FOLK MUSIC IN OVERDRIVE

Folk-music-in-overdriveFOLK MUSIC IN OVERDRIVE: A PRIMER ON TRADITIONAL COUNTRY AND BLUEGRASS ARTISTS—BY IVAN M. TRIBE—Univ. of Tenn. Press 9781621903970. Charles K. Wolfe Music Series, 392 pp., $29.95. (Univ. of Tenn. Press, 110 Conference Center, 600 Henley St., Knoxville, TN 37996, www.utpress.org.)

The phrase “essential reading” might be overused these days, but this book deserves that description. Comprising 39 articles (32 from Bluegrass Unlimited) written by Ivan M. Tribe—a prolific and respected scholar and author—this addition to the Charles K. Wolfe Music Series by the University of Tennessee Press fills a need for a nuanced telling of the early days of bluegrass and country music.

I might not have chosen the word “primer” in the title. That implies a kind of comprehensive, but cursory approach. The sum effect of these profiles is, rather, a clarification and broadening of the usual story. You won’t find an article on Bill Monroe, but you will find engaging ones on Charlie Monroe and Clyde Moody. It’s also a fun read, one you can dip into at random, to savor the stories and enjoy Ivan’s deft way of connecting and contrasting the personalities and eras. The author revised and updated all the articles for this book, a task one can only marvel at.

I particularly enjoyed his introductions to the five major sections, a listing of which will give you an idea of the book’s scope: “Leaders, Solo Singers, and Composers”; “Sidemen”; “Husband-Wife Duets”; “Brother Duets”; and “Families and Groups.” The production is of the highest quality with photos, a suggested reading section, index of names, and a listing of selected recordings at the end of each article.

The book’s title comes from Alan Lomax’s definition in 1959 of bluegrass music as “folk music in overdrive.” I suppose today Lomax might have described it as “fast and furious.” Tribe’s approach to defining the music is, thankfully, broader and deeper. He shows how bluegrass and country music danced together and apart over decades. It’s a fascinating story, and he tells it well. Essential reading.CVS


CLAYBANK

CLAYBANKCLAYBANK
NO ESCAPE

Mountain Fever
MFR180427

Clean, fresh, hard-driving, traditional, great harmony, strong writing—all of these descriptions come to mind when hearing No Escape, the latest release from Claybank. Veteran bassist Gary Trivette has thrown in up-and-coming youngster Tyler Thompson (banjo) and two teenagers, Zack Arnold (mandolin) and Jacob Greer (guitar), and the result is flat-out fantastic bluegrass.

Bandmembers combined to write seven of the twelve songs, and there are no weak links in the chain. Those who love traditional bluegrass will love the mix of hard-driving, banjo-centric tunes, a good old killing song with justice, love lost, an instrumental, and an a cappella gospel number.

The album kicks off with “Queen Of Carolina,” which sounds like a radio hit, and then follows that with the title-track. Then, the listener is locked in through “Drown This Town,” “Follow This Lonesome Wind,” “Shingletown,” “Poor Lillie,” and “I’ll Wear A White Robe.” There is simply no letdown track.

The band takes its name from a street in Ashe County, North Carolina, where they first turned heads in weekly jams. Claybank’s only problem may be that they’ve set a high bar for future projects. It’s obvious how this group won band competitions at Union Grove and RenoFest and placed in the top three at SPBGMA since their formation. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)MKB


NORTH COUNTRY

NORTH-COUNTRYNORTH COUNTRY
LONELY TONIGHT

No Label
No Number

North Country, one of the best-known bluegrass bands from the Northwest, has released a second project after some changes to the band’s lineup. Lonely Tonightfeatures a mix of originals mostly penned by bandmembers, as well as a couple of tunes from well-known performers to give a mix of traditional and progressive bluegrass sounds.

“Rain In Durango,” previously from Shawn Camp, Guy Clark, and Ray Stevenson, as well as a song best-known from IIIrd Tyme Out, “Hard Rock Mountain Prison,” are standouts. James Taylor’s “Riding On A Railroad” is a nice take, and the hardest driving cut on the CD is “Crazy Train,” which some may recall from Ronnie Bowman.

North Country consists of Zach Top on vocals, mandolin, and guitar; Norm Olsen on vocals and guitar; Will McSeveney on banjo; Kent Powell on vocals and guitar; and Michael Kilby on fiddle and resonator guitar. Top has several writing credits on the album, including the title song, as doesMcSeveney. (www.northcountrybluegrass.com)MKB


THE VOGTS SISTERS

VOGTS-SISTERSTHE VOGTS SISTERS
BROKEN TIES

No Label
No Number

This is a really nice project from sisters Abigail (guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Maggie (guitar, fiddle, vocals). The album of original material is produced simply with just the two ladies playing instruments and swapping lead and harmony vocals.

Maggie composed most of the tunes and Abigail contributed one (“Sorry Side”). Maggie’s songs include “Jericho,” “Dreaming Ways,” “Prove Me Wrong,” “Dixie Bride,” “Rosanna,” “In The Valley,” and “Antietam.” The songs reflect a period of growth the pair has experienced in the past few years since their previous recording. That growth includes joy, sorrow, loss of love, loss of home, and loss of innocence, but also includes a gain in experience and maturity from those circumstances and how they adjusted to life’s changes.

The interplay between the sisters makes this an easy CD to listen to, both vocally and instrumentally with uncluttered two- or three-instrument arrangements. The Vogts Sisters have produced a nice effort with good songs and a simple approach to the music. (Vogts Sisters, P.O. Box 232, Erie, KS 66733, www.vogtssisters.com.)BF


THE PRICE SISTERS

PRICE-SISTERSTHE PRICE SISTERS
A HEART NEVER KNOWS

Rebel Records
CD-1868

   Bluegrass and old-time country has a lengthy history of famous brother duos. Whether named Louvin, Stanley, Osborne, Monroe, or McReynolds, the sound of two siblings singing close harmony defines a great part of what makes bluegrass so unique and compelling. The sound is so distinctive, it carried far beyond the walls of time to influence singing styles of more modern artists ranging from the Everly Brothers and The Beatles, to modern stars such as Gillian Welch & David Rawlings and the Milk Carton Kids.

Oddly, there’s been less of an impact by sister/female harmony acts in traditional bluegrass and country. The Whites and the Carters certainly come to mind, but it never became a hot style in bluegrass. Into that void steps Leanna and Lauren Price, twin sisters from Monroe County, Ohio, an area steeped in traditional bluegrass and lore. Backed by a group of seasoned pros including Charlie Cushman, Bryan Sutton, Mike Bub, and others, A Heart Never Knowsthreads the needle of great taste and polished musical skills without ever losing focus on the talents of the two stars here.

Lauren is a gifted interpreter of straight-from-the-still Monroe-style bluegrass mandolin. A powerful and dynamic player, she was invited to teach at a recent iteration of mandolin master Mike Compton’s annual Monroe Mandolin Camp. It’s clear from this recording she deserves to be recognized as an emerging star in this highly demanding mandolin style. Working with top mandolin pros Scott Napier and the legendary Bobby Osborne as mentors has given her a well of inspiration to draw upon as she matures as a musician.

Leanna (the shorter of the sisters) loves the traditional sounds of Kenny Baker, whom she enthusiastically cites as her favorite bluegrass fiddler. She brings a clear, steady alto voice when taking lead on “You’ve Been A Friend To Me,” “Remembrance Is A Golden Chain,” and the title track. Lauren’s voice has a bit more vibrato and sounds a bit darker, making their blend richer and fuller for the differences between their timbres. When their voices truly sync, such as on the gorgeous rendition of “If I’m Going To Be Lonely” by Shawn Camp and Paul Craft, the Price sisters create a wonderful vocal sound that harks back to the golden age of country harmony. As to be expected from young musicians still growing and developing their craft, not every vocal line is perfectly delivered and their harmonies wander from time to time.

While the harmonies drive this band, both women are excellent instrumentalists. Their lively, sparkling rendition of Monroe’s little-known “The Lee Wedding Tune” shows how deeply both have studied the styles of their mentors and inspirations.

This fine follow-up to 2016’s self-titled EP (produced by Bil VornDick) captures two gifted young musicians as they mature and begin finding a truly unique and individual sound. This is a strong first full-length album from two musicians who have a bright future ahead. So, in this case, The Prices are most definitely right. (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906, www.rebelrecords.com.)DJM


DRY BRANCH FIRE SQUAD

DRY-BRANCH-FIRE-SQUADDRY BRANCH FIRE SQUAD
TEARIN’ OUTTA THE WILDERNESS

No Label
No Number

Dry Branch Fire Squad has been around so long, they need little in the way of introduction. Fans who have been waiting for the next release will surely be happy with Tearin’ Outta The Wilderness, and newcomers will find plenty to like as well. The band delivers plenty on this 15-song effort, offering tight harmonies, an instrumental, some humor, some old-time, and a classic or two.

“Walk The Streets Of Glory” showcases the band’s ability to go out without accompaniment, and they close the project out with the same song done “raw,” according to the much-appreciated, fine liner notes. The title-cut is a brisk instrumental, but one of the jewels has to be “When Malindy Sings,” a nice old-time jaunt. Their take on “Rock, Salt, And Nails” is a winner, as is Charlie Daniels’ “Old Slewfoot.”

Dry Branch Fire Squad is composed of Tom Boyd(banjo/resonator guitar), Jeff Byrd (bass), Adam McIntosh (guitar), and Ron Thomason (mandolin/clawhammer banjo/hambone). Heidi Clare takes a turn on fiddle as a guest musician. (Dry Branch Fire Squad, P.O. Box 404,Cotopaxi, CO 81223, www.drybranchfiresquad.com.)MKB


BUDDY GREENE

BUDDY-GREENEBUDDY GREENE
LOOKING BACK

Rufus Music
RMCD195320

Consider this: Buddy Greene, 40-plus years in music, 20 albums, and a list of contributors that includes Ron Block, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Aubrey Haynie, Bryan Sutton, Del McCoury, a couple of Isaacs, and a host of other musical standouts too numerous to list. Oh, and keep in mind, Doc Watson and Jerry Reed were big influences. Where do you think Greene’s new CD, Looking Back, is headed?

Although Greene has new material, this project is certainly a lyrical memoir of his time in the music business. He traces lows and highs in his life, and very much of his work has a spiritual bent. There are old songs, new takes on old songs, a little country, a little bluegrass, a little blues, and a little funk. Not to be overlooked is the outstanding work on the liner notes, a sadly overlooked item in today’s download-heavy music world. Greene gives a select set of backstories that makes the music even more enjoyable.

There are 18 cuts and only a small amount of space to cover them. Longtime fans will surely contend over which pieces are best, but from this viewpoint, “Brand New Day,” “Southern Skies,” “Jesus Gonna Make It Alright,” “Real Love,” “Look Up, Look Down That Lonesome Road,” “Green Tree,” and “I Belong To The Band” are among the best. The great thing is that with so much to pick from, favorites can change daily. High expectations are met on this fine album. (Buddy Greene, P.O. Box 3687, Brentwood, TN 37024, www.buddygreene.com.)MKB


BALSAM RANGE

BALSAM-RANGEBALSAM RANGE
MOUNTAIN OVERTURE

Mountain Home
MH17162

Eleven years, a half-dozen albums and two IBMA Awards into its stellar career, this acclaimed North Carolina-based five-piece band has come up with an adventurous alternative to the standard Greatest Hitsalbum.

Balsam Range (which in 2014 won both the IBMA’s Entertainer Of The Year and Vocal Group Of The Year) has enlisted the ten-piece Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble to underpin their vivid and emotional instrumental drive and flawless harmonies with lush yet subtle violin, viola, cello, bass, flute, oboe, English horn, French horn, trumpet, trombone, and percussive flourishes. Though this approach might seem unorthodox to some, the proof of its success is in the final mix. More often than not, all the orchestral sweeteners enhance rather than water down Balsam Range’s irresistible intensity.

The song choices (drawn from the band’s studio albums) are impeccable showcases for their deft stylistic range, top-notch musicianship, and soaring harmonies—qualities that lend themselves well to these “uptown” embellishments. There is a pair of deeply moving Civil War ballads: “From A Georgia Battlefield” (written by Rebecca J. Peck) and “Burning Georgia Down” (Milan Miller and Mark Bumgarner). And there’s the Carl Jackson/Marc Pruett/Jerry Salley-penned gem “Any Old Road (Will Take You There).” Add to that a top-notch love ballad called “Blue Mountain” (Connie Harrington), an obscure John Denver-penned inspirational parable called “Matthew,” and the bittersweet “Last Train To Kitty Hawk” (James A. Ellis and Steve Dukes). “Jack Diamond” (penned by bandmember Caleb Smith) is a gritty Wild West ballad that has all the high-plains revenge and melodrama of a Clint Eastwood classic condensed into three and a half-minutes of verse and chorus.

All in all, Mountain Overture, with its shades of Aaron Copeland, is just the sort of imaginative and adventurous outing we’ve come to expect from groundbreakers like Balsam Range. (Mountain Home Music Co., P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com.)BA


BRENNEN ERNST

BRENNEN-ERNSTBRENNEN ERNST
HAD A BIG TIME TODAY

Patuxent Music
CD-307

There was a time when a lot of bluegrass music was this good. The banjo rolls, the busy backup fiddle, the great vocals, and a wide range of material from many sources. The pulling in of traditional nuances, putting that edgy swing into the old, and that something old into new material makes a magic that  resonates with a refreshing verve. Starting off with a fine old number from Arthur Smith and Alton Delmore, “I’ve Had A Big Time Today,” then running through a medley of banjo tunes that are classic and old-school, this project simply oozes brilliance in execution and taste.

Having Billy C. Hurt, Jr., on fiddle is good, but when you team him up with Corrina Rose Logston and Casey Driscoll, it’s akin to pulling some of Monroe’s fine fiddle ensembles back from the other side. The fiddling here is the kind of stuff that dreams are made of. But Ernst is a banjo player, and his abilities on that instrument are head-turning. He can take on Monroe’s “Ashland Breakdown” with melodic aplomb or play Don Reno as few can. He’s also equally comfortable on guitar, as the “Flatpicking Medley” demonstrates so well.

It’s fun hearing Jeremy Stephens and wife Corrina Rose show off their considerable vocal chops as they fly through the challenging “Golden Rocket,” never stumbling on the tongue-twisting lyrics. Then there’s the old swing classic “Indiana.” Ernst plays it on the banjo very well, but it really starts swinging when the triple fiddles kick in.

There are 14 tracks here and not a clunker in the lot. The cast of characters on this project is extensive and too numerous to mention them all. When you consider that Ernst and a good many of the musical cohorts here are young masters, it’s tantalizing to think what they may be up to in the future. If you like the music that was, here are some young folks making it like they did in those times. This one’s a keeper. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)RCB


FLASHBACK

FLASHBACKFLASHBACK
DENVER SNOW

Pinecastle Records
PRC 1214

Flashbackwas a J.D. Crowe & The New South release from 1994 which featured Richard Bennett, Don Rigsby, Curt Chapman, Randy Howard, and J.D. This album, along with its predecessor Foxhounds & Fiddlesfrom 2017, features Bennett, Rigsby, Chapman, and banjoist Stuart Wyrick and is an offshoot of a recent reunion tour of the 1994 band that had J.D. coming out of retirement temporarily.

Although Crowe is not among those present for these proceedings, the New South sound is definitely in evidence. Bennett (whose fine guitar work almost sounds more like Tony than Tony ever did), Rigsby, and Chapman form a solid core, both instrumentally and vocally, and Wyrick’s banjo work seems the perfect replacement for J.D. There are one or two spots that cause a bit of brow-furrowing, with some oddly strained vocals or harmony that doesn’t quite jell, but overall this is a first-rate release. Rigsby and Bennett’s “A Rose (From Time To Time)” is a fine original with great harmony and instrumental breaks all around. “The Letter” from Rigsby and Dave Adkins is a beautiful slow emotional ballad which gets excellent treatment. Other highlights include “Denver Snow” (from Bennett and Shawn Lane), James Taylor’s “One Morning In May,” a really nice job on “Take This Hammer,” “I’ll Be True To The One I Love,” and Rigsby’s “We Might Get A Little Loud,” and a stellar version of the New South classic “Born To Be With You.”

If you’re looking for powerful rock-solid bluegrass with a progressive bent to it in the spirit of the New South, you’d probably have to look long and hard to find anything that equals Flashback’s current release. (Pinecastle Records, 2514 River Rd., Ste. 105, Piedmont, SC 29673, www.pinecastlemusic.com.)AW