Patuxent Music
CD 302

Enter the young brother and sister duo, Eli and Aila Wildman. Their talent is without question. It shines through on their debut recording throughout a selection of eight standards in thirteen tracks. Both Eli, who plays some exceptionally clean and attacking mandolin, and Aila, who displays an equally adept prowess on the fiddle, have raced ahead to levels of proficiency only seen in the top players of thirty to forty years ago. However, there are many playing on this level right now, and the real question is does the music here entertain?

Predominantly yes, with about half being standouts and the rest are solid. Each player has their moments. Eli is at his best on “Wheel Hoss,” one of three tunes associated with Bill Monroe, though Monroe didn’t play it in this modern style. His original instrumental “Timeless” is also pretty good, based around a repeating figure that is quite propulsive and hypnotic. He does have a rather thin tone and does overdo the double-time passages, particularly on “Grey Eagle,” but those don’t detract much.

Aila is at her best when she takes the lead on “Bluegrass In The Backwoods” with great command and presence. She’s very good throughout the recording, but this is her most impressive. She also sings on three tunes and while quite developed vocally for her age, does betray some youth in over-singing a bit. The slow country weeper “It Takes One To Know One” is by far the best, though “Darlin’ Corey” has some nice energy.

Joining The Wildmans on the project are banjoist Victor Furtado, guitarist Danny Knicely, and bassist Mark Schatz. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848,




This is the first release from this South Carolina band. Banjo builder Steve Wilson leads the group that includes Joey Newton on guitar and vocals and ETSU student Sarah Logan on fiddle and vocals. A visit to the their website indicates there have been numerous personnel changes since this recording, but that doesn’t diminish this project one bit.

This is a first-rate recording, with the band singing and playing on a high level. This first release on Pinecastle’s Bonfire label features the strong, yet understated singing of Sarah Logan on an original interpretation of “Catfish John,” as well as a fine rendition of “Her Sunday Best.” Guitarist Joey Newton does a fine job on “Carolina In The Pines” and “Stranded.” His guitar playing is spot on. Banjo picker Steve Wilson sings on an original, “Shiners Mountain,” and also wrote the instrumental in this set, “East Fork Creek.” Brandon Crouch holds down the mandolin slot and sings on four numbers, including the kickoff number “40 Years Of Trouble.” His playing is clean and tasteful. Michael Branch plays rock-solid bass with a flare that brings fire to the pocket of the groove.

The project is well-programmed and moves along very nicely. The songs range from Flatt & Scruggs’ “I’ll Stay Around,” which is played with the banjo behind the beat for interesting affect, to the old gospel gem “Ain’t No Grave” that features another of Logan’s vocals. The balance of material is an interesting array of more recent songs. It’s solid, contemporary bluegrass strongly rooted in the tradition, but not afraid to reach out and push the boundaries of the music. They know how to get ’er done and prove it time and time again. Recommended to fans of straight-ahead bluegrass. Look for this exciting band on the festival circuit this summer. (Bonfire, 2514 River Rd., Ste. 105, Piedmont, NC 29673,



Mountain Fever

Move over and make some room for Amanda Cook. It’s a name bluegrass fans are going to be hearing a lot in the coming years. Anyone with satellite radio will be hard-pressed not to have heard “Midnight 402,” the opening song on Deep Water. There is so much to like about this album, it’s hard to know where to start. The vocals are clean and sweet in what might be a Golden Era of emerging female artists.

“Banks Of Big Bend” is a nice tune, and Cook’s take on the Gillian Welch & David Rawlings classic “Caleb Meyer” is nicely done. She also gets the most from Ronnie Bowman’s “Til I’m Too Old” and “Magnolia Wind” from Guy Clark & Shawn Camp. While these names and others help the album, the self-penned title-track is not to be overlooked and will hopefully get some radio play. It’s too good to get lost. The album ends with “Leaving Louisville,” leaving the listener wanting more and speaks to the strength of the work when a piece by “Midnight 402” co-writer Thomm Jutz along with Terry Herd and master writer Milan Miller is at #12. The backing of banjo player/writer Carolyne VanLierop, guitarist Scotty French, fiddler George Mason, mandolin player Aaron Ramsey, and bassist/resonator guitar player Jeff Partin is clean and allows Cook’s vocals to stand out. This is an album not to missed. (Mountain Fever, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380,



Mountain Fever

The Deer Creek Boys may have taken the long way around, but the trip has been worth it with the release of their second album for Mountain Fever Records. Traditional fans will particularly appreciate the sound, especially coming from a group of young pickers. This strong effort includes six tracks (half of the album’s total) written by bandmembers.

The group in its original form dates back to 1999 when brothers Justin Tomlin (guitar) and Jason “Tater” Tomlin (bass) combined with their best friend, mandolin player Cason Ogden, and started playing out in their hometown area of Amherst, Va. They ended taking individual roles with other well-known groups such as Nothin’ Fancy, Junior Sisk & Rambler’s Choice, and the Bluegrass Brothers. They re-grouped and added top-notch banjo player Andy Lowe to offer a brand of driving bluegrass that certainly will sit well with festival goers.

“Backwater” has a retro shade of 1970s rock, and the tune headed for the most radio play might be “The Cowboy.” The title-track is one of the best on the album, as is “Been All Around This World.” And, “Headbanger” provides a great instrumental, especially for banjo lovers. The Deer Creek Boys have positioned themselves to make some noise with this offering. (Mountain Fever, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380,



Elite Circuit Records

If you’re in the market for a bluegrass album that flows with a gentle ease and smooth vocals, look no further than the latest from Shannon Slaughter. While there are a couple tracks that fall outside that “gentle and smooth” description (a fairly torrid cover of Merle Haggard’s “Movin’ On” and a bluesy duet with Shannon’s wife Heather on “Better Move It On Home”), it’s a style that suits Slaughter well and results in arguably his best album to date.

At the root of this album’s success is Slaughter’s voice—a mellow, warm, and gentle baritone with overtones of classic country and soft bends and twists at the end of a phrase. Listen to his original “Find Your Own Highway” or his covers of “Old Kentucky Home” and the minor classic from Jake Landers, “The Girl I Love.” Better still, listen to his original “Trying To Be My Own Man,” nearly four and a half minutes of late-night honky-tonk, pedal steel, and piano-backed country. In all those cases, his vocals sweep past and pull you in.

The other strong root here is Slaughter’s ability to write and select songs that work to his advantage as a singer. Of course, he’d be foolish to write songs that wouldn’t favor his talent, but knowing that and achieving it are two different things. Slaughter achieves it, and with help from Ronnie Bowman, Tim Stafford, Rusty Hendrix, Dale Felts, and Terry Foust, among others. And then he tops it off by selecting such great songs as “I Was A Farmer” from the Bailey Brothers and “The Girl I Love.” Interestingly, the absolute standout track here is the edgy duet with Heather on “Better Move It On Home.” Odd how that works. (



Tree Frog Music, No Number

   Bruce Molsky has become known as one of the world’s great traditional fiddlers. He is also proficient on banjo, guitar, and vocals. He’s made his name performing solo and in many bands and configurations. His newest band, which he says he is focusing on now, has Allison de Groot on banjo and Stash Wyslouch on guitar. All three sing as well. Allison is also a member of The Goodbye Girls, and Stash may be familiar to some from the Deadly Gentlemen.

The opening number “Across The Plains Of Illinois” was learned from the late Garry Harrison and his daughter Genevieve Koester. It begins with Bruce’s singing and fiddling in the foreground, but the band sound gradually emerges and Stash joins in on harmony. Bruce has recorded the second piece previously, Missourian Art Galbraith’s very crooked and very lovely “The Flowers Of Edinburg.” Here, it gets the full band treatment in a setting borrowed from Mike Bryant. The third cut is John Salyer’s unusual and stirring version of “Barlow Knife.” “Between The Wars” is Billy Bragg’s angry lament on the mistreatment of working people by their government. Next is a medley of West Virginia fiddler Ernie Carpenter’s “Granddad’s Favorite” with Tennessee fiddler Eldia Barbee’s “Flatwoods.” “The Dreary Black Hills” is an a cappella duet by Bruce and Stash which comes from John Lomax’s Cowboy Songs.

When European settlers arrived in Canada, there were many marriages with indigenous people. Their culturally mixed offspring are called Métis, and they developed a distinctive fiddling style, especially in the Western prairies. The “Métis Set” includes “The Grey Owl,” “The Girl I Left Behind,” and “The Old Reel Of Eight.” “Free A Little Bird” comes from Dykes’ Magic City Trio. The one original tune is Bruce’s “Isambard’s Waltz.” Texas Gladden was the source of “Old Kimball.” “Down The Road Somewhere” is a raggy tune from Texas via Eck Robertson as well as the Massey Family. “The Old Jawbone” dates back to the mid-nineteenth century and is an old-time standard. “Pateroller Tune” comes from the Tennessee African-American trio of Murphy Gribble, John Lusk, and Albert York.

These are three superb musicians at the height of their skills, and this debut CD certainly displays their talents effectively. Each tune and song is meticulously arranged and performed. What higher praise can there be than that? (Tree Frog Music, P.O. Box 729, Beacon, NY 12508,



Pinecastle Records

The storyteller in question in the title of this album is the late James King, a friend of Remington Ryde lead singer and guitarist Ryan Frankhouser. It’s a tribute album in King’s memory and full of the types of story songs that King loved to perform. For the end of the album, Frankhouser includes his original tribute song “Mr. King” that memorializes King’s voice and works in the titles of several songs he used to perform. He then follows it with a bonus track of one of King’s own, “It’s A Cold Cold World.”

As a storyteller in his own right, Frankhouser brings to this album a wonderful understanding of the form, sound, and emotion necessary to make live the type of songs that largely dominate this album. They are not ballads, not in the strict sense. They are story songs, such as the heart-wrenching “Bed By The Window,” which details the life of two men confined in a hospital and how one of them keeps the other informed of the world going on outside their window. There’s also “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” written by Chris Stapleton, a modern master of the genre, Fred Elgersma’s “Thirty Years Of Farmin’,” and Hazel Dickens’ lament “A Few Old Memories.” As King painted a picture, so too does Frankhouser, perhaps not in King’s class, but not as far off as you might think.

Adding to the joy of this recording, one that seems not to have a bad track in the bunch, is the overall late ’50s/early ’60s sound quality. That is, in part, the result of the song selection, but also in the presentation of Frankhouser and bandmember Stanley Efaw, who tracked all of the banjo, mandolin, bass, and fiddle and added the harmony as well. A wonderful tribute all around. (Pinecastle Records, 2514 River Rd., Ste. 105, Piedmont, NC 29673,



Compass Records

The tribute album has become a common occurrence, and bluegrass has not been an exception to the trend. Sometimes, it’s to honor tradition, sometimes it’s because it’s hard to get new music heard. At its worst, this can lead to weak imitations and a sense of hiding behind the cloaks of those that have gone before.

However, at its best, it can produce a body of work that simultaneously honors, builds upon, and creates a new energy with the best of the old and new combined. Fiddler Mike Barnett’s Portraits In Fiddles is definitely a best-case outcome. On a collection of a dozen tracks on which he collaborates with Bobby Hicks, Tony Trischka, Jesse McReynolds, David Grisman, Buddy Spicher, and Bryan Sutton, Barnett is able to walk the fine line between curator and innovator.

It doesn’t hurt that the band he brings to the table features Stuart Duncan, Noam Pikelny, and mandolinist Casey Campbell, with cameos from Tim O’Brien, David Grier, Chris Eldridge, Rob McCoury, Michael Daves, country singer Tim Mensy, and many more. Giving an assemblage such as this a coherent sound is a challenge that Barnett lives up to, thanks to careful arranging, generous sharing of showcase space and, of course, exquisite playing by all involved.

It’s easy to hear and feel the joy the participants feel in reinventing classic tunes such as “Waiting On Vassar,” “Dixie Hoedown,” “Fiddle Patch,” and “Tennessee Waltz” with some of the legendary players identified with classic versions of these tunes. The album is interspersed with a handful of spoken interludes by the veteran musicians and, surprisingly, they are effective and remain so on repeated listenings. One of the unexpected pleasures of this recording is bassist Sam Grisman, whose playing on half the album is mixed in such a way that his deep tone and solid groove really bolster the album’s vibrancy. He also contributes the album’s opening track “Old Barnes.”

Portraits In Fiddles has plenty that will appeal to lovers of music new and old, and not just for fiddlers. This is a rare tribute album that manages to both complement and compliment its honorees and is a prime example of how effective this type of project can be. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212,


Univ. of Miss. Press 9781496814272. Printed case binding, 256 pp., 66 b&w illustrations, $65. (Univ. of Miss. Press, 3825 Ridgewood Rd., Jackson, MS 39211,

This is the second book on American fiddle music from the United States by this author. He uses the published volumes of George P. Knauff’s Virginia Reels as a jumping off point to discuss fiddle music as it was then, as well as now. Publishing printed music was the media of the day. There was no other way to record music in the nineteenth century. Hits were measured as they are today by volume of sales. These volumes by Knauff were influential in bringing, and perhaps standardizing, some tunes in the collective repertory of fiddlers far from Virginia.

Using these volumes as a point of demarcation for the art of fiddling in the Antebellum South, Goertzen extrapolates on these tunes and their significance. These volumes are not published especially for fiddlers, but were books for pianists to play these tunes. This is in itself is an interesting point. Knauff changed titles and arranged theses pieces to be played in parlors on pianos. It speaks to the influence of fiddle music in that period that he would document fiddle tunes. Many such insights are revealed in this book. There are transcriptions of fiddle players’ versions of some of these tunes included, along with a reproduction of the original volumes of these publications. The included fiddle transcriptions are interesting for cross-referencing the different regional and fiddler’s individual stylistic approaches to the tunes. A necessary but unfortunate aspect here is that the transcriptions are printed in a small format, making them a challenge to read.

For the most part, this volume succeeds in exploring many aspects of the music. His theorizing on naming devices for tunes suffers when he says “The Flowers Of Edinburgh” is a thistle. References to the “flowers” are often a caustic reference to the old open sewer systems found in the cities in those more primitive times and not a specific plant. Also, he has Virginia fiddler Betty Vornbrock living in Hillsboro instead of Hillsville. These few notes aside, this volume will offer those who are inclined to delve deeply into the minutia that old-time fiddling has much to revel in.RCB



Rebel Records REB-1865

   In the liner notes, Mark Kuykendall (guitar) and IBMA Hall Of Famer Bobby Hicks (fiddle) note that combined, they have 110 years of performing and recording bluegrass music under their Blue Grass Boy belt buckles, and it shows. Hicks, the legendary fiddler whose effortless style simply defines double-stops (although he will tell you Dale Potter holds the “king of double stops” title), is known for his masterful work with Bill Monroe, Porter Wagoner, and Ricky Skaggs, among others. Kuykendall also played with Monroe and Jimmy Martin.

The two band leaders along with members of Asheville Bluegrass (Nick Dauphinais on bass, Mike Hunter on mandolin, and Seth Rhinehart on banjo) are evenly matched instrumentally—a huge compliment for any mere mortal playing in a band with Bobby Hicks. They play traditional bluegrass music with seasoned grace. From the first staccato mandolin riff, answered by the crack of a banjo roll and quickly followed by an authoritative guitar lick that kicks off “Roustabout,” listeners know they’re in store for some exciting and authentic bluegrass music.

Kuykendall’s pleasant tenor lead vocal is perfect for bluegrass; a unique voice that brings new life to old favorites from the repertoire of Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Ernest Tubb, and more. Dauphinais’ tenor harmonies are simply flawless, and his contribution is their secret ingredient. That, and the double-stops, of course. Kuykendall shows off his talents as a songwriter on “I Don’t Have The Want To Anymore” and “Forever And A Day.” Both could well be standards in the future. “Remember Me,” the Lulu Belle and Scotty standard (also recorded memorably by Mac Wiseman and Jim & Jesse), is performed in a bouncy, optimistic tempo. “I’ll Follow Jesus,” written by Jake Landers, is a simple statement of practical, daily faith.

Hicks’ mind-blowing backup work and breaks shine throughout the album. But he steps to center stage instrumentally with a poignant rendition of “Ashokan Farewell,” proving that a simple melody played with pure tone and emotion can be more effective than bells and whistles at breakneck speeds. His original, “Zuma Swing,” features a melody that struts, swaggers, and swings and even borrows half a phrase from Suwannee River” at one point. A fine ride on the mandolin and creative banjo flourishes round out the tune, with a trademark twin-fiddle break (on one fiddle) from Hicks at the end.

There’s a nod to classic country music with Mark’s fine performance of Hank Williams’ “We Live In Two Different Worlds” and Bobby’s lead vocal on “They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me,” written by Leon Payne and the album’s saddest song. (Hicks’ fiddling as a sideman over the years has perhaps overshadowed his talents as a lead singer, so play this track twice.)

Two more gospel songs are included: Jim Eanes’ heartfelt “In His Arms I’m Not Afraid” and Monroe’s “Wicked Path Of Sin,” featuring Hicks on bass vocals and high flying tenor from Dauphinais. Another Bill Monroe song, “Mary Jane, Won’t You Be Mine,” is executed perfectly and bookended with double-stop fiddling. Mark also sings the rambunctious “Sally, Don’t You Grieve,” penned by Woody Guthrie and Malvina Reynolds. Keep this album easily accessible where you can find it for repeated playing. (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906,