Mountain Fever Records

With several recordings under their belt, Volume Five takes their turn at an all-gospel recording. Such recordings can be tricky for bands. Often a band will let the material dictate their sound. They’ll sound one way as a secular group and roundly different with gospel material. Not so with Volume Five. On their previous secular recordings, they’ve offered music that sways track to track from traditional to contemporary, from edgy to lyrical, all enveloped in their own unique sound, and so, too, on this 12-song gospel CD.

The opener, “The Day We Learn To Fly,” perhaps best captures that sound, being a medium tempo song, slightly modal, lightly bouncing, and underscored with the metallic pluck of resonator guitar. That’s the sound I most think of with this band. But, as I say, they often switch gears. They follow with the light, positive feel of fiddler Glenn Harrell’s “Miracle Today” and then with their cover of Trey Ward’s “Color Between The Lines.” The latter offers the concept of a bible coloring book as a metaphor for joy and for staying on the straight and narrow. They then shift again to the a cappella of “Nothing But The Water” and then to a funky version of the only traditional song here, “Until I Found The Lord.”

So it goes through the rest of the recording. There’s a wonderful tribute to parents (“Thanks Again”) and a couple of equally wonderful classic uptempo gospel-style tunes from guitarist Jeff Partin—“What Could I Do” and “When We Are Called To Meet Him.” The highlight track would be the emotional “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” which leads to the barnburner “Get Down And Pray,” bringing to a close a strong recording that lets you know who is presenting the message without getting in the way of the message. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd., Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)BW


seldom sceneSELDOM SCENE

Smithsonian Folkways
SFW CD40199 

I felt a quiet sense of excitement and anticipation just opening this deeply inspired new retrospective collection and playing it for the first time. It’s a landmark release from a landmark band. It’s musical history.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), the Seldom Scene is one of the most influential and durable bands in modern bluegrass history. And Long Time… fittingly celebrates and documents the Scene’s illustrious 43-year history, during which numerous gifted musicians have come and gone and, in some cases, come and gone again.

The concept behind this collection came from Pete Reineger, Folkways’ three-time Grammy-winning sound production supervisor. Reineger convened the Seldom Scene’s current and longest running lineup, along with former founding members John Starling and Tom Gray, and had them revisit roughly a dozen and a half of the band’s signature songs. These include “Wait A Minute,” “Hickory Wind,” “Paradise,” “Big Train (From Memphis),” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” among quite a few others.

Joining these past and present members in the studio were guests Emmylou Harris, singer-guitarist Chris Eldridge (son of the Scene’s banjo player Ben Eldridge), and fiddler Rickie Simpkins (brother of the Scene’s bass player, Ronnie Simpkins). What’s amazing is the soulfulness, freshness, and immediacy this lineup brings to these chestnuts, which they’ve no doubt performed countless times over the years. Also well worth mentioning are the excellent 35-page liner notes written by Reineger, who also mixes these tracks. Included is a comprehensive 26-page biography of the band and track-by-track annotations that explain how each of these songs found its way into the band’s repertoire.

Like the Seldom Scene’s 15th Anniversary: Live At The Kennedy Center album from 1986, Long Time…Seldom Scene is a landmark in this band’s rich, storied, and still unfolding history. (Smithsonian Folkways, P.O. Box 37012, MRC 520, CG 2001, Washington, DC 20013, www.folkways.si.edu.)BA

DAROL ANGER, e-and’a


Adventure Music America
AMA1086 2

Given the innovative nature of Darol Anger’s wide-ranging musical explorations, it’s easy to look at a title like e-and’a and think, “Oh, maybe he’s just decided to go one step beyond DNA.” And then, when you learn that the title is derived from counting off a tune (as in one-e-and-a-two-e), the realization dawns that this is probably as close as Lawrence Welk and Darol Anger are ever likely to be mentioned in the same breath.

Titles aside, what we have here is a gathering of superb young musicians who can match everything this adventurous fiddler can bring on and take it even further. Joined by mandolinist Joe Walsh, guitarist Courtney Hartman, banjoist Lukas Pool, and bassist Sharon Gilchrist, Anger leads and is led by this ensemble through ten beautifully evocative instrumentals that give new life to new acoustic music. The program is a balanced mix of original and traditional pieces. Part of what gives this recording its energy is that the originals, for the most part, sound traditional, while the older tunes often contain some inherently quirky twists and turns that make them sound like modern compositions. Anger and Walsh have composed a few of the new pieces, joining numbers from Vassar Clements, John McGann, and John Hartford. But the joy comes in hearing a great tune like “Farewell To Trion” with all its crooked surprises treated so well by these players.

Despite being surrounded by such vibrant and innovative young musicians, this is actually one of the less, shall we say, radical sessions that Anger has lead in recent memory. It has an ensemble feel in the best sense, with all involved putting the tunes ahead of the licks. And when the tunes and the players are all full of such vibrant life, what you end up with is a CD with an off-kilter title that’s full of beautifully realized traditionally-based acoustic string music. (www.darolanger.com.)HK



Mountain Fever Records
MFR 140415

This is a wonderful project from this very talented family band. Both vocally and instrumentally, the band is tight. The father, J.W. Stevens, plays banjo and sings bass. Nancy is the mother and sings. There are the three brothers, Luke (guitar, vocals), Sammy (fiddle), and Ben (mandolin, vocals), and then sister, Laura (aka Sissy) on bass. The guest musician is Chris Sexton who adds fiddle and cello. The family shares the lead vocals and tight harmony blends, and instrumentally they are all well-skilled.

The project leads off with a Sissy Stevens’ original “Down On The Farm.” There are three tunes from songwriter David Ray Tuck: “Growing Old With You,” “Little Wooden Box,” and “Old Fashion Love.” There is Brandon Rickman’s “Here Comes That Feeling Again” and Randall Hylton’s “Where Rainbows Touch Down.” Their gospel selections include Ron Block’s “A Living Prayer,” Thomas Griffith’s “City Of Gold,” and Jerry Golf’s “Search The Book.” Luke Stevens offers “She’s The One” and the collection ends with their rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” It is obvious that this family has spent considerable time honing both their vocal and instrumental chops. Watch for this band to grow in popularity. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)BF



Out of Town Records

This talented father/daughter team has produced a wonderful project of original material that features the vocal and violin prowess of young Emma Hart. While only containing six selections, the CD allows plenty of room for both Dave Hart’s songwriting and Emma’s singing and playing.

Produced by another fiddler, Jim VanCleve, the Hart’s have assembled some of the best talent available. The session musicians include Bryan Sutton (acoustic and electric guitar, clawhammer banjo, bouzouki), Byron House (acoustic and electric bass), Kenny Malone (drums, percussion), Jeff Taylor (piano, accordion, flute, synth), Aaron Ramsey (resonator guitar, mandolin, banjo), Josh Shilling (B3 organ), and VanCleve (fiddle). Emma sings lead and plays fiddle on most cuts where Dave plays acoustic and electric guitar and mandolin.

The projects start with the haunting “A Shadow Behind,” followed by the title cut “Hold On.” There is a beautiful instrumental “Little Emma,” then “No More We May” and “Remember Me.” The only non-Hart song is a blazing rendition in full gypsy-style of David Grisman’s “Opus 57.” This is a really nice debut project for young Emma Hart and her talented father. (www.daveandemmahart.com)BF



Red Pigs Records

   I love the title of the Barcelona, Spain band’s debut CD, which is taken from the lead cut. Unlike the drunken escapades that might be expected from the song’s usual meaning, this three-piece experimental string band takes us on a serious frolic, covering a wide range of music landscapes.

With Lluis Gomez on five-string banjo, Oriol Gonzalez handling mandolin, and Maribel Rivero tackling the double bass, this threesome composed 12 original instrumental tracks that blend traditional bluegrass instruments with a jazz feel. Playing a lot of gigs and rehearsing quite a bit before entering the studio on December 11, 2013, the band recorded all songs live in one day with no separate tracks. Perhaps there are a couple of mistakes, but I didn’t hear them. And even if there were, the brilliance of their innovative playing far overshadows any minor flaws.

Multi-instrumentalist Matt Flinner compared the trio to “Tony Trischka’s Skyline group at its best.” Look for Grazztrio to ignite a new spark of creativity in contemporary bluegrass in the future. (Diagonal Orient 26, Castelldefels Platja, 08860 Spain, www.grazztrio.com.)BC



No Label

   This is the debut recording for Randy Cook and Commonwealth Bluegrass Band from the Mechanicsville area of Virginia. Cook, the leader, is on mandolin. With him is longtime associate Malcolm Pulley on banjo. Both have deep roots in the Virginia bluegrass scene, including a stint in James Bailey and Company. Joining them are bassist Lance Seal and guitarist Jason Owen. Everyone sings lead at one time or the other, though the liner notes don’t specify who sings what. Guesting here are fiddler Ron Stewart and reso-guitarist Mike Sharp.

Together they’ve developed a highly pleasing sound, one that dominates the 12 songs of this debut. With the exception of Jason Owens’ slow and contemporary sounding “He Wants To Be A Daddy Now,” the modal, grinding cover of Larry McPeak’s Civil War narrative “Dry Creek Run,” and the all-out bluesy drive of Pulley’s “I Put The Hammer Down,” the balance of this recording has a light, smooth, and extremely tuneful sound. Think of “Ashes Of Love,” a tune that is included here, and you’ll get the idea.

Pulley’s “Wearing My Heart Out On My Sleeve,” “Living In The Country,” and “The Old Pocket Watch,” Lynwood Lunsford’s “Molly Rose,” Ira Richardson’s “Purple Valley Blues,” Dickey Lee’s “The Door Is Always Open,” Daniel Hughes’ “Getting Over You,” and Stewart Harris’ “Rose In Paradise,” all of them have that quality. The laser moves from one of them to the next and, as each one gets rolling, along comes an ahh quality, a feeling of drifting pleasantly along. Highlights? Any one of them could be, though I’m kind of partial to “Wearing My Heart…” and “The Door Is Always Open.” And, of course it’s hard not to like “Ashes Of Love.” In an era when bands often overdo the tough, moody sound, it’s nice to have the opposite. (Randy Cook, P.O. Box 787, Mechanicsville, VA 23111, www.pulleytunes.com.)BW


bluegrass expressBLUEGRASS EXPRESS

Plum River

   The Underwoods have been playing bluegrass for a long time. It shows in the presence of their playing and singing. They’re at home with the contemporary style they bring to the music. It actually harkens back to the sound that the Osborne Brothers brought to bluegrass. It’s no small coincidence that this band is named for one of their biggest hits. Although they don’t have that predominate lead tenor, they share many sensibilities with the brothers Osborne.

The title alludes to the fact that all of the material here is original. It’s an embarrassment of riches. The songs cover quite a range of subjects and manage to be different enough to keep things interesting. “It’s Raining Outside” sounds like the western part of Country and Western, while “I’ll Be Gone” and “Down In Tennessee” have the country side of things covered very nicely. Guest vocalist Bethany Burie sings on “The Key To Heaven,” otherwise the family handles all of the vocals with ease and elegance.

Sierra Hull adds her mandolin to “I’ll Be Gone,” but it’s Tim Crouch’s fiddle that really makes this set sound great. His fills and breaks fit right in with Gary Underwood’s guitar, Greg Underwood’s bass and guitar, and Jacob Underwood’s mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and guitar. Not to be forgotten, Andy Hatfield plays some mighty fine mandolin and guitar. All of the Underwoods sing. The arrangements all work well with enough punch and spot-on timing to keep everything interesting. With solid lyrics, strong harmonies, and well-thought-out arrangements, this recording should bring more recognition to a very good band. (Bluegrass Express, 1396 E. Menzemer Rd., Elizabeth, IL 61028, www.bluegrassexpressband.com.)RCB



No Label
No Number

Along Rt. 1107 in mid-Kentucky lies the small town of Thelma. From that small town hails the Land of Lincoln bluegrass band, a well-rehearsed and hard-driving group consisting of Brad Powers (banjo), Ben Childers (guitar), Bruce Davis (mandolin), Mike Jarrell (guitar), and Michael Powers (bass). With Jarrell’s strong songwriting, impressive instrumentation, good lead vocals, and tight harmony blends, the group has produced an impressive debut project sure to have folks sit up and take a listen to this new group.

   Leading off with a mandolin instrumental called “Prelude,” the CD continues will Jarrell’s compositions including “Blue Debut,” “He Laid Him Down,” “Too Cold To Hold,” “Black Snake Whip,” and “Leavin’ New Orleans.” Also included are their takes on Flatt & Scruggs’ “You’re Love Is Like A Flower” and Bill Monroe’s “Used To Be.” “Blown Fuse” is a Jarrell instrumental that let’s everyone take a nice ride. Land of Lincoln is a fresh new face in bluegrass music with a bright future. (Land of Lincoln, P.O. Box 382, Thelma, KY 41260, www.landoflincolnbluegrass.com.)BF



JaveLina Records

   Blue Yonder consists of John Lilly on vocals and rhythm guitar, Robert Shafer on lead/rhythm/electric guitar and mandolin, and Will Carter on bass fiddle. All ten songs are original compositions by John. In the liner notes, Larry Groce wrote, “Blue Yonder lives where classic country music meets western swing,” which is a fair description. John used to play bass in Ralph Blizard’s band and worked at the Augusta Heritage Center (Elkins, W.Va.) before he became editor of Goldenseal, the state magazine of West Virginia.

On the title cut, which opens the CD, we hear John’s voice sliding effortlessly into small yodels with lots of tasteful and swingy guitar breaks. “Bootless” is more in the classic vein. (How many words can you rhyme with bootless?) “Cinder Bottom Blues” is a swingy blues with lots of opportunity for the guitar to shine. “Come When Mama Calls” is on the hard-driving Western Swing edge of the band’s repertory. “Red-Eye Express” is a driving train song which would make a nice bluegrass cover; I can hear a banjo break in my head while listening. “Do You Mind If I Drive” is filled with the harmonics and slides of a sweet steel guitar. “My Love Never Sleeps” is the prettiest song in this collection. The CD ends with “Beats Walkin’,” which is more swing with John’s syllabic yodels.

So long as you understand that this is neither old-time nor bluegrass, those who like Western Swing and country music will appreciate this recording. (John Lilly, P.O. Box 5402, Charleston, WV 25361, www.johnlillymusic.com.)SAG



Poor Mountain Records
No Number

   Nearly thirty years as a band on any level doesn’t happen by accident. Southern Ohio and northern West Virginia’s Idletymes offers strong playing and singing with equal comfort on contemporary and traditional bluegrass material. Idletymes has developed into quite a good band and released this most enjoyable album Poor Mountain Home late in 2013. The ensemble acquits itself particularly well on new songs from Mike Evans (four titles) and Jason Davis as well as their own new resonator guitarist Bruce Jones. Most impressively, Idletymes has continued to refine and improve its sound through three decades of personnel changes.

The band members paid their dues with folks such as Dave Evans, Emma Smith, and Vern Gosdin and include two Flatt & Scruggs’ covers, but don’t mind experimenting as well. They must, however, have approached Poor Mountain Home with some melancholy since it is their first effort since the death of Gary Jarvis.

“Lorraine” by Davis has the instantly memorable quality essential to a radio hit. A love song from the perspective of an active firefighter tends to stand out. All four of Mike Evans songs (“Things My Daddy Taught Me” was co-written with Brink Brinkman) are solid contributions with the lead-off cut, “I Can’t Bare [sic] The Thought Of Losing You,” a cracking good bluegrass love song that deserves airplay.

The covers—all classics, unfortunately—also point out the ever so subtle distinction between an extremely good band like Idletymes and the very top strata of the genre. Their recording of “Wait A Minute” is flawless but lacks that extra emotional power of either the original or recent re-recording by the Seldom Scene. Similarly, the lovely rendition of “Today I Started Loving Her Again” fails to deliver the emotional punch of the original. That aside, Poor Mountain Home is a thoroughly enjoyable album. (www.idletymesband.com.)AM


tammy jones robinetteTAMMY JONES ROBINETTE

Little Creek
No Number

Produced by Mark Fain, this all-Gospel release features Ms. Robinette’s pleasing vocals backed by an impressive cadre of bluegrass musicians and vocalists. The band consists of Mark Fain (bass), Ron Block (guitar, banjo), Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Rob Ickes (resonator guitar), Andy Leftwich (mandolin), and Molly Cherryholmes (cello, viola, violin). Background vocalists include Dale Ann Bradley, Steve Gulley, Herb Pedersen, Jeff Parker, Jamie Dailey, Sharon White Skaggs, and Cheryl White. Also included on some tracks are Dale Scragg (drums), Garry Jones (piano) and David Johnson (resonator guitar, fiddle, guitar, mandolin).

Eight of the twelve selections were written by Robinette and include “All Of This And Heaven, Too,” “If I Could Take My Family To Heaven,” “Only God,” “I Can’t Go Back There,” “My Daddy’s Mountains,” “Best Friend,” “Burden Bearer,” and the title cut “Let It Shine.” Familiar tunes include Albert Brumley’s “Steal Away And Pray,” Dolly Parton’s “Master’s Hand,” and Carl Trivette’s “Stroll Over Heaven.” Robinette’s strong and uplifting songwriting is enhanced by wonderful arrangements which allow her messages to be in the forefront. This is a really good gospel project. Hopefully, Robinette will continue to use bluegrass music as the vehicle for her writing and signing. (Tammy Jones Robinette, P.O. Box 215, Berlin Heights, OH 44814, www.tammyjonesrobinette.com.)BF



Mountain Fever Records

Kentucky-based vocalist Dave Adkins spent several years working in country and rock bands. So finding such colorations in his delivery on this forceful album of country and traditional and contemporary-style bluegrass tunes is not surprising. We are the heirs of our past, and for Adkins his past has evolved into an intriguing, throaty mid-range vocal that is powerful and flexible, full of twists and slurring word bends.

He makes full use of that power and those bends on this set of twelve songs, all written by contemporary songwriters, including four from Adkins himself. Of those twelve, five are of the slow, country variety, and it’s among them that several of the standout tracks are found. “Silence Is Golden,” a ballad from Trey Ward, would be one, as would “Pretty Little Liar,” a tune with hints of a Roy Orbison-style melody. Both are very good tunes to start with, and Adkins’ singing makes them all the better. One that may not get the recognition it deserves, but is every bit as powerful is his original gospel tune “Don’t Pray That Way.” Again, Adkins’ voice gives it a boost, though honestly, his story of a dying woman asking people to pray for others needs no real boost.

Adkins’ approach on the faster tracks is more of a mixed bag. On the medium tunes, such as the 3/4-time “Moonshine In The Moonlight” and his straight bluegrass original “Pike County Jail,” the fit is good. But only on “Tennessee Twister” (among the three uptempo tunes) can the same be said, and even it takes a bit to get going. As with many singers of strong country or rock backgrounds, Joe Diffie being a good example, the blend is not as convincing on fast, straight bluegrass tunes. Those here are okay, but get lost among the better tracks of what is a good all-around album. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd., Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)BW



No Label
No Number

Though billed as a companion to Don’t Forget The Song that Dry Branch Fire Squad is releasing simultaneously, The Gospel Way needs no pairing to be fully enjoyed. Both were recorded at the same session and used similar recording techniques, but one doesn’t necessarily complete the other. In fact, they come across as vastly different in construction. The secular recording has, in spite of its rough-hewn early-days-of-bluegrass sound, an exploratory quality about it, crossing genres to make its point. It also has a consistently slower tempo overall.

The Gospel Way, by contrast, is a more conventional bluegrass recording. Same rough-hewn quality, yes. Same early-days sound, yes. But it’s more conventional in form and tempo variety, more familiar in title and source. Flatt & Scruggs and The Stanleys account for almost half the tracks, and listeners will recognize many of the titles: “Brother I’m Getting Ready To Go,” “If I Be Lifted Up,” “Take Me In Your Lifeboat,” “No Mother In This World,” “When The Angels Carry Me Home,” “Model Church,” and “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”

Of course, the aim of a gospel recording is much different. The message is the point, so familiar pieces make perfect sense, and if they’re done as well as these are, all the better. Still, there are a few surprises here. “The Model Church” is one. Though a standard, here it’s presented the way Ron Thomason remembered it as a child and is given only clawhammer banjo backing. Also included is the less-familiar Blue Sky Boys version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” with its different lyrics and altered melody. Perhaps the most-obscure track is the tune “Upper Window,” a traditional tune built on the story of Noah and his need for comforting. Paired with a couple of other lesser-recorded tunes, “Lonely Tombs” and the ancient-sounding a cappella of “The Lone Pilgrim,” it rounds out a fine gospel offering. (Aerie-Eagle Ranch, P.O. Box 404, Cotopaxi, CO 81223, www.drybranchfiresquad.com.)BW



Rural Rhythm Records

Along about track seven of this the fourth recording made for Rural Rhythm Records by Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie, the band hits a three-song stretch that gives the album a lift. Seven songs in might seem late in the tracking for such a run, but you take them where you find them, and moreover, it’s not that listening to the album to that point had caused suffering. Until the run, and indeed in the three closers, the music had been good, reminding the listener again what a fine and tuneful banjoist Emerson is and recalling the folk-tinged bluegrass style with which Emerson has long been associated.

“Dancin’ Annie,” written and sung by guitarist Chris Stifel, certainly has that sound, all light and airy. In a way, it has the same Gaelic, sing-song rhythm and quality of “Colleen Malone” and makes for a nice opener. That’s followed a couple tracks later by Pete Goble’s slow country ballad “Days When You Were Mine,” again with Stifel’s lead vocal blending perfectly with the material. The gospel tune “Will A Light Be Shining Bright” is also of note and is quite heavy in the ’70s sound of the Seldom Scene, particularly certain bass notes from Teri Chism.

Then we hit the three-song run. What had been a good sound becomes a very good sound, very tight and full of character. You can hear it right from the opening notes of “Two Hands On The Wheel.” The sound just comes together, and the energy leaps out of Chism’s lead vocals behind which the band crackles along. The effect is so striking that it’s startling. That’s followed by a gospel tune, “Thank Him For A Miracle,” and by the classic “Walkin’ After Midnight,” each as taut and engaging as “Two Hands…” After that the song quality recedes a bit, but for that three-song run, this pleasant recording rose to exceptional heights. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 750, Mt. Juliet, TN 37121, www.ruralrhythm.com.)BW