Fenchurch Music

This new and, in their own words, neo-traditional CD from Ken and Brad Kolodner (father and son) is subtitled Original And Traditional Appalachian Old-Time Music. They play a mix of original and traditional tunes on a variety of instruments. For example, the first cut “The Orchard” is an original by Brad, who plays banjo with Ken on hammered dulcimer, Robin Bullock on guitar, and Alex Lacquement on bass. Elke Baker plays viola on “Grub Springs” and fiddle on a medley of “The Cowboy Waltz”/“Tombigbee’s Waltz.” Kagey Parrish sings backup on one song. Ken switches to fiddle on “Down On My Knees” with Brad singing lead in a reedy voice. “John Brown’s March,” “Billy In The Lowground,” “Ruben’s Train,” and the title-cut (written by Brad) return to the banjo and hammered dulcimer format. Ken wrote “The Reunion,” a lovely tune featuring double fiddle as does “Lost Indian.” The other original tune, Brad’s “Caspian’s Dream,” features banjo and guitar. The Kolodners’ “Boatman” starts as a more traditional sounding fiddle/banjo tune, though both instruments break out of those confines before the end with a few unusual chords and melodic changes.

So, what does neo-traditional mean? In this case, it means multiple departures from and extensions to tradition. First, there are many unusual combinations of instruments. Second is a willingness to play with the tempo and feel of the tunes. To give one example, “Grub Springs” is a hard-driving Mississippi fiddle tune from W.E. Claunch, but here it has a relaxed, almost dreamy sound. The neo-traditional genre has become popular enough to have a separate band contest at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, W.Va. The Kolodners and their collaborators play with impeccable chops and with great feeling, so whether or not this music will appeal to you depends on how open you are to traveling off the beaten path into new musical regions. (Ken Kolodner, 3806 Fenchurch Rd., Baltimore, MD 21218,



Mountain Home

Playing through the 13 songs of the follow-up release to the Grascals’ highly successful Life Finds A Way, it’s quickly apparent on many of the tracks that the drums have been brought forward a notch. Doing so does change The Grascals’ sound a bit, toughening it slightly and moving them a definite step closer to country and Americana forms.

Beyond that, however, the band’s approach remains much the same. They select predominantly good songs (particularly true among the first eight tracks), among them, a few from the late Harley Allen. They then play and sing with an engaging flow that brings a sense of contentment to both a light-hearted tune (such as the one in which a rambling husband claims all will be fine when he gets back because he’s “Mister Fix It”) as well as to the pathos of Allen’s tale of losing the support of a spouse in “When Your Rock Turns To Stone.”

“When I Get My Pay,” with its strong momentum and pointed, catchy tune and lyrics, is most likely the target cut with the most potential—crossover or otherwise. Vying with it is “American Pickers,” a tune not about bluegrass musicians, but rather a paean to the stars of the television show of the same name about guys who find treasure among trash—hence the picking. Dierks Bentley guests on that one. That’s followed by Allen’s wistful, Robert Frost-like tune about life’s choices, “Two Boys On A Dirt Road,” and then by the melodic 3/4 honky-tonk glory of “Are You Up For Getting Down Tonight.” Daryl Statler’s sweetly-tuned, memory song “Bluegrass Melodies,” along with the aforementioned “When Your Rock Turns To Stone,” round out the highlights.

Where the Grascals are headed musically, only they can say for certain, but so far, so good. (Crossroads Distribution, P.O. Box 829, Arden NC 28704,



No Label

This is the second project from this entertaining group from Ontario, Canada, following their self-titled release in 2011. The duo of Kyle and Kaitlyn Gerber is joined on the session by Roger Martin (banjo) and Dallas Roth (bass). Guest musicians include Skip Cherryholmes (guitar), Randy Morrison (fiddle), and Trulan Martin (resonator guitar). Kyle Gerber is the mandolinist and Kaitlyn plays guitar.

This is a mostly gospel project since the Gerber’s both were influenced by Southern gospel music, especially bluegrass gospel. Interestingly, there a couple of somewhat secular tunes included—Gillian Welch’s “Red Clay Halo” and Jim & Jesse’s “Pardon Me.” Kaitlyn Gerber is also a songwriter and four of her compositions are included here: the blazing opening “Wrong Side Of Right,” “Jerusalem To Jericho,” “Cost Of Love,” and “My Sorrow Too.” Other selections include “Old Camp Meeting Time,” “Gonna Be Movin’,” “If I Stand,” “Another Soldier Down,” and “Near The Cross.”

The vocal harmonies are very tight and lead vocals are good. Instrumentally, the band is balanced and the arrangements are an easy adjunct to the vocals. Be sure to look for this Canadian ensemble to be spending more time touring here in the U.S. as their popularity increases. (


Workman Publishing 9780761171768.
Hardback, 65 pp., includes 12-song CD, $16.95.
(Workman Publishing, 225 Varick St., New York, NY 10014,

As the mother of a two-year-old I was very familiar with Sandra Boynton before this CD and book landed on my desk to review. She writes and illustrates kids’ books (Barnyard Dance, Moo, Baa, La, La, La!) and has put out four previous kids’ CDs. Boynton writes the music and lyrics and then finds the perfect artist to perform each one. This album doesn’t contain any bluegrass per se—it’s mostly country—but it does have lots of very catchy and joyful songs. Some are funny, some are beautiful, and you won’t mind if they get stuck in your head.

The reason Bluegrass Unlimited is reviewing it is that it features some bluegrass personnel, including Alison Krauss, who sings the wistful “End Of A Summer Storm.” More familiar names appear in the musician credits: Ron Block, Viktor Krauss, Luke Bulla, and the ubiquitous Stuart Duncan. Brad Paisley, Dwight Yoakam, Darius Rucker, Kasey Musgraves, and others are the big names who sing lead on the rest of the songs.

There are songs about frogs, dogs, trucks, pigs, alligators, the hardship of being a kid, as well as a few serious ones. The accompanying book contains Boynton’s signature drawings to embody every tune, as well as a section with the written music, chords, and complete lyrics. The book won’t be as interesting to young kids because there is a lot of text, but they’ll love the music. The cover claims this is “For ages one to older than dirt,” and as long as you are young at heart, you’ll enjoy these songs. This set would make a fun present for children, grandkids, or expectant parents.CAH



Blue Circle Records

   How wonderful it is to be living in an era when Dixie Hall can spearhead a new three-CD project featuring the Daughters Of Bluegrass and proudly title it Pickin’ Like A Girl. Times have changed!

This remarkable set of 52 songs by Dixie and Tom T. Hall (with occasional co-writers) spotlights 118 hugely-talented female musicians with each number featuring a different configuration of women. Most songs pair up musicians who don’t normally work together, but some showcase whole bands such as Sweet Potato Pie, the New Coon Creek Girls, Wookalily, the Isaacs, and a Laurie Lewis-Kathy Kallick combo. The cast of musicians is both deep and wide and includes Daughter mainstays Dale Ann Bradley, Gena Britt, and Lorraine Jordan. Joining in the fun this time are Kristin Scott Benson, Sierra Hull, Deanie Richardson, Missy Raines, Martha Adcock, and Rebecca Frazier. Returning artists also include Tina Adair, Becky Buller, Valerie Smith, Donica Christensen, Lizzy and Rebekah Long, and Janice, Larita, and Jeana Martin.

As songwriters know, “It all begins with a song,” and the songs here come in all shapes, sizes, and tempos and cover everything from trains to grave robbing to hound dogs to food (“Creasy Greens”) to love and heartbreak. The art of songwriting itself is lovingly portrayed in “Song Maker,” the story of an old man who wrote all his songs to the tune of the “Great Speckled Bird.” Naturally, some songs have a feminist slant like “Men,” “The Meanest Lady Cop,” “Hound Dog Blues,” and “Molly And Mildred,” (the tale of two “mean mountain girls” whose abusive husbands disappeared), but these are served up with a dash of humor for easy listening. Disc three is all gospel with “He Loves To Hear You Shout” (April Stevens Seiber, lead) and “Get In The Boat” (Jeanette Williams, lead) being strong offerings. The most heartwarming moment for me on the whole project was hearing Anna Maybelle Cash singing the first verse to “Follow Me Back To The Fold,” the tribute to her great-grandmother, Mother Maybelle Carter.

Previous Daughters projects, Back To The Well and the song “Proud To Be A Daughter Of Bluegrass,” have garnered IBMA awards for Recorded Event Of The Year (2006 and 2009), and I fully expect Pickin’ Like A Girl to be nominated this year. If you ever hear anyone remark, even humorously, that women can’t pick, put a copy of this project in their hands. That should wake them up. Highly recommended. (Blue Circle Records, P.O. Box 680126, Franklin, TN 37068,




Compass Records

With a lineup led by Noam Pikelny on banjo with Mike Bub on bass, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin and Bryan Sutton on guitar, there’s no reason to wonder about the musical quality of this third recording by Pikelny for Compass. Of that, there can be no doubt.

What you probably want to know is whether all the same Monroe originals in the same order are included, starting with “Road To Columbus” and going through even the more obscure “Mississippi Waltz” and “Fiddler’s Pastime” to the closer “Ashland Breakdown.” You may also want to know if the versions here stack up well against Kenny Baker’s 1976 County Records release. Do the players and arrangements break free from simply recreating the sound and solos that Baker, Monroe, Black, Davis, and Stuart recorded forty years ago? Are the new arrangements interesting, and do they include ensemble passages and dialogues that make it more than just one solo after another? Does Pikelny’s attempt at translating Baker’s fiddle solos into melodic banjo succeed, such as catching Kenny’s beautiful high part on “Road To Columbus?” Is he able to generate the power needed to put the tunes across? Is he able to put his own stamp on the music and expand on Baker’s ideas? Does Sutton have a role beyond rhythm? Does he, in contrast to the 1976 contributions of Joe Stuart, take solos? Do they fit the recording’s aim? Equally, you’ll probably want to know if you’ll recognize the tunes. Is any of the original feel captured? Does Duncan get any of the sound of Baker in his solos even as he gives them a twist? Does the same hold true of McCoury’s nod to Monroe?

Yes. Yes all down the line. And yes, be it “Wheel Hoss,” “Jerusalem Ridge,” “Monroe’s Hornpipe,” or any of the rest, this is an excellent tribute to a tribute. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212,



Compass Records

Eric and Leigh Gibson are at their best when writing and harmonizing about people in a state of quiet desperation and in search of some sort of emotional or spiritual reprieve. This is to say they shine brightest when writing and singing about people like themselves and ourselves: people who, from time to time, look inward and yearn for change and transcendence.

On They Called It Music, the Gibson Brothers’ dozenth or so album since 1994, their soul-searching music and heartfelt harmonies seem to be imbued with a new layer of artistry, earnestness and intensity. The press material accompanying the new album refers to the emotional “roller coaster ride” the brothers experienced while winning the IBMA’s Entertainer Of The Year award, then losing their beloved father, all within a relatively short period of time. This vivid emotion and artistry shines with particular acuity on originals like “Dusty Old World” (written by Eric), “Something Coming To Me” (which the brothers co-wrote with Shawn Camp) and the ineffably beautiful “Songbird’s Song,” which Eric composed during a bout of chronic insomnia while on a European tour.

This same wistful, melancholy and ultimately irresistible empathy also comes through on much of the outside material included in this 12-cut collection. So it is with the eerie “I Will Always Cross Your Mind” (Roy Hurd and Elizabeth Hill), “Dying For Someone To Live For” (Shawn Camp and Loretta Lynn) and “Sundown And Sorrow,” an oldie-but-goodie heartbreaker penned by J.L. Frank and Pee Wee King.

Even on light-hearted songs, like “Buy A Ring, Find A Preacher” (co-written by the Gibsons and their mandolin player Joe Walsh) and the old-time “Daddy’s Gone To Knoxville,” penned by Mark Knopfler, their harmonies are infused with these same heartfelt and unique qualities that make the Gibsons’ music so special. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212,



Compass Records
7 4585 2

Newgrass Revival left a significant mark behind them in their two decades of existence, influencing numerous groups. Their combination of complex arrangements, impassioned vocals, instrumental virtuosity, and pop sensibility in a bluegrass context set a high standard for progressive acoustic bands to follow.

The Hillbenders, the latest discovery by Compass Records, has built upon this foundation with twelve very impressive tracks on their second CD. With three alternating lead singers of equal strength in Nolan Lawrence, Jim Rea, and Mark Cassidy, and punctuated by the dazzling interplay of Cassidy’s banjo and Chad Graves’ resonator guitar, Can You Hear Me? skillfully mixes originals and unique covers. Their strong rock influences are evident throughout each song, not just in their version of the ’80s alternative hit ‘Talking In Your Sleep.” There’s a take-no-prisoners approach throughout, with daring twists and turns on each arrangement. Even their approach to the one relatively familiar song on the album, Mick Hanly’s oft-covered “Past The Point Of Rescue,” distinctively segues from Cassidy’s lead vocal to a flamboyant vocal coda by Lawrence that channels equal parts John Cowan and Raul Malo.

What’s also encouraging about the Hillbenders’ take on newgrass is that their songs tell good stories. Guitarist Jim Rea’s “Spinning In Circles” spins parallel stories of creativity and frustration, while a number of their other songs manage to take fresh approaches to tales of relationships and wanderlust. That even extends to Rea’s over-the-top tale of meteorological mischief, “Heartache Thunderstorm,” and the righteously vengeful murder ballad “Broken Promises.”

This is a band that has too many strengths not to succeed. Given their gifts in writing, arranging, vocals, and picking, it’s hard to imagine the Hillbenders not influencing another forthcoming generation of newgrassers themselves. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212,