Z&C Records

This intriguing duo recording, with packaging reminiscent of an early Folkways recording, comes from a young couple from Asheville, N.C. They manage to capture that label’s vibe by conveying the haunting simplicity of the music they love, playing straightforward and sincere renditions of a captivating array of traditional songs and tunes.

The principals involved are Natalya Weinstein on fiddle, guitar, and vocals and John Miller on guitar, banjo, and vocals, but they go by their middle names of Zoe & Cloyd. Zoe’s fiddling is pure and true, a sweet sound that enhances the beauty and timelessness of the six instrumental tracks, mostly originals, which they include on their debut CD. Her voice has a similar straightforward appeal, even though sometimes it seems as if her innocent delivery belies the hard lives of the characters in the old songs she sings. Cloyd’s voice, equally appealing and true, carries a bit more worldly experience in tone, and when their voices join in harmony, there’s a special magic that lifts the subtle charms of this album.

They document their sources thoroughly, ranging over an eclectic scope of material that includes a contemporary, but ageless sounding song by Joe Newberry and older gems gleaned from the recordings of Ralph Stanley (“We Shall Sleep, But Not Forever,”) Lulu Belle and Scotty (“Be Careful Girls,”) and an instrumental by Jim Shumate (“Lazy Man Blues,”) who happens to be Cloyd’s grandfather.

Two of the standout tracks are probably also a pair of the recording’s biggest outliers. “Sheyn Vi Di Levone” is an old Yiddish love song played sweetly on fiddle by Zoe, and is her tribute to the playing of her own grandfather, klezmer musician David Weinstein. And there is a live concert recording of an achingly beautiful rendition of “Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie” that adds dimensions of lonesome to this song that I’ve not ever heard before.

This is an enchanting debut CD by a young couple with immense respect and passion for traditional music, delivered with exquisite vocal and instrumental ability and the wisdom to play it simply and well. (John Cloyd Miller & Natalya Zoe Weinstein, 73 Deaver Street, Asheville, NC 28806, www.zoeandcloyd.com.)HK



Patuxent Music CD-272

   Now and then, a band will release a new project that really makes me sit up and take notice; this is one of those occasions. Bluestone has been around for about twenty years and, to my knowledge, has three previous releases. They are now recording for Tom Mindte’s Patuxent Music, a label that’s also been around two decades. In recent years, Patuxent has produced some awesome music by artists with impeccable credentials—Frank Wakefield, Danny Paisley, and Scott Brannon immediately come to mind. But there have been many others, too, and now they’ve added these fine artists to their stable.

Bluestone, working out of southern Pennsylvania, derives its name from the “blue” in bluegrass and the “stone” in the former Keystone band from southern York County. Guitarist/lead singer Carroll Swam and mandolin picker Dick Laird played bluegrass with Keystone; Swam goes back even further to the 1960s with the Baltimore, Md.-based Franklin County Boys. Another former member of the Franklins is resonator guitar wizard Russ Hooper, who has played with virtually every Baltimore band in the past sixty years. Fiddler Jon Glik is also an accomplished veteran of the Baltimore bluegrass scene, as well as working with David Grisman, Peter Rowan, and Dave Evans, to name a few. Gifted Baltimore banjoist Tom Neal has played with Cliff Waldron, Bill Harrell, and Del McCoury, among others. Also in Bluestone are Dick Laird’s two talented sons, Heath on bass and Jeff on guitar.

Members of Bluestone consider themselves to be firmly traditional, and I believe them. Some of their best numbers are jewels from the past: Roy Acuff’s “As Long As I Live” and Red Allen’s “Troubles Keep Hanging Around My Door.” In fact, one of my favorite titles is “What Would You Give In Exchange” where Dick and Jeff Laird recall the tight harmonies of brother duets from an earlier era. However, Bluestone is not afraid to venture into more contemporary modes when the opportunity presents itself. “A Step In The Right Direction” is my favorite number on the set. The beautiful lead singing of Carroll Swam evokes a feeling eerily similar to that of John Starling with the original Seldom Scene. And Dick Laird doesn’t hesitate to tackle the instrumental “El Cumbanchero”—a brilliant display of mandolin virtuosity. Space constraints prevent comments on all the titles, but there’s fine original material as well as forays into country hits and even a Beatles tune. Instrumentally, Bluestone is right on track, but their vocals are what floats my boat—these guys can sing. What Goes On is recommended without reservation. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)WVS



Patuxent Music

Joshua Palmer is a very talented young man from Owl’s Hollow, Alabama and has developed an interesting, fluid, and clean mandolin style. On this mostly original project, Palmer exhibits some great songwriting and arranging, but he also expresses a sensitive vocal style. He’s joined on this project by Andy Hall (resonator guitar), Nate Leath (fiddle), Mark Schatz (bass, clawhammer banjo), Kenny Smith (guitar), Scott Vestal (banjo), and Taylor Baker (second mandolin). Dede Wyland and Tom Mindte contribute harmony vocals.

From the first notes of Leath’s fiddle on Palmer’s “Train Of Tears,” the CD flows seamlessly from vocal to instrumental and back. Palmer’s vocal tunes include his own “Owl’s Hollow” and “Hammer Down.” He also covers John Denver’s “Anthem-Revelation” and Hamilton Camp’s “Pride Of Man.” Bassist Mark Schatz adds his clawhammer banjo to “Owl’s Hollow,” and his love for twin mandolin tunes are showcased on “Poe” (a salute to Edgar Allen Poe), and his “The Raven And The Crow,” with Taylor Baker adding the second mandolin. Swapping breaks with Vestal, Smith, and Leath on his instrumental tunes make for lively listening. Instrumentals include the title “Metacognition,” “Apollo 11,” “The Shipmaster,” “The Dusk,” and a hauntingly lovely “Hour Glass Waltz.” In addition, Palmer includes Doyle Lawson’s “Misty Morning.” This is a very good project not only for mandolin enthusiasts, but for anyone who likes really good music. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)BF





No Label
No Number

Laura Orshaw’s new solo project features a collection of tunes from sources such as Charlie Moore, Hazel Dickens, Norman Blake, Peter Rowan, Leroy Drumm, and others. She also offers a couple of her own tunes. Selections include Moore’s “Cotton Farmer,” Blake’s “Uncle,” Dickens’ “Coal Miner’s Grave,” Rowan’s “Wild Geese Cry Again,” and Drumm’s “Getting Over You.” Orshaw’s originals include “Guitar Man” and “New Deal Train.” She is joined on this project by brother Matt Witler (mandolin), Catherine “BB” Bowness (banjo), Tony Watt (guitar), Alex Muri (bass), Michael Reese (guitar), husband Mark Orshaw (vocals), and John Mailander (fiddle). The selections feature Orshaw’s excellent fiddle work augmented by Witler’s stellar mandolin. Orshaw’s vocal delivery is both powerful and soulful. This project goes along way to showcase Orshaw’s considerable talents as both a singer and instrumentalist. A fine effort for an upcoming emerging artist, soon to be heard more of. (www.lauraorshaw.com)BF


Bud's-CollectiveBUD’S COLLECTIVE

No Label
No Number

A quartet originally from West Virginia, Bud’s Collective delivers an uneven, eponymous album full of both high and low points. Formed in 2012, the young group has experienced some success.  They placed second at SPBGMA in 2013 and won the D.C. Bluegrass Union’s Mid-Atlantic Band Competition. The band also hosts a successful concert series in the panhandle of eastern West Virginia.

The best features of Bud’s Collective include seven often clever original songs, all but one by guitarist and vocalist Buddy Dunlap. The lead off track, “The First,” demonstrates the band at its best presenting a modern take on a classic bluegrass heartbreak theme. The album also serves up, at least on the faster songs, crisp and energetic instrumental playing, particularly from mandolinist and composer of the remaining original song, Jack Dunlap, and banjo player Gina Clowes. They find support with strong rhythm work from Buddy on guitar and bassman Cody Brown.

The less successful material may well be the result of inexperience in the studio. In fact, they simultaneously released a live album. The group often doesn’t shine as much on the slower tunes and especially struggles with the right feeling on the cover songs. While the self-penned titles demonstrate the necessary emotion, the covers prove an exercise in what the late Hazel Dicken’s called “singing through a song.” Mel Tillis’ “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” offers the most egregious example. Reaching number six on the Billboard pop charts in 1969 for Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, it is a wrenching Vietnam-era first-person tale of a paraplegic veteran with an unfaithful wife. Bud’s Collective’s flat reading makes it sound more like, “Ruby, pick up some eggs and bacon when you go to town.” While Buddy Dunlap has an excellent voice, too many of the cuts on Bud’s Collective feature him singing solo lead. That said, the band possesses a lot of talent and promise which likely will result in strong releases on down the line. (Bud’s Collective, 669 Dick’s Hollow Rd., Winchester, VA 22603, www.budscollective.com.)AM




Travianna Records

This is easy listening bluegrass. The band simmers along with some sweet songs delivered in an unhurried style featuring Belinda Murphy’s vocals. On the fourth cut, they go up-tempo and drive into “Nothing But Sky,” a very catchy song. They dig in and get to the old mountain fiddle tune “Sandy Boys” or “Lonesome John” (both of which are the foundation on which Ralph Stanley built “Clinch Mountain Backstep”) for “Back Around The Mountain.” By this time, the listener is becoming fully aware of what a fine fiddler George Mason is on backup or lead.

The first half of this project is new or at least not well-known material. Then they start to dig into the older country songbook and pull out songs from the likes of Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, and Tommy Collins. The use of drums by Sean Murphy and the spare arrangements swing on such numbers as “I Can’t Get You Off Of My Mind,” on which Joshua Faul’s bass is solid and spot on. Pat Murphy’s banjo is understated, but on-the-money sparkling with unique riffs. The band flat-out rocks “Heartbreak Hotel” in the best tradition we could call heavy wood. Guest Aaron Ramsey provides some real tasty mandolin on the project, too.

This is one of those projects that walks the line between country and bluegrass and will appeal to fans of contemporary bluegrass. This is a very good release that should bring the band further recognition. (Delta Reign, 8319 Cottage Hill Rd., Mobile, AL 36695, www.deltareign.com.)RCB


antique-persuasionANTIQUE PERSUASION

Voxhall Records
VHR 12003

This is a tale of two concepts; as in one of the best albums of the year released in 2015 that unfortunately bears one of the worst band names in recent memory. Rest assured, I love this recording. But, whoever came up with the moniker Antique Persuasion needs to rethink their band-naming abilities. Antique Persuasion sounds like a bad cover band from the 1970s, as in one of those albums where no musicians are listed in the liner notes that was put out by studio heads who wanted to compete with the 1001 Strings and Tijuana Brass crowd back in the day. How the name made it through the cut is beyond me.

Once you get past the Captain and Tennille aspect of the title, however, the concept and musicianship on Don’t Forget Me Little Darling: Remembering The Carter Family is simply wonderful. The idea was to take the music of the Carter Family and record it using today’s best technology, bringing to life those great songs acoustically with modern musical sensibilities as if they were just written. Expertly produced by Jimmy Metts, the music of the Carter Family is recreated in a sweet and special way by Brandon Rickman, Jenee Fleenor, and Brennen Leigh. Rickman is the guitarist and lead singer for the Lonesome River band, Fleenor is a singer and multi-instrumentalist who plays in Blake Shelton’s group, and Leigh is an Austin-based singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Mark Fain adds bass to the recording. All three voices breathe new life into this classic American music catalog, letting the listener see sides of the Carter Family that they may have missed with a more stereotypical approach. (www.voxhallrecords.com)DH



101 Ranch Recordings RRBR22

   This is an important and powerful release from three of today’s strongest personalities in bluegrass music. A local bluegrass DJ refused to play this CD because, in his opinion, it was country and not bluegrass. That line has been blurred for at least fifty years by well-established bands who used snare drums, steel guitars, and pianos on their recordings. This is a fine example of twenty-first century bluegrass. Most of us no longer live agrarian lives or live in isolated places without modern amenities. Yes rural folks often don’t have good cell service or decent Internet connections, but we live more comfortable lives by and large than our ancestors did. There is a fair amount of rural grit on this project, mostly thanks to Don Rigsby.

The three personalities all leave their stamp on the music. Smith’s guitar is all over it; Rigsby’s soulful tenor soars on the harmonies and delivers a touch of the mountains. Ronnie Bowman brings a more contemporary touch, not only with his fine vocals, but also with his songwriting. This is one of the most powerful projects for consistently great songs. They will touch you deeply and move you in ways you may not expect. They may not all be your favorite, but there’s no denying they’re all great.

The backup musicians reads like a who’s who of the Nashville music scene. They provide spot on backup and augmentation to the gifted trio that makes up the core of this project. From “Coal Mining Man” to “Between The Devil And The Deep” to “Bootleg John” to the great reading of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway” is where the trio delivers, really selling the song. Heck they can even take on the old warhorse “Danny Boy” and make you like one more version of that old air. This is modern bluegrass that swings, rocks, sways, cries, laughs, and takes you on a musical journey that you’ll want to revisit again and again. Great stuff even if a local DJ doesn’t think so. (www.bandofruhks.com)RCB



Pillar Stone Records
No Number

With a number of IBMA awards to their credit since 2008, Dailey & Vincent must be regarded as one of the premiere bluegrass bands to emerge in the last decade. Alive! In Concert is their first live recording, and their third release through the Cracker Barrel exclusive music program.

The music here is very well done, with the usual fine vocal work from Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent. It’s also primarily country with a few gospel and bluegrass tunes sprinkled into the mix. Four cuts are labeled “with orchestra” (which means the full orchestra), but almost all cuts include drums, lots of sweetening with string sections and/or keyboards, and are very much on the “highly produced” (or “slick,” if you will) end of the scale.

For some reason, no individual instrument credits are given (although everyone is thanked profusely in the three and a half pages of credits/thanks, including the assistant ticket office supervisor and all three lead ticket sellers), but the band officially includes B.J. and Molly Cherryholmes, Jeff Parker, Christian Davis, Seth Taylor, Bob Mummert, Jessie Baker, Buddy Hyatt, and Mark Fair. Helping out are the George Mason University Student Orchestra, the Manassas Chorale, the Combined University Choruses, and the Gainesville Community Chorus. The recording is live, from the George Mason University campus in Manassas, Va.

Songs include “We’re All Here To Learn” (co-written by Dailey), “Till They Came Home,” and the Statler Brothers’ “O Baby Mine” and “Atlanta Blue,” all with full orchestra backing. Jamie Dailey also helped write “Simple Man,” “Mississippi River,” and “American Pride.” “Elizabeth” and “I Believe” are also from the Statlers’ repertoire. Karen Staley contributes “I’ll Leave My Heart In Tennessee” and Lucy Matthews wrote the rousing gospel number “Oh What A Time.” The one instrumental is the Cherryholmes’ composition “Nine Yards.” This is very nice music, well performed. Just be aware it is not, by and large, anywhere close to bluegrass, or you may be surprised by what you hear. (Cracker Barrel, P.O. Box 787, Lebanon, TN 37088, www.crackerbarrel.com.)AW



Rounder Records

This was an album the Gibson Brothers had to make, being a part of the long line of brother acts whose harmony singing blends so naturally. But, what’s cool about this project is that they waited to record it. They didn’t use the “brother-act sings the songs of other famous brother-acts” idea as a gimmick, but instead made sure they were established as artists on their own merits. It was after winning the IBMA Entertainers Of The Year award multiple times that they finally moved forward with Brotherhood, which I appreciate.

Another thing that is impressive about this album is that they did their research and tracked down many brother-acts they weren’t very familiar with, yet grew to love. Yes, there are wonderful songs on here made famous by the Stanley Brothers, Louvin Brothers, and the Everly Brothers (“How Mountain Girls Can Love” and “Bye Bye Love”). They also grab up tunes made popular by the Osborne Brothers (“Each Season Changes You”), Jim & Jesse (“Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes”), and the Bailey Brothers (“The Sweetest Gift”).

To their credit though, the Gibson Brothers also dug deep into the vaults to expertly recreate music attached to more obscure artists such as the Church Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys, the Glaser Brothers, the York Brothers, and the awesome Four Brothers Quartet, which was a combination of the Brewster Brothers and the Webster Brothers. Stepping up on this album is Leigh and Eric Gibson’s bandmates Jesse Brock on mandolin, fiddler Clayton Campbell, and bassist Mike Barber, who co-produced the project. The special guests include Ronnie Reno, Ronnie McCoury, Rob McCoury, Russ Pahl, and Sam Zucchini. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.)DH



No Label
No Number

Ever since Beppe Gambetta arrived on American shores from Europe decades ago with little more than his guitar, a digital two-track recorder and a few words of English to track down and record a CD with his flatpicking guitar heroes, there’s been an innate connection between the bluegrass cultures of these two nations. Here in 2015, we now have the latest example, an exceptional CD of flatpicking guitar duets and vocals performed by two masters of the style.

Jim Hurst has won the IBMA Guitar Player Of The Year award twice and is widely known for his superb work with artists Claire Lynch and Missy Raines, not to mention his solo work. Roberto Dalla Vecchia is one of Europe’s top flatpickers, and a frequent instructor at prestigious music events such as the annual Steve Kaufman Acoustic Kamp. After discussing their mutual interest in developing this project, Hurst and Dalla Vecchia made the effort to select, arrange, practice and record ten tunes despite the considerable distance between their homes in America and Italy. Ranging from old-time standards such as “Golden Slippers” and “Poor Hobo/There’s An Old Spinning Wheel” to tunes composed for this project such as Hurst’s elegiac title-track and the darkly beautiful “Moonlight Passage” from Dalla Vecchia, the project revolves around the lush, gorgeous interplay between the two guitars of these master musicians. This CD reveals two players who opt for melodic content and harmonic expression over pure flash and hot licks. The result is often stunning, and both players engage in a thoughtful, carefully chosen interplay of musical messages designed to enhance the overall song.

In addition to the gorgeous guitar work, there are a couple of equally impressive vocal tracks. Roberto leads off on vocals on the haunting Monte Pasubio, a ballad recounting the devastation Italy endured in the First World War. And kudos to Jim for learning Italian to sing harmony here. In turn, Hurst grabs the reins and sings lead on “Back To The Old Smoky Mountains,” which he picked up from a Chet Atkins album from the 1960s. Great tune, and great rendition all around here. For guitarists, the highlight here is probably the striking ending track, a tune Hurst composed during a visit to Italy. Capturing much of the Old World flavor of European guitar music, the two musicians drive this tune like a Ferrari racing around the Formula One track at Monza.

Atlantic Crossing is a great collaboration between two of today’s finest bluegrass musicians. Blending superb flatpicking, strong vocals and a memorable selection of diverse songs, this CD belongs on the playlist of fans of great guitar duets sprinkled with a bit of international inspiration. Bravo! (www.jimhurst.com)DJM