Let’s Pick

   It’s refreshing to hear traditional bluegrass played with drive and vigor and sung from the heart. This outfit does just that. Out of the gate, they hit it hard with the old number “Gospel Plow.” They have picked some fine gems to include on this project, such as “Hard Times Sometimes,” Curly Seckler’s fine song via Flatt & Scruggs—“Old Book Of Mine,” Monroe’s “Letter From My Darlin’,” and Jimmy Martin’s “Future On Ice.” Campbell renders some fine tunes and great bluegrass fiddling throughout.

Recorded live, we get a solid, gritty sound that cuts to the core. There’s an extensive cast of pickers helping out the band, and all do a superior job. They catch the flavor of traditional grass, getting to the core of the sound without slavish imitation. The band dynamics are superior, and it’s obvious these players have worked together quite a bit. At the core of the band’s sound are the vocals from Johnny and Whitney Campbell who also play fiddle and bass respectively. They are fine musicians and sincere singers. At times, Johnny’s voice veers from the note he’s holding, lessening the power of his vocals. Otherwise, they catch the power of the mountain roots of bluegrass. Chris Henry provides some fine Monroe-esque mandolin on several cuts that adds to that power.

While some bands try to present punk versions of the old-time bluegrass and others try to bring it up-to-date, this band takes on the material on its terms and meets it head on with earnestness and honesty. You have to love that. With some fine-tuning of the vocals, these folks will be hard to beat. Meanwhile, the fiddling and picking stands with the best out there. (Johnny Campbell, 1107 N. 2nd St., Nashville, TN 37207,



Footpath Records
No Number

   David White is one of those people you love to hate. Already blessed with the brilliant mind to be a pediatrician, the Texas-native is also an extremely talented singer/songwriter. On his debut album Long Roots, White’s storytelling and relaxing baritone voice take center stage with a few ace pickers providing impeccable accompaniment in the wings. Jerry Douglas (resonator guitar), Chris Thile (mandolin), Bryan Sutton (guitar and banjo), and Stuart Duncan (fiddle) along with Dan Tyminski (harmony vocals) are the musicians most recognizable to bluegrass fans.

While White plays a wide range of tunes from the musical spectrum, the only true bluegrass cut is “Smoking Gun” about a woman seeking revenge on her cheating husband. Smooth black and shiny/Well she fumbles with the pistol in her hand/Rage wells up inside her/As she stares down at her wedding band/And she’s burning like a fire/She can’t take it anymore/She loads her only bullet/And then rushes through the door. The remaining songs on the CD are beyond bluegrass, but, regardless of the genre, each well-crafted song is delivered with such gifted finesse that you’ll want to keep it in steady rotation. (



Orange Blossom Records
No Number

   With their fourth recording, the Trinity River Band makes a subtle change. Where once they recorded three standards per album, here they only include one, a throttle-open rendition of “Mystery Train,” sung with great verve by the group’s principle lead singer, Sarah Harris. It’s a perfect vehicle for her bluesy and brassy vocal style. The next closest thing to a standard is the Irish traditional ballad, “Willie And Mary.” Trinity River gives that an appropriate coloring with whistle and octave mandolin backing. All the rest of the tunes come either from the band members two each from Sarah or Mike Harris—or from contemporary songwriters, such as Carl Jackson, Brink Brinkman, Holly Dunn, or Sarah Pirkle. It’s safe to say that there is not a weak track in the 12. Some are better than others, perhaps much better, but in all cases, each track has behind it high-quality instrumentation, vocals, and arrangement. Everyone can play and sing very well.

That said, some do rise higher than others, and that starts right at the beginning with the title-track opener, a bluesy Larry Cordle and Lisa Shaffer song about taking charge of your life. Trinity River plays this one with an infectious beat that is hard to resist and tempers it with some fine traditional soloing. That’s followed by Brinkman and Breedlove’s “A Sinner’s Prayer,” which creatively weaves full prayers into the narrative. Later comes two of the best on the record, the gorgeous slow country of “Faithless Heart” and the equally gorgeous 3/4-time flow of Pirkle’s “I’ll Love You Just The Same.” In between is a nice rendition of Dunn’s nostalgia tune, “Daddy’s Hands,” sung very well by fiddler Brianna Harris.

With a strong baseline of quality and several excellent spikes, this is an engaging recording throughout. (Trinity River Band, 34647 Old Baldwin Rd., Callahan, FL 32011,


lily-isaacs_dont-cry-outloudYOU DON’T CRY OUT LOUD: THE LILY ISAACS STORY

New Leaf Press 9780892217243. Paperback, 199 pp., $14.99. (New Leaf Publishing Group, 3142 Hwy. 103 N., Green Forest, AR 72638,

Psychotherapist Erving Polster wrote a book in 1987 titled Every Person’s Life Is Worth A Novel, in which he talks about the healing potential of examining the drama in our own lives. It would take a very creative novelist to imagine the true story of Lily Isaacs, matriarch of the bluegrass-tinged gospel group The Isaacs.

Born in 1947 in a displaced persons camp near Munich, Germany, Lily was the daughter of two Jewish Poles who barely survived the Holocaust. Initially planning to emigrate to Israel, her parents decided instead on New York City where a relative offered her father a job as a baker. Growing up in near poverty in the Bronx, Lily suffered both physical pain and embarrassment from spinal scoliosis.

Sensitive and artistically talented, the young girl was drawn to dance, music, and acting. She won roles Off-Broadway and formed a singing/songwriting duo, Lily and Maria. Columbia Records envisioned a female Simon & Garfunkel and advanced $10,000 for their 1968 self-titled album release. Drenching the duo’s harmonies in inappropriate instrumentation and releasing into a market dominated by the Beatles’ White Album, Columbia soon dropped the act.

About that time, at a folk club in Greenwich Village, Lily encountered the 17th child of a Kentucky mountain farmer and preacher, a bluegrass banjo player and singer named Joe Isaacs. The unlikely couple developed an attraction that overcame incredible obstacles. Their marriage produced Ben, Becky, and Sonya and persevered through 1998. Lily left New York City for a life among struggling Appalachian migrants in small-town southwestern Ohio. Six months later, in 1970, Joe’s brother Delmer was killed in an automobile accident. During Pentecostal funeral services in a former garage, the agnostic Lily Fishman Isaacs experienced what William James in his classic The Varieties Of Religious Experience (1902) would classify as a sudden, permanent conversion to Christianity.

Lily has spent the last four decades praising, singing, and writing about and trying to serve Jesus. The internal, family, and external conflicts produced by this ministry—and their eventual resolution—are the material for the balance of her autobiography. You Don’t Cry Out Loud is beautifully written. As a close observer of a number of the anecdotes it relates, I can testify to the book’s honesty. Very little of the story relates directly to bluegrass music, and yet it illustrates the unlikely paths that have brought so many of us together. If you are a fan of the Isaacs’ beautiful and heartwarming harmonies, Lily’s book will help you to understand their cultural and emotional roots.FB


same-old-newgrass-bandTHE SAME OLD NEWGRASS BAND

No label

   Even in an age in which we’ve had some twenty to forty years of crossover covers, it can come as a bit of a surprise to hear some of these songs attempted by a bluegrass/old-time outfit. I’m not including “Midnight Rider” or “When Will I Be Loved,” both included here, in that statement. Both of those seem to fit the ethos and style of bluegrass very well. What I’m talking about are such tunes as “Should I Stay” from The Clash, “Billie Jean” from Michael Jackson, “People Are Strange” from The Doors, “Poker Face” from Lady Gaga, and “Stayin’ Alive” from The Bee Gees. To record them takes a willingness to absorb odd responses or gibes about not taking the music seriously. The Same Old Newgrass Band seems willing to take those gibes, and they sound serious about it, even when they give the tune “Should I Stay” a semi-comic hokum feel. In between are short instrumental originals, sort of palate-cleansing interludes, each of them well-done.

Several thoughts come to mind about what you’ll find here. First, this is not that far from what bands in the early days of country music did. They played old pop songs in a country manner. Second, the results are similar to how ’60s rock bands saw country music. They hammed it up a bit, but a genuine respect showed through. You can also say that what this group does is make palatable songs you might not enjoy in their original form. I’m not a fan of “Billie Jean” the original, but the version here makes appreciable the quality of the composition. So, too, with the Lady Gaga tune, which sounds here much like a Dan Hicks approach. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that this is a fun record—sometimes ragged, sometimes goofy, sometimes strange, always fun. (Smokey Fennell, 91 Birch Pl., Ft. Saskatchewan, AB Canada, T8L OA5,



Compass Records

   Missy Raines is a kick-butt bassist, and with seven Bass Player Of The Year trophies from the IBMA, I’m not alone in my opinion. Frankly, her vocals hadn’t really captured my attention, and I had completely underestimated her talented pipes until this CD. What an incredible voice!

With this project, Raines pulls out all the stops with her dusky, emotive alto on each of the ten tracks. “A lot of these songs share a common theme about renewal, pushing yourself out there, taking the past and letting it be the support underneath you, but continuing to go forward. Some days it’s painful, sometimes growth hurts a lot,” says Raines. She nails the interpretation of the lyrics in a song selection that is somewhat heavier than her normal choice.

Raines’ band, the New Hip, lays down some cool grooves with guitarist/co-producer Ethan Ballinger, mandolinist/acoustic guitarist Jarrod Walker, and drummer/percussionist Josh Fox. Sam Bush’s mandolin and vocals catapult the rockin’ “What’s The Callin’ For,” and Zach Bevill of the Farewell Drifters and former New Hip drummer Robert Crawford help hammer out the band’s evolving sound. Though her roots are firmly planted in bluegrass, Raines has eased over more into the folk/Americana genre. Her soul-searching exploration of music continues to propel her forward. I can’t wait to hear what new frontiers lay ahead. (Compass Records; 916 19th Ave. S.; Nashville, TN 37212,




   This is a notable debut by a band that obviously gives good value: The Original Five is actually a seven-piece group (two guitars, banjo, resonator, fiddle, mandolin, and standup bass). It originated in the summer of 2010, playing gigs in the Möllevången district in the town of Malmö, Sweden.

It doesn’t matter who the original five members were, or even if there were any. The band has a seasoned bluegrass sound with flavorful country, hillbilly, and Western Swing influences. And it truly shines with impressive original material. Among these, you may hear echoes of IIIrd Tyme Out in bass player’s Dan Englund’s lively “Gone, Gone” and just as easily detect Del McCoury in guitarist Johan Bandling Melin’s jaunty “Out Of My League.” Jonas Svahn, the outfit’s other guitarist, has penned the powerful “That Someone Is You,” which could have been sung by his hero Tony Rice or by the original Seldom Scene.

There are covers of outside material, but nothing overdone or overly familiar. Even the Carter Family’s “Solid Gone” (also familiar in its variation as “Cannonball Blues”) is given a fresh, enthusiastic treatment here. One gem is the band’s version of Australian songwriter Tom Morgan’s wry “The Outdoor Type” (in which a creature comfort-loving suitor confesses to his intended girlfriend that he’s really anything but). It’s a pleasure to hear a new European band—or a band from anywhere, for that matter—steeped in a variety of bluegrass influences, but with its own sound. The Original Five is smooth but lively, laidback but consistently attention-getting. The skilled picking and thoughtful arrangements complement the pleasing lead and harmony vocals. This is the kind of band you’d love to discover by chance in an intimate venue like a comfortable bar or coffeehouse and just sit down and enjoy. If you can’t jet over to Scandinavia to catch them live, listening to Greetings From Möllevången is easily the next best thing. (



Chesterbury Records

   In the course of its relatively brief five-year/three-album run, Chesapeake (comprised of three former members of the Seldom Scene, along with the eminently talented Jimmy Gaudreau on vocals, mandolin, and guitar) made some fine, groundbreaking music. But Chesapeake’s bold, free-wheeling penchant for stacking hefty doses of pop and rock’n’roll on its bluegrass underpinnings, was also apparently a little bit too far ahead of its time. (For some reason featuring a piano in a so-called bluegrass band seemed to set a lot of purists’ teeth on edge.)

To the good fortune of listeners, Gaudreau, Mike Auldridge (vocals, resonator, pedal and lap steel), T. Michael Coleman (vocals, bass), and Moondi Klein (vocals, guitar, and piano), aided by gifted soundman Ed Solomon, recorded many of Chesapeake’s live shows. These twenty fine cuts, drawn from performances at festivals and various popular music venues including the Birchmere and the Station Inn, span roughly a decade.

The earliest tracks are from 1990 when Chesapeake was still a side project for Auldridge, Coleman, and Klein, then still with the Seldom Scene. The most recent are from 1999 when Chesapeake was nearing the end of its run. Quite a few of these previously unreleased performances feature a sampling of the stellar guests who joined Chesapeake onstage at various times and places. These include Doc Watson (heard in all his glory on a 1998 rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Train Of Love”), Tony Rice (who plays exquisite lead guitar runs on the Big Band-era classic “Georgia”), Sam Bush John Cowan, and Larry Atamanuik (who join Chesapeake for a rousing version of “Working On A Building”), along with Sammy Shelor, Rickie Simpkins, and Jeff Little, among others. No less impressive are Chesapeake’s unaccompanied outings on gems such as James Taylor’s “Bartender’s Blues,” Rodney Crowell’s “California Earthquake,” the Alfred F. Brumley classic “By The Side Of The Road,” and the quirky, hilarious “Bill Cheatham’s Tasteless Walk On The Wild Side Of Mission Impossible.”

While documenting a minor yet vital piece of modern bluegrass history and offering previously unheard performances by some of bluegrass music’s legendary figures, Hook, Live & Sinker also makes for delightful listening. (Chesterbury Records, 8404 Harker Dr., Potomac, MD,



Double Time Music

   Sit back and allow your ears to take you on a musical excursion of the Canadian Rockies. Casting his eyes on that breathtakingly beautiful landscape for the first time, Jens Krüger began to imagine a creative array of notes that would attempt to capture that world wonder. The result is a 64-minute orchestral work that the Krüger Brothers had been commissioned to produce for the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada.

The trio of banjoist/vocalist Jens and his brother, Uwe, on guitar/vocals and Joel Landsberg on acoustic bass guitar are joined by the Banff Centre Chamber Orchestra and drummer/percussionist Josh Day for this narrative work. Jens wrote and scored the music while he and Uwe penned the lyrics and devised the storyline. “I wanted it to be simple poetry, not too elaborate, keeping the same verse throughout the whole piece,” Uwe says. “We wanted to create a flow of melodies, using a basic, 16-bar folk song format with simple rhymes—no choruses, no hook lines, none of that stuff—it just goes straight through. Jens, who in 2013 won the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music, once again demonstrates the versatility of the banjo. You might catch a hint of the bluegrass that influenced the Krüger Brothers growing up, but this is a classical recording that serves as evidence that the trio can stretch their musical talents in the opposite direction. (Double Time Music, 6137 Statesville Rd., North Wilkesboro, NC 28659,


feller-&-hillFELLER & HILL

Blue Circle Records

   When something works, stay with it. The debut from Feller & Hill, an excellent mix of classic country, bluegrass, gospel, and Buck Owens and brother-duet vocalizing, did just that and earned them some deserved recognition. For their second release, they stick largely to the formula that got them here, and that includes the talents of fiddlers Steve Thomas and Michael Cleveland and resonator guitarist Glenn Gibson. If you heard the first recording and enjoyed it, you should be pleased with the second. There is a bit more focus on the country music end of the repertoire, resulting in a slight loss of variety, but the quality of the songs and the tight performances balance the ledger.

As with their first, Feller & Hill cover some tunes from a Holt, only this time it’s Aubrey’s turn. His “Hey Baby” is sort of in that rapid patter style of “Hot Rod Lincoln” and makes for a great up-and-churning opener. His “Here Comes Polly,” equally churning and full of snappy lyrics, one of the most bluegrass tunes here, closes the session. Also here, are a couple from Tom T. and Dixie Hall, including the slow country of “Tired Of Losing You” with Rhonda Vincent on a verse and harmony. Those hold their own beside covers of Faron Young’s shuffling “Forget The Past,” Don Reno’s “He’s Coming Back To Earth Again,” and the Delaney and Bonnie classic “Never Ending Song Of Love,” which is given several notable touches on arrangement. Buck Owens and Don Gibson don’t get any representation on this one, but Feller has penned an interesting tribute to them, “The Ballad Of Buck and Don,” expertly weaving together riffs and titles and phrases into a rollicking and somewhat goofy whole. Throw in the surprising and welcome Broadway instrumental from Richard Rodgers, “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” ably handled by Feller’s mandolin work, and the results are excellent all around. (Blue Circle Records, P.O. Box 681286, Franklin, TN 37068,



Vocation Records

   Rézard is a French banjo player and quite accomplished at that. Most of the musicians here are French with two outstanding exceptions. Sam Bush and Stuart Duncan both shine on the cuts “Brocéliande” and “Magentic Breakdown.” Both adeptly handle the wide range of styles from bluegrass to pieces with a light classic air to some jazzgrass. Rézard’s banjo style is not typical bluegrass. His tone is round and his touch is elegant. He brings a wide range of influences into his music, making for some great listening.

Rézard also plays mandolin with style, and his tune “TLF” is a tribute to his favorite mandolin players, Bill Monroe, David Grisman, Sam Bush, and John Reischman. He plays mandolin and banjo on several cuts, as well as guitar. His banjo solo “To Reach The Clouds” is wonderfully artsy. As a bonus, tab for it appears in the liner notes. He also provided the tab for “Blue Musette.” A musette is the musical precursor to gypsy jazz.

“Erin Spleen” has the Rézard family playing together and the changes and improvisation are evocative of the Emerald Isle. The album closes with another solo banjo piece, “Korrigan’s Stomp,” a tribute to fairy-like creatures who inhabit the moor…or so they say. If you like acoustic string band music that will stretch you a bit, this gem of a recording with its many fine sounds is sure to please. The melodies, the harmonies, the voices of the instruments ring with a rich sonority that is satisfying and tantalizing all at once. (Gilles Rézard, 42 Rue de l’Eglise, 71960, Igé, France,



Heron Bay Records

   Dick Weissman started his music career when he formed The Journeymen with John Phillips and Scott McKenzie, to whom this CD is dedicated. Composing all the music for this project, Weissman also plays banjo, 12-string and electric guitars, and piano, to name a few of the instruments. Mollie O’Brien adds her heart-thumping vocals on three of the tracks including a little scat singing on “Brazilian Banjo Rag.”

The remaining 14 cuts include “White Men At Eagle Pass,” which is a look at the Old West from the Native-American’s point of view, and “Dark Day,” a 12-string improvisation that came to Weissman one rainy winter day in the studio when he and the engineer were reflecting on two of their friends who had committed suicide. Weissman laid down tracks again for “Mill Valley,” but for this version he used classical guitar and oboe, and his late Blue Heeler dogs provided the inspiration for “Sami And Dave,” where he attempts to capture the stately and formal personality of Sami and her “mad man” brother, Dave. If you enjoy banjo, then you’ll love Weissman’s surprising arrangements. Add to that his tunesmith skills, and you have an entertaining night of listening in store with this Americana/folk album.(Richard Weissman, 410 S. Jersey St., Denver, CO 80224,



Pinecastle Records
PRC 1184

   This CD is the fourth and final release in a series documenting the Osborne Brothers’ career from their birthplace in Hyden, Ky., to Dayton, Knoxville, Detroit, Wheeling, and finally Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry. The first seven of the eight cuts are from a partially finished album that was in progress when the brothers left MCA Records in the mid-’70s. Personnel included Vassar Clements on fiddle, Dale Sledd and Ray Edenton on rhythm guitar, Dennis Digby on bass, Robby Osborne on drums, Pig Robbins on piano, Leon Rhodes on electric guitar, and Hal Rugg on resonator guitar and pedal steel. The eighth bonus-track, Roger Miller’s “Half A Mind,” was recorded in 1995 with Sonny on the guitjo, Terry Eldredge on guitar, David Crow on fiddle, Terry Smith on bass, and Gene Wooten on resonator guitar.

The first seven cuts have not previously been released. There was clearly an interest here in appealing to the country market, and the results may not appeal to everyone. The lead-off cut “Gonna Be Raining When I Die” seems to be the most countrified, but in fact, the pedal steel is fairly pervasive throughout (piano to a lesser extent). That aside, there is very solid soulful Osborne Brothers trademark vocal work throughout on a good collection of songs, including Phil Rosenthal’s “Muddy Waters,” three Jake Landers compositions—“The Old Oak Tree,” “Going Back To The Mountains,” and “The Hard Times”—and “My Baby’s Gone” and “When I Stop Dreaming” from the Louvin Brothers.

There is some nice instrumental work from Sonny and Bob, but many listeners will be wishing there was more, even if the work of Hal Rugg on steel and Pig Robbins on piano is extremely well done. All in all, this release would seem to be a fitting wrap-up to the Osborne Brothers’ musical journey as they arrived in Nashville in the mid-’70s. (Pinecastle Records, 5000 Buncombe Rd., Ste. 27-242, Greenville, SC 29617,



Mountain Home

   The first time through on Balsam Range’s Five, my thought was that the recording may fall way short of Papertown. The second time through, the vocal and instrumental talents and the Balsam Range sound, all among the best in the business, had begun to work their magic, and I remembered I’d had a similar experience with Papertown. Even then, I was still on the fence as to where this one stands.

The performances and the vocals, particularly the Rodney Crowell-style tenor of Buddy Melton, are, as I said, magical. The attention to arrangement details is almost as good. And there are some very good songs here. “Chasing Someone Else’s Dreams,” a song from Milan Miller about the difficulty in doing what you want while you work for someone else, is excellent in its message and easy quality. Melton’s a cappella gospel “Stacking Up The Rocks” is of the same high level, full of ear-catching harmony shifts. “Songs I’ve Sung,” arguably Tim Surrett’s best lead vocal to date, hits home. That’s followed by “Too High A Price To Pay” (Darren Nicholson on buttery lead vocals) and by Mickey Newbury’s doleful “The Future’s Not What It Used To Be.” You can include the bluesy stomp of “Monday Blues” and the wistful “Everything That Glitters” on there as well. Right there, you’ve got seven first-rate songs. Eight if you count, “From A Georgia Battlefield,” a Civil War-themed song, and a good one at that.

So I gave it a couple more spins and several more tunes fell in line, including the bounce of “I Spend My Days Below The Ground,” the band original instrumental “Backdraft,” John Denver’s lilting “Matthew,” and, finally, “Moon Over Memphis.” Now, only one remains unimpressive and probably will remain so. Of course, there’s always time. As good as this recording is, and it is exceptionally good, my nod still goes to Papertown. (Crossroads Distribution, P.O.         Box 829, Arden NC 28704,



Centerstream Publishing 9781574243017. Foreword by Jerry Douglas, 216 pp., CD included, $55. (Centerstream Publishing, P.O. Box 17878, Anaheim Hills, CA 92817,

   I don’t usually quote from the foreword of a book I’m reviewing, but in this case, Jerry Douglas says it best: “This is the Dobro wish book! Dobro Roots will undoubtedly be the go-to book for everyone interested in these amazing instruments for many years to come.”

This beautifully crafted homage to resonator guitars built by the Dopyera brothers from 1929 to 1941 is a must-have, not only for Dobro players and collectors, but also for anyone interested the fine art of instrument making, especially in the golden age before World War II.

The author, Steve Toth, is a long-time, respected Dobro player who has spent a lifetime tracking down these gorgeous instruments. He provides an overview and description of each series and model. But he goes further by including a CD of what 15 of these guitars actually sound like on tunes. The photography is gorgeous and detailed, and the vintage advertising adds a touch of the time period for each instrument. I would call it a coffee table book, but I kept picking it up and reading it. Highly recommended for Dobroists and anyone who loves well-crafted acoustic instruments.CVS



Yep Roc Records

   This sixth studio album from Chatham County Line demonstrates increasing musical growth for the Raleigh, N.C.-based band. Dave Wilson (guitar and harmonica), John Teer (mandolin and fiddle), Chandler Holt (banjo and guitar), and Greg Readling (bass, pedal steel, and piano) blend their harmonies and classic string-band instrumentation with a few variations.

“The next generation is coming,” Wilson said. “We’re maturing in the world and seeing things through a different set of eyes, and that materializes in a lot of these songs.” Leading off the 11 cuts, all written by members of the band, is “The Traveler,” which has been in the band’s repertoire for three years. The band re-recorded “Will You Still Love Me” with a new set of lyrics than what fans heard on their 2010 CD, Wildwood. Readling’s keyboard sets the perfect somber tone on “Final Reward,” one of two elegies to fallen soldiers. In the other, “Hawk,” a fighter pilot who befriends a young boy, survives the war’s destruction only to die from a debilitating disease. The title track began as an instrumental that Chandler had written, but the image of a tightrope walker came to Wilson’s mind as he listened to Holt’s winding, chromatic banjo.

Produced by Wilson and CCL, Tightrope is a dynamic balancing act, from the laid-back grooves to the hard-driving tunes. (Yep Roc Records, P.O. Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515,



Live Oak Records

   The saying “Cut to the chase”—meaning “Get to the important thing right now”—goes back to the early days of motion pictures. Movie makers quickly learned that the public didn’t want to sit through lengthy encounters or explanatory titles. Whether it was a scrambling Keystone Cops laugh riot or a thrilling cowboy pursuit, audiences wanted the film to “cut to the chase.” It’s a fitting title for California-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Kathy Kallick’s new album. Travel—including a chase or two—is a predominate theme. And each of the 13 original songs here (ten written solely by Kallick, three in collaboration with Clive Gregson) gets right to the important things: love, longings, desires, and choices in life choices, both good and bad.

The opening track, the high-lonesome “Tryin’ So Hard To Get To You,” finds the singer (spoiler alert) struggling in an almost pathetically funny attempt to join her beloved while gradually realizing that the frustrating delays are a blessing because the relationship is actually dysfunctional, unhappy, and pointless. The pursuit in the title-track “Cut To The Chase” takes place mostly within the close confines of a bar or club, but the journey is equally intense and revealing. The deceptively pretty waltz-time “The Night The Boat Capsized” launches a symbolic but wistful ocean voyage. Other titles transport the listener, in spirit at least, to ancient Greece (“Persephone’s Dream”), a twentieth century European dictatorship (“Franco’s Spain”), and maybe wryly to other dimensions (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”).

Kallick has a fine and versatile voice here: lilting, ornamented, or gutsy as the material requires. The regular members of her band (Annie Staninec, fiddle; Greg Booth, mandolin; Tom Bekeny, mandolin; Cary Black, acoustic bass) do their usual excellent job on several tracks. The album also features Kallick’s studio reunions with two members of the well-recalled Good Ol’ Persons band, John Reischman (mandolin) and Sally Van Meter (Weissenborn slide guitar). Banjoist Bill Evans and a host of other fine musicians are also here, fine fellow travelers all.

This is not exactly my-old-mountain-home or little-log-cabin-in-the-lane bluegrass song territory, and it’s not casually strolled. But Kallick’s fans will be hugely rewarded by her  thoughtful and often powerful lyrics and music. You might be lulled at first by the easy country sway of “Same Ol’ Song” and then get hit by what that same old song really means. The concluding number, “Ellie,” is especially poignant because of its truths on how a life’s deceptions start in childhood and can grow from very loving intentions. If the album is a bit of a departure for this accomplished performer, it’s a worthwhile journey and Kallick cuts to the chase on every cut. (