Red Pig Recordings
D.L. Bl/21/1917

Gomez claims he is the king of Spanish banjo. He is a mighty fine banjo player by anyone’s account. Able to play Scruggs-style, along with a highly developed melodic approach, there seems to be no end to Gomez’s imagination. Through 13 cuts, we’re treated to many tunes with and without English names. The “Foggy Mountain Medley,” “Pony Express,” and “Devil’s Dream” should be tunes most American bluegrass fans will be more familiar with. The medley of Scruggs numbers is impressive, as they romp through quite a few of Scruggs’ classic pieces.

This is a most interesting recording with a very European feel at times, especially with their take on “Nola” and “Slavic Waltz.” There are moments of jazz and improvisation unusual for a banjo recording. The guitar playing is stylistically more Django influenced than American bluegrass guitarists. Considering this recording was done live in three takes or less, this music is more alive than the overproduced products that often hide the human aspect behind technical expertise. “Rocky Mountains” is an eight-minute-plus musical romp. Here, the guitar sounds more like what one would expect in a bluegrass context.

There are standout performances by assisting musicians on this project as well. Joan Pau Cumellas plays some amazing harmonica, Maribel Rivero is an expert on upright bass. There are several banjo players helping out, including Ron Cody, Jean Marie Redon, and Fred Simon. Jesse Brock appears on mandolin, along with Oriol Gonzalez who also plays some piano.

If you’re a fan of great banjo playing and interested in where it can go musically, this is an essential recording. The boundaries of what is banjo music are growing at an exponential rate. This CD does significant work in moving those boundaries. (www.lluisgomez.com)RCB



Colebrook Road CBR 002

   No halfway about it. This is one of the most interesting and enjoyable albums from a young band that I’ve spun in nearly four decades of being a reviewer. This Harrisburg, Pa., outfit has a real synergy, both vocally and instrumentally, between its five talented and consistently complimentary members; an abundance of exciting original material; and a refreshing contemporary grass sound that stays very much in the traditional bluegrass mode.

The band is as exciting on stage as it is in the studio, as well. I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing them live, but it’s proven by the album’s final track, “Sun Up, Sun Down,” recorded at the 2015 Podunk Bluegrass Festival in Hebron, Conn., where the group took top honors in the band contest. To borrow a phrase from that song’s chorus, it’s a get up, knock down performance. In the last six years, the ensemble has racked up an impressive string of victories at festivals North and South, including the 2011 Panhandle Contest in Martinsburg, W.Va., and the to 2016 Mid-Atlantic Bluegrass Competition in Bethesda, Md.

Mark Rast was a 1993 winner of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival banjo contest and has been a MerleFest runner-up. (Mark also plays resonator guitar, sings bass, and composed the fiery instrumental “Feel The Burn.”) Joe McAnulty took top honors in bluegrass fiddle at the 2015 Deer Creek Fiddlers Convention. (Here, he contributed the high-steppin’ “Hey Girl.”) Wade Yankey won the 2014 Mandolin Contest at Watermelon Park, Berryville, Va. (His instrumental “Tear Drop Falls” is wistfully lovely, but with a modulating, scale-climbing structure with subtle surprises.)

Obviously, all that’s prevented Colebrook Road’s remaining talented members, Jesse Eisenbise and Jeff Campbell, from coming home with their own armfuls of trophies is that contests for (respectively) lead singer/composer/guitarists and bass player/tenors are woefully scarce. (Campbell contributes a compelling bowed bass solo to “Up In The Mountains.”)

Colebrook Road is one exuberantly creative band. In addition to the examples above, most of the material on Halfway Between comes from the considerable songwriting abilities of Eisenbise (who’s also an impressive and consistently tasteful flatpicker). Fittingly, the album’s title song refers to that half-awake, half-slumbering state which is its own mindset of memories, hopes, regrets, and creativity.

If you need just one track as a sample of the Colebrook Road sound, you won’t do much better than the opener, “Bright Angel.” Its sharp energy is modern and newgrassy (with showcase-level performances in the instrumental breaks and the lead and trio singing). But it’s shaded overall by a minor-keyed, ancient-tone mode that keep it close to traditional roots. In addition to the originals mentioned, my candidates for future favorites (and maybe true classics) include the reflective “The Road We Travel” and also “Shallow River Blues” with its Seldom Scene vibe.

How could co-founders Wade and Jesse have known in the fall of 2008 that nearly a decade later they’d have a band as accomplished and just plain enjoyable as this one? I’m planning to go back and check out their 2012 self-titled debut album, and I’m keenly listening forward to their next one. (www.colebrookroad.com)RDS



Katherine St. Records

Jenni Lyn Gardner, now touring and recording as Jenni Lyn during a break from work with her main band Della Mae, has quickly established herself as a rising star on mandolin and as a performer. Displaying a hard-driving style that evokes musical images of her hero Bill Monroe, along with modern masters such as John Reischman, Sam Bush, and Ronnie McCoury, Lyn steps out of The Dellas’ shadow with a CD of all-original material aimed at the younger bluegrass fans to whom New Grass Revival is a traditional bluegrass band.

The opening cut, “I’m Stronger,” in fact sounds like an NGR cut. Backed by Mike Bub, Frank Rische on guitars and Kyle Tuttle on banjo, the group creates a compelling, tight ensemble sound that gives Lyn the support she needs to light up her plaintive voice and driving mandolin style. “Hickory Holler” is a toe-tapping bluegrass piece that helps establish her more traditional side. A seriously powerful mandolinist, her kickoffs on “You Don’t Love Me,” “Running From The Law,” “Long, Long Gone,” and numerous other solos and fills show a musician who can stand in on mandolin with any players in any bluegrass setting. Along with Lauren Price, Sierra Hull, and others, Lyn is showing that powerhouse bluegrass mandolin is no longer a club for men only.

The songwriting here covers the range from more traditional styles to some cutting-edge modern bluegrass. The title tune is a rhythmically complex, reggae-driven number that will cement her appeal to the jamgrass fans out there. Coming from a band like Della Mae, which has one of the most compelling lead vocalists in bluegrass, it’s hard for Lyn to claim her own place as a lead vocalist. Her voice here tends to waver off-key at times and her delivery can sound forced and somewhat stilted like on “Don’t Cry Little Girl” and Long, Long Gone.” But when she gets the right song, like “Tell Me” or “Are You Okay Alone,” she turns her limitations to a plus. Having an experienced producer oversee this project probably would have smoothed out some rough edges and help guide Lyn to a more refined sound, but for her first solo project, this earns pretty high marks.

Women in bluegrass have made huge and highly welcome advances in recent years. Where it used to be a novelty to see a woman playing mandolin in a bluegrass band or stepping to the mic as a lead singer, today those ridiculous cultural barricades have been torn down and burned to ashes. Jenni Lyn’s debut represents a new artist reaching out to modern audiences with a true-life bluegrass mandolin style—her CD includes a photo of her backstage as a little girl with Bill Monroe showing her some mandolin moves—coupled with a contemporary voice and songwriting style that will win over many younger fans. Burn another CD soon, Jenni! (www.jennilyngardner.com)DJM



Woodsong Records
No Number

By the time this CD reached my desk, Molly And Tenbrooks were no more. Two of the members had departed, and the remnants reconstituted themselves as the Brown’s Mountain Boys. Let this, then, be a review-in-memorium.

Molly And Tenbrooks came from Spokane, Wash., and featured vocalist/banjoist/guitarist Kelly Bogan, mandolinist/guitarist/vocalist Dan Gore, bassist Mark Harding, guitarist Bret Emry, and vocalist/guitarist Dannie Lynn Plummer. For this project, Bogan, Plummer, and Gore wrote all the material; 12 songs and one instrumental. That’s always a tall order for any band and, in this case, the results were mixed.

Mostly, where this comes up a bit short is on the faster numbers. None of that is attributable to the instrumental work, lead, or backing. That holds up well throughout the record in general. Drive, bounce, lilt, melody—they achieve all of that pretty well. It’s the writing, specifically the way the lyrics scan, that fails them at times. On Dan Gore’s title opener, for example, you can hear occasional lapses in the way the syllables are jammed in or stretched. That makes for awkward listening.

On the slower tunes, that doesn’t happen and, among them, you find some really good songs. “Juney Whank” is a medium fiddle tune reminiscent to “Old Man At The Mill.” The beautiful, slow country of Bogan’s “Some Kind Of Fool” captivates with a wistful, sentimental quality, and he gives it a smooth lead recalling Eddy Arnold. The Civil War tune “In April Of Sixty-Five” is also good, mixing in period lyricism, a slight martial feel, and even snaredrum. “Mama Hung The Moon” and “The Loyal Rebel Rose” with its hints at “Red River Valley” are also very good. All of these, along with a couple others are well-presented and tautly-written, making this a good final testament to the band Molly And Tenbrooks. (Woodsong Records, 1301 W. 14th Ave., Spokane, WA 99204.)BW



Mountain Home

Two old friends return here for a program of fine older songs. They reprise past glories from long careers of making music. The duets ring true and the music walks the line between bluegrass and older country. The use of brushes on a snare drum is reminiscent of the classic recordings these men made with the late Jimmy Martin. Missing is their partner J.D. Crowe. Joe Mullins plays banjo and does his usual fine job of placing the right notes in the right place at the right time. True to form, Mullins’ banjo sneaks some well-placed licks into the predominately moderate tempos.

Drawing from a wide array of material from Dolly Parton, the Louvin Brothers, Buddy Starcher, Alton Delmore, and the Bailes Brothers, we are treated to a rich program of strong material. There are four Paul Humphrey numbers here as well. As one would expect, the singing is all first-rate, and the themes are consistent with these fine artists’ prior catalogs. Josh Swift adds the baritone vocals, resonator guitar, and percussion. Stephen Burwell’s fiddle, David Johnson’s pedal steel, and Tim Surrey’s doghouse bass fill out the sound. They work together to provide a seamless sound.

This is some mighty fine music. Great heartfelt vocals and strong arrangements that walk the line between bluegrass and classic country make this recording a must have for the fans of the more traditional side of our music. This CD is highly recommended to all fans of Lawson and Williams. (Mountain Home, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com.)RCB



Patuxent Music

The Moon Trotters, a two man/two woman ensemble, jam together on this new 13-song self-titled disc. Luke Barnhill (vocals, guitar, fiddle, and cajón), Victor Furtado (banjo), Isabella Gorman (fiddle), and Lauren Wasmund (vocals) tackle some new compositions like “Victor Vindaloo,” “Gypsy Queen,” “Do You Believe In Ghosts?,” “Mississippi Pearl,” and “It Takes One To Know One.” The quartet also does some fine picking on the traditional tunes “Breaking Up Christmas,” “Richmond,” “Durang’s Hornpipe,” and “Julianne Johnson.” Seasoned musicians Danny Knicely (guitar), Nate Leath (fiddle, guitar, mandolin, percussion, vocals), Tom Mindte (harmony vocals), and Mark Schatz (bass, feet, and hambone) bring some tasteful musical seasoning to this band of fresh faces. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)BC



Mountain Fever

Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice has been on a roll for more than a decade now, and the poster children for traditional bluegrass show no signs of slowing up with their latest release, The Mountains Are Calling Me Home. The album already boasts a bona fide hit with “What Goes Around Comes Around,” but more is sure to follow from this 11-track CD that is solid from top to bottom.

In 2012, Heart Of A Song won IBMA Album Of The Year, and “A Far Cry From Lester And Earl” took Song Of The Year. Sisk followed that up by taking Male Vocalist Of The Year in 2013 and the band took the 2014 Bluegrass Band Of The Year from SPBGMA. “Longneck Blues,” from the album Poor Boy’s Pleasure took SPBGMA’s 2016 Recorded Event Of The Year, and Sisk won Male Vocalist Of The Year.

The current makeup of Ramblers Choice is longtime banjo player Jason Davis; Jonathan Dillon on mandolin/vocals; Jamie Harper on fiddle/vocals; Kameron Keller on bass/vocals, and Aaron Ramsey on guitar. Davis is one of the top banjo players in bluegrass today and offers drive that is not always easy to come by. The other instruments blend just right, and Sisk offers such a distinct and genuine voice, that his stories play just as well on radio as they do live. While there isn’t a weak spot to be found, the title-track (as well as “What A Way To Go,” “Darling Do You Know Who Loves You,” and “Shape Up Or Ship Out”) stand out as the type of story songs that Sisk fans love.

This is definitely a must-have for those who value good vocals and bluegrass picking with drive. It’s an easy choice, and the perfect CD to have in the player on the way to a festival. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)MKB



Mountain Home MH-1673-CD

   The rise of Balsam Range in the bluegrass world has been impressive. They have consistently put out great music and won the big awards. Now, the western North Carolina-based group has released their sixth album Mountain Voodoo and it’s a testament to the band’s talent, approach to music, and their knack for picking the right songs.

On this album, travel songs and true-to-life stories set the tone with wonderful musicianship and arrangements. Five songs were written or co-written by Milan Miller. This album comes out of the gate with an instantly memorable Miller-penned song called “Something ’Bout That Suitcase,” a wonderful cut about noticing a traveler who is carrying a suitcase that has seen some true-life blues, ups and downs, adventure, and heartache. Another Miller song “Eldorado Blue,” co-written with James Ellis, is along the same vein, about a young girl in a small town that others want her to leave to see the big, wide world. Yet, she values what she has there—her husband and family, the simple life. There ain’t nobody waiting down in Arkansas, she replies, And I don’t know no one in no Baton Rouge / Ain’t no way I’m going down to Wichita, and leaving Eldorado Blue.

Other highlights include the slinky and spooky title-cut, the Western Swing groove of “Hello Heartache,” and the straight-ahead bluegrass of “Blue Collar Dreams,” “The Girl From The Highlands,” “Chain Gang Blues,” and the Marc Pruett instrumental “Spring Hill.” And then there’s the love song to the hills of home, “I Hear The Mountains,” which will tug at anyone’s heart who has a love for The Appalachians that run from Georgia to Maine. (www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com)DH




Big Blue Zoo
No Number

Greensky Bluegrass has come a long way out on the edge of the bluegrass music scene. Following in the tradition of newgrass artists such as Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, as well as the Jerry Garcia/David Grisman/Old & In The Way wing of the genre, the Michigan-based band has impressively gained a big following and a headliner reputation in the music world. To headline a concert at the prestigious and beautiful Red Rocks venue in Colorado, as the band did in 2015 and since, is a testament to how far they’ve come.

Shouted, Written Down and Quoted is an interesting set of music produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos fame. With bluegrass instrumentation intact, the band has described itself in various ways saying, “You can call us an acoustic ensemble, or a drum-less rock band, or a rock-and-roll bluegrass band, and all of that shifting identity has taught us to cover a lot of ground.” And yet, that banjo and mandolin and especially the amazing resonator guitar work of Anders Beck is constantly flowing and pleasant to the ear. They bring new and original music to the table with every project.

The highlights here include the free-flowing “Miss September,” the retrospective yet rollicking “Past My Prime,” the dance-inducing “Time To Take Cover,” and the fairly straight-ahead bluegrass of “Fixin’ To Ruin.” The best song on the album, however, is the seven-minute “Living Over,” which has a majestic feel to it and, like the rest of the album, is excellent music to put on while setting up camp in the middle of nowhere. (www.greenskybluegrass.com)DH



Pinecastle Records
PRC 1206

Four of the five musicians on this recording played together in J.D. Crowe’s New South band back in the 1990s. They include guitarist/vocalist Richard Bennett, mandolinist/vocalist Don Rigsby, resonator guitarist Phil Leadbetter, and bassist Curt Chapman. The album they recorded at that time (1994) was called Flashback. When it came time to choose a band name, that title fit the current group perfectly.

Filling in for Crowe on banjo is Stuart Myrick. Ronnie Stewart does play on two tracks: the steady rolling title-tune by Bennett that opens the recording and, later, on the slow Carter Stanley tune “You’re Still To Blame.” Crowe was a master, but these two give a good account of themselves. Five of the tracks were written by Bennett, ranging from the straight-ahead traditional bluegrass of the title-track through the slow, watercolor memory and longing on “Two Rivers” to his tribute to Merle Haggard, “The Hag Song” (written with Shawn Lane). The two remaining songs of Bennett’s are good, but those three have a grace and energy that make them highly attractive.

Interspersed among them are a couple of gospel tunes, the driving “That’s Where Glory Can Be Found” sung by Rigsby and the Louvin Brothers classic “Let Us Travel, Travel On.” Both are excellent, as are the slow, country with jazz overtones of “Autumn’s Not That Cold,” the classic bluegrass stylings of “Old Forgotten Home,” and Rigsby’s heartfelt reading of the aforementioned “You’re Still To Blame.”

This new/old band make this recording a distinct listening pleasure. Good writing. Good choices. Good playing. Good album. (Pinecastle Records, 2514 River Rd., Ste. 105, Piedmont, NC 29673, www.pinecastlemusic.com.)BW



Dreamlined Entertainment Group

Dailey & Vincent’s new 15-song album has a pièce de résistance feel to it. It’s ambitious, soulful, muscular, and infused with melodic and vocal brilliance, along with a delightful stylistic diversity. On Patriots & Poets, this illustrious duo, besides producing, has also taken on a more aggressive role in writing their own material, with assists from songwriting stalwarts such as Bill Anderson, Karen Staley, and Jimmy Fortune.

Additionally, they have sought and received inspired vocal and instrumental assists from a distinguished guest list, including Taranda Greene, Doyle Lawson, Steve Martin, Dave Rawlings, Bryan Sutton, and Bela Fleck. More importantly, they have done a fantastic job of plugging them in as utility players at just the right places.

Pure magic shines through on stellar cuts such as “California,” which features soaring pop-flavored harmonies, and the powerfully inspirational “Beautiful Scars.” Ditto for the somber disaster ballad “Here Comes The Flood.” And on the exhilarating closing cut, “America We Love You,” Dailey & Vincent, with vocal assists from Aaron McCune and Jeff Parker, sound like nothing less than the second coming of the great Statler Brothers.

All in all, Patriots & Poets is a fitting milestone in D&V’s celebrated decade-long career, which includes a recent induction into Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. (www.daileyandvincent.com)BA


RR-CLIFTON-BOOKBILL CLIFTON: AMERICA’S BLUEGRASS AMBASSADOR TO THE WORLD—BY BILL C. MALONE—Univ. of Illinois Press 9780252082009. Paperback, 184 pp., b&w photos, discography, $19.95. (Univ. of Illinois Press, 1325 S. Oak St., Champaign, IL 61820, press.uillinois.edu.)

Bill Clifton’s influence on folk, country, bluegrass, and old-time music is immeasurable. In this new biography, author Bill Malone takes the reader on an in-depth look into the life and career of Clifton. Malone chronicles how Clifton’s love for the music came from radio programs such as the Old Dominion Barn Dance and the Wheeling Jamboree, as well as attending concerts. Clifton formed bands with folks such as Paul Clayton, Johnny Clark, and Mike Seeger, playing area clubs and beginning to record. He graduated from the University of Virginia with a master’s degree and spent a couple of years in The Marines. In 1955, he published his book 150 Old-Time Folk And Gospel Songs, perhaps one of the most influential songbooks of its time, including many of which have become standards—songs such as “Little Maggie,” “I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight,” “Long Journey Home,” and “Little Whitewashed Chimney.”

Malone details how, in 1961, Clifton formed what was the first one-day bluegrass festival with sets from Jim & Jesse, the Country Gentlemen, the Stanley Brothers, and others. Malone follows the Clifton family on their relocation to England in 1963, where he played local venues and clubs there and elsewhere around Europe, spreading the music to new listeners. Clifton joins the Peace Corps in 1967, spending three years performing in the Philippines and New Zealand.  Back in England, Clifton made many trips back to the U.S. to perform at festivals and venues, finally moving back permanently to Virginia around 1980. Through this book, the reader will learn of Clifton’s longtime relationships with A.P. Carter, Red Rector, Don Stover, Pete Kuykendall, John Duffey, Jimmy Gaudreau, and many, many more. In 2008, Clifton was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame. Malone’s research for the book is based on interviews with Clifton himself as well as friends, family, former bandmates and associates. This is a great read into one of our wonderful musical influences.BF