Out of Kokomo, Ind., comes Branded Bluegrass with Derek Dillman on banjo and guitar, Larry Norfleet on guitar and two tracks on mandolin, Jesse Norfleet on resonator, and Mike Martin on bass as well as hammered dulcimer on the instrumental standard “Angeline The Baker.” Randy Jones guests on mandolin. This is their debut recording, a traditional-style collection of four originals and ten covers.
In Dillman and Larry Norfleet, the group has two distinct lead singers. Norfleet has the clearer, more direct and unadorned style. He takes the majority of the leads, seven in all, and is at his best on the gospel tune “What A Beautiful Life,” on the slow Larry Sparks-style “He Died A Rounder,” and on his original composition “Simple Days,” a tuneful, upbeat wish for happier times. He also does a nice job on the pensive ballad “Soldier’s Prayer,” bringing to it just the right amount of pathos and emotion. Dillman, by contrast, has a bluesier, more traditional lead vocal, blending a moaning quality with bends and twists. His style works best on the uptempo “Everything” and “Fool For A Lonesome Train” and brings an interesting coloring to “Mr. Engineer,” arguably the most assured cut on the recording. Instrumentally, Dillman and Jones turn in the recording’s best performances.
Twice within the liner notes, the band makes a point of noting that they aimed for a “live…what you see is what you get” sound. In that, they succeed. That approach results in a certain energy and grit that recalls the bluegrass of the 1960s and the spunk of Jimmy Martin. I would say that a little more attention to detail in the harmonies and sound quality would have made this better, but it is still a pleasant release for a regional band. (Branded Bluegrass, 3800 Carmelita Blvd., Kokomo, IN 46902, www.brandedbluegrass.com.)BW