the strong body of traditional bluegrass that they are definitely a part of today. They, in turn, use this to refine their sound.
Brandon Farley drives the sound with his banjo, adding tasteful backup and just the right amount of punch. Billy Hurt, Jr., plays some fine fiddle with sweet-moving double-stops and sharp leads. Victor Dowdy plays bass and sings with his two sons, Donald on mandolin and Steve on guitar. They all are accomplished musicians who know the genre and feel their music deeply.
The material is all robust with five songs coming from Steve or Victor Dowdy, one each from Jimmy Martin (“Home Run Man”), Reno & Smiley (“Wall Around Your Heart”), and Vern Gosdin (“If Your [sic] Going To Do Me Wrong, Do Me Right”). Two tracks are from the pen of Mike Dillard, one of which is the heart wrenching “Little Jenny.”
This group is getting better with each release and growing to be a presence on the current bluegrass scene. We can look for more good things to come from this band. (Bluegrass Brothers, 3441 Rusty Road, Salem, VA 24153, www.thebluegrassbrothers.com.) RCB
When it comes to a Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver release, one can always be assured of a solid, well-produced project with expert instrumentation, exciting arrangements, and classic, bone chilling harmonies. This project is no exception. His band has been known as the “school of bluegrass” with new and old members coming and going over the years. But, Doyle’s standards are high, and he consistently strives for a sound and quality that remains fast, despite the changes.
Doyle’s focus is gospel music and he sticks pretty close to the bluegrass sound that produces this particular brand of southern gospel. He picks his songs carefully, and on this project he includes songs from Corey Hensley, Carl Story, Jerry Salley, Conrad Cook, Dee Gaskin, and Thomas Porter. This band edition of Quicksilver includes Corey Hensley on guitar, Jason Leek on bass, Dale Perry on banjo, Josh Swift on resonator guitar, and Jason Barie on fiddle.
The title cut was written by guitarist Hensley who also contributes “The Hammer Of Sin.” There is a great rendition of Carl Story’s “It’s A Mighty Hard Road To Travel.” Other highlights include Lance Carpenter’s “He Will Remember Me” and the medley “Ship Of Zion”/“Is That The Old Ship Of Zion.” Fans of gospel music and of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver will thoroughly enjoy this release. (Horizon Records, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.crossroadsmusic.com.) BF
Greg Brooks is a North Georgia fiddler, who has managed to corral a large assortment of friends and cut this recording that’s dedicated to two of his fiddling heroes, Robert “Allen” Sisson and Tommy Magness. Magness might be the better known of the two fiddlers for most folks as he played with Roy Hall, Bill Monroe, and Roy Acuff and is known as one of the primary transitional fiddlers from old-time to the more bluesy and jazz-influenced bluegrass fiddlers. Sisson recorded “Katy Hill” in 1925.
Among all of these friends are the makings of several bands. The only constant is the fiddling of Greg Brooks. He fiddles with full band on the more bluegrass numbers, and on some of the older tunes associated with Sisson, he plays with just guitar backup. Brooks’ style relies heavily on saw strokes, but at times he erupts into hot triple fiddle passages that reveal his bluegrass strengths. Through this program of fifteen tunes and one song (“Molly And Tinbrooks [sic]”) Brooks plays some mighty satisfying fiddle.
Andy Ruff plays some fine resonator guitar especially on the duet “Lonesome Indian.” They do this again with “Katy Hill.” Eat your hearts out banjo pickers, the latter is one hot duet. The inclusion of the very fine “Rocky Road To Dublin” is an example of a tune that shares that name. There are eight tunes listed under that title on the Fiddler’s Companion Web site. Ruff’s resonator guitar work on this tune and the others is highly expressive and melodically accurate—no easy task.
There are extensive liner notes that tell the story of this recording project and of some of the accidents that should have, but did not, end Brooks’ fiddling days. There are photographs of many of the players, along with information about them.
This is a project of love and remembrance for two fiddlers now gone. The only tune that may have been included, but wasn’t, is “Polecat Blues,” a tune held in high esteem by many North Carolina fiddlers who have fond memories of Magness’ recording with Roy Hall. (Greg Brooks, 4233 Mineral Bluff Hwy., Mineral Bluff, GA 30559.) RCB
The Hillbenders, based in Springfield, Mo., debut here with 11 band originals and two covers all played in a bright, melodic contemporary bluegrass-style that contains hints of country, country-rock, swing, and, in the vocal harmonies are reminiscent of New Grass Revival. Taken as a whole, there is a slight imbalance in favor of medium-fast tempos, giving a straightthrough listening a certain relentlessness. Taken songbysong, the majority of the tracks offer strong tunes and intriguing arrangements.
The band—guitarist/vocalist Jim Rea, bassist/vocalist Gary Rea, mandolinist/vocalist Nolan Lawrence, banjoist Mark Cassidy, and reso guitarist Chad Graves—recently won Silver Dollar City’s 2010 National Single Mic Championship. That may explain their partiality to quick tempos. It may also explains their fondness for split solos and for the way they group those solos. In the uptempo “Another Day, Another Dollar,” for example, the instrumental section that divides the song’s two-verse choruse is grouped into short solos that change players and instruments 12 times. That would obviously translate well on a single mic and makes a nice variant here.
Whatever the reasoning behind what they do, they do it well. Jim Rea’s opening song, “Highway Gambler,” with its tale of losing it all by taking the whiskey train, and with its soaring emphatic chorus should prove a favorite. The poptinged melody of “Take Me Away” is equally captivating, as is the rhythmicallyworded chorus of Jim Rea’s “Done Wrong Love Song.” Among the slower and medium songs, Cassidy’s “Hard Wakin’ Up” is played in a classic country swing tempo, while another Jim Rea song, “Easier On Me,” recalls the slow country rock tunes of Gram Parsons.
Hard luck seems to be a common theme throughout this debut. What is also a common theme is the high quality of the music and performance. (The Hillbenders, 319 S. Hampton, Springfield, MO 65806, www.hillbenders.com.) BW
The career paths of these three bluegrass legends have crossed numerous times over the past half century. This time, they’ve crossed paths for a cause: to record a robust, traditional gospel tribute to the late great Jimmy Martin, who had a profound influence on all three of these men. Doyle Lawson, who like Crowe and Williams served a stint in Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys many moons ago, says in his heartfelt liner notes: “We wanted to do a CD of songs that we had sung with Jimmy on stage and on records. This was a labor of love and an appreciation for a man and his music.”
Quite a few of the titles here (“Prayer Bells Of Heaven,” “Stormy Waters,” “This World Is Not My Home”) are stalwart bluegrass gospel standards. The trio also reprises a pair of Martin’s original spirituals: “Voice Of My Savior” and “Give Me Your Hand.” This powerhouse harmony trio (Crowe on baritone vocals, Lawson on lead vocals, and Williams on lead and tenor vocals on various tracks) is backed at various times by Cia Cherryholmes (high harmony vocals), Sonya Isaacs (high harmony vocals), Ben Isaacs (bass and bass vocals), Ron Stewart (fiddle), and Harry Stinson (snare drum).
Each and every one of these 12 tracks is imbued with precise and powerful harmonies and an earnest, soulful spirit of collaboration and sense of tradition. The vocal performances flow so seamlessly and resonate with such confidence and conviction that it makes it easy to imagine these three masters, whose careers have taken such different paths over the years, have actually been singing together forever. (Mountain Home Music, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.crossroadsmusic.com.) BA
Two albums ago, Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin recorded the songs of Utah Phillips. That was in 1997. Their next release in 2000 was a tribute to the Carter Family. Now, after a ten-year hiatus, they have returned with a recording aptly-named Return, on which they mix guitar and vocal duets with banjo/guitar/vocal duets and with mandolin/guitar duets, and on which they include a Utah Phillips song “Old Buddy Goodnight” and a Carter Family song, “Somebody’s Boy.”
The recording evokes an evening of playing and singing on the back porch. To be sure, there are moments in which Stecher and Brislin let go and the music approaches a rambunctious level. “Boat’s Up A River” shows a touch of it in the snap of the strings on Stecher’s nylonstrung banjo or in almost shouted lines of the melody. Brislin’s cover of “Somebody’s Boy” veers to that level in the chorus, and there is an inherent intensity that comes naturally to the blues tune “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning” and in the gospel song “Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand.”
Generally, though, the mood is relaxed and convivial. Gentle performances taken at slow and slow/medium dominate almost exclusively, be it the parlor-esque optimism of the orphan in “Every Bush And Tree,” the stately grace of Hazel Dickens’ description of her sister’s hard life in “Old Calloused Hands,” the ethereal quality and elegant guitar solos (Stecher’s) in “Fine Horseman,” the 1897 gospel classic “Beautiful,” or the 3/4-time tale of a love’s departure in “Rivers Of Texas.” Even the two mostly instrumental mandolin/guitar medleys of “Gunboat”/“Back Step Cindy” and “The Rainy Day”/“Pretty Little Widow”—while somewhat lively and danceable—are far more flowing than rollicking.
All told, high marks all around. So sit back, relax and enjoy. (Kate Brislin, c/o Leland et al, 199 Fremont St. #2100, San Francisco, CA 94105, www.jodyandkate.com.) BW
For the most part, Junior Sisk avoids recording bluegrass standards. I say “for the most part” because he did record “Dust On The Bible” on his debut release, Blue Side Of The Blue Ridge, and that tune has seen its share of covers. On this his second release, Heartaches And Dreams, the “for the most part” disappears. It might be argued that such tunes as the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers’ “You Broke Your Promise” from the early ’50s or Clyde Pitts’ “The Laugh’s On Me” from the mid’60s are widely remembered, but you can’t really call them standards.
To go with them, Sisk has revived a couple of minor classics and given them the same rich, traditional sound he brings to all his work. The first of these is Larry McPeak’s slow, countrytinged “Humble Man.” The other two are gospel tunes: the vibrant and stomping 1950s Dottie Swan composition “Let The Light Shine Down” and Pearlie Mullins’ “The Lowest Valley.” Of the three, “The Lowest Valley” (to which Sisk brings a wonderful vibrato on the held notes of the verse) may be on its way to becoming a standard. Already recorded by the Isaacs and by Ralph Stanley, Sisk’s excellent cover may be all it needs to reach such status.
The rest of the songs are of more contemporary vintage. Tom T. and Dixie Hall’s “Train Without A Track” opens the album with the necessary rush. It and “Working Hard Ain’t Hardly Working Anymore” will probably never be standards, but they’re good workmanlike songs and both wellpresented. One that does have classic status potential is the swing/honkytonk “A Black Hearse Following Me.” With its catchy refrain …running with a wide open throttle, a longnecked bottle and a…, along with its cautiontothewind attitude and fine twin instrumental lines, it certainly brings a smile to the face. But, then, so will this album in general. (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906, www.rebelrecords.com.) BW
It’s a challenge and a litmus test for any artist to sequence his or her original songs alongside familiar classics by the likes of Carter Stanley and the Louvin Brothers on a CD. Bay Area veteran musician Kathy Kallick passes this test with flying colors on her 15th recording.
Between The Hollow And The HighRise (the title reflects a recurring theme in Kallick’s originals) opens with “Where Is My Little Cabin Home,” the introspective and compelling lament of a uneasy urban dweller without an old homeplace to seek refuge and renewal. “Whistle Stop Town” is, in Kallick’s words, a “folk/pop/Americana (storysong) played on bluegrass instruments.” It dramatizes the plight of a smalltown refugee struggling to come to grips with the troubled, misplaced past that put her on the run in the first place.
Kallick’s delightful humor shines through on “My House” (…shame it ain’t perfect/but it’s home) and her politically barbed update of a traditional tune titled “New White House Blues.” Thrown in for good measure are spirited reprisals of Carter Stanley’s “Lonesome Night,” Josh Graves’ “Come Walk With Me,” and the traditional gospel ode, “There Is A Higher Power.” Also featured are several fine instrumentals on which Kallick and her band—Tom Bekeny (mandolin, vocals), Dan Booth (acoustic bass, vocals), Greg Booth (reso guitar and banjo), and Annie Staninec (fiddle)—showcase their formidable instrumental prowess. (Live Oak Records, P.O. Box 21344, Oakland, CA 94620, www.kathykallick.com.) BA
In their sixth recording, Pennsylvania’s Remington Ryde covers Charlie Moore’s tale of impending murder with “Her Last Breath.” A more ominous song can scarce be named. The danger with such songs is that making the song believable and not campy or corny requires a storyteller’s sense of timing and emphasis. Charlie Moore certainly had that sense, and so, too, does Remington Ryde and its principle lead singer Ryan Frankhauser
“Her Last Breath” is chillingly believable and a standout track on an album full of good songs performed in a straight, traditional style. Seven of the thirteen tracks are originals. One of those is Billy Cox’s “Clinch Mountain Backstep”-style banjo instrumental, “Shady Maple Quickstep,” while the other six were penned by Frankhauser. His “Itty Bitty Teenie Weenie Sorta Kinda Broken Heart” has a clever chorus of rapid wordsmithing that counters the bemoaning of loss and leaves you wondering if the sufferer is all that suffering. At other times, he gives us the extreme sadness of a mother’s plea for “One More Day” with her dying child, the ache of lost love in “I’m Half The Man,” and the title tune, an ode to his grandfather.
Frankhauser’s songs don’t quite match the band’s covers of the Charlie Moore tune and Pete Goble’s “Silence and Pain.” Those have a classic quality difficult to match. Still, this is a recording of good songs played with attention to and love of tradition and underscores why Remington Ryde is a popular band in the midAtlantic region. (Ryan Frankhauser, 4648 U.S. Hwy. 522 N., McClure, PA 17841, www.remingtonryde.com.) BW
Thea Wescott has been a veteran of the music scene in the Pacific Northwest for several years, and although she has only been associated with bluegrass for a relatively short period, she has certainly proved to be a fast learner. Cromwell…And Other Roads is her latest venture, and for a supporting cast, she’s amassed a who’s who of bluegrass pickers including Bryan Sutton (guitar), Rob Ickes (resonator guitar), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Dale Ann Bradley (vocals), Steve Gulley (vocals), and others.
With the exception of Sting’s “Fields Of Gold,” the other nine selections were penned by Thea, spinning tales of dark hollows, moonshine, mountain roads, family, and home. The kickoff song, “Diggin’ Ol’ Albert’s Grave,” is about a woman and an acquaintance who helped to bury her husband to defray the expense of a funeral. “The Miller’s Daughter” is an eerie tale that deals with forgiveness, while “The Mustard Seed” is about growing up in southern California. Other noted entries include “Alice,” “Blackberry Wine,” and “Santa Ana Wind.”
Thea’s dynamic vocals take the listener on a wonderful adventure to exciting places and times. Cromwell…And Other Roads is contemporary bluegrass at its best. Thea Wescott is an artist to be reckoned with. (Timberland Ridge Music, P.O. Box 1125, Gig Harbor, WA 98335, www.timberlandridge.com.) LM
This the latest of many new recordings coming out of the Rockville, Md., label responsible for exposing fine talent to the larger world. Martin is an accomplished fiddler and an active composer of fiddle tunes. This program consists of 16 originals backed by a strong supporting cast.
Jeremy Stephens plays guitar, David McLaughlin, formerly of the Johnson Mountain Boys, plays mandolin and Marshall Wilborn is on bass. Label mate, Jessie Baker, supplies the banjo. All of the musicians do a fine job on the material. Martin acquits himself well, displaying a highly-developed prowess on the fiddle.
A program of all original material often sounds like something you may have heard somewhere else, but it isn’t. There are rags and a wide variety of fiddle tunes, marches, a waltz, with most sounding almost traditional, except they are a little different. It would have been nice to hear Martin cut down on one or two traditional tunes and really rip. He does rip and tear, but it would be fun to hear him tear up on a standard or two. Standout cuts include “Prillman’s Switch,” “Viscosity Breakdown,” and “Popsicle Polka.” You have to love those titles.
This is a fine, well-played set, well recorded in the manner that marks all of the Patuxent releases. Recommended to fiddle fans and fans of strong bluegrass fiddling. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.) RCB
BLUEGRASS BARITONE SINGING
FEATURING RONNIE BOWMAN
Dark Shadow, No Number. One CD, $15.
BLUEGRASS TENOR SINGING
FEATURING RUSSELL MOORE
Dark Shadow, No Number. One CD, $15, both CDs $25.
(Dark Shadow Recording, P.O. Box 52, Joelton, TN 37080, www.darkshadowrecording.com.)
Stephen Mougin, singer/guitarist in the Sam Bush Band and respected producer and recording engineer, has put together two must-have CDs that match the talents of Russell Moore and Ronnie Bowman with multi-track recording technology to teach exactly how professional bluegrass artists treat harmony singing.
Each CD has five songs (“Little Cabin Home On The Hill,” “Mr. Engineer,” “Blue Ridge Cabin Home,” “My Little Georgia Rose,” and “How Mountain Girls Can Love”) with four tracks dedicated to each song. Track one is a full mix of the entire song with all three vocal parts (lead, tenor, and baritone). Track two is the chorus repeated four times with lead vocal only. Track three is the chorus repeated four times with either the tenor or baritone part alone. And track four is the entire song again with either the tenor or baritone part missing so that you can sing along.
The band is Mougin on guitar, Adam Steffey on mandolin, Megan Lynch on fiddle, Ned Luberecki on banjo, and Daniel Hardin on bass. This driving ensemble could easily be signed to a record deal and it’s worth the price of the CD just to hear the band. But, this is all about the singing. To be able to hear how Ronnie Bowman and Russell Moore sing baritone and tenor, respectively, makes these CDs essential for anyone who sings harmony in a band or at jams. Whether you are new to singing or have been singing harmony all your life, I guarantee you haven’t been singing like Mougin, Bowman, and Moore. And, although these CDs do not have “lead singing” in their titles, Stephen Mougin’s voice is one of the best around, and you can learn a lot just by listening to him phrase his lines with subtle runs, dips, dives, and beautifully sustained notes.
What all three of these guys have in common is off-the-charts tone that is the essence of the bluegrass trio sound. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the subtleties and power of bluegrass harmony singing. Get both of them. CVS
ON THE EDGE
LETTERS IN THE DEEP
This is not your mama’s bluegrass. In fact, I think it’s safe to say Cadillac Sky left behind most of the sounds of bluegrass for their third full-length CD, Letters In The Deep. The 17-cut disc is a compilation of creative, original sounds that swing across the music continuum. Most tracks were penned by bandmembers David “Mayhem” Mayfield (guitar), Matt Menefee (banjo), “ThrillaFiddla” Ross Holmes (fiddle), and Andy “Panda” Moritz (bass).
Trying to find the best words to describe this CD is as difficult as relaying the beauty of a wonderful work of art. Producer Dan Auerbach of the rock group, the Black Keys, captured the band’s latest boundary-busting musical explorations with a handsoff approach. A personal thumbs up for the cuts: “Hangman,” “Break My Heart Again,” and “Bathsheeba.” You won’t have to search through many of the tracks to find several that will fit your fancy. (Dualtone Music Group, Inc., 203 N. 11th St., Ste. B, Nashville, TN 37206, www.dualtone.com.) BC
HIT THE ROAD
As we all struggle to learn the finer points of playing and singing bluegrass, while listening to the older masters and their original recordings, it’s useful to remember the challenges faced by those international pickers for whom English is a second language and bluegrass culture is an ocean away. But, more and more fine bands, such as the quartet Monogram from the Czech Republic, are making some amazing recordings.
Singing in slightly accented English and writing an impressive array of mostly original material, Monogram has assembled an excellent new album. They’re eclectic and modern, with folky, funky, and modern influences emerging upon occasion, but they can also handle harddriving songs like the CD’s title track.
Instrumentally, they’re impeccable. While the three instrumental tracks allow banjoist Jaromir Jahoda, mandolinist Zdenek Jahoda, and guitarist Jakub Racek to stretch out and show off their considerable chops, each song also displays a thoughtful and imaginative approach to arrangement. Racek is the lead singer, but the whole band, including bassist Pavel Lzicar, contributes very tight and smooth harmonies. The band has been together for well over a decade, and it’s clear from their polish and attention to detail that these folks are committed to their music.
Aside from their cover of “Carried Away” (a hit for George Strait), their originals cover a wide and ambitious range, thematically and stylistically. There’s an occasional lapse into cliché that strikes a false note, particularly on “Whatever I Do.” But mostly, songs such as “Cure For You” and “Nelly And John” tell moving stories very effectively.
Monogram has some good original music that deserves international recognition. It would be beneficial to bluegrass music for them to get exposure to a broader audience. (U Sparty 12, Prague 7, 170 00, Czech Republic, www.monogram.cz.) HK