tammy-jones-robinetteTAMMY JONES ROBINETTE & THE DRIVE

Rural Rhythm

Tammy Jones Robinette’s debut recording in 2014 was an all-gospel affair that went a long way to garnering her recognition as Favorite Female Vocalist at the Gospel Music Fan Awards. You might think her second release would follow a similar format. While gospel is still at the core, and pleasingly so, Robinette has included several non-gospel songs in the mix.

Those non-gospel songs, however, may just as well be gospel songs. All five of them, three written by Robinette, are what you might term “strong family values” songs. “To Be A Kid Again” is all about the joys of being young, reveling in the healthy side of childhood. “The Letters” is a weeper about a son writing home. “The Man In Those Shoes” is Robinette’s tribute to her husband’s support. “Pages Of Time,” written by Babbette Punches, is a memory song, while “The Colors That Never Ran,” by Larry Santiago is an ode to the flag.

As good as those songs are, the strongest tracks that leave you with the best feeling overall, are the straight-ahead gospel numbers. Both “I’ve Got To Work On The Ark” and R.H. Cornelius’ “Oh, I Want To See Him” are uplifting, fast bluegrass-style numbers and work wonderfully with the equally uplifting “There’s A Record Book” from Larry Whitehead and with the hopeful and slow “Mama’s In The Sweet By And By” from Robinette.

Robinette has one of those glorious, emotional, and powerful voices that goes hand in hand with Southern gospel. Pairing that voice with good songs and great musicians (including Sam Bush, Rob Ickes, Aubrey Haynie, Ron Block, Mark Fain, Scott Vestal, and Seth Taylor) makes this a very strong album. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 750, Mt. Juliet, TN 37121, www.ruralrhythm.com.)BW


burie-familyTHE BURIE FAMILY

No Label
No Number

The Burie Family has a creative business plan in action: release a new record, then take the year off to try other projects, playing just one performance date, one already finished even as I type this. Interestingly, or oddly or presciently, they titled the record Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. Let us hope that does not prove permanent. The band has too much talent and positive energy to disband so early in their careers.

A sunny, upbeat disposition underscores most of the 12 tracks offered here. No less than five of the tunes are religious songs, starting with the third track, “Warfare,” sung convincingly by mandolinist Nate and his bass-playing brother Joe. That’s followed by an excellent cover/adaptation of “To Know Him Is To Love Him,” here transformed from one kind of love song to one of a spiritual direction. The trio harmonies of Bethany, Rebekah, and Tiffany makes this a special track. More poignant, though nonetheless uplifting, is Tiffany’s soldier’s story of courage and acceptance, “Don’t Cry For Me.”

On the secular side, the band opens and closes the album on a swinging note, “Lady Be Good”/“Kentucky Means Paradise” at the front, “Powder Your Face With Sunshine” at the end. Both are light, relaxed and in a word, tuneful. They just ooze optimism. That same feel bleeds over into “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could” (given some nice melodic twists) and Bethany’s original “Good In Goodbye.” They also include two instrumentals, “Cherokee Shuffle” and “Georgianna Moon Waltz,” both very good and both giving Nate and fiddler Rebekah and guitarist Bethany a chance to display their instrumental skills, which though not flashy or stunning, enhance whatever song they’re playing and make this a pleasing album as a whole. (www.theburiefamily.com)BW


jeanette-williamsJEANETTE WILLIAMS

Off Row Records
No Number

Three-time SPBGMA Female Vocalist of the Year Jeanette Williams may not stop the world with her new CD, but she’ll have fans stopping in their tracks with each of the ten tunes on her latest project. Adding to her repertoire of bluegrass and gospel, Williams mixes in her influences of classic country, blues, roots, and rock’n’roll.

Her voice brings alive the enormity of lost love on “What Leaving Feels Like” and chokes up listeners on songwriter Mark Brinkman’s “Mama Loved The Redbirds.” The lead-off single, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” made popular by Bonnie Raitt, was a gutsy song to tackle, but she delves into the soulful blues with seemingly little effort. In fact, singer/songwriter Mike Reid who wrote the song with Allen Shamblin, said, “Her intent is pure; just the music, sung with an ethereally gorgeous voice deeply felt.” Williams brings in an added treat with male vocal powerhouse Daryl Mosley of the Farm Hands on the CD’s title cut.  She performs a heavenly version of another Mike Reid (and Jeff Penning) song, “She Saw Angels.” Then, Williams steps up to the plate and knocks a homerun with the closing track, her version of rocker Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”

Rob Ickes contributes his resonator guitar work along with Jody King (banjo), Dow Tomlin (bass), Bruce Watkins (guitar), Scott Neubert (guitar), Jason Roller (mandolin, fiddle, and guitar), Steve Holland (drums and percussion), Steve Peffer (piano, Wurlitzer, and accordion), and Lisa Silver (harmony vocals). Produced by Bruce Dees, this album gives fans a deeper glance into the different layers of music that Williams evokes. (www.jeanettewilliams.com.)BC


williamson-branchWILLIAMSON BRANCH

Enrichertainment Prod.

Kevin Williamson has been in the bluegrass music business for over three decades, playing with groups such as the Farm Hands Quartet, Glen Duncan and Phoenix, Dave Evans, the Country Gentlemen, and Bill Monroe. Now, from his homebase in Nashville, Williamson tours the country with his family band Williamson Branch. Along with Kevin on guitar and lead vocals, the group features his wife Debbie Williamson on lead vocals and mandolin, along with daughters Melody on lead vocals and fiddle, Kadence on bass and vocals, and Caroline on vocals.

You never know what you’re getting with a family band. Either it is cuteness and corn pone or a family that takes the music seriously and truly brings something to the table. Thankfully, Williamson Branch represents the latter. The first cut on Branchin’ Out is proof of that, with daughter Melody not only writing the song “Someday,” but also showing that her lead vocal and fiddling abilities are impressive. Kevin steps up with a good bluegrass song that harkens back to the genre’s roots with “The Miner’s Song,” backed up by newly-crowned IBMA Award winner Becky Buller on clawhammer banjo and Craig Fletcher on mandolin. Other highlights include “New River Train” with Barry Crabtree on banjo, and “I Was Raised In A Railroad Town” with Jeff Easter on harmonica.

Like many family albums with younger members, this is a bit uneven at times, but overall this is good bluegrass with solid musicianship. For me, the main theme of this project is that Melody has a big future in this business. With her songwriting, fiddling, and lead singing abilities already at a high level, she is one to watch as she grows older. (www.williamsonbranch.com)DH

ferguson-&-fergusonFERGUSON & FERGUSON

No Label
No Number

It was kind of destined that these two Garys would end up playing together, as both are from the Eastern U.S. Gary Gene Ferguson is from southern Pennsylvania and Gary Alan Ferguson is from the Fredericksburg, Va., area. Both have been involved in bluegrass music for many years—Gary Gene with his own Gary Ferguson Band, as well as with the late Mike Auldridge, Ron and Rob McCoury, Bill Emerson, Jimmy Gaudreau, Sally Love, and others. Gary Alan has performed with Knoxville Grass, Virginia Squires, John Starling, Claire Lynch, and others.

The two teamed up for a tour of Ireland in 2014, which was quite successful. Upon their return, they decided to record and the result is this new six-song EP, which contains their original tunes and a cover of the old chain-gang song “Walking Boss.” They are accompanied on this project by Ron Stewart and Mark Schatz. Gary Gene plays guitar and Gary Alan plays guitar, mandolin, and bass. Both are good vocalists and blend their harmonies together well. For originals, Gary Gene contributed “Henry Hill” (another of his Civil War songs) and “Love In The Dark.” Gary Alan wrote “Chase Away The Blues” and “I’m Still Here” and they co-wrote “Some Bridges Are Meant To Burn.” This is a really nice collaboration from the Garys and hopefully more to come in the future. (www.fergusonandferguson.net)BF




The Red Squirrel Chasers are composed of Stephanie Coleman, fiddle; Jim Collier, mandolin; Jim Nelson, guitar; and Dedo Norris, bass. They all sing, with the two Jims dividing the lead vocals. They played dances together for about ten years before deciding to combine their interests in old-time music and early bluegrass into this recording. The 16 selections are mostly alternate songs and instrumentals. In the liner notes, they explain they didn’t include a banjo because they wanted “spare melody lines…with a smooth instrumental texture.”

“Shady Grove, My Darling” is from the Prairie Ramblers and showcases Coleman’s powerful fiddling and the brother-duet style of Nelson and Collier. Burl Hammons is the source for “Shakin’ Down The Acorns,” a very Mixolydian paean to fall. The laid-back  “Cold Rain And Snow” derives from Obray Ramsay, Dillard Chandler, and Peter Rowan, also the source for “Moonshiner.” “Durang’s Hornpipe,” a name applied to several different tunes, is from Kentucky fiddler Jake Phelps transmitted by Bruce Greene and Chirps Smith. John Ashby is the source of “Jaybird Died With The Whooping Cough” and “Sugar In The Gourd.”  “Darling Honey” is yet another tour de force fiddle tune from Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith. “Old Bob” is a great original fiddle tune by the late Garry Harrison. “Squirrel Hunters” was a fife tune moved to the fiddle by John Hartford.

Coleman fiddles everything with both power, subtlety, and rock-solid rhythm and brings out the beauty inherent in these great melodies. Nelson is simply one of the best guitarists playing old-time music these days. Collier’s mandolin adds a simple grace to the music, while Norris’ bass keeps them tightly together. Nelson and Collier have well-matched voices. Coleman adds the high harmony on “Moonshiner,” and Norris does the same on “Run Mountain” and “She’ll Be Comin’ Around The Mountain” from J.E. and Wade Mainer. This recording is thoroughly enjoyable and is highly recommended for lovers of old-time music and of the precursors and early days of bluegrass. (Vigortone Records, 6130 Tennessee Ave. St. Louis, MO 63111, www.vigortonerecords.com.)SAG



Spruce & Maple Music
SMM 1013

One of the go-to sources for bluegrass songs in recent decades has been Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. If you want great, heartfelt songs of determination, of earthy realism, of a quality that are solidly traditional but often thematically genre non-specific, you could not do better. Many have gone to their repertoire for just those reasons and that includes Laurie Lewis, a performer of similar musical qualities, who chooses to honor Hazel and Alice with a 14-song set.

The results are what you would expect from Lewis and her current lineup of the Right Hands (mandolinist Tom Rozum, banjoist Patrick Sauber, and bassist Andrew Conklin). In fact, it might be argued that these songs draw something extra from her performance (and vice versa).

Hazel’s writing dominates here. She wrote five. The standouts include the slow, emotional song of memory and dying, “Won’t You Come And Sing For Me?,” her near standard status “You’ll Get No More From Me,” and the bluesy  “Working Girl Blues.” Alice’s writing contributes only two songs, but they include the album’s most mesmerizing track, “Momma’s Gonna Stay.” A word-painting extra ordinaire, we follow a mother coming down stairs for coffee and contemplation before her family gets up and the usual chaos follows. To leave or stay is her daily dilemma and Lewis puts this across perfectly.

Interspersed are covers of Bill Monroe’s “I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling” sung by Rozum (I think) and the traditional numbers “Train On The Island,” “Darling Nellie,” and “Walking In My Sleep,” the latter recalling the Uncle Earl version vocally, but here is given more bluegrass strength. Standout is only a reference. This is all good. (Spruce & Maple Music, P.O. Box 9417, Berkeley, CA 94709, www.spruceandmaplemusic.com.)BW


charm-city-junctionCHARM CITY JUNCTION

Patuxent Music

You’ve probably heard the old joke about how the world is divided into two types of people: those who divide the world into two types of people and those who don’t. The application here is to the realm of fiddle tunes. There are musicians deeply immersed in bluegrass or old-time or Celtic music, who are quite adamant about not letting their favorite niche wander over stylistic borderlines. And then, there are those who passionately love the tunes and relish how the music can flit easily and freely back and forth across those selfsame boundaries.

It’s clear that the four members of Charm City Junction are in the latter camp. Fiddler Patrick McAvinue, banjoist Brad Kolodner, accordionist Sean McComiskey, and bassist Alex Lacquement are Baltimore-area musicians who revel in the diversity of their repertoire. Drawing with equal fervor from Bill Monroe and Irish concertinist Cormac Begley, Benny Martin, and County Cork fiddler Connie O’Connell, the 14 tracks on their debut recording explore the common ground of grooves and modes among their shared musical worlds.

Any tune collection, even with three vocal tracks interspersed throughout, can risk a certain sameness to the listener, but this band takes their arranging seriously. They shift “Bogs Of Shanaheaver” from major to minor key, layer accelerating tempos onto “Greasy Coat” and “Joe Bane’s Barndance,” incorporate body percussion, and showcase bassist Lacquement plucking and bowing melody and rhythmic pulses, enabling each piece to feature a distinct identity. McAvinue’s fiddle and McComiskey’s accordion blend seamlessly on “Torn Jacket”/“Come West Along The Road.” And when they choose to, the group locks into a straightforward old-time drive on the numbers “Two O’Clock In The Morning” and “New River Train.”

Tune lovers with their musical passports updated will absolutely love what this talented quartet has done with this vibrant and wide-ranging CD. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)HK


cox-familyTHE COX FAMILY

Rounder Records

   If all the bluegrass fans in the world woke up in the morning to find their hopes for mainstream country radio had come true, this new album from the Cox Family is the kind of thing we’d be listening to over our coffee and eggs. The electric guitar, honky-tonk piano, steel, strings, and percussion simply enhance and shed a new angle of musical light on the pristine Cox Family vocal harmonies we’ve all come to know and love over the years. Of course, anything produced by Alison Krauss and engineered by Gary Paczosa is going to be tasteful and elegantly mind-blowing.

After 17 years in a Warner Brothers vault in Burbank, Cal., it’s a shining bluegrass miracle that this album was finally completed, with new vocals and Sidney Cox’s resonator guitar added to the original instrumental tracks. Patriarch Willard Cox’s vocals were finished in 1998, just two years before he and his late wife, Marie, were critically injured in a car accident. Mrs. Cox passed away in 2009, and the new album is dedicated to her memory.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of hearing these folks sing, Cox family harmonies are a balanced dichotomy of sound and emotion, both delicate and powerful, subdued and exuberant, ethereal and raucous. Their music sobs and shouts, sometimes shuffling down a street or dancing on the pinnacle of a mountaintop. The listener is intensely, breathlessly engaged. It’s impossible to take your ears off of this sound.

Willard Cox’s true country voice belts out “Cash On The Barrel Head” and “Honky Tonk Blues.” He includes a recitation that would impress Porter Wagoner on the Crystal Gayle favorite, “I’ll Get Over You.” Evelyn Cox squeezes every drop of lonesome out of David Gates’ “Lost Without Your Love,” while siblings Suzanne and Sidney pull off striking lead vocals on “I’m Not So Far Away” (Garth Fundis) and “In My Eyes” (Kostas). Krauss is the string section on violins, and she nails a twin-fiddle line with Andrea Zonn. The Suzanne and Sidney original “Too Far Gone” is memorable, as is the title-cut set in Louisiana and written by the duo in memory of their parents and grandparents. Evelyn’s “Let It Roll,” written by Kevin Brandt, may be the next perfect wedding song for bluegrass couples. File Gone Like The Cotton under “Good Country Music” and enjoy! (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.)NC



LLC CD-1002

   The Sunny Mountain Serenaders are a relatively new band, but the members bring a wealth of old-time music experience with them. Mark Campbell is a Virginia fiddler who has won (on fiddle) the prestigious Appalachian String Band Festival contest held in Clifftop, W.Va. Mac Traynham, also from Virginia, has won the same contest on both fiddle and banjo and sings great duets with wife Jenny. John Schwab wrote a book on old-time guitar backup and has played with many bands, including the Hoover Uprights. Mac plays banjo and harmonica and sings lead. John sings harmony. On this recording, they play and sing 18 tunes from Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky.

They open with a rollicking “Richmond Blues” from Leonard Rutherford. “Trouble Trouble” comes from Florida fiddler Arthur “Cush” Holston, but Mark heard it from Harold Hausenfluck from Richmond. It certainly fits his style of powerfully rhythmic fiddling combined with strong melodies. “The Grey Eagle” from J. Deadrick Harris of Tennessee is quite distinct from other tunes of that name. “Big Bend Gal” is a tongue-twisting minstrel song from the Shelor Family, and Mac’s harmonica makes its entrance here. “Shortnin’ Bread” is from Dykes Magic City Trio. Their “New River Train” comes from Fields and Wade Ward, who played a modal bridge which is not often heard in contemporary versions. The source of “California Cotillion” was a fiddler named Hicks Ring. “Stackalee” derives its fiddling from Ed Haley and its words from Mac Snow and Scotty East from Mt. Airy. The fiddle and harmonica duet on “Home Sweet Home” comes from the Bell Spur String Band and the Red Fox Chasers. “Western Country” is commonly known by several other names; this interesting version is influenced by the great Galax fiddler, Emmett Lundy. Norman Edmonds’ “Callahan” gives another opportunity for this band to show how they can be both loose and tight at the same time. They went back to the Red Fox Chasers and to Charlie Poole for “The Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee.” Fiddlin’ Powers was the source of “Patty On The Turnpike” with its many extra beats and flourishes. This version of “Lady Of The Lake” from Uncle Norm Edmonds is one of the prettiest. “Virginia Bootlegger” begins as the gospel song “I’m Going Down To The River Of Jordan” and then suddenly transforms, with inspiration from the Red Fox Chasers, into a moonshine-drenched ditty. “Old Time Fire In The Mountain” from Dent Wimmer and Sam Conner sounds like a variation of “Going Across The Sea.” “Waterbound” comes from Fields Ward & the Grayson County Railsplitters. Charlie Bowman and his brothers recorded a skit called “Moonshiner And His Money,” which includes a medley of “Money In Both Pockets” and “Boys My Money’s All Gone.”

This music is intensely danceable and enjoyable. I encourage you to get your own copy and listen to it often. (L-Century, LLC, 7713 Cayuga Ave., Bethesda, MD 20617, www.sunnymountainserenaders.com.)SAG


HOEDOWNS, REELS, AND FROLICS: ROOTS AND BRANCHES OF SOUTHERN APPALACHIAN DANCE—BY PHIL JAMISON—University of Illinois Press 9780252080814. Paperback, b&w photos, $28. (Univ. Of Ill. Press, 11030 S. Langley Ave., Chicago, IL 60628, press.ullinois.edu.)

Written by a nationally known old-time musician, flatfoot dancer, and square dance caller who teaches Appalachian music, dance, and mathematics at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C., this book is meticulously researched, a thorough telling of the story of Appalachian dance, beginning with its European, African-American, and Native-American roots, continuing to modern times.

Perhaps because he’s a dancer himself, Jamison writes in a very engaging, reader-friendly manner which scholars and hobbyists alike should appreciate. He discusses what he calls the “myth of Appalachian isolationism” in an early chapter, arguing that American square dances, step dances, and reels are not the unaltered jigs and reels of the early British settlers as many have previously thought, but rather hybrids that developed over time, incorporating elements from other popular forms of dance. Influential dancing masters and their schools are discussed, as well as social attitudes about religion and dancing, plus chapters on the Virginia Reel, Couple Dances, The Cakewalk, Appalachian Step Dance, Clogging, and the American Square Dance.

Appendices at the end of the book include extensive research notes on each chapter; a glossary of dance terms, figures, and steps; and a comprehensive list of recordings of barn dances with calls from 1924-1933. Charts analyzing the recordings with respect to dance forms, figures, calling styles, and instrumentation are also included, along with a fascinating collection of historical photographs and illustrations.

Jamison does a particularly good job of defining the vocabulary of Appalachian American folk dance in its historical setting. His perspective is passionate, and his finding are sometimes presented with a sense of humor. Highly recommended for use as a textbook for secondary or college-level courses on folk dance or for readers who would simply enjoy learning more about the type of dance that is so often accompanied by the bluegrass and old-time music usually discussed in the pages of Bluegrass Unlimited.NC



Home of Bluegrass

   Jussi Syren and the Groundbreakers aren’t just a band that plays traditional bluegrass. They are a traditional bluegrass band that formed in 1995. Consider this. They are the first generation of bluegrass music in Finland. Just like the first two generations of American bands, most of their gigs are in smoke-filled bars. Jussi writes his own songs prolifically. This band has absorbed the genre to such a degree that it’s their music played and sung with passion and commitment. Bluegrass Singer displays all these fine qualities.

Jussi has been dedicated to bluegrass for more than thirty years. He is justifiably proud of keeping his music both original in material and rooted in the early years of bluegrass. As soon as you hear him sing, you know he has been working hard at developing a convincing, authentic vocal style. On Jussi’s best moments, such as the title-cut and “Convict On The Run,” his soulful singing gets stunningly close to Ralph Stanley. At his worst, which is still quite good, he sounds as if he is teaching someone how to sing that way, demonstrating by exaggerating the distinctive traits. A decade into Jussi’s total commitment to bluegrass music, Bluegrass Singer is their tenth album. Like any band that stays together for a long time, these musicians know where their bandmates are headed. Their singing and playing forms a whole that is greater than any individual member.

Banjoman Tauri Oksala deserves particular praise. His playing is crisp and energetic, obviously influenced by Scruggs and Crowe, but with some of himself in his picking. On Jussi’s “Banjo Song,” Oksala manages the Olympic feat of convincingly playing in the styles of six different five-string masters in one song. Jussi distinguishes himself as a composer of contemporary songs that sound classic. Most of his songs could be slipped in among first-decade bluegrass songs. “Daddy Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” is a perfect “poor pitiful” piece. “Convict On The Run” delivers a fine example of another bluegrass theme. “Alleghany Waltz” would fit right in with the waltz phase of the late 1940s.

Indeed, the two covers are the weakest part of this excellent album. I’d much rather hear two more written by Jussi. As a North Carolinian of a certain age, the auctioneering on Leroy Van Dyke’s 1960s country hit “The Auctioneer” bothers me. Maybe it’s the echo effect, but it sounds a little like you could hear in the warehouses redolent with the sweet smell of freshly cured bright leaf tobacco.

Bluegrass Singer is strong, enjoyable, well-grounded bluegrass in the spirit of the true vine. Sometimes a special album this way passes. This is the real deal. (Home of Bluegrass, Kuusikkokuja 2 C 6, 01380 Vantaa, Finland, www.syren.fi.)AM


CLAWHAMMER BANJO: TUNES, TIPS & JAMMING—BY WAYNE ERBSEN—Native Ground, No Number. Spiralbound, 120 pp., two CDs and mp3, $24.95. (Native Ground Books & Music, 109 Bell Rd., Asheville, NC 28805, www.nativeground.com.)

There is an awful lot to love about this book. If you’ve ever used one of Erbsen’s books, this one is a must have. He digs deeply into the real repertory of old-time music and teaches ways to really get into the music. The songs included read like a greatest hits of old-time and include Ola Belle Reed’s “I’ve Endured,” and the classics “Raleigh And Spencer,” “Old Plank Road,” “Rock The Cradle Lucy,” “Lazy John,” “Boll Weevil,” and many more.

Keeping with his high standards, the book is full of great photographs of old-time musicians that decorate the pages loaded with tips on playing banjo and suggestions and tips for catching tunes on the fly. He also covers aspects of jamming and the dos and don’ts, along with faking it or the art of making it sound like you know what you’re doing when, perhaps, you really don’t. In this volume, he includes the theory necessary to make intelligent decisions regarding faking it and learning on the fly. With a relatively limited knowledge of scales and chords, one can imagine what they’re hearing and learn to hear with their eyes while watching and see with their ears while listening to others.

The introduction does sound a bit like he’s talking to old folks, so if you aren’t old, don’t take it too seriously. There are several banjo jokes spread throughout the book, but one must only realize they aren’t really jokes, they are all true. There are five banjo tunings covered in this book in the course of forty songs and tunes. While they are not transcriptions of how the old-timer may have played the piece, it is a recipe that captures the essence of the piece. Advanced banjo players are really not the audience for this book, but there are some gems they would find interesting in this volume.

If you’re playing clawhammer banjo or want to play clawhammer banjo, there’s a lot of very useful information here. This is one of the finest books from Wayne Erbsen so far.RCB


No Label
No Number

It won’t be long before most of the bluegrass community knows the name Jake Workman, since he joined Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder near the end of 2015 on the recommendation of Bryan Sutton and Cody Kilby. Meanwhile, we can enjoy Deep Into The Heart by Jake and his spouse Rebekah Workman. The Utah couple have been playing together in Driven and the Jake and Rebekah Workman Band for several years. The album offers plenty of good original songs and tunes (9 out of 12 cuts), while showcasing her fiddling and his chops on guitar, mandolin, and banjo on a diverse range of bluegrass styles.

With Rob Ickes and Driven bassist Blake McLemore joining them, the playing on this album proves exceptional. Whether fast, slow, or in between, the picking is consistently crisp, precise, driving, and deeply felt. “Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing” is an extraordinary slow, fiddle-powered tune that deserves wide airplay. Jake’s “Dry Creek Summit,” on the other hand, exemplifies contemporary bluegrass instrumental music with just a bit of late twentieth century new acoustic influences. “High Rule” presents terrific mid-tempo playing.

The predominance of consistently powerful instrumentals and bringing in Jimmy Campbell and Ron Spears as guest lead vocalist suggest Jake and Rebekah are aware that lead singing is not their greatest strength. Their duet and harmony singing, such as on “Time’s Up,” work very well. As lead singer, Jake’s voice is good enough, but nowhere near the excellence of his playing. Rebekah has a fine voice. Yet her singing doesn’t match the feeling of her fiddling. Vocally, she seems to confuse louder and higher for emotional depth. That said, Deep Into The Heart presents a very good CD worthy of repeated, enjoyable listening. (www.jrworkman.com)AM


lonesome-meadowLONESOME MEADOW

No Label
No Number

After releasing five CDs in six years, Lonesome Meadow seemed to go on a recording hiatus. With their return to recording, this family band (the Jacksons)—bassist Mark, guitarist John, fiddler Anne-Marie, and banjoist Gary—from Ohio has selected a format that has more cover tunes than their previous releases. Filling in the spaces once reserved for originals are such respected tunes as “Lonesome Pine,” “Erase The Miles,” “Tennessee Waltz,” “We Live In Two Different Worlds,” “I Am The Man Thomas,” “Heaven’s Bright Shore,” and “Jolene.” You have to be careful stocking your playlist with that sort of tune, as most of those songs have definitive versions that make variations risky. Viable options are either to play them straight or play them relatively straight and put your own flourish on it.

Lonesome Meadow offers a bit of both. “Lonesome Pine,” with Anne-Marie Jackson on lead vocal, is a relatively straight on rendition. Well done but largely familiar. So, too, their cover of “Tennessee Waltz.” “Heaven’s Bright Shore” is also in that approach, as is “Jolene,” though the band jumps up the tempo for their instrumental ending—a nice touch. By contrast is “We Live In Two Different Worlds,” which offers a bit of freedom with the arrangement. The band opts for a slightly swinging version, letting their personalities put their own stamp on it. One of the best tracks on the CD is “Erase The Miles.” Their start-to-finish, three-part harmony is entrancing and makes the song sound fresh. “Sweet Annie,” “Red Rose Bouquet,” and an a cappella “Glory Bound” all round out what is a very good, nicely-presented album. (Julie Jackson, P.O. Box 1632, Westerville, OH 43086, www.lonesomemeadow.com.)BW



Mountain Home

This isn’t John Bowman’s first solo effort, but it’s his way of making a statement that says he has his own ministry. “This recording is a valuable part of the ministry God has entrusted me with,” Bowman said. “Every song has a special message for every listener whether they are believers or not.” Previously, Bowman has been linked with The Boxcars, The Isaacs, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Alison Krauss & Union Station, and J.D. Crowe & the New South.

Unlike his previous ballad heavy, Dove-nominated project, Worship Him, this collection of songs includes some more uptempo numbers such as “When My Traveling Days Are Over” and “Let The Hard Times Roll,” which features his 19-year-old son Levi singing on a verse. He puts his spin on Carter Stanley’s “Baby Girl,” in tribute to his teenage daughter Jakobi, and gives a nod to Southern gospel legends, The Easters, on the banjo-infused “They’re Holding Up The Ladder.” The first single is a prayerful piano meditation, “Sweet River.” He ensnares listeners on revival songs “Lies The Devils Told” and “Reach Of His Hand.”

Besides Bowman’s soothing tenor vocals, he plays guitar, mandolin, and bass. Tre’ Corley is on piano with Nathan Faucett, drums, Rob Ickes, resonator guitar and Weisenborn guitar, Ron Stewart on fiddle, and Troy Engle, who co-produced the project with Bowman, adding mandolin. With a collective mixture of country, bluegrass, and gospel, Bowman links together entertainment with life lessons. (Mountain Home, P.O. Box 829; Arden, NC 28704, www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com.)BC