Last April, I sat down on a sunny afternoon in front of the main stage at MerleFest and watched Della Mae perform. I had heard bits and pieces of their music over the last couple of years, on the Telluride Festival webcast and other fare, and I came across them many times during the 2012 IBMA’s World of Bluegrass where they participated in workshops and were seen jamming in the hallways with Tony Trischka, Darol Anger, Sav Sankaran and others. But when I really stopped to hear them play in North Wilkesboro, I was impressed.
All-female bands are not new to bluegrass. The members of Della Mae bring the chops. To keep it simple, Kimber Ludiker is a two-time National Fiddle Champion. Berklee College of Music alumna Courtney Hartman is an accomplished flatpick guitarist whom Bryan Sutton tapped to play with him at his guitar workshop at IBMA in 2012. Jenni Lynn Gardner honed her mandolin licks in the traditional bluegrass scene of South Carolina. Shelby Means is a wonderful bass player and vocalist, and Celia Woodsmith brings her sweet lead vocals and songwriting talent to the group, front and center.
Della Mae has been together less than three years and this new album, This World Oft Can Be, produced by Sutton, shows the band gelling. The music is both sweet and powerful. The highlights include the infectious “Letter From Down The Road/And Other Things,” the upbeat “Empire,” the Woodsmith-penned story song “Heaven’s Gate” and the banjo-led title cut. A couple of cool things to add: Ludiker plays John Hartford’s fiddle on “Letter From Down The Road” and Hartman plays June Carter’s round hole Gibson guitar on “Some Roads Lead On.” (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.)DH