Yodel-Ay-Hee 090

    One of the joys of reviewing is when you play a CD from someone you’ve never heard of before, and it’s simply wonderful. Hog-Eyed Man is the name chosen by the duo of fiddler Jason Cade with Rob McMaken who plays lap dulcimer and cross-tuned mandolin. In that configuration, the fiddle is out front and center and the focus is on the tunes.

These are 17 great tunes from a platinum mine of old-time tune sources in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia. Only one tune is recently composed, “Winder Slide,” written by Joe LaRose in 1980 and known mainly from recordings by Bruce Molsky and Rayna Gellert. Much of the rest of the material was collected by fiddler and folklorist Bruce Greene. There are three tunes from the great Isham Monday: “Apple Blossom,” “Bill Cheatham,” and “Far In The Mountain.” Three also come from Hiram Stamper (Art’s dad): “Betty Baker,” “Pretty Betty Martin,” and the tune the band takes its name from, “Hog-Eyed Man.” Two tunes each come from Byard Ray, North Carolina fiddler Marcus Martin, and Kentucky fiddler John Salyer. Throw in Emmett Lundy, Roy Bennett, Luther Strong, Jim Bowles,  and you have a tune list to admire.

The droning rhythmic backup by McMaken combines with Cade’s powerful fiddling to make an almost mesmerizing sound. It would be difficult to pick out one or two tunes to highlight because they all sound powerful and compelling to my ear. Anyone who loves old-time American fiddling will enjoy listening to this CD, and I will not be surprised if some of these tunes start being played soon in old-time jams around the country soon. (Yodel-Ay-Hee, 107 Ingle Rd., Asheville, NC 28804, hogeyedman.reverbnation.com.)SAG



Rural Rhythm

Nu-Blu has always been a proactive band when it comes to getting their name out there in the bluegrass world. They have been adept at using modern technology and networking to make their way in the business. But, ultimately, it is the music that matters the most. All The Way is the band’s latest album and it’s full of solid contemporary bluegrass fare.

The band is the husband and wife team of guitarist Daniel and bassist Carolyn Routh, along with Levi Austin on banjo and Austin Koerner on mandolin. Daniel and Carolyn share the lead vocal duties, but it’s Carolyn’s that truly stands out. I’m always a bit leery of bluegrass foursomes, as more times than not they should go ahead and add that fifth member to insert the sound of the extra instruments inevitably found on their recordings. The guests on All The Way include Ron Stewart on fiddle, Rob Ickes on resonator guitar, Rhonda Vincent on harmony vocals, fiddler Greg Luck, and Martin Parker on light percussion.

The album focuses more on modern-day story songs by a wide array of writers rather than bluegrass romps, and while that slows the album down at times, there are some true standout cuts here. The highlights include “That’s What Makes The Bluegrass Blue” featuring harmony vocals by Vincent, the Carl Jackson/Alison Mellon-penned title track, and “Heavy Cross To Bear,” about a soldier’s fate in Afghanistan. The real news on this album is the duet between Carolyn and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Sam Moore called “Jesus And Jones,” about the late George Jones. This is a real coup by the band, and Moore’s voice fits wonderfully on this tribute to The Possum. (www.nu-blu.com)DH



Rock Springs Records

The Hunt brothers, Andrew and Jonathan, are joined by their parents, Terry and Leanne, on this project they sum up as an “experimentation.” Andrew plays fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, while his brother Jonathan plays banjo, guitars, bass, and drums, and also produced and engineered the project. The project features original pieces, two from Andrew and two from Jonathan. The remaining selections are somewhat familiar such as “Ebo Walker,” “Live And Let Live,” “Down The Road,” “Can’t You Hear Me Calling,” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

By experimentation, the selections are backed by drums, percussion, and electric guitar which to bluegrass regulars place the project “On The Edge” of the music. While the brothers are very good musicians, these experiments tend to distract from the really good bluegrass music these guys can play. Take their version of “Walk Don’t Run” which is heavy on electric guitar and leaves the banjo and mandolin solos in a lesser role. “Tinseltown” and ”Oklahoma Wind” are by Jonathan, while “Skeleton Creek” and “Weeping Willow Waltz” are from Andrew.

The instrumentals and backing arrangements let the brothers show off their instrumental prowess. The vocal harmony blends are tight and excellently phrased. “Near The Cross” is the only gospel song with a beautiful vocal arrangement. “Weeping Willow Waltz” allows Andrew to showcase his fiddle playing and “Sweet Georgia Brown” lets the brothers travel down a jazzy instrumental path. As said, these two brothers can play bluegrass and this musical experiment is overall pretty good. (Rock Springs Records, 7968 Burt Burgen Rd., Bradyville, TN 37026, www.huntfamilyband.com.)BF



No Label
No Number

Good news for fans of Marteka and William Lake. They are still on the path! And by that, I mean the shining pathway forged, lo, these many years ago by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. For The Sounds Of A Tradition, the siblings have enlisted the help of like-minded traveler, fiddling Corrina Rose Logston Stephens. Just as Marteka devoured the banjo nuances of Earl Scruggs, and William absorbed the vocal stylings and thumb-pick guitar playing of Lester Flatt, Corrina studied the notes and bowing patterns of Paul Warren and Benny Martin. When these young players combine their considerable talents, the old favorites still sound exciting.

The appeal of The Sounds Of A Tradition is twofold. The uninitiated will enjoy the excellent, straight-ahead banjo and fiddle playing. You don’t have to know anything about Flatt & Scruggs to enjoy hearing these well-played versions of “Cripple Creek,” “Sally Ann,” “Reuben,” “John Henry,” and their own “Johnson Ridge Special.” Those who have committed the breaks from the original recordings to memory will find themselves wondering “Will Marteka play this lick?”—only to hear her play it exactly like Earl in the next instant. I particularly appreciated her rendition of “Sally Goodwin” with no accompaniment whatsoever except for the brief flash of Corrina’s fiddle. Sweet!

The four vocals, which include “Head Over Heels” and “Rambling Gambler,” are primarily solos by William, who is starting to come into his own as a singer. Charley Lake on bass and Bruce Jones on resonator guitar are on hand to round out the sound. Young musicians change and grow so fast, it’s hard for albums to keep up with them. For a glimpse at what Marteka and William look and sound like today, you need to check out their website. Here’s hoping they continue to keep their hand on the traditional bluegrass plow. Hold on, hold on! (Marteka & William Lake



Regal Media Group
No Number

Calling the faster songs here “hard-driving” would be something of a misnomer. Calling the slower songs here “intense” would also be a stretch. The fastest songs—the swinging “I Saw Your Face In The Moon,” and “My Window Faces The South”—move along at a modest clip, but Leonard Hollifield delivers the lead vocals in an offhand manner that makes them more playful rather than forceful. The slower songs on the other hand, such as his version of “The Convict And The Rose,” rarely if ever exhibit much pleading or angst. What is found here would best be described as flowing, relaxed, fun, tuneful, and an absolute pleasure to hear. In short, just what the album’s title implies.

Hollifield, of western North Carolina and a veteran of many bands including The Kingsmen and the Stoney Creek Boys, was 88 when he made this recording, and his voice is still beautiful and expressive. His tone has settled into a smooth, light midrange and, as mentioned above, his delivery is offhand, at times pulling on your sleeve, at times wistful—a term I use often, but never more so than here. Hear him on “I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal,” or Leroy Drumm and Pete Goble’s memory song, “Back In Hancock County,” or on the faster songs already mentioned. Any of those showcase his good-natured approach. For his skill at laying on the wistful and longing, listen to his version of “Old Flames Can’t Hold A Candle To You,” or “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On,” or Drumm and Goble’s “Dixie In My Eye.” And for power without browbeating, don’t miss “Let The Lower Lights Be Burning.”

Backing his rhythm guitar and lead singing are his son on guitar, Bryan Sutton on guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, and harmony vocals, along with fiddler Bobby Hicks. The arrangements are often spare and direct, but never lack for tunefulness or interest. There is not a track in the bunch that doesn’t bear repeated listening. (Regal Media Group, 129 Regal Knolls Dr., Mills River, NC 28759, www.regalmedia.net.)BW



Patuxent Music

This young man has a firm grasp of the art of the clawhammer banjo. He can drive it hard and has melodic touch influenced by the great Adam Hurt. There is a sense of a music world far beyond the realm of old-time mountain music in this young man’s approach.

The first half of the project tends to be more traditional with fine old-time tunes such as “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss” on which the banjo shadows Nate Leath’s fiddle, or “Bonaparte Crossing The Rhine,” a fine banjo instrumental with guitar backup from Danny Knicely. Showing his traditional chops, Furtado does a solid reading of the old southwestern Virginia piece “Fortune,” with the “Galax lick” and all. Mark Schatz, quite the banjo player himself, lays down some fine bass lines on the ensemble pieces. His solo introduction to the funky reading of “Chilly Winds” is a highlight of the recording. The whole band treats this tune as the mountain blues it is. “Durang’s Hornpipe” shows off Furtado’s melodic mastery in a solo setting. By track eight, “Ghost On Hippie Hill,” the music starts to really branch out from the pure traditional and we get a taste of the young man’s imagination. His take on “Catlettsburg” is unusual to say the least. Not afraid to challenge the status quo, Furtado takes the banjo where few dare go. The music becomes more atmospheric, but with an attitude.

This recording may not appeal to everyone, but that’s not the point. Furtado and his session mates have created a musical statement that challenges some assumptions, and they joyfully jump all over those assumptions and have a ball just playing some great music that stretches and bends tradition, sending it through a growth spurt. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)RCB



Lily Pad Records

Buddy Merriam and Back Roads open their seventh recording with a gently-insistent, minor-key original called “New Echota.” With its descending chord pattern and droning ’60s rock-instrumental feel, it makes for a captivating introduction. Yes, it’s a little long given its repetitive form, but it works well and has an almost hypnotic pull. Merriam says it’s a tribute to Native Americans and, once you know that, the trance-like qualities take on a different context.

That’s the first of five original instrumentals Merriam contributed: two waltzes (“Waltz Of The Pine,” full of twists of interest is the best); a martial-beat, European sounding jig (“41 Degnon”); and a reel (“Avery Anne’s Reel”). All are nicely varied in design. Three tunes are from guitarist and lead vocalist Matt Riley. He sings of the pride of “The Farm” life, his pride in the country on “Live Free Or Die,” and the pride of owning a 1920s Gibson A “Snakehead Mandolin.” On each, he attacks his vocals with a vigor, sometimes recalling the anguished half-shout that Levon Helm used to bring to The Band. That’s particularly up front on the title-cut. At other times, Riley bunches his words, creating a fury. That effect, which is quite propulsive, is most noticeable on “Live Free Or Die.”

Two Monroe tunes are both sung by Riley using a more traditional vocal approach. The first, “Stay Away From Me,” is not one of Bill’s best, but gets a nice backbeat read here. “Bluest Man In Town” is a semi-classic that draws out the best of the band’s bluesy technique. Merriam has been at this a long time and, over those years, he’s developed an intriguing take on traditional bluegrass. The Farm—entertaining, colorful, and varied—showcases his vision in fine fashion. (Buddy Merriam, P.O. Box 862, Sound Beach, NY 11789, www.buddymerriam.com.)BW



Patuxent Music

   Greeson first came to many folks’ attention with his work on the Close Kin project, Close Kin: Our Roots Run Deep. His chops are quite prevalent there, but, here, they are front and foremost. His tone is full and his intonation is spot-on. He gets all of the notes he needs, and he doesn’t play the ones that don’t need played. He shows more taste than most, including some well-established fiddlers. His backup band is up to the task, including the very talented banjo player, Brennen Ernst, Taylor Baker on mandolin, Marshall Wilborn on bass, Danny Knicely on guitar, mandolin, and fiddle, and Casey Driscoll on fiddle.

This is a program of bluegrass fiddle classics drawing from all of the renowned sources including Monroe, Bob Wills, Howdy Forrester, Benny Martin, and Kenny Baker. The young man wielding the bow here is accomplished and takes on each tune with skill and ease. “The Old Brown County Barn,” one of Monroe’s numerous tunes, kicks things off. Another highlight is the high-riding Frank Malloy tune, “Magic Melody Reel.” Fine versions of “Jerusalem Ridge” and “Snowflake Reel” show off this young fiddler’s talents. Casey Driscoll joins him on second fiddle for four numbers, where they nearly get as many harmony notes as Bobby Hicks does on “Maiden’s Prayer.” Taylor Baker’s mandolin is always tasteful, as is Danny Knicely’s guitar playing. The added treat is hearing the highly-articulated banjo playing of Brennen Ernst. He captures the melody completely with an uncommon discretion. His playing is reminiscent of other underrated banjo talents such as Tommy Neal and Kyle Dean Smith, both masters of the melody, while driving the tune with authority. This is a fine recording by a promising young talent. We should certainly be hearing much more from this young man. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)RCB



String Dreams

This young lady has been garnering attention with her fiddling over the past four years, even playing on the Grand Ole Opry about the time of this writing. Kitty moved with her family to the mountains of Southwest Virginia and came to know a fiddling neighbor, Jerry Correll. Correll started teaching her and, soon, she was surpassing all of his expectations as a student. He produced this CD, and it is a thing of wonder. The region is chock-full of great musicians, as it always has been. Correll is an interesting fellow in that he is never satisfied to just learn the tunes of his region, but is also driven to look about and find great tunes from all over. As a result, his student is playing a wide array of old-time fiddle tunes with a touch of bluegrass thrown in to keep it real.

There are 19 tracks on this recording with the final cut, “Funky Chicken,” a Byron Berline tune originally played in a duet with banjoist John Hickman. Here, Amaral and Kyle Dean Smith take the piece and have a lot of fun with it. Smith also contributed two original tunes to the project, the lively “Double K Hornpipe” (for Kitty and Kyle) and the lovely “Ellie’s Waltz” for Ellie Kirby, a local musician and artisan.

Some old-time tunes require special tuning. In one of those tunings, Amaral plays “Midnight On The Water” and “Bonaparte’s Retreat” in a very well-conceived medley. Correll’s influence is apparent on “Lonesome Polly Ann” and “Going Up Elk Creek,” on which Amaral doubles his fiddling. But this young lady exceeds all expectations for an 11-year-old fiddler (at the time of the recording) by playing some amazing versions of “Durham’s Bull,” “Oklahoma Rooster,” and “Rhymer’s Favorite.” Her variations on “Big John McNeil” will keep many a fiddler hoping to try to work them into their versions. There are moments of levity in the mix with witty touches to a couple of tunes and her tribute to the late John Hartford. Although she’s not old enough to remember him, his mark as a fiddler lives on.

The backup band makes use of some great local talent. Tom Mylet and Kyle Dean Smith (playing an assortment of instruments including guitar, mandolin, banjo, and banjo uke), along with Donna Correll on bass, make up the basic band. Special guests include Wayne Henderson, Carl Jones, Adam Hurt, Harrol Blevins, and Steve Kilby. All add their special touches. The detail-oriented concept and production of this project makes for a rich and varied program with different instrumentation and pacing throughout. One question remains: Who would teach an 11-year-old a tune called “Bad Liquor”? (www.kittyamaral.com)RCB