Fresh Sounds in the World of Bluegrass – 3rd Quarter 2012

Astrograss, The Colored Pencil Factory, www.astrograssforkids.com

The latest project from Astrograss, rock stars of the New York City public school system, includes 9 of 16 original songs from guitarist Jordan Shapiro plus Astro-arrangements of chestnuts like “Cluck Old Hen,” “Shortenin’ Bread” and “Sail Away Ladies.” The group claims influences from Shel Silverstein, John Hartford and Earl Scruggs, and there’s a coloring book along with song lyrics at the website listed above.

Balsam Range, Papertown (Mountain Home Music Company)

In liner notes the men of Balsam Range say, “Growing up and living within Haywood County, the [pulp] mill has had an impact on all our lives. We’re proud of our Haywood County connections and we dedicate this project to those hardworking people, both past and present, that have made our community what it is today.” Material includes songs penned by Milan Miller, Marc Pruett, Jerry Salley, Carl Jackson, Julie Miller, Chris Stapleton, Jimmie Skinner and more.

Blue & Lonesome, Live from Harrietville, Australia, www.edneff.com

This live set of music recorded at the well-known bluegrass festival in Harrietville, Australia, starts out with local bird calls and ends with a hidden track of jokes from fiddle player Paul Shelasky. Included in between: “Chalk Up Another One,” “Toy Heart,” “Banks of the Ohio,” “My Old Kentucky Home” and more.

Breaking Grass, Running with the Moon, www.breakinggrass.com

The second release from 2012 IBMA showcase band Breaking Grass features a dozen new songs written by lead singer Cody Farar, performed in a driving, contemporary bluegrass style. Additional members include Zach Wooten on mandolin, Tyler White on fiddle, Britt Sheffield on bass, and Telton Vanderford on banjo. Jana Mougin guests as a vocalist on “Witches of Harlan.”

Compost Mountain Boys, High on a Mountain, www.compostmountain.com

The Compost Mountain Boys have made it their goal to keep the spirit and tradition of bluegrass music alive and well for the past 20 years in Humboldt County, CA. Their current configuration, with a combined band history of more than 55 years, features Marty Dodd on guitar, Bruce Johnson on bass, Mike “Spumoni” Manetas on mandolin, Tim Wilson on banjo, and special guest Tashina Clarridge on fiddle. Material comes from Del McCoury, Ola Belle Reed, The Dillards, Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Drew Emmitt and more.

Kristy Cox, Miles & Timezones, www.kristycox.com

The debut album from Australian bluegrasser Kristy Cox includes four originals co-written with Lachlan Davidson, half of the well-known Davidson Brothers also from Oz. Additional titles were written by Jerry Salley, Lisa Shaffer, Jenee Fleenor, Clay Hess, Jim McBride and more. Kristy is backed by Cody Kilby, Andy Leftwich, Kym Warner, Kevin Grant, Scott Vestal, Randy Kohrs and John Garder.

Detour, A Better Place, www.detourbluegrass.com

The distinctive lead vocals of Missy Armstrong are featured in the Detour line-up, backed by Jeff Rose on mandolin and guitar, Scott Zylstra on guitar, Peter Knupfer on fiddle, Kevin Gaugier on banjo, and Jack Grant on bass. In addition to several originals from Armstrong and Rose, look for tunes by Tom James & Jerry Organ, Loretta Lynn (“Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven”), John B. Preston (“I’ve Just Seen the Rock of Ages”), Wayne Carson (“The Letter”) and the Holiday/Myers/DeShannon pop hit, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.”

The Grascals, Life Finds a Way (Mountain Home Music Company)

The debut album on the Mountain Home label for these two-time IBMA Entertainers of the Year, Life Finds a Way from The Grascals includes five cuts written (or co-written) by band members Jamie Johnson, Danny Roberts, Kristin Scott Benson, Terry Smith, Terry Eldredge, and Jeremy Abshire, plus two from the late, great Harley Allen; one from the Boys from Indiana’s Aubry Holt; “Sweet Baby James” from James Taylor; a bluegrass version of the Herman Parker/Sam Phillips hit “Mystery Train;” and a gospel favorite on the road these days, “Road to Surrender.”  

The Grass Cats; The Mountains, My Baby, and Me (New Time Records)

On its eighth album for New Time Records, this North Carolina-based chart-topping band, now in its 15th year, showcases its trademark, high-energy picking and singing on six originals from bandleader Russell Johnson, plus covers from Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The Embers, and Reno & Smiley. In addition to the title cut, highlights include “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Life in the Mines,” and “Hungry Heart.”

Hard Ryde, Composed (Happidawg Productions)

The latest from award-winning Canadian band Hard Ryde features the talents of Doug deBoer, Will Meadows, Marc Roy, Luke Puckrin, Rich Koop, and Shawn Kellet, with special guest artists
Chris Ricker, Bill Koop and D'Arcy Campbell. The song list includes “Echo,” “Heaven on Earth, “Renegade,” “Marina,” “Shut Up and Drive,” “Money Can’t Buy,” “Rejoice” and more.

The Hillbenders, Can You Hear Me? (Compass Records)

The new album from the 2009 Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition champion band includes high points like the newgrass-infused “Train Whistle,” the funky “Concrete Ribbon,” the evocative Dobro-led “Gettysburg,” and a unique cover of The Romantics’ “Talking in Your Sleep.” Austin-bred mandolinist Nolan Lawrence provides bluesy lead vocals, Mark Cassidy plays banjo, cousins Jim Rea and Gary Rea play guitar and bass, and don't miss Chad “Gravy Boat” Graves on Dobro.

I Draw Slow, Redhills, (Pinecastle Records)

New Pinecastle Records artists I Draw Slow hail from the bluegrass-roots country of Ireland and feature the talents of Colin Derham, Louise Holden, Konrad Liddy, Dave Holden and Adrian Hart. All songs were written by Louise and Dave Holden except for band arrangements of traditional songs “Kingdom” and “Buffalo Hunt.” Instrumentation is clawhammer banjo, fiddle, guitar and bass, and their unique style gives a nod to a string-bands influences while showcasing Louise’s lead vocals.

The Infamous Stringdusters, Silver Sky (High Country Records)

For a live dose of the Infamous Stringdusters, if you haven’t been able to catch one of their tour dates recently... this recording will hit the spot. In addition to originals from band members Jeremy Garrett, Travis Book, Andy Hall and Andy Falco, material comes from Jon Weisberger, Danny Barnes, Shawn Camp, Benny Galloway, and John Hartford (“Keep on Truckin’”). Shut your eyes, imagine the lights and dancers, and hit “PLAY."

    The Kickin Grass Band, Walk with Me (SuperFan Records, www.kickingrass.com)

The latest from this Raleigh, North Carolina-based bluegrass band showcases the lead vocals and songwriting of guitarist Lynda Wittig Dawson, along with the talents of the entire Kickin Grass Band: Jamie Dawson on mandolin, Pattie Hopkins on fiddle, Hank Smith on banjo and guitar, and Patrick Walsh on bass. Jerry Brown, Andrew Marlin and Ben Walters guest. Lynda and Hank Smith contribute seven songs, along with music composed by Patty Griffin, Bill Monroe, Alton Delmore and more.

LaTresa; Love, Babies, Jesus and Sweet Potato Pie (Boon Dog Records, www.latresa.com)

Lead vocalist/guitarist LaTresa Smith presents a set of original, bluesy bluegrass, here backed by Randy Smith, Markus Stadler, Jon Martin, Matt Raum, Christian Sedelmeyer, Megan Lynch, Larry Kinakin and Bob Grant. Her titles include “The Mississippi,” "Work for Jesus,” “Sweet Popo Pie,” “Never Loved Again,” “Sweet Li’l Baby” and more.

Lonesome River Band, Chronology-Vol. 1 (Rural Rhythm Records)

To celebrate their 30th year, LRB is releasing a trio of EPs under the title “Chronology.” On Volume 1, the current line-up (headed by banjo legend Sammy Shelor) looks back to recordings made during the 1980s. Cuts include “Close the Door Lightly When You Go,” “The Old Man in the Shanty,” “Laura Jean,” “The Game Is Over,” “Mary Ann,” “I’m Afraid to Love You Anymore,” “Hobo Blues,” and “Angeline the Baker.”

Marksmen Quartet, This is My Crowd (Rural Rhythm Records)

The new recording from this renowned bluegrass gospel band includes five originals from band members Mark Wheeler and David Waller, plus Cliff Waldron’s “Matthew 24,” “Reuben,” “Rock of Ages,” “The Original Superman,” and more. Members include Mark and Earle Wheeler, Darrin Chambers, Davey Waller, and Mark Autry.

Jesse McReynolds, Love Songs from the Pick Inn: Music for Weddings (www.jimandjesse.com)

In addition to touring with a full-time band, Grand Ole Opry star and Bluegrass Hall of Famer Jesse McReynolds and his wife, Joy, operate a 32-acre venue outside Gallatin, TN called “The Pick Inn,” which specializes in weddings and concerts. This recording showcases Jesse’s music and Joy’s wedding planning business, with 14 love songs suitable for weddings. Notable cuts include “It’s a Little More Like Heaven,” “Rose of My Heart,” “When the Snow is On the Roses,” Vince Gill’s “Look at Us,” and Jesse’s multiple mandolin tremolo harmony on “Canon in D.” Note to bluegrass DJs and lovebirds: Be sure to check out this album for Valentine’s Day!

Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, They’re Playing My Song (Rebel Records)

In his notes for They're Playing My Song, Fred Bartenstein observes that the new recording from IBMA’s Emerging Artist of the Year includes musical tributes to the band’s southwestern Ohio bluegrass heritage, with “The Osborne Brothers Medley,” “Lily” from The Boys from Indiana, “When the Snow Falls on My Foggy Mountain Home” by Dave Evans, “Cruisin’  Timber” from Dorsey Harvey, and “Katy Daley,” written by legenday broadcaster and fiddler Paul "Moon" Mullins, father of bandleader Joe Mullins. Also included are covers from Johnny Cash, Bob Wills, Ray Charles and The Delmore Brothers, along with three band originals and new music from Becky Buller.

Nu-Blu, Nail by Nail (Pinecastle Records)

The North Carolina-based bluegrass band Nu-Blu has released its first all-gospel EP album with Nail by Nail. The first single, “Martha and Mary,” was co-written by Becky Buller and Nancy Cardwell and debuted at #8 on the Bluegrass Today Weekly Top 20. Additional material comes from Marc Rossi, Tom Weaver, Donna Ulisse, Jim Wheeler, Tim Stafford, and Nu-Blu lead singer and bassist Carolyn Routh, who wrote the closing song, “Hammer.” Other band members are Daniel Routh, Levi Austin, and Austin Koerner; Greg Luck guests on fiddle.

O’Brien Party of 7, Reincarnation: The Songs of Roger Miller (Howdy Skies)

This acoustic musical tribute to the late, great songwriter/artist Roger Miller is a family affair, including music from two-time IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year Tim O’Brien, his sons Jackson and Joel O’Brien, Tim’s sister and frequent duet partner Mollie O’Brien, her husband Rich Moore, and their daughter Lucy Moore. Liner notes say Miller, “as hip and carefree in a sharkskin suite and skinny tie, defied categorization. He was country, pop, jazz and comedy, and he was an amazing singer. He once said, ‘I must be really popular; everywhere I go I’m playing there!”

Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass, Road into Town (Patuxent Music )

In liner notes Joseph Scott says, “Danny Paisley has the edge. You can hear it in his voice, in his band, and in his choice of song. It’s an edge forged in a time and region where bluegrass was as likely to be heard in honky-tonks and saloons as in school houses and town squares….” Paisley demonstrates his trademark edge and emotion on cuts like “Please Stop Falling,” “Cabin on a Mountain,” “Dancin’ with Sally,” “My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You,” “I Heard My Mother Call My Name,” and more.

Cory Piatt, Daydreams (Patuxent Music)

Cory Piatt, mandolinist with Kenny & Amanda Smith, steps to center stage on his first solo recording, which features mostly instrumentals. Cory's joined by Keith Garrett, Brandon Bostic, Ronnie Bowman and Darren Beachley, contributing vocals. In liner notes, Joseph Scott says the tune “Land Rush” features one of the finest mandolin breaks he’s ever heard captured on a recording, in Piatt’s second pass.

Rawhide, The Dark is Barking (www.rawhide.be)

Thierry Schoysman (mandolin) and his Belgium-based group of bluegrass veterans celebrate 12 years of music with their second album. In liner notes they say, “We recorded 18 songs and finally couldn’t choose any to drop. There’s a lot to say about each one of these songs, but a lot more to listen. We hope you enjoy this album as much as we did recording it.” Known throughout Europe for their entertaining stage presence and shirts as well as their bluegrass chops, the band demonstrate the fact that good music and fun have no geographic boundaries. Their fans will undoubtedly hope the band doesn’t wait another 12 years for the third album!  

Red Wine, RED (www.redwinemusic.net)

In liner notes for an album entitled “RED” (released before Taylor Swift’s CD by the same name), Tony Trischka says, “As I’m writing this, Red Wine has been together for 34 years. How many bands, in any genre, anywhere, can say that? The fact that they’ve accomplished this in Italy, a land not known for its multitudinous summer bluegrass festivals, or bustling acoustic music scene, makes this achievement all the more stunning. Very few European (or Japanese, or Australian, etc.) groups have been able to break through the cultural prejudices held by some on the American bluegrass scene. With Red Wine’s spot-on singing, playing and engaging stage presence, barriers fall.”

The Roys, New Day Dawning (Rural Rhythm Records)

The new EP recording from hard-working, constantly touring brother/sister bluegrass act The Roys includes seven songs co-written by Lee Roy or Elaine Roy, with Steve Dean, Brandon Rickman, Mark Houser, Jay Brunswick, Larry Alderman, Brian White and Jenee Fleenor. “Still Standing” is the first single receiving airplay. Cuts in addition to the title song include “Daddy to Me,” “Windin’ Roads,” Grandpa’s Barn,” “Living Scrapbook” and “Fast as We Roll.”

Jerry Salley, Showing My Age (“Very Jerry” Records)

Award-winning songwriter/artist Jerry Salley celebrates 50 years of life, love, music--and great songwriting--with an album recorded in tribute to his father. Frequent performing cohorts Carl Jackson and Larry Cordle appear here with Jerry, along with The Isaacs, Brandon Rickman, Alecia Nugent, Bradley Walker, Lisa Shaffer, and Whitney & Maggie Salley. Included: “Paper & Pen,” “He Carried Her Mem’ry,” “It’ll Get You Where You’re Goin’,” “Five O’Clock Shadow,” “Showing My Age” and more.

Shelby Bottom String Band, East Nashville Rag (www.reverbnation.com/shelbybottomstringband)

The debut album from this East Nashville-based group spotlights the songwriting, vocal and instrumental talents of Michael August, Gene Bush, Nell Levin, Bob Mason, and Barry & Holly Tashian. Check out the YouTube video for “Don’t Blow Up the Mountain,” written by Levin, and August’s lead vocals on humorous songs like “Sales Tax on the Women,” “Stewed Cucumbers,” “Fat and Bald,” and “Old Fashioned Man [in a New Age World.]"

Ricky Skaggs, Music to My Ears (Skaggs Family Records)

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder spotlight their trademark vocal blend and bluegrass instrumentation on their latest album. Themes of family and home are covered on songs like “Things in Life,” “You Are Something Else,” and “Nothing Beats a Family.” “Tennessee Stud” is a tribute to Doc Watson; “You Can’t Hurt Ham” extols country ham with stories in the verses from Bill Monroe and Uncle Dave Macon; the title track is a simple gospel song with a universal message; and “Soldier’s Son” features Skaggs and Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees in a fascinating duet.

Spatial Effects, Just a Closer Walk: Bluegrass Gospel (www.spatialeffectsbluegrass.com)

The gospel album from this north Georgia-based band was recorded in old churches in Tunnel Hill, Mineral Springs, Cohutta and Dalton. The talents of band members Tom Brown, Earl Brackin, David Crawford, Betsy Blankenship and Gary Thompson are featured, with guest appearances by Pam Gadd, Ferrell Stowe, Nancy Cardwell and more. Familiar hymns done bluegrass-style are included, along with three originals from Brown, Crawford, Brankin and Cardwell. Pam Gadd sings lead on “Church in the Wildwood.”

Siamese Cousins; 2 Chairs, No Waiting; (Mountain Roads Recordings)

Liner notes say Edwin Lacy and Scott Freeman’s “musical rapport is intricate yet playful, harmonizing so tightly that, at times, it sounds as if their two instruments blend into one. Whether they are rollicking through an old-time fiddle tune, interpreting a newer alternative acoustic offering, or painting tonal canvases with one of their original songs, it doesn’t take long to realize the magic of their combined musicianship.” Lacy and Freeman performed together previously on the Close Kin: A Reunion of Bluegrass & Old-Time Music  project on the Mountain Roads Recordings. Cuts include “Gentle on My Mind,” “Forked Deer,” “Gold Watch & Chain,” Marshall Wilborn’s “Little Black Pony,” Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” and more.

Steep Canyon Rangers, Nobody Knows You (Rounder Records)

The new album from IBMA’s 2011 Entertainers of the Year is an original set of music with award-winning graphic design. In liner notes Larry Nager says when the band went into the studio to record, “the idea was to avoid the old ‘deja bluegrass’ dead end, to avoid formulas at all costs. They prefer their own path, following their own intuition and the guidance of Nashville icon Don Light, ‘Separate yourself from the pack,’ Light told them. Everybody Know You does just that, as they cut their path both steep and wide.”

Todd Taylor, Indescribable (Pirate Records)

Five-time Grammy nominee and Guinness World Record-holder for the fastest banjo player in 2007, Todd Taylor, who with his brother began performing in the ‘70s as The Taylor Twins, played venues with Bill Monroe, Carl Story, Jim & Jesse Roy Acuff and more. In his liner notes, John McEuen says, “Todd shows us just how a banjo can venture into other than the expected musical territory and create a bridge between two styles of music that brings them together.” In addition to original songs, material comes from Rosas Cesar, Bach, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Niall Toner, Onwards & Upwards (Pinecastle Records)

The first American release from Irishman Niall Toner is all about the songwriting. Toner, in his notes, says he named his album Onward & Upwards to “try and convey a sense of optimism and hope for the future, and also to encapsulate the central idea, shared, I believe, by all of us in the music business, that we should maintain our creativity and our drive, and our hopes.” Extensive notes and lyrics are included on tracks like “Judge and Jury,” “Bling," “William Smith Monroe,” “Burren Backstep,” and more.  

Town Mountain, Leave the Bottle, (Pinecastle Records)

In his introduction to Leave the Bottle, Mike Bub describes the Asheville, N.C.-based Town Mountain as a group which is “not reinventing the wheel, but taking the wheel in [its] hands and driving the music down both familiar roads and out to new territory….  Intuitive is how this album plays,” he continues. “You can hear a band whose creative flow of original songwriting has been matched by [its] confidence in playing those songs.” All 12 cuts are originals from band members Phil Barker, Bobby Britt, Robert Greer, Jon Stickley and Jesse Langlais.

Donna Ulisse, All the Way to Bethlehem (Hadley Music Group)

Bluegrass bandleader/songwriter Donna Ulisse’s new Christmas album is a dramatic story told in song, from the perspectives and voices of Joseph and Mary, Mary’s cousin Elisabeth, the Innkeeper in Bethlehem, and even the Christmas star in the night sky itself. Donna wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs with Kerry Chater, Lynn Gillespie Chater, Mark Rossi, Rick Stanley, Jerry Salley and Rick Lang. She is backed up by Keith Sewell, Andy Leftwich, Viktor Krauss, Rob Ickes, Byron House, John Mock, and vocalists Wendy Buckner Sewell, Ana Sewell and Rick Stanley. All the Way to Bethlehem has a companion songbook and will be available in choral arrangements starting in 2013. Ulisse and her Poor Mountain Boys band will perform the full album at Christmas shows this year.

Various Artists, Scenic City Sampler: A Sweet Sampling of Chattanooga Musicians & Songwriters (www.sceniccitysampler.com)

This new collection is a unique collection of songs from Chattanooga musicians and songwriters. Volume 1 focuses on bluegrass, old-time and Americana music. Featured artists include Fletcher Bright’s Dismembered Tennesseans, Barefoot Nellie & Co., John Boulware, Earl Brackin (of Spatial Effects), Bob Chuckrow, Roy Curry, the Lone Mountain Band, Lon Eldridge, Gerle Haggard, Mountain Cove, Martin Parmer & Paul Byrum, Pointe South, and Joe Ridolfo.

Melody Walker, Gold Rush Goddess (www.melodywalkermusic.com)

Melody Walker, originally from the San Francisco Bay area, and her musical partner Jacob Groopman (raised in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains) describe their music as “Americali”—Americana with a California twist. Their goal is to create literate music that honors tradition, yet sounds completely of the moment. Their band, Front Country, took top honors at the RockyGrass band competition in July 2012. Walker wrote 8 of 10 cuts on this, her debut album.

Shannon Whitworth & Barrett Smith, Bring It on Home (www.shannonwhitworth.net)

In their notes for this album, Whitworth and Smith explain that during a long tour of Canada in 2011, they decided to make a recording of some of their favorite songs. “A couple of months later, we were in the studio having fun and bringing it to life with the help of some very talented friends and musicians. The result is this eclectic collection, from Sam Cooke to Jobim to Paul Simon. It’s kind of like a mixed tape we’d make for a friend, only we’re the ones performing the songs.”

Paul Williams, Going to Stay in the Old-Time Way (Rebel Records)

The latest recording from Bluegrass Hall of Famer Paul Williams and his Victory Trio features bandleader/mandolinist/ lead & tenor vocal powerhouse Williams with Dan Moneyhun on guitar, Adam Winstead on guitar, Jerry Keys on banjo, Susie Keys on acoustic bass, and guest Hunter Berry on fiddle. Lyrics are included in liner notes for a trademark set of bluegrass gospel songs like “”Sometimes I Think I Hear Singing,” “The Grave Cannot Hold Me,” “Kept and  Protected,” “The Vision” and more.

Robin & Linda Williams, These Old Dark Hills (Red House Records)

Husband and wife team Robin & Linda Wiliiams, stars of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, celebrate almost 40 years of playing music together with this mostly original set of acoustic music. The recording features everything from story songs like “Lonesome,” “Arizona” and “Looking for Love,” to humorous songs like “Tessie Mae” (about their new dog), covers of the country song “Storms Never Last” and Bruce Springsteen’s “My Lucky Day,” and the a cappella “World Wide Peace.” The Williams are joined by Chris Brashear, Al Perkins, Todd Phillips and Garrison Keillor. 

COMPILATIONS & RE-ISSUES:

Del & Dawg, Hardcore Bluegrass in the Dawg House: Studio Recordings Featuring David Grisman & the Del McCoury Band (Acoustic Disc)

John Duffey, The Rebel Years: 1962-1977 (Rebel Records)

Front Porch String Band, Hills of Alabam (Rebel Records)

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, Lost Souls & Free Spirits: The Rebel Collection Old & New (Rebel Records)

Tony Rice, The Bill Monroe Collection (Rounder Records)

Various Artists, More Ultimate Pickin’: The Best of Instrumental Bluegrass (Pinecastle Records)

Various Artists, True Bluegrass Banjo: Featuring Ralph Stanley, J.D. Crowe, Don Reno, Sonny Osborne, Sammy Shelor and more (Rebel Records)

Various Artists, True Bluegrass Fiddle: Featuring Kenny Baker, Bobby Hicks, Richard Greene, Curly Ray Cline, Ricky Skaggs and more (Rebel Records)