NEW KENTUCKY COLONELS, LIVE IN SWEDEN 1973

KENTUCKY-COLONELS-LIVE-IN-SWEDENNEW KENTUCKY COLONELS
LIVE IN SWEDEN 1973

Roland White Music
No Number

First released on LP and then reissued as a CD by Rounder Records, the original version of Live In Sweden set the bar as one of the finest live bluegrass recordings ever issued. Capturing Clarence and Roland White, backed by their brother Eric and Alan Munde on banjo, this direct tape recording was simply too good not to release, despite its less than studio-level quality. I know I must have listened to the LP and then the CD more than 500 times, and I hear new delights with every spin of the disc.

That’s why this release from Roland and his wife Diane Bouska is such an important moment in the history of the legendary Kentucky Colonels and their impermeable impression on bluegrass music. Recorded during a two-night gig in Stockholm only months before Clarence’s tragic death at the hands of a drunk driver, Live In Sweden showcases one of bluegrass music’s most innovative and influential bands at the absolute peak of their creative powers. “In my opinion, this is the best of Clarence’s playing on record,” says Roland. “I know it was the best music I ever made.”

The original release included just 14 tunes from the bands performances. Here, Roland and Diane have carefully curated the entire tape to add 12 more tunes. These tracks, as Roland notes, highlight Clarence’s always-brilliant flatpicking just as he had departed his stint playing electric guitar with The Byrds. “John Henry,” “Mocking Banjo,” “Old Joe Clark,” and others give those of us who believe Clarence is the greatest bluegrass guitarist of all time amazing new tracks to ponder and analyze. Again and again, Clarence takes his playing to the highest levels, more than matching Roland and Alan note for note and taking flatpicking guitar to a level unheard of in its day.

Paired with another recent release of the same band on its 1973 European tour with Herb Pedersen on banjo, this new release gives fans of The Colonels an inside look at what made this band so unique and legendary. Roland, perhaps the least appreciated innovator in bluegrass mandolin history, fills his solos with fire and passion. And the instinctive vocal interplay between Roland and Clarence shows not only what a great vocalist Roland has always been, it showcases younger brother Clarence truly coming into his own as a lead singer for the band on tunes like “Take A Whiff” and “Last Thing On My Mind.”

It would have been all too easy for time to have forgotten The Colonels, diminishing their influence and contemporary relevance. But fortunately, we have new releases like Live In Sweden 1973 to remind us that this band pioneered so many of the sounds and thrilling solos that helped shape bluegrass music as we love it today. (www.rolandwhite.com)DJM


TRAVERS CHANDLER, ARCHAIC

TRAVERS-CHANLDERTRAVERS CHANDLER
ARCHAIC

Patuxent Music
CD-262

Travers Chandler’s 2010 Patuxent Music debut roared out of the gate, filling the air with a hard-edged sound, some very-fine old style mandolin work and intense, emotional singing to match the intense, emotional stories his song selection told. It was instantly engrossing and instantly likeable for anyone with a penchant for the earthy, bluesy bluegrass and country of fifty and sixty years ago. His return recording, while following in many of the same grooves that define his approach and sound, takes a little longer to grab hold. It will, if you let it, though even then perhaps not in the same way or with the same finality.

Why that is, I think, is that Chandler seems to have focused on certain aspects of his style—the hard-edged singing at one volume all through a song, for example—rather than maintaining the broader reach of his debut. That limiting of focus extends here to his song selection. While several of the songs are very good choices and rendered exceptionally well, others, though rendered equally well, seem to have a sameness or ordinariness about them. “In The Shadow Of A Lie,” a slow, classic country tale of death and cheating and regret, certainly shines here, as does the 3/4 country “The Many Faces Of Charles Edward Brown” in which the ups and downs of a man’s tragic life are reflected in his face. Bill Harrell and Charlie Moore’s “High Society” provides a tuneful variant to most of what’s programmed here and is a plus. “Mother Knows Best” and “Red Rover,” one tragic, the other comic, along with jazzman Jimmie Lunceford’s instrumental “Uptown Blues,” are also very good. Merle Haggard’s “Rambling Fever,” is a good song, but doesn’t quite work with Chandler’s approach.

A little more variety would have made this good, well-played, well-sung record the near-equal of the debut. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)BW


CLAIRE LYNCH, NORTH BY SOUTH

CLAIRE-LYNCHCLAIRE LYNCH
NORTH BY SOUTH

Compass Records
7-4671-2

Veteran Claire Lynch, her producer Alison Brown, and the illustrious team of collaborators they’ve gathered here have really hit the high watermark on this fantastic ten-song collection. As a singer, Lynch, a three-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, has never sounded so compelling, so dazzling, and so finely nuanced, whether she’s exploring the bright hues of hopefulness, resolve and contentment or the darker shades of frailty, restlessness and despair.

North By South is, in a sense, a conceptual album. Lynch wrote one of these songs (the quirky love ballad “Milo”), but hand-picked the rest from Canadian writers, none of whom, save for Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Coburn, are household names here in the States. Her 2014 marriage to a Canadian man inspired her to explore, in her own words, “a community of songwriters that hadn’t been on my radar.” And what an exquisite bunch of north-of-the-border songs these are. For instance, there’s “Cold Hearted Wind,” the haunting opening track penned by Ron Sexsmith. No less moving are the tragic seafaring ballad “Molly May,” written by J.P. and Gervais Cormier, the lilting “Andrew’s Waltz” (Willie P. Bennett), and Lynn Miles’ mournful “Black Flowers.”

Lynch and her stalwart three-piece band are backed on various tracks by an array of illustrious instrumental guests including Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Bela Fleck, David Grier, Mark Schatz, and Kenny Malone. They take some soaring, adventurous instrumental rides on free-wheeling tracks like “Milo” and David Francey’s “Empty Train.” (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.)BA


IVAN ROSENBERG, THE LITTLEST DOBRO

IVAN-ROSENBERGIVAN ROSENBERG
THE LITTLEST DOBRO

Slosh-Tone
8807

If IBMA had an award for cutest and most original cover design, Ivan Rosenberg should start preparing his acceptance speech now. The clay model figurines of the musicians (and Rosenberg’s instrument of choice, the resonator guitar) are brilliant, and even more impressive upon finding they were the creations of Rosenberg himself.

Fortunately, the charms of this ten-track CD don’t stop once the music starts playing. A collection of Rosenberg’s original bluegrass tunes, they display a musical inspiration that draws from the pioneers of his instrument, but also manage to bring in elements from beyond. He is supported here by the Slocan Ramblers, augmented by fiddlers Annie Staninec and John Kael.

The result plays like a tight ensemble recording, with all members getting generous amounts of featured time. Banjoist Frank Evans emerges as a standout, deftly switching back and forth from bluegrass banjo to clawhammer style, and connecting the dots between the disparate musical traditions that inspire the klezmer-influenced “Clinch Mountain Bar Mitzvah.” Bassist Alistair Whitehead gets a chance to add a low-end wrinkle on the arrangement of the album’s opening track “Z Clampett,” while the stately tune called “The Pearloid Gates” sounds like something with which Bashful Brother Oswald Kirby might have serenaded Roy Acuff. The lovely “New Year’s Waltz” also effectively showcases the gentler side of the instrument.

However, most of the recording features relatively straight-ahead tunes with twists in the timing, as well as in the titles, as in “Aardvarked” and “Old Vatseznoots.” More than just a compositional showcase, however, The Littlest Dobro is a long overdue chance for Rosenberg to have his fine musicianship on display for a broader audience. Originally a West Coast player who served an early stint with Chris Stuart & Backcountry before moving to his current home in Ontario, Canada, he is most deserving of being heard both as a composer and a resonator guitarist. (www.ivanrosenberg.com)HK


JEFF SCROGGINS AND COLORADO

Jeff-Scroggins-and-ColoradoJEFF SCROGGINS AND COLORADO
RAMBLIN FEELS GOOD

No Label
No Number

Ramblin Feels Good is the third release from Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, a high-energy band that hails from, well, you know. The band’s recorded sound is built around the triumvirate of its namesake’s fiery and flashy banjo picking, as well as the equally hot licks coming from his twenty-year-old son and mandolinist Tristan Scroggins and guitarist Greg Blake.

Despite the virtuosic playing, the album presents the band as a song-oriented one, with Blake’s barrel-chested vocals doing a very effective job of selling a nicely varied repertoire. Despite the fact that the only band originals are the CD’s two instrumentals, composed by father (“Dismal Nitch”) and son (“Lemonade In The Shade”), they’ve managed to compile an interesting array of songs that are, for the most part, not overdone. It helps that they take care in polishing arrangements both vocally and harmonically, so that numbers such as Walt Aldridge’s “She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind” and Willie Nelson’s “I’m A Memory” present the band as a tight, original, and interesting unit.

They also pull in some less overdone classics like Hylo Brown’s “Down The Road Of Life” and Reno & Smiley’s “Wall Around Your Heart,” which helps offset the inclusion of the workhorse “Love Please Come Home.” They mine popular music for a solid, if unspectacular, version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway,” but prove to be more effective on an interesting version of Jimmy Webb’s by way of Glen Campbell’s (or vice versa) “Galveston,” with some tasteful bowed bass adding a nice texture to their rendition.

Jeff Scroggins and Colorado is currently a quintet, but for this recording, they brought in some very talented “ringers” in the form of fiddler Andy Leftwich, bassist Mark Schatz, and Don Rigsby and David Peterson as harmony singers. While it may not represent the entirety of the band as it currently exists, it certainly does make for a very tasty recording, with the younger Scroggins and Leftwich stretching out on an extended outro to the album’s closing track. Ramblin Feels Good is a fine combination of distinctive songs and deft musicianship which should help the band expand its fan base far beyond the Centennial State. (www.jeffscrogginsandcolorado.com)HK


ADAM STEFFEY, HERE TO STAY

ADAM-STEFFEYADAM STEFFEY
HERE TO STAY

Mountain Home
MH16622

Adam Steffey’s latest is more Boxcars than his last recording. That recording, Future Primitive, explored the boundaries of old-time and bluegrass, using predominantly traditional fiddle tunes. This recording returns him to a more conventional release. It needs to be said, however, so as not to mislead, that the sound of this recording is not that of a Boxcars album. Only fiddler Ron Stewart joins Steffey for this project. The rest of the members include bassist Barry Bales, banjoist Jason Davis, and guitarist Aaron Ramsey. Tim Surrett joins on harmony vocals, and Steffey’s wife, Tina, contributes a track of clawhammer banjo. The resulting sound is different from The Boxcars, but certainly more in line with their blend of contemporary and traditional styles than the updated old-time sound of Future Primitive.

Only two tracks here recall Future Primitive. “Hell Among The Yearlings,” featuring just mandolin and clawhammer, and, to a lesser extent, the closing instrumental arrangement of “Come Thou Fount,” on which Steffey’s mandolin weaves with what sounds like a mandocello. Both are welcome tracks.

Beyond those can be found a mix of straight bluegrass, Western Swing, country, and contemporary songwriting. The best include the excellent cover of “Dear John,” followed by the unmistakable songwriting sound of Eric Gibson’s light and tuneful “The Space I’m In.” Steffey’s baritone is well-suited to both, playfully sly on the former, pensive on the latter. He follows those with an original instrumental, “Pitching Wedge,” chock-full of unexpected register shifts and twists of melody. The country swing/shuffle of “Town That Never Sleeps” is perfect for Steffey’s vocals. Later comes a cover of Wills and Duncan’s instrumental version of “Little Liza Jane” and a song of a sentiment most of us can understand, “Cloudy Days.”

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which way Steffey takes his music. The result is the same. Very good music. (Crossroads Distribution, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com.)BW


ZINK AND COMPANY, III

Zink-&-CoZINK AND COMPANY
III

No Label
No Number

Zink & Company is one of those bands that you find dotting the map throughout the country—good, solid bands that know their way around the music and have built a strong following, perhaps even on a regional or semi-national level. They’re not going to stun a listener with amazing displays of technical ability, either vocally or instrumentally. What they will do is please. They’ll choose (and often write) good songs with good melodies and heartfelt lyrics. Then, they’ll play them in a tuneful, down-to-earth style that will get those songs across as direct as possible.

This is Zink & Company’s third recording, and all of the above applies. They offer up 12 songs. Corey Zink, the band leader and the possessor of a wonderful low, sometimes edgy, sometimes warm and buzzy, baritone lead voice, wrote five of them. Among them are the maudlin ode to a lost love, “Lonesome Your Gone,” the slow memory song, “Sweet Perfume,” and a song he wrote for his son, “The Best Of Her.” In each case, the words have an honest, unadorned quality and the tunes are almost instantly likeable. That is no mean feat.

Surrounding them are several classics. “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor” everyone knows. Here, as Zink mentions in his liner notes, the feel is of the Country Gentlemen. Bassist Keith Edwards takes the lead. Also in that class is “Wild Mountain Flowers,” a tribute to the Lost & Found, with guest appearance from Allen Mills. Then there’s “Teach Your Children Well,” sung here in a softer, lower pitch that takes away the unnecessary angst of the original. Also of note is the fine pulse of Mike O’Reilly’s “Blue Motel Room #9,” the Gus Kahn jazz instrumental “Goofus” and, most especially, the country hit of long ago “You’re My Best Friend.” You will be pleased. (www.zinkandco.com)BW


BLUE HIGHWAY, ORIGINAL TRADITIONAL

BLUE-HIGHWAYBLUE HIGHWAY
ORIGINAL TRADITIONAL

Rounder Records
1166100108

During its remarkable two-decade-plus career, Blue Highway has steered a steady course of melding vital originality with a sturdy devotion to tradition. The title of the band’s 11th album attests to this vision.

This time around, the band’s members raised the bar by challenging themselves to deliver new original material (all the songs save for one were written or co-written by BH’s five members) while hewing rigorously to a stark traditional setting. The musicianship throughout is first-rate—not that we’d expect anything less from this incredible ensemble, which features three strong lead singers.

The songs, nearly each and every one, are not only artful and soulful, but sound as if they were lifted directly from some mythical rural songbook of old. Quite a few, including singer/bass player Wayne Taylor’s “The Story Of My Life,” “Don’t Weep For Me” (co-written by vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lane) and the sardonic “Wilkes County Clay” (co-written by singer/guitarist Tim Stafford) echo with eerie antediluvian fatalism and tragedy. On the gentler and more bucolic side are Taylor’s allegorical “Water From The Stone,” Lane’s vividly nostalgic “A Long Row To Hoe,” and the spiritual celebration “Top Of The Ridge,” co-written by Lane and Gerald Ellenburg. Perhaps the most stirring track of all is the lone non-original track. On the oft-recorded gospel ode “Hallelujah,” we get a delightful a cappella sampling of Blue Highway’s remarkable harmony prowess. (Rounder Records/Concord Music Group Inc., 100 N. Crescent Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, www.rounder.com.)BA