THE CROWE BROTHERS, FORTY YEARS OLD

crowe-brothersTHE CROWE BROTHERS
FORTY YEARS OLD

Mountain Fever Records
MFR 141028

With the release of Forty Years Old, the Crowe Brothers, Josh and Wayne, do a nice job of straddling the line between country and bluegrass. Using bluegrass instrumentation (Wayne on bass, Josh on guitar, Steve Sutton on banjo and dojo, Brian Blaylock on mandolin, lead guitar and Weissenborn lap steel, and Travis Wetzel and David Johnson on fiddle), they have a blend of covers of country standards (“Lost Highway,” “Excuse Me, I Think I’ve Got A Heartache,” “Send Me The Pillow”) and songs that may be new to most listeners, with the majority of cuts leaning to the country end of the spectrum.

Veterans of forty years in the music business (many will remember their association with Raymond Fairchild), it’s no surprise that Josh and Wayne have a nice vocal blend that does well by both the country and bluegrass selections. Among the highlights are “Excuse Me,” “Send Me The Pillow,” a poignant “You Turned Forty Years Old” from Steve Watts, Tucker Smith’s Irish-flavored “Green Fields Of Erin,” the catchy “Livin’ In A Mobile Home” that some of the more serious festival goers will relate to, and Mike Dowling/Alan O’Bryant’s “Don’t Let Our Love Die.” Tom T. and the late Dixie Hall contribute a nice city vs. country “I’ve Got The Moon On My Side,” and Wayne Crowe penned the compelling original gospel number “Where Will You Be?”

The vocal work by the Crowes, lead and harmony, is consistently strong throughout the 12 cuts here, and there is a nice variety in the selection. The instrumental backing is very tasteful, with very good work on the mandolin by Blaylock and on fiddle by Wetzel and Johnson. Steve Sutton gives a great demo on how to fit a banjo into a country-oriented tune with his back-up and breaks on “Lost Highway,” “Excuse Me…,” and “Send Me The Pillow.” A very pleasing and listenable release, with strong vocals, a nice mix of tunes and very good instrumental support. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd., Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)AW

 


ART ROSENBAUM’S OLD-TIME BANJO BOOK

ART ROSENBAUM’S OLD-TIME BANJO BOOK
BY ART ROSENBAUM
Mel Bay MB30494DP.
(Mel Bay, 4 Industrial Dr., Pacific, MO 63069,
www.melbay.com.)

This is an exciting new book and DVD from one of the modern masters of old-time banjo. Rosenbaum is retired from the University of Georgia after a long career as an art professor. He’s widely known for capturing folkways through his art and extensive field recordings and won a Grammy for his collection, Art Of Field Recording. His first book was Old-Time Banjo in the late sixties. At that time, he also recorded an LP with Al Murphy that is highly prized by collectors of old-time music. Like the late Mike Seeger, he has dug into the various styles, learning from the many old-timers he met while collecting songs, ballads, and tunes. This leads to a diverse approach incorporating two- and three-finger styles as well as the overhand-style called clawhammer, frailing, framing, etc.

This book represents the deepest look yet into Rosenbaum’s extensive repertory. His sources range from North Georgia to Kentucky and on to Iowa and Indiana and beyond. He not only learned tunes from these older players, he came to know them and understand a bit of their lives. This book imparts a small part of this collected knowledge. It’s the backup resource to the two DVDs included. There are extensive notes on the tunes and his approach to playing, including advice as to what’s important and what isn’t. This set covers a wide range of right-hand styles and over forty different tunings used by these sources. He uses a number method to achieve each new tuning from a more basic tuning. This wide range serves many purposes. First, they set the atmosphere for the tune (as the late Wade Ward stated so eloquently). Second, they allow the player to maximize more open strings and get special affects that a more standard tuning wouldn’t accommodate. The riches of traditional banjo bring a whole new layer of experience to the music while reflecting the ingenuity of the older generation in capturing the essence of the sound they heard in their heads. Consider that, in a time when there was less wealth in options, one might dig deeper with what they had to add richness to their experiences.

Rosenbaum walks through a progression of tunings from the more familiar to the very arcane, unlocking the wonders found in the old-time banjo. The two DVDs cover all of the tunes in the book and more. The idea is to learn as much as you can by watching and listening. This is the folkway of learning, the way the old-timers did it. Banjo instruction books are a fairly recent phenomenon in the grand scheme. Rosenbaum is quick to tell the viewer and the reader that the tabs are there just for reference. If something doesn’t quite make sense, then use the book. Otherwise, try to catch the tune from the video, as it was done for generations.

This project was a family affair. Art’s wife Margo’s photographs are featured throughout the book—rare glimpses into lives we know very little about. DeAnna Rosenbaum did the cover design while son Neil did the video recording. All of this makes for a first-rate package. If you’re interested in old-time banjo and are a serious student of the instrument, this package is essential. Take it from someone who’s played banjo for nearly five decades, there is something here that you don’t know.RCB


TURNING GROUND, CELL OF MINE

turning-groundTURNING GROUND
CELL OF MINE

No Label
No Number

Eastern Kentucky is a place of pressure. Geologically and sociologically, the region is known for the power that comes from that pressure that makes for coal and great music. These fellows sure bring that power to their music. Racing out of the starting gate, the Arnett brothers, Nathan and Jonathon, play guitar and mandolin respectively and sing with a fierce intensity. Armed with a catalog of original material, they spin tales of life and time.

Joining the brothers are Ralph Adams on lead and harmony vocals, Mike Daniels on banjo, and Chad Gilbert on bass. The sound is vocally oriented, with the banjo playing most of the backup and some fine lead work. The mandolin provides solid rhythm and breaks. The brothers share the lead vocals. Their sound is contemporary and reminiscent of other bands and no other band all at once. The songs are one of their great strengths. From the personal tragedy of “Cell Of Mine,” to the plight of the Appalachians in “Echo Of The Steel,” to sweet ballads like “Lay Me Down,” the brothers and crew display their strengths and talents. This a young band with a truckload of promise. We should be hearing much more from them as they continue on their musical journey. (www.turninggroundbluegrass.com)RCB


SAVAGE FIDDLER METHOD BOOK AND ONLINE LESSON METHOD

SAVAGE FIDDLER METHOD BOOK AND ONLINE LESSON METHOD
BY ANNIE SAVAGE
No Label, No Number. (www.savagefiddler.com)

This books compliments the many files found on Annie Savage’s website. There was no password included with this book, so the opportunity to view the online tools was not fully realized. Each tune is taught with the following steps. A “Tech Check” is used to unlock the techniques that the tune embodies and as a warmup to playing the tune. It is also to be used as a pathway to variations on the tune. Then she teaches the lead or the melody of the tune, then a backup to the tune that provides a feeling for the chord changes in the tune. Harmony and twin fiddle lines are supplied along with an idea of how one might take a break on the tune.

Starting with the tune that everyone seems to start with, “Boil Them Cabbage Down,” this methodology is applied to each tune. This is followed by progressively more complex tunes. Blues scales are addressed, and notes are found along the way regarding practice tips and tips for playing out. Fairly rapidly, the student is introduced to some fiddle tunes quite popular in bluegrass, using the third position and lots of work with double stops.

Savage says her fiddle guru is Blaine Sprouse. Her approach teaches a lot of information in a short time. With diligence, the budding fiddler could well learn a lot in that short time. One could go through the book several times learning the leads, then the backup, and finally the breaks for each tune. Of course, along the way, it would behoove the user of this book to keep their ears and eyes open to all fiddlers they can find in order to see how others do it and gain insight for their fiddle journey.RCB


MIKE AULDRIDGE, JERRY DOUGLAS AND ROB ICKES, THREE BELLS

three-bellsMIKE AULDRIDGE, JERRY DOUGLAS AND ROB ICKES
THREE BELLS

Rounder Records
11661-35773-02

   Three Bells is a fascinating album by three of the best resonator guitar players who will ever play the instrument. For Douglas and Ickes, it’s a labor of love musically, giving tribute to Auldridge for taking this unique instrument to a new level of sophistication. Past heroes such as Brother Oswald and Uncle Josh Graves were crucial to the evolution of the square neck, but Auldridge widened the use of the resonator guitar, showcasing it in different ways while playing different genres.

The making of Three Bells was a labor of love for Douglas and Ickes for another reason, as well—Auldridge was succumbing to cancer as the album was being completed. The last recording sessions happened right before Auldridge passed in December of 2012.

Douglas said a few months before the album’s release that they didn’t record it as a tribute, but instead tried to create the beautiful music they had talked about making for so long. But, the cancer began to close in. Said Douglas, “I’ve never heard him play better. There is something about knowing that the end is near that, all of a sudden, you have less distractions and things are a little bit more clearer in your frame. He wasn’t distracted by things. He really wanted to put out there what he had been experimenting with for years.”

Three Bells is surprisingly mellow and a beautiful album. The recording showcases three legends not in competition with each other, but instead giving each other space and collaborating to make sweet, incredible music with an instrument they all love. It ends with Auldridge’s last-ever recording, “I’m Using My Bible As A Road Map.” (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.)DH


DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER, IN SESSION

doyle-lawsonDOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER
IN SESSION

Mountain Home
MH15732

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver’s latest album, In Session, captures a celebrated veteran band at full power. It’s a masterful showcase of imaginative song choices, superlative harmonies, inspired vocal arrangements and powerhouse picking. The production, handled by Lawson with the assistance of recording engineer Josh Swift, is crisp, clean, and seamless.

The powerhouse opening cut, “Roll Big River” (penned by Dustin Pyrtle and Quicksilver bass player/guitarist/vocalist Eli Johnston) conveys unrestrained confidence and exuberance, as does the rousing yet meditative instrumental “Evening Prayer Blues.” Love songs such as “You, You, You” (written by Lotar Olias and Robert Mellin) and the painfully earnest “Wilma Walker” (Donna Ulisse and Rick Stanley) highlight the band’s soulfulness, sensitivity, and exquisite barbershop quartet-style harmonies.

Not surprisingly, many of the songs on In Session are steeped in nostalgia and the accompanying sentiments of loss and longing. (This is mainstream bluegrass after all.) The haunting “Calling All Her Children Home” (penned by the great Carl Jackson with Aaron Wilburn) evokes the Southern Motherland as a mysterious, beckoning spiritual force that rides on the night wind. “I’d Just Be Fool Enough” (Melvin Endsley) is about a man’s desperate struggle with desire and temptation and is also a harmony showpiece. “Weep And Cry” (Charlie Monroe) is a jaunty, old-time no-love-lost ballad. “Big Eight Wheeler” (Billy Henson), another vocal tour de force, is the soulful lament of a long-distance driver who’s homesick, world weary, and just wants to go home. Another standout cut is the tragic “Captain,” penned by Eli Johnston and Cody Shuler. (Mountain Home, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.doylelawson.com.)BA


JOHNNY WILLIAMS, GOING MY WAY

johnny-williamsJOHNNY WILLIAMS
GOING MY WAY

Mountain Road Recordings
MRR-1021

Johnny Williams’ most distinctive work on this, his second solo release on Mountain Road, comes in bunches—three separate bunches. The tracks in between are fine. Those in the bunches stay with you.

At track three, begins the first bunch. You can feel the shift immediately. Where his two opening tunes, both original, are pleasant enough, if somewhat ordinary in design and presentation, “Talking To The Moon,” a pop/country tune from Larry Gatlin, has a fresh melodicism that is instantly engaging. The melody line descends lightly, and Williams swings into it with his buttery and rich vocal style. He follows that by revisiting one of his own songs, “What You Gonna Do.” The drive and the lyrics are a great hook. Up next is the slow country of “Eleven Roses,” a song tailor-made for Williams’ range and delivery.

Skip ahead to track seven, “Dust In The Wind,” a big hit for the rock group Kansas. Williams manages to transform it into a wistful, mountain-tinged ballad while retaining the song’s distinctive conception. Hearing it performed bluegrass-style is one of those “of course” moments. Give Williams credit for recognizing that and for a great performance. A lovely reading of “The Prettiest Flowers” is next. It’s hard to go wrong with an Alfred Brumley gospel and Williams doesn’t.

Nor does he go wrong with the last bunch, his own “Ease My Worried Mind,” which walks the fine line between country and swing, followed by his up-tempo arrangement of “You Live In A World All Your Own.” Both of those send this recording out on solid footing. Backing Williams are his wife Jeanette on bass and vocals, fiddler/vocalist Nicki Williams, mandolinist Chase Johner, and banjoist Jason Davis. (Mountain Roads Recordings, 3192 Hwy. 421, Bristol, TN 37620, www.mountainroadsrecordings.com.)BW


NICK HORNBUCKLE, TWELVE BY TWO (PLUS OR MINUS ONE)

nick-hornbuckleNICK HORNBUCKLE
TWELVE BY TWO (PLUS OR MINUS ONE)

Corvus Records
CR 022           

On 12×2(+/-1), Nick Hornbuckle, Washington State banjo player for John Reischman and the Jaybirds, presents a striking instrumental album showcasing his unique two-finger picking style on a thoughtful selection of mostly traditional tunes. The title refers to twelve tunes, played with two fingers, using two banjos, performed by two musicians, having three people on some and only one person on others.

The banjo pairs seamlessly with the mandolin, fiddle, cello, bass, clawhammer banjo, and even the piano, played in such a way (by Nick himself) that it’s not immediately obvious that it is a piano. The tunes range from up-tempo (“Cumberland Gap,” “Too Young To Marry”), to mournful (“Bell’s March,” “Cold Frosty Morning”), but all resonate with an atmosphere of sparseness that gives the music plenty of room to grow and expand in your ears until it becomes part of the soundtrack of your day.

My personal favorite is the Brad Leftwich tune “Ninety Degrees,” played with bandmate John Reischman (mandolin), for its clever interlocking phrases. The bass and banjo duet “Lost Girl” captures a feeling of longing and mystery, deepened by the dedication “for RL” in the liner notes. Of special note, an occurrence so rare and cool that it deserves recognition: all Nick’s musical partners, with the exception of John, are women.

This is old-time music, to be sure, but thoroughly modern old-time. It is contemplative, the instrumental sounds are beautifully captured, and it will make a superb addition to any traditional music lover’s collection. (Nick Hornbuckle, 7245 118th Ave. SW, Olympia, WA 98512, www.nickhornbuckle.com.)CAH


DONNA HUGHES, FROM THE HEART

donna-hughesDONNA HUGHES
FROM THE HEART

Running Dog Records
RDR-03

Obviously, Donna Hughes has been busy putting pen to paper in the four years since her last album. She is releasing two records this year. One, titled Fly, has eight originals. This one has 19 to go along with covers of the old gospel standard “I’ll Fly Away” and Tom Petty’s “Lucky.”

More than most singer/songwriters, Hughes has a knack for making her songs sound autobiographical. That’s a great plus. Certainly, there are tracks here that don’t do that. Some are written from a perspective that is not the writer, as is definitely the case in one of the more emotional songs on this album, “Dog On A 10 Foot Chain,” which sees the world through a dog’s eyes. “Where The Good Daddies Go,” another emotional tour de force, is in that category, as is “The Red Oak Tree” and the scenes it has witnessed as it stands for years in a graveyard.

Still, she seems to be drawing on her own life more than most. No less than ten tracks here leave you with that feeling. There’s just something personal in the way she sings the love songs “I Love To Be With You,” “I Wanna Grow Old With You,” and “Easy To Love.” They seem to be autobiographical, just as her portrayal of a singer visiting an old woman in “Gone” may be based on her own experience. And the observations expressed in “Wal-Mart Checkout Line” and “Facebook,” humorous as they may be, might reflect her own social commentary.

This could all be conjecture. Maybe she’s just good at playing roles. Either way, Hughes gives us a very good recording—one always well-played, always well-sung, and predominantly masterfully-written. (www.donnahughes.com)BW


CHRIS JONES AND THE NIGHT DRIVERS, LIVE AT THE OLD FEED STORE

CHRIS-JONES-&-NIGHT-DRIVERSCHRIS JONES AND THE NIGHT DRIVERS
LIVE AT THE OLD FEED STORE

GSM Records
103

Here’s a live album that gets it right. Just enough ambiance and crowd involvement so you get the experience. Instruments and voices are in balance so you hear everyone clearly. Introductions are kept to a minimum or on separate tracks so you don’t go nuts after you play it for the tenth time. It’s hard to imagine improving the sound by much. According to the liner notes, the 14 songs were drawn from a two-night stint by the band in Cobden, Ill. That probably means this doesn’t represent a single set. It is, however, a textbook example of how to organize one for a live show.

The album opens and closes as a good set should. You hit them hard and quick to open, in this case with the old classic “Bound To Ride,” and you go out with a roar, here with another classic, a very rapid “Pike County Breakdown.” In between, you draw on past band recordings, songs from other recorded projects, and include a few new songs. Fresh-sounding restatements of “Follow Your Heart Back Home,” “Then I Close My Eyes,” “I’m Ready If You’re Willin’,” “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms,” and “One Door Away,” all from earlier Night Drivers recordings, stand beside “Lonely Town,” a track that Jones sang on bassist Jon Weisberger’s 2008 solo album and beside an engrossing “Battle Of The Bands,” another Weisberger original and another tune Jones recorded earlier, this time for the Civil War trilogy, The 1861 Project. As a vehicle for Jones’ voice and delivery, the slow, lilting country of “Lonely Town” can scarce be bettered. Along with the new Jones original, “Like A Hawk,” which weds a blues verse with a song-style chorus and is as sly as can be, it highlights one of the better live recordings of recent years. (www.chrisjonesgrass.com)BW


LARRY STEPHENSON BAND, PULL YOUR SAVIOR IN

larry-stephensonLARRY STEPHENSON BAND
PULL YOUR SAVIOR IN

Whysper Dream Music
7 4262 9

How appropriate that Larry Stephenson celebrates his 25th year as a bandleader by releasing his fifth all-gospel album. Stephenson always seems to put an extra something into such releases, and this one is no different in that regard. The man definitely has a special feel for gospel music, and it shows throughout this 12-song album that mixes standards such as “How Great Thou Art” and “Great Speckled Bird,” with lesser-known covers such as “Born Again” from the Louvins, along with newer tunes from Rick Stanley/Donna Ulisse, Randall Hylton, and Bill Castle. There is one original. Behind him is most of the same group that helped make his last release, What Really Matters, a success. The one change is the substitution of guitarist Colby Laney in place of Kevin Richardson. Otherwise, it’s still Kenny Ingram on banjo and Danny Stewart on bass.

Interestingly, Stephenson backs the opener “Amazing Grace” not with that group, but with an a cappella quartet of Jimmy Fortune, David Parmley, and Dale Perry. Usually, such guest tracks come at the end of an album, but this one has been designated a feature track, and since it’s so well-done, who’s to quibble? After that, it’s the Larry Stephenson Band in a variety of settings from the straight bluegrass of Lester Flatt’s “Thank God I’m On My Way” and the traditional “Will You Meet Me Over Yonder” to the classic fingerpicked guitar (jauntily played by Ingram) of Hylton’s “If You Want To Live Forever” and to the thoughtful moment-of-enlightenment of Stanley and Ulisse’s “Come To Jesus Moment.” For shear joy, though, it’s hard to beat the above-mentioned standards (along with “Prettiest Flowers Will Be Blooming”). Standards, yes—but for a reason.

Through it all, Stephenson’s emotional tenor vocal cuts straight to the heart of the song and the message. As said above, the man definitely has a special feel for gospel music. (Whysper Dream Music, 1937 Upper Station Camp Creek Rd., Cottontown, TN 37048, www.whysperdream.com.)BW


SONGWRITING STRATEGIES: A 360° APPROACH—BY MARK SIMOS

SONGWRITING STRATEGIES: A 360° APPROACH—BY MARK SIMOS
Berklee Press 978-0-87639-151-8. 210 pp. $22.99.
(Berklee Online, 1140 Boylston St., MS-855 BM, Boston, MA 02215, www.berkleepress.com.)

Now, when someone asks, “Which comes first—the melody or the words?” I can reply: Songwriting Strategies by Mark Simos comes first. That is, if what the question is really asking is, “How do I start a song?” or “Is there something I can do to find a way into a song?”

I am naturally skeptical of any one systematic approach to creativity and, thankfully, so is Mark. He has not written Secrets To Selling A Song, of which there are too many books already. Instead, Mark has taken his years of songwriting, teaching, and playing, and has come up with vantage points or perspectives into a song. He calls this a 360° approach, taking the cardinal points of the compass to stand for rhythm, lyrics, melody, and harmony. He discusses each at length, but the real value of the book lies in how he puts it all together in strategies and exercises for the student, and backs it up with examples and ideas that are unique and challenging.

Mark is well known in the bluegrass community through his songs recorded by Alison Krauss, Laurie Lewis, Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, and others. He also teaches at the Berklee College Of Music and is a crazy-good old-time fiddler. That’s all to say that he knows whereof he speaks. Songwriting is often said to be a craft; this is the toolkit you need to practice that craft. But songwriting is also an ineffable art, and Mark never loses sight of that. Highly recommended for anyone interested in what makes a song tick—and aren’t we all?CVS


BECKY BULLER, ’TWEEN EARTH AND SKY

becky-bullerBECKY BULLER
’TWEEN EARTH AND SKY

Dark Shadow Recordings
114681

   Becky Buller has been a regular on the bluegrass scene for over a decade now, although at times she has flown under the radar. The fact is, however, she’s a triple threat who is finally getting some much-deserved recognition with her new album ’Tween Earth And Sky.

By triple threat, I’m referring to Buller’s gifts as a lovely singer, an excellent fiddler, and  a very good songwriter with songs penned for Ricky Skaggs, Doyle Lawson, Russell Moore, and many others. A Minnesota native who grew up in a musical family, Buller came South to take part in Eastern Tennessee State University’s bluegrass program while getting a degree in public relations. She then toured and recorded with Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike followed by a couple of seasons with Darin & Brooke Aldridge. Produced by Stephen Mougin, who also owns Dark Shadow Recording on which this album was released, the project finds Buller backed by a wonderful array of guest musicians ranging from Tim O’Brien and Sam Bush to Dale Ann Bradley, Amanda Smith, and too many others to list.

Right off the bat, the first song “Nothin’ To You” showcases all three of Buller’s talents with a driving yet sweet sound. It’s one of many wonderful cuts. Other highlights include “Queen Of The Mountain Bootleggers,” the multi-layered a cappella “I Serve A God That Can Raise The Dead,” the delightfully creepy “Didn’t Die,” and the beautiful Civil War song “Amos And Sarah.” Buller also recreates Bill Monroe’s “Southern Flavor” (using the words that Monroe asked DeWayne Mize and Bill Guy to write for the tune), which is sung as a fabulous duet by Buller and Peter Rowan. (www.darkshadowrecording.com)DH


THE KEVIN PRATER BAND, WERE YOU THERE

kevin-praterTHE KEVIN PRATER BAND
WERE YOU THERE

No Label
No Number

This is Prater’s full gospel release with a new band that includes Prater (mandolin, guitar), Tom Timberlake (banjo), Albon Clevenger (fiddle), Cole Spears (guitar), and Danny Stiltner (bass). Prater’s career with such bands as James King and Melvin Goins, as well as influential mentoring by Allen Mills, Dempsey Young, Ralph Stanley, and others, has allowed Prater to play in over 22 countries during his more than thirty-year career.

On this project, Prater has selected a number of gospel favorites spliced in with some lesser-known songs of faith. Included are favorites such as the title “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord,” “Lord Don’t Leave Me Here,” “Shoutin’ On The Hills Of Glory,” “The Model Church,” “When The Sun Of My Life Goes Down,” and the patriotic “Waiting For The Boys To Come Home.” The CD kicks off with Timberlake’s driving banjo on “Honey In The Rock,” which introduces Prater’s nice lead vocal and the group’s tight harmony.

Throughout the project, each instrument provides a solid foundation for the arrangements, with each getting lead spots to take. The two a cappella selections “Lord Don’t Leave Me Here” and “When The Sun Of My Life Goes Down” are reminiscent of the Country Gentlemen. The title cut and “The Model Church” are given the simple arrangement of guitar backing with close harmony. This is a nice project from Prater; unfortunately, there is no booklet, just a one-page info sheet. More information about the players and the songs would have been a nice addition to this well-done project. (Kevin Prater, 15691 Ferrells Creek Rd., Belcher, KY 41513, www.thekevinpraterband.com.)BF


THE CLAIRE LYNCH BAND, HOLIDAY

claire-lynch-christmasTHE CLAIRE LYNCH BAND
HOLIDAY

Compass Records
THR4121

The test of a good Christmas recording is to find yourself able to listen to it when it arrives within a few days of Old Christmas (January 6). Just about any of them will sound good in early December. One that sounds good when your ear has dulled from over-exposure is a keeper. The Christmas CD from the Claire Lynch Band is a keeper. It arrived too late for this season, but the quality of performance is so high and so enchanting, listening to it straight through while taking down the last vestiges of the season was no hardship.

There are ten songs of the season here. About half are standards and the rest more-recent tunes. Among the former are a jumping “Home For The Holidays” with jazz-style electric and archtop guitar leads, finger snaps and fiddle. Lynch’s voice is tailor-made for the song, and her delivery is excellent. That’s followed by a slow, crystalline “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” adding contemporary stylings and touches to a mostly traditional arrangement. Later comes the clawhammer banjo-driven gallop of “Jingle Bells,” followed by a Django-esque rendering of “White Christmas.” The band also gives us a jazz instrumental version of “We Three Kings,” one that recalls in some ways John Coltrane’s cover of “My Favorite Things.” The album closes on a traditional “All Through The Night.”

In amongst them are several newer, lesser-known songs. “Snow Day” is a good-time swing tune on the joys of having nowhere to go when you’re snowbound. “Heaven’s Light” is about the spirit of the season descending on you, while “Scarlet Ribbons” is a miracle song. “In The Window” is a beautiful, traditional Hanukkah song. If this had only been here in early December. But, as with all Christmas wishes, there is always next year. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.)BW


CHRIS COOLE AND IVAN ROSENBERG, RETURN TO TRION

coole-rosenbergCHRIS COOLE AND IVAN ROSENBERG
RETURN TO TRION

Vole-O-Tone
#004

This sophomore release is full of musical adventures from the fearless duo of Coole and Rosenberg from the frozen North Country. You have to keep the music hot in that clime. This Canadian duo is back after their release Farewell To Trion with an even stronger set of material featuring Coole’s wonderful banjo playing and Rosenberg’s delightful resonator guitar mastery. Actually, Coole plays guitar and sings, as well as plays banjo. Rosenberg also plays some resonator banjo and sings.

The music ranges from traditional fare, “Train That Carried My Girl From Town” and “Georgie,” to Robbie Robertson’s “Stage Fright” and the country classic “Fool Such As I.” The arrangements show off the virtuosity of these two great musicians while enhancing each piece. The clarity and rich substance of the material is shown in a new light drawing the listener’s ear to aspects sometimes lost in the rush. “Sail Away Ladies” is based upon the late Tommy Jarrell’s version and is given a mystical treatment that conjures the dark fog of a late evening or the early morning hours just before sunlight. A halting, bluesy rendering of “Bound To Ride” is marked by a world-weary traveler mojo that brings new insight to an old chestnut. Obray Ramsey’s “Rain And Snow” is taken at a sprightly pace. In between the songs are instrumentals that defy categorization as the banjo and resonator guitar romp through the melody into improvised passages that define and expand upon the original theme of each piece.

This is an exceptional recording where two master musicians join to make music beyond the ordinary and way above the average. This splendid set holds up well with their debut project. If you are a fan of great music that doesn’t always follow the rules, look no further. (www.dobroandclaw.com)RCB


WAYNE TAYLOR, MOVIN’ ON

wayne-taylorWAYNE TAYLOR
MOVIN’ ON

Raincoe Music
RM-07012014

A new Wayne Taylor project is always a joy to find in the mailbox. Wayne is a prolific songwriter and this new CD is chock-full of his songs. He’s joined in the studio by Dale Ann Bradley (vocals), Emory Lester (mandolin, guitar), Rickie Simpkins (fiddle), Gaven Largent (resonator guitar), Kene Hyatt (bass), and Keith Arneson (banjo). Selections include the title cut “Movin’ On,” “My Baby’s Love,” “Hills Of Sonora,” “Forgiveness,” “Sing With Me,” “Off My Mind,” and “Havin’ A Ball.” “Red Is The Color” is a tribute to Wayne’s Native-American friend Jim Red Cloud from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and features an introductory prayer by Jim Red Cloud in his native language.

Wayne gives a new run on the old favorites “Old Home Place” and “Dark Hollow,” and he beautifully reprises the traditional folk tune “Scarborough Fair.” “Hills Of Sonora,” with its Southwest feel, and “Havin’ A Ball” about traveling the road are given nice waltz treatments. “Gamblin Man” is about losing it all to the drive of gambling and drinking. “Forgiveness” is the sole gospel tune, and “Sing With Me” is looking for that special person to share with. This is another of Wayne’s great projects sure to please his current fans and get him a whole bunch of new ones. (www.waynetaylorandappaloosa.com)BF