yonder-mtn-stringbandYONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND

Frog Pad Records

Yonder Mountain String Band founding members Adam Aijala (guitar), Dave Johnston (banjo), and Ben Kaufmann (bass) brought Jacob Jolliff (mandolin) and Allie Kral (fiddle) on board a few years ago to reconfigure the band as a traditional bluegrass instrumental five-piece. But what this Colorado-based band brings to the studio and stage is anything but traditional. With the new band make-up, the progressive bluegrass quintet began to get their feet wet with 2015’s Black Sheepand the numerous dates on the road playing together helped to solidify the sound for this latest release.

Produced by YMSB along with John McVey, this 13-track disc is plush with tight instrumentals and energetic songs. Aijala, Johnston, and Kaufmann wrote most of the tunes on the 13-track disc. “When we were first starting, our creativity was rooted in rebelliousness,” says Kaufmann. “Now, there’s a greater conscious awareness and attention to detail that we’re bringing to our writing and recording. Our nature and instincts remain progressive. We’re just doing it in a way that’s sharper, more musical, and way more satisfying.”

A mixture of genres blends together for the mandolin stomper “Bad Taste” to the banjo song “Kobe The Dog,” the most traditional piece of the record. YMSB delights fans with their slow, sensuous version of the cover song “Dancing In The Moonlight,” and the band rounds out its musical excursion with the breezy-getaway reggae tune “Groovin’ Away.” (Frog Pad Records, 2425 Balsam Dr., Boulder, CO 80304, www.yondermountain.com.)BC



Dark Shadow Recording

   The first thing you need to know is that there’s plenty to love on Becky Buller’s latest album besides the classic bluegrass gospel “Written In The Back Of The Book” and the driving “Speakin’ To That Mountain.” Buller is riding a wave that has taken her to the top of the bluegrass world in recent years. She was the 2015 IBMA Songwriter Of The Year and followed that by winning the 2016 IBMA Female Vocalist Of The Year and Fiddle Player Of The Year. This album offers assurance that she’ll likely be on the stage again in 2018.

Buller wrote or co-wrote 11 songs on the effort, except the bonus track “Phoenix Arise.” In addition to her top-shelf vocals, the album offers contributions from Sam Bush, Rhonda Vincent, Claire Lynch, Frank Solivan, Rob Ickes, and Ned Luberecki, among others.

As expected, there are simply no weak links in this compilation. There is storytelling in “John D. Champion,” soul in “Heart Of The House,” a bouncing instrumental in “Cair Paravel,” and just about everything in between. Crepe Paper Heartwill surely give repeat buttons a workout on players across the country. (www.darkshadowrecording.com)MKB



Redbud Recordings

Ken Perlman is a master banjo player. A long time ago, he looked at the banjo and the perceived limitations of the instrument and proceeded to take clawhammer banjo to places no one else has gone with as much success. The famous bum-ditty rhythm of the most basic style is not to be found here. What we do find is a master in his long pursuit of the music of Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island, playing tunes once thought unplayable on the clawhammer banjo. Historians have noted that one of the most significant differences between music of the North and South is that fiddle tunes were adjusted for the rhythm of the banjo in the South. Well, now the banjo has been changed for the rhythm of the fiddle.

Using a great deal of dropthumb and many sophisticated noting hand techniques, Perlman captures the idiosyncratic melodic and ornamentations of these Canadian styles. So much so that Janine Randall, his piano accompanists says, “I’m used to accompanying prominent Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island fiddlers, but I never miss having a fiddler around when I play with Ken Perlman. Ken seamlessly plays marches, jigs, strathspeys, and reels in the PEI and Scottish Cape Breton style on a banjo that incurs all the rhythms and grace notes of a seasoned master fiddler.”

Perlman is also accompanied by Jim Pendergast on guitar. On one of those tracks, “Dallas Rag,” Perlman takes another timing challenge and sets the record straight by playing the rag in two keys proving that, although the rag timing is counter to the traditional bum-ditty, it can be done and it’s a masterful performance. The only Appalachian tune here is “Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase” with its own unique timing challenges. If you think you know clawhammer banjo and it all sounds the same, think again. (www.kenperlman.com)RCB



No Label
No Number

Nefesh Mountain’s second album, Beneath The Open Sky, puts on an all-out assault on the senses from the get-go. First, the cover art seems to be a mix of the 1960s rock scene meeting the folk scene. Then, when the CD starts to play, it comes out straight, traditional bluegrass with a slight twist: but what is it?

A quick trip to the husband and wife duo (Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff), the listener will discover that Nefesh Mountain is a pioneer of a sound “where bluegrass and old-time music meet with Jewish heritage and tradition.” The result is incredibly fresh, tight, and addictive all at once.

“Bound For The Promised Land” opens the album with a punch, followed by “I Want To Hear Somebody Pray.” Both offer distinct, powerful voices and hard-driving instrumentation. The listener doesn’t get a break until “The Narrow Bridge,” a sweet tune featuring lead vocals from Zasloff. Along the way, there are tunes that lean more toward old-time, with guest instrumental backing from Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Tony Trischka, and David Grier, in addition to their touring band members Alan Grubner (fiddle) and Tim Kiah (bass). There’s even a tune sung mostly in Hebrew (“Oseh Shalom”).

Traditional bluegrass fans won’t want to miss this one, but it covers a lot of bases that make it appealing to all segments of the music. (www.nefeshmountain.com)MKB



Mountain Home

With its fourth album, this six-man “Carolina-style-grass” band of super pickers once again displays its flair for seamless instrumental prowess, exemplary song choices, soulful singing and overall nonpareil musicianship.

Front And Centerkicks off with “Thunder Dan” (written by Josh Manning), a bruising, tongue-in-cheek story-song about a mythical mountain man so ornery and hard-bitten that he even kills a preacher who tries to change his evil ways. Sideline works out in a more laconic and tender groove with exquisite renderings of the Gordon Lightfoot classic “Song For A Winter’s Night,” Dudley Connell’s mournful “Memories That We Shared” and “Something Out Of Nothing,” an outstanding ballad of world-weary heartbreak penned by Louanne Welcome and John Morreau. Just as moving is “Frozen In Time” (Mark “Brink” Brinkman) which painfully reminds us that our memories are often the only piece of the past we can ultimately hold on to.

Back on the darker and more spooky side are a pair of angst-ridden, semi-fatalistic odes: a murder ballad called “All Because Of Me” (Darrell Webb and Lemuel Curry) and the haunting “Satan’s Chains” (Carl V. Goodman). There’s not a cut on this 12-song selection that doesn’t deserve similar praise. All in all, Sideline’s music, particularly its instrumental work, is as powerful as a 400-horsepower John Deere tractor and as precise as a $3,000 wristwatch.

It’s only now and then that all the power and precision threatens to slightly overshadow the rustic charm and emotion of the vocals and the songs themselves. (Mountain Home, P.O. Box829, Arden, NC 28704, www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com)BA



Luk Records
Luk 100

Run Awayis Rebekah Long’s new solo album and highlights why she’s a needed fresh face in the bluegrass world. Simply put, her voice is as pure as her musical heart. She makes music that’s unique, quirky (in a great way), and authentic. Long was one of the first-ever alumna of Buddy Griffin’s Bluegrass Studies Program at Glenville State College in West Virginia. She also did production, engineering and session work at Tom T. and Dixie Hall’s studio before making her own recordings.

On Run Away, Long once again rekindles her wonderful songwriting collaboration with Donna Ulisse, a Grammy Award winner and IBMA Songwriter Of The Year. Long and Ulisse co-wrote eight songs on this project and Jerry Salley, Becky Buller, and Rick Stanley also have songwriting credits here. Produced by Ulisse, the musicians featured on the project include Rick Stanley, Cody Kilby, Mike Bub, Patrick McAvinue, Scott Vestal, Mark Fain, Jarrod Walker, Gene McDonald, Shad Cobb, and a lead vocal from Long’s late husband, gospel great Ben Speer.

When Long writes songs about life in the countryside in her native Georgia, as on the rollicking “Georgia Bound,” she’s lived it. When she sings about “Fishin’ On The Cumberland,” she’s really out there on her boat on the Cumberland River near her Nashville home throwing lures and setting trotlines. Other highlights include a wonderful acoustic version of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s anti-big-city song “Honky Cat,” the upbeat banjo-driven title track, the beautiful “Welcome Me Back Home,” and an emotional tribute to her husband Ben’s last dayson Earth with “Woodland Street.” (www.rebekahlong.com)DH



No Label
No Number

   Okay, be sure to Google them, YouTube them, do what you need to do, but when you finish this issue of BU, go get Midnight Skyracer’s debut album Fire. It’s a must-have. One can only imagine the joy this hard-driving new group would bring on a nice spring afternoon with the windows rolled down or a mid-summer night’s drive to a festival. This five-piece, hard-driving Anglo-Irish all-female band has captured lightning in a bottle.

The album has seven original songs penned by band members and three other traditional tunes. It kicks off with “Fuel To My Fire,” written and sung by Leanne Thorose, which sets a high-energy, clean, professional tone that carries all the way to the end. Each cut could be mentioned here if space allowed, but it will have to suffice to say don’t miss “They Want To Go,” “A Little Luck,” or “Virginia Rose.” Hazel Dickens’ “Working Girl Blues” gets a great turn, as does “Susan Ana Gal.” There’s even a Bill Monroe tune.

Joining Thorose is Tabitha Agnew on vocals and (super-clean) banjo; sisters Laura (vocals/fiddle/resonator guitar), and Charlotte Carrivick (vocals/guitar) and Eleanor Wilkie (vocals/bass).

This group has only been together for a year, which is hard to believe, and they are sure to make some noise on the charts as they get airplay and coverage. But, don’t just take my word for it; Ron Block offers a hearty endorsement in the liner notes as well. (www.midnightskyracer.com)MKB



No Label
No Number

The Sons of Navarone come out firing with an album featuring high-level playing and singing. It takes an exceptional amount of skill to produce a release like Nobody’s Business. Considering only the picking and singing, this album is a brilliant outing by the Dutch/Belgian ensemble.

All those wonderful attributes, however, leave me missing something. That something is originality. To a great extent, the classic songs and tunes here are covers, not interpretations or fresh versions. “Cool Water” hews closer to the Sons of the Pioneers recording rather than a bluegrass reinvention. Even the lovely cover of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” resembles an idea IIIrd Tyme Out had a score ago. The Sons of Navarone do this as well or better than any band in the world, but much of the album remains in “tribute band” territory.

The packaging is problematic in several ways. The liner notes by Mike Marshall appear only on a website. The song listings lack songwriter credits, publishing, and PRO information, even the track times essential to DJs. I would welcome with open arms an album of the Sons of Navarone featuring original material and interpretations. That could be truly extraordinary. (www.sonsofnavarone.com)AM



Patuxent Music

This treasure of a recording catches the late Alan Jabbour and Stephen Wade in concert at the Library of Congress where Jabbour had run the American Folklife Center before retiring. Two old friends doing what old friends do, playing tunes, but this time for an appreciative audience. Alan was a fount of knowledge when it came to old-time fiddle tunes. On half of the 29 tracks on this recording, he shares some of that information. Even folks who think they know a lot about this subject might be surprised at what they learn from his informative stories.

Both musicians are in great form for this concert. Wade’s banjo is the perfect foil to Jabbour’s fiddling flights of fancy as his bow dances through these tunes; tunes he learned and collected from older fiddlers and then brought to the collective consciousness of the old-time revival. Wade’s melodic weavings include high harmonies and countering moves that propel the music to exciting heights.

Jabbour brought the name of Henry Reed to the forefront whenever he played and does the same here, telling stories that are as interesting as the tunes. Wade’s liner notes shed a loving light on his longtime friend and some of their musical adventures together. Alan Jabbour gave much to the world around him and thought deeply about what it meant to be an artist. He is quoted: “How complicated and powerful beyond our own imaginings are the radiations of what we do.” Thinking of the common people this music came from he also said: “Art is not a thing apart. It can’t be set aside from life.” These tunes endure and prevail through fiddlers today. As he tells in his preambles to the tunes played here, the music will go on. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)RCB



Mountain Fever
MFR 180309

This impressive ten-cut album marks another big step forward for award-winning Kentucky singer-songwriter Dave Adkins. Adkins, best known for previous hits like “Change Her Mind,” “Sold,” and “Pike County Jail,” along with past recording collaborations with Ronnie Bowman, Russell Moore, Marty Raybon, and the Lonesome River Band, has written or co-written four tunes on this new collection. One showstopper is “Blood Feud (The Hatfields & McCoys),” which Adkins co-wrote (and sings here) with Larry Cordle. Though it’s a heck of a challenge to encapsulate a complex, decades-long Appalachian clan war into a three and a half minute ballad, Adkins and Cordle come as close as anyone has to doing it.

Right Or Wrongkicks off with “Blue Blue Rain,” written by Jerry Salley. It’s a driving, up-tempo lament that expresses vividly how a bleak, rainy day can add new layers of misery to a garden-variety case of heartbreak. “Roll Little River,” which Adkins penned with Terry Foust, Mitchell Brown, and Carl Caldwell, is a rollicking chain-gang plaint with some kicking instrumental interludes. On “Goodbye Caroline” (Eli Johnston and Blake Grisham), Adkins along with able vocal assistance from Carl Caldwell (tenor) and Mitchell Brown (baritone) serve up some smooth, powerhouse pop-flavored harmonies. Just as powerful is the gospel ode “I Can Only Imagine” (written by Bart Millard) on which Adkins gets stellar vocal assists from Amanda Cook, Katelyn Delgado, and Missy Pyne Delgado.

One of the most haunting and enigmatic songs is a philosophical Adkins original called “Right Or Wrong,” about the weight of our choices and the prospect of being able to one day look back on a life lived well and lived right. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)BA



No Label
No Number

Bluegrass fans in Colorado are certainly familiar with Trout Steak Revival. With three CDs under their belt, TSR list of accolades includes winning the 2014 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, picking up an Emmy for a soundtrack they contributed for a PBS show, and getting a nomination for IBMA Momentum Band Of The Year. Now, the progressive bluegrass quintet has fine-tuned its style on the Spirit To The Sea. Chris Pandolfi of the Infamous Stringdusters produced the project.

TSR creates a diverse blend of sounds as the multi-talented musicians swap roles singing lead vocal and harmonies throughout the album. Individually, Bevin Foley (fiddle), Steve Foltz (guitar and mandolin), Casey Houlihan (bass), William Koster (guitar and resonator guitar), and Travis McNamara (banjo and piano) bring a wealth of instrumental greatness to the 13 original tracks. As a unit, they put listeners in the room with them on songs such as the opener, “Last Chance.” The songwriting is superb, with colorful images created in songs such as “Fall At Your Feet” (Maple trees are changing, golden green to red / Colors painted, rising from my heart into my head / When I picture you there waiting in a dream, this sky explodes / From thunder into laughter until the frost falls on the road) and “I Am” (I’ve seen the diamonds covered in a neon light in wet pavement on the ground / I’ve seen the shadows chisel the mountainside when the sun is going down). They also dig down deeper into familiar topics of love, heartbreak, and freedom. The third time is charmed, as Trout Steak Revival takes its music to an even higher level. (www.troutsteak.com)BC



No Label
No Number

What do you get when you put masters of steel guitar together in a room? That sounds like the set up to a joke, but there’s no punchline this time. Andy Hall (resonator guitarist for the Infamous Stringdusters) and Roosevelt “The Dr.” Collier (of The Lee Boys) pull no punches in this creative collaboration. The two musicians, with the assistance of John Macy, have produced ten tracks of instrumental perfection, proving once again that crossing genres can breed a beautiful outcome.

Five tracks on Let The Steel Playare original, while the other five are unique spins on covers including the Grateful Dead’s “Crazy Fingers.” “Amazing complex chords that work so well together,” describes Hall. “I play the melody throughout, and then Roosevelt soars on the intro riff that we repeat at the end.” Hall and Collier first met on the high seas at the 2012 Jam Cruise and have played together on occasion ever since. Hall laces the songs on the CD with his classic bluegrass flavor, and Collier interjects his House of God spirit-filled riffs and rhythms on the gospel standards “This Little Light Of Mine” and “Power In The Blood.” They mirror each other’s playing on “Singing Steels” while resonator guitarist Anders Beck (Greensky Bluegrass) joins the action on the final track “Colfax Boogie.” Separately, Hall and Collier are powerhouses on their instruments, but together their skillful and tasteful playing mesmerizes. Here’s hoping for a sequel! (www.amazon.com)BC