Fresh Sounds in the World of Bluegrass - New Music (April, 1st Quater 2012)

The Heather Berry & Tony Mabe Show, The Heather Berry & Tony Mabe Show (Mountain Fever Records,
Fans who have been enjoying Heather Berry’s “song of the day” postings on YouTube during the past year will be pleased to discover this new album, which spotlights Heather’s unique vocal style and Carter Family-influenced instrumental accompaniment on guitar and autoharp.  Featured: “Arkansas,” “Little Darling Pal of Mine,” “I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew,” “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” and more.

Brand New Strings, Stay Tuned (Rural Rhythm,
The second release from Nashville-based Brand New Strings is a seven song EP including five originals from band members Stuart Wyrick, Mike Ramsey, Randall Massengill, Preston Schmidt and Tony Mowell. Their first single released to radio is “Other Side of Lonesome,” written by Massengill. Also included: “I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water,” “Mustang Minnie,” “Silver Dollar Moon” and more.

The Andy Carlson Band, Fiddlehead (
Andy Carlson—a classically trained violinist, composer and head of the music department at Dennison University in Granville, Ohio—showcases his fiddle chops on a dozen cuts that romp their way through hard core bluegrass songs, stately waltzes, jazzy tunes and gospel music. Carlson, who grew up in Missouri playing the fiddle, is one of the composers and conductors involved with the Wintergrass Youth Orchestra and the head of a new bluegrass degree program at Denison Univ.

Dailey & Vincent, The Gospel Side of Dailey & Vincent (Rounder,
On their second gospel release three-time IBMA Entertainers of the Year Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent combine Southern gospel stylings with their award-winning bluegrass vocal blend and instrumentation. There’s straight ahead bluegrass powered by Joe Dean’s banjo and Jeff Parker’s mandolin alongside old favorites redefined with the addition of horns, piano, electric guitar and percussion. With Christian Davis on bass vocals, several quartet-style vocal arrangements are presented. Included: “Family Bible,” “The Fourth Man in the Fire,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “Noah Found Grace in the Eyes of the Lord” and more.

Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie, The Touch of Time (Rural Rhythm,
The latest from legendary banjo player Bill Emerson spotlights his signature sound on the five-string along with contributions from band members Wayne Lanham (mandolin & fiddle), Chris Stifel (guitar), Teri Chism (bass) and Jenny Leigh Obert (fiddle).  In liner notes WAMU’s Bob Webster says, “Bill continues to amaze us with his creativity and insights as to how he wants the songs and the band to sound. He hasn’t let us down over all these years and his standards are as high as ever.” The song list includes “My Baby Thinks He’s a Train,” “Little Pink,” “Home Sweet Dixie Home,” “Today I Turned Your Picture to the Wall” and more.

Matt Flinner Trio, Winter Harvest (Compass Records Group,
In liner notes Flinner writes, “Winter Harvest continues the ‘Music du Jour’ project that we started in 2006. On most of our live shows over the past four years, each member of the trio writes one tune the day of the show and all three new tunes are debuted on that night’s concert. Since our first CD we’ve gone to some new places, both geographically and musically. Most of the tunes on this CD were written on winter tours, often over the course of snowy, icy drives on cold days—but for gratifyingly warm audiences. We hope you enjoy the harvest as much as we did.”

Freeman & Williams, Freeman & Williams (Mountain Roads Recordings,
This Virginia-based new combination of veteran artists features husband and wife team Johnny & Jeanette Williams with Scott Williams on guitar, bass and mandolin/fiddle.  Cuts on the debut album were written by Casey Byrd & Dixie Hall, Tim Mensey & Shawn Camp, Allen Reynolds, Mary Chapin Carpenter, the trio themselves and more. Included: “Always Looking Back,” “Wrong Road Again,” “June Apple,” “I Surrender All” and “Halley Came to Jackson,” among others.

Janie Fricke, Country Side of Bluegrass (New Music Deals,
CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1982-83 Janie Fricke was a bluegrass fan growing up on a farm in Indiana, but it wasn’t until recently that she actually tried her hand at it. The aptly titled new album features Fricke’s soulful lead vocals on country songs done bluegrass style: “You Don’t Know Love,” “Do Me With Love,” “He’s a Heartache,” “She’s Single Again,” “Down to My Last Broken Heart,” “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy,” “Ring of Fire” and more.

The Grascals, Life Finds a Way (Mountain Home Music,
The two-time IBMA Entertainers of the Year are back with an album of signature Grascal-grass: high emotion/energy bluegrass music with a tinge of country influence. Included: covers of classics like James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” and Junior Parker’s 1953 blues hit “Mystery Train,” the thought-provoking Harley Allen tune “Pass It On,” Billy Smith's stone cold country “Bartender” flavored with steel guitar, the gospel “Road to Surrender,” Aubrey Holt’s succinct “You Can Mark It Down” and more.

Buddy Greene, Harmonica Anthology
In liner notes well-known harmonica player/vocalist/songwriter Buddy Greene says he’s always wanted to make an album “that would showcase the diatonic harmonica in various acoustic settings, with a good variety of musical styles—bluegrass, Celtic, folk, old-time, ballads, etc…and a bunch of talented friends to help me realize a satisfying and cohesive result.” Guests include co-producer Bryan Sutton, Aubrey Haynie, Ron Block, Byron House, Stuart Duncan, Tim O’Brien, John Mock, Jeff Taylor, Kenny Malone, Charlie McCoy and more. Critics note that Greene is one of few harp players who can hit every note in the melody of a bluegrass fiddle tune as well as capture the high lonesome mood of the genre.  

Merl Johnson, Better Man (Patuxent Music,
Multi-instrumentalist Merl Johnson showcases his chops on mandolin and fiddle along with lead vocals on his new recording for the Patuxent label. Two originals are included, along with two from Merl’s father, Bob Johnson. Merl is joined by Stefan Custodi, Danny Knicely, Dick Smith, Jay Starling, Brennen Ernst, Tad Marks, Tom Mindte and Jenny Leigh Obert. Included: Bobby Hicks’ “Angel Waltz,” Carter Stanley’s “Sweetest Love,” Johnson’s own “You’ll Find Monroe Written There,” “All The Good Times Are Past And Gone” and more.

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Sing Me a Song about Jesus (Mountain Home Music Company,
The name Doyle Lawson has long been associated with bluegrass gospel music, so his many fans will be particularly pleased about this newest release. The new album from the iconic bluegrass bandleader spotlights Lawson’s gifts as a singer, mandolinist and arranger along with the talents of his current line-up: Josh Swift, Jason Barie, Corey Hensley, Mike Rogers, Jessie Baker and Carl White. The set list includes: “Little Star,” “The Rich Man,” “It Took a Man Like That,” “I Saw Him Walk Out of the Sky,” “God Can,” “Be Not Afraid” and more.

Julie Lee & the Baby Daddies, Julie Lee & the Baby Daddies (
Unique vocal stylist/songwriter/visual artist Julie Lee returned to the studio to record her seventh album at the urging of musician friends she babysits for sometimes—Kenny Vaughan (Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives) and award-winning bluegrass bassist Mike Bub.  Additional guests on the album include Alison Krauss, Tim O’Brien, Ron Block and Sarah Siskind, among others. Included: “Unto the Hills,” “Little Ballerina,” “I’ll Never Be Free,” “How He Lied” and more.

Lonesome River Band, Chronology Volume One (Rural Rhythm Records,
Bluegrass music’s fab five kick off their 30 year band anniversary with the first volume of three eight-song EPs, one for each decade of their existence. The material leans heavily on updated versions of many of their most popular songs reprised by founding member Sammy Shelor, Brandon Rickman, Randy Jones, Barry Reed and Mike Hartgrove. Included: “The Old Man in the Shanty,” “Mary Ann,” “Hobo Blues” and more.

The McEuen Sessions, The McEuen Sessions, For All the Good (Mesa/Bluemoon Recordings,,,
In liner notes John McEuen says he’s fortunate to have spent so much time on the road with his sons Jonathan and Nathan—performing with one and then the other. The two brothers also perform together often. Their first release as a trio, John says “might fit the category of Americana, but we look forward to seeing what others call it. Influences from classic rock, bluegrass, traditional folk, The Beatles, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (John’s band) and Dave Mason come together with this combination of both classic and original songs.” Included “Long Hard Road,” “Grand Design,” “Leader of the Band,” “Banjormous” and more. Packaging is elaborately designed with extensive notes, photos and hardcover book covers.

Colin O’Brien, After a Song (
Colin O’Brien—newly based in Nashville, Tennessee—sings, plays the banjo, dances and writes songs in a style very reminiscent of his musical mentor, the late John Hartford. Colin is joined on this new album by some of Hartford’s musical colleagues and friends: Larry Perkins, Matt Combs, Mark Howard and Dennis Crouch.  O’Brien wrote 12 of 14 cuts; also included are “The Six O’Clock Train and a Girl with Green Eyes” (Hartford) and the Texas fiddle tune “Midnight on the Water” (Thomasson).

Akira Otsuka, First Tear (Patuxent  Music,
Multi-instrumentalist Akira Otsuka, who first toured the U.S. with the legendary Bluegrass 45 from Japan in 1971, has written 10 of 14 cuts on his first solo album which spotlights his talents on mandolin. Lead vocals are contributed by Chris Stifel and Rick Watson and Akira’s brother Josh Otsuka on three songs, but it’s the instrumental creativity that shines here on tunes that sashay through bluegrass, swing, newgrass and jazz. Included: “White Orchid,” “Daddy Long Leggs Dodging Raindrops,” “Heartaches” and more.

Marty Raybon, Hand to the Plow (Rural Rhythm,
Marty Raybon combines country and bluegrass instrumentation on this inspirational album, his first on the Rural Rhythm label. The set list includes “Working on a Building” with guests Trace Adkins, Jimmy Fortune and T. Graham Brown; “I’ve Seen What He Can Do”—also in video format; the convicting title “Walking with God at a Guilty Distance;” “You’ve Got to Move” and more. Marty’s brother Tim and his former partner in country supergroup Shenandoah sings the harmony part.

Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, The Heart of a Song (Rebel Records,
The #1 song on Bluegrass Unlimited’s National Bluegrass Survey for the past two months, “A Far Cry from Lester and Earl” appears on Junior Sisk’s latest release for Rebel Records. Junior and band mates Jason Davis, Billy Hawks, Jason Tomlin and Tim Massey (who has since been replaced by Chris Davis on bass) present 13 cuts of music written by Russell Johnson, John Pennell & Barry Tashian, Dan Wells, Harry Sisk, Sr. (Junior’s dad), Dixie & Tom T. Hall and Matt Jones, among others.

Special Consensus, Scratch Gravel Road (Compass Records Group,
Special C is celebrating 35 years as a band with their debut release on the Compass label. Former lead singers Chris Jones and Josh Williams return on “Monroe,” written by Craig Market. Also included are songs from Mark “Brink” Brinkman, Tony Rackley, Harley Allen, Tim Stafford, Billy Smith, Becky Buller and more.

Steep Canyon Rangers, Nobody Knows You (Rounder,
IBMA Entertainers of the Year The Steep Canyon Rangers co-produced their debut for the Rounder label with nine-time Grammy winning Gary Paczosa. The Steeps continue to be rooted in bluegrass tradition while simultaneously creating their own distinct musical identity. Songwriting is a big part of it, with original material from band members Graham Sharp, Charles Humphrey III and Mike Guggino.  The band formed 12 years ago at UNC Chapel Hill—a lifetime in band years—but it sounds like they’re just hitting their stride. Included: “Natural Disaster,” “Summer Winds,” “Rescue Me,” “Long Shot” and more.

Stetson & Cia, Stetson & Cia (
Cia Cherryholmes, former banjo player and one of the lead singers in the immensely popular family band Cherryholmes, teams up with singer/songwriter Stetson Adkisson to present eight new, stripped down acoustic songs focusing on affairs of the heart. The duo’s vocals are backed by on banjo (Cia); guitar (Stetson); and Molly Cherryholmes on piano, cello, violin, octave violin and drums. Molly also shares production duties with Stetson and Cia. All titles are original and the song list includes: “Save Me Tonight,” “I’m Not the One,” “It’s Been Too Long,” “Folded Arms,” “The Heart of Me,” “Don’t Hide Your Love,” “Lullaby” and “Dead Easy Mine.”  

Sweet Potato Pie, Brand New Day (Mountain Fever Records,
In liner notes the ladies of Sweet Potato Pie say, “We wanted to record an album that included more classic country songs for two reasons: 1) We grew up on the these great songs and 2) our kids have no idea who legends like Tanya Tucker, The Judds, Randy Travis or Ernest Tubb are. Our hope is that the music will live on through us.”  Band members Sonya Stead, Crystal Richardson, Katie Springer and Sandy Whitley wrote 6 of the 13 cuts. Included: Bill Monroe’s “Sweet Blue Eyed Darling,” “Rockin  with the Rhythm of the Rain,” “Deeper Than the Holler,” “Delta Dawn,” “Roly Poly” and more.

Ernie Sykes, Ernie Sykes Sings Brand New World (Ampersand Records)
Longtime bluegrass bass player Ernie Sykes flexes his baritone-range lead vocals on a set of country crooner ballads, shuffles and swinging numbers reminiscent of the classic sound of artists like Ray Price and Jim Reeves. Included: “Heart of a Clown,” “Cab Driver,” “When the Grass Grows Over Me” and “Miss the Mississippi,” among others. Ernie shares bass duties with Mike Bub and the band also includes steel guitar, acoustic guitar, fiddle and drums. The Grascals’ Terry Eldredge sings tenor vocals and plays guitar.

Jordan Tice Trio, The Secret History (Patuxent Music,
With an instrumental combination featuring guitar, hammered dulcimer and bass, the latest release from the Boston-based Jordan Tice Trio is a collection of eight tunes Jordan wrote himself. Bass player Paul Kowert also plays with The Punch Brothers, and dulcimist Simon Chrisman appears with The Bee Eaters and the Jeremy Kittel Band. Included: “Field Trip,” “The Assumptionists,” “Mountainhead,” “Forest Waltz,” “Duet,” “Death and Spiders,”  “Armadingo” and “1147.”

Various Artists; Life Goes On, Musicians Against Childhood Cancer (Rural Rhythm,
An impressive 39 tracks from 139 artists are featured on the two-CD set from the signature Ohio bluegrass event, Musicians Against Childhood Cancer, set up by producer Darrel Adkins as a charity for St. Jude  Children’s Hospital. Volume 1 was the IBMA Album of the Year in 2006. Life Goes On includes a cast of well-known artists like Rhonda Vincent, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Doyle Lawson, J.D. Crowe, Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, Lonesome River Band, Blue Highway, Marty Raybon, The Grascals, Tony Rice, The SteelDrivers, Bradley Walker, The Gibson Brothers, Sierra Hull, Junior Sisk and more.

The Vespers, The Fourth Wall (Black Suit Records, (
Acoustic instruments with percussion and Americana-style vocals are spotlighted on this new album from The Vespers. All the songs were written by band members Callie Cryar, Phoebe Cryar, Bruno Jones and Taylor Jones (two sisters and two brothers, ages 19-22). Included: “Winter,” “Lawdy,” “Will You Love Me,” “Flower Flower,” “Footprints in the Snow” (a new one) and more. In liner notes band members say the song  “Got No Friends” is their tip of the hat to the bluegrass genre, written right after the Nashville flood of 2010.