BARWICK & SIEGFRIED, THE TRESTLE

barwick-&-siegfriedBARWICK & SIEGFRIED
THE TRESTLE

FGM Records
FGM-1501

   What makes the duo format so musically appealing is the same thing that makes it so daunting. There is absolutely no place to hide. Every note played or sung, and each that’s left un-played, must find its perfect place in order to achieve that sublime blend of two voices and two instruments creating a greater whole. This spare setting finds a friend in Barwick & Siegfried, the pairing of California musicians Kathy Barwick on guitar, bass, and harmony vocals and Pete Siegfried on lead vocals and mandolin. Over 11 tracks, mostly songs, they present a varied program that mixes pieces both old and new. While they do straightforward and deferential versions of familiar selections such as “Walk On, Boy,” “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore,” and “Dig A Hole In The Meadow,” it’s in gathering less familiar songs and putting their distinctive stamp on them that they really excel. Siegfried obviously loves narrative ballads, and he knows how to tell and sell a story, as can be heard on Dan Berggren’s musical setting of the traditional “River Driving,” T-Bone Burnett’s “The Bird That I Held In My Hand,” the atmospheric title song written by Mark Berkley, and Siegfried’s own autobiographical “California Bound.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to review both of Kathy Barwick’s solo albums for BU, and they’ve both been distinguished by her passion for supporting the song. So her collaboration with Pete Siegfried frees her to find the perfect groove, the ideal harmony, the most tasteful solo, all in support of the fine material they’ve chosen to record here. The only thing I could find on this recording that didn’t “wow” me was their version of the modern classic “Wait A Minute,” not because it isn’t a great song, not because they don’t sing it great, but perhaps just because it’s so respectful of the Seldom Scene’s iconic version, vocal flourishes and all, that it’s hard to not have their cover pale in comparison. But for all that, The Trestle is an excellent debut release by two like-minded lovers of song who’ve found musical gold in their pairing. (FGM Records, P.O. Box 8166, Columbia, MO 65205, www.barwickandsiegfried.net.)HK


THE BLUEGRASS BROTHERS, GENERATIONS

BLUEGRASS-BROTHERSTHE BLUEGRASS BROTHERS
GENERATIONS

Mountain Fever Records
MFR 140715

The Bluegrass Brothers have to be recognized as one of the premier proponents of the progressive/traditional style of bluegrass on the stage today—traditional in overall sound, but progressive in finding new material and exciting and interesting ways to deliver it. Spearheaded by Victor and Robert Dowdy on bass and banjo, respectively, they feature strong vocals, a nice variety of generally new material, and very tasteful and punchy instrumental work in support of the vocals.

Now, for the first time on record, brothers Victor and Robert are joined by both Victor’s sons, Steven and Donald (guitar and mandolin), along with Chris Hart on resonator guitar, giving the group a double-dose of the brother sound on vocals, with all four singing lead and harmony at times on the 12 cuts. Donald Dowdy, the most recent addition here, kicks things off with “Memories Of My Childhood” and adds a sweet “Too Long” and a nice original composition “Moonshine Man.” Steven gives us the gospel tune “Grand Reunion” with some fine work by Hart on resonator guitar, the vivid “When The Mountain Fell” with a nice double banjo by Robert, and “Hometown Memories” and “Blue Ridge Mountain Man.” Victor handles leads on John Conlee’s “Backside Of Thirty,” “Ball & Chain” (one of three contributions from J.C. Radford), and “The Merger.” Robert leads on two cuts, “Don’t Bother To Waste My Time” with three-part harmony throughout and, my personal favorite, “One More Mountain,” which showcases his strong yet smooth vocal work and the excellent harmony blend that pervades The Brothers’ sound on this release, but is nowhere on better display than on this cut.

There’s a lot to recommend in this release: strong lead and harmony singing (harmony so tight that in places it sounds almost like one voice), great instrumental work by all five members, and a very nice variety in the material chosen—and the brother sound…ah, the brother sound. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd., Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)AW


UNCLE DAVE MACON: A PHOTO TRIBUTE—BY MICHAEL D. DOUBLER

MACON_BOOKUNCLE DAVE MACON: A PHOTO TRIBUTE—BY MICHAEL D. DOUBLER—Macon Doubler Fellowship 9780692210246.  Softback, 32 pp., $14. (County Sales, P.O. Box 191, Dept. 3, Floyd, VA 24091, www.countysales.com.)

Uncle Dave Macon (1870-1952) is the patron saint of the five-string banjo and the man who brought it from nineteenth century minstrelsy to the core of country music in the early years.  In his teens, he performed for tips at a family inn in Readyville, Tenn., and later entertained informally as he drove mule-drawn wagons from home to Nashville for his freight hauling company.  After gasoline trucks put him out of business in 1920, he honed his performing skills and turned to professional entertainment, where he earned enough with his inspired music, verbose jokes, and stories to support his large family.

Uncle Dave (aka The Dixie Dewdrop) could shout, kick, stomp, whoop, swing, and twirl his banjo and thrill audiences with his larger-than-life persona.  By 1924, he was making records; a year later, he was touring Loew’s vaudeville theater circuit and, in 1926, he made his first appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, where he was regularly featured until his death in 1952. He is still venerated in country and folk music as a 1920s trailblazer whose forceful personality attracted thousands of fans.  He made old-time country music popular on early radio and records, setting the standard for banjo music in the 1920s, much as Earl Scruggs did in the 1940s.

Macon’s great grandson Michael Doubler has prepared a magazine-size book that combines familiar photos with others that have appeared rarely or not at all, before now. The images are good, the layout attractive, and everything’s printed on glossy paper stock.  There are photos of Uncle Dave from childhood through old age, along with ancestors, family members, childhood and adult homes, gravestones, Opry colleagues, advertisements, and other ephemera.  Even Bill Monroe turns up, clearly caught off guard in a 1940s snapshot with Macon and a fan.  There are annotations and a good essay that tie them all together and the Macon-Doubler Fellowship deserves congratulations for a valuable publication.RKS


THE BLUEGRASS HALL OF FAME: INDUCTEE BIOGRAPHIES 1991-2014

music-of-the-stanley-brothers---bookTHE BLUEGRASS HALL OF FAME: INDUCTEE BIOGRAPHIES 1991-2014—BY FRED BARTENSTEIN, GARY REID & OTHERS—Holland Brown Books 9780989754415. Hardbound, with photos, 242 pp., $39.95. (IBMM, 207 E. Second St., Owensboro, KY 42303, www.bluegrassmuseum.org.)

It’s hard to imagine, but there will come a time when the name Bill Monroe will sound as remote as Stephen Foster does to us today. Time dances on. And that’s why this book is so important. It is, on one level, a biographical collection of every inductee into the Bluegrass Hall Of Fame from 1991 through 2014. On another level, it’s a timely reminder of the variety and uniqueness of the talents that created this music and business.

Bluegrass is still young. Young, in that young people are attracted to it, and young in that the first generation artists are still within living memory. Many of us got a chance to hear and talk with these folks. Very human stories about them still circulate. But bluegrass is getting older. The music has changed, and if we’re lucky, will continue to change. But we also must remember those artists, promoters, writers, researchers, and executives who created and changed the music in their own time.

This book was the brainchild of Fred Bartenstein who, by the way, should be inducted into the Hall. Fred is a man of many talents, writing and organizing being just two. He also has the vision to see a need and the energy to fill it. Bartenstein and Gary Reid wrote most of the chapters, with support from Martha Adcock, Gabrielle Gray, Neil Rosenberg, and Steve Spence. The biographies are concise, thorough, and generous in the sense of keeping with the laudatory nature of any Hall Of Fame. (You won’t find much in the way of those very human stories here, but that’s for another book.) Well designed, with wonderful photos, I especially liked the marginalia called “Led the way” and “By the way,” which cite the importance and influence of each inductee as well as offering smaller items of interest—such as John Hartford being a cousin of Tennessee Williams.

I said at the outset that this was a timely book. Too much divides us—both fans and professionals—these days. This book is a reminder of what we have in common: a shared history and memories of a time when giants (in all their greatness and flaws) roamed the stages. This book brings the plaques to life and will spark memories and conversation about these wonderful—and very much missed—people. Essential.CVS


BRIAN GODCHAUX & SANDY ROTHMAN

Godchaux-and-RothmanBRIAN GODCHAUX & SANDY ROTHMAN
THE RED FIDDLE & SILVER BANJO: FIDDLE AND BANJO, THE LONG FORM

Tone Bar Records
TBR-980

   From time to time, we’re treated to a recording of banjo/fiddle duets. For folks who play these instruments, these recordings hold a special interest. The interplay of this format goes all the way back to the mountains. For most bluegrass fans of a certain age or experience level, the standard for this format are with those fine duets between Earl Scruggs and Paul Warren. Here, two long-time friends, Godchaux on fiddle and Rothman, who plays his solid brand of Scruggs banjo, explore a baker’s dozen of tunes at a level of inventiveness that has not been heard since John Hartford and Bob Carlin explored the riches of this format on The Fun Of Open Discussion.

Not content to just play the tunes, this duo often explores the tunes for more than five minutes, dismantling and reassembling them harmonically and melodically drawing new ideas and sounds from each piece. The name for this project is taken, interestingly, from Rothman’s banjo, a silver-plated prototype Gold Star. The Red Fiddle is not really red, but that’s the name it’s been given. These two instruments sound great together as they explore the nuances of some real fun tunes such as “Turkey Buzzard,” “Leather Britches,” “Sail Away Ladies,” and a splendid “Daley’s Reel.” These two musicians exchange musical ideas with great empathy and skill. This is another fine example of what fun a banjo and fiddle can have without all of those other instruments and singers. (redfiddlesilverbanjo.weebly.com)RCB


CEDAR HILL, MISS DIXIE, TOM T. AND ME

Cedar-HillCEDAR HILL
MISS DIXIE, TOM T. AND ME

Blue Circle Records
BCR-042

When a band comes within the orbit of Blue Circle Records, it reaps the benefits of access to the masterful songwriting of Tom T. and the late Dixie Hall. Cedar Hill has been in that orbit since 2007. This is their fourth album for the label and, like so many Hall songs, comes with a story. Mandolinist Frank Ray had suffered some personal tragedy and, more or less, quit music. Tom T. and Dixie wanted to help, so they lured him back by offering ten new songs for him to record, which is what this recording represents.

Those ten songs have the classic Tom T. and Dixie mark on them. There are songs with catchy phrases, such as “This Ain’t No Way To Run A Railroad,” in which a man struggles to meet his girl coming in on a train. There are great story songs, such as the touching encounter a man has with a “Hound Dog From Harlan” or the family that trashes their farm by “Burning Down The Barn” after losing their property to the bank. There’s the humor and brilliance of “Aunt Penny,” who turns out to be Uncle Pen’s banjo-playing sister, and there’s the sentimentality of “Let’s Go Walking Again,” and the betting imagery (hearts, diamonds, jokers, and putting it all in the pot) of “Love Is A Gamble.” They’re all good songs, some of them very good and better.

Frank Ray and Cedar Hill (which includes banjoist Jim Bunch and guitarist/vocalist Britt McGarity, along with newcomers, bassist Patti LaFleur and fiddler Pete Brown) are a wonderful choice to put these songs across. They seem to understand almost intuitively the Hall’s ethos and style. McGarity, who has since left the group, also has a voice suited to the material, a storyteller’s voice—warm and inclusive. All of that together brings very good results. (Cedar Hill, 11503 Landers Rd., Rogers, AR 72756, www.cedarhillbluegrass.com.) BW


JAKE SCHEPPS QUINTET, ENTWINED

JAKE-SCHEPPSJAKE SCHEPPS QUINTET
ENTWINED

Fine Mighty Records
1004

As the title implies, this new project from the Jake Schepps Quintet is a musical conglomeration that takes intriguing twists and turns with the quintessential bluegrass combo of banjo, mandolin, guitar, violin, and bass. Schepps turned to several composers who struck his fancy to write classic music for a bluegrass string band combo—Marc Mellits (“Flatiron”), Matt McBane (“Drawn”), renowned mandolinist Matt Flinner (“Migrations”), and Gyan Riley (“Stumble Smooth”).

“The idea was to take somebody from within my world to write a long-form piece, to show what these classical composers bring to the table compared to what a great composer within the string band world does,” says Schepps. Joining the banjo pioneer on the CD is Flinner (mandolin), Ryan Drickey (violin), Enion Pelta-Tiller (violin), Grant Gordy (guitar), Ross Martin (guitar), and Eric Thorin (bass). Kick back and enjoy seventy-plus minutes of new acoustic music that will take you across a beautiful boundary-testing landscape of string band music. (www.jakeschepps.com)BC


ROBERT EARL KEEN, HAPPY PRISONER: THE BLUEGRASS SESSIONS

ROBERT-EARL-KEENROBERT EARL KEEN
HAPPY PRISONER: THE BLUEGRASS SESSIONS

Dualtone Records
80302-01685-27

Keen is a gifted Texas singer/songwriter in the tradition of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Lyle Lovett. Even though he’s never before made a full bluegrass album in his thirty-plus-year recording career, he grew up around bluegrass and loves it. And, as his new release Happy Prisoner aptly demonstrates, he’s got a great feel for it.

Keen points out in his liner notes that his gritty, growling baritone is a far cry from the traditional high-lonesome tenor sound. But his rough-hewn vocal style enables him to bring fresh readings and perspectives to these 15 tried and true bluegrass and country favorites. There’s always been a rowdy and irreverent streak running through Keen’s edgy, alt-country sound, and he’s long been a big hit with the Texas dance hall and frat party crowds. That’s probably why he sounds so at home with a boisterous, tongue-in-cheek ode such as the traditional “Hot Corn, Cold Corn.” Keen also shines on fatalistic ballads of crime and punishment like Jesse Fuller’s “99 Years For One Dark Day” (where he’s joined on vocals by Peter Rowan) and the old public domain chestnut “Poor Ellen Smith.” He brings similar conviction and lots of fire to Richard Thompson’s “’52 Vincent Black Lightning,” an oft-recorded tale of an ill-fated motorcycle desperado. He and Peter Rowan also turn in a rousing rendition of Rowan’s “Walls Of Time.”

Keen also covers bluegrass oldies by Jimmie Rodgers (he’s joined by Lyle Lovett for a serviceable duet on “T For Texas”), Alfred Brumley and Carter Stanley, though he doesn’t set off sparks on all of them. He does succeed in bringing a vibe of contemporary fervor and reverence to “Wayfaring Stranger,” where he’s joined on vocals by Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks (whose father, the redoubtable Lloyd Maines, produced Happy Prisoner) and by Keen’s daughter Chloe on ensemble violins. Stalwart picking is provided by Danny Barnes (banjo, guitar, and harmony vocals), Sara Watkins (fiddle), Kim Warner (mandolin), Bill Whitbeck (bass and harmony vocals), Tom Van Schaik (percussion and harmony vocals), Rich Brotherton (guitar, mandolin, and harmony vocals), Marty Muse (resonator guitar) and Dennis Ludiker (fiddle). (Dualtone Records, 3 McFerrin Ave., Nashville, TN 37206, www.robertearlekeen.com.)BA


RONNIE RENO, LESSONS LEARNED

RONNIE-RENORONNIE RENO
LESSONS LEARNED

Rural Rhythm
RUR-1030

The mood of Ronnie Reno’s latest is thoughtful, sentimental at times, wistful at others, the presentation relaxed. Nothing feels hurried. That includes the solos from Mike Scott on banjo, John Maberry on mandolin and Steve Day on fiddle. Several of the songs are at a quick tempo so, of course, the solos and backing are going to move along, but the attack remains fluid and always in step with Reno’s lead delivery, which is always gentle and sort of behind the beat, more akin to traditional country than to bluegrass.

Reno wrote nine of the eleven songs. The two he didn’t are “Trail Of Sorrow,” written by his father, and a bonus track cover of “Always Late,” sung with David Frizzell and recalling Reno’s time with Merle Haggard. In fact, the faster, straighter beat of “Always Late” shoots a direct line back to the way Haggard liked it. It almost goes without saying that if you like one of the songs here, you’ll probably enjoy the album as a whole. The songs are well-written and distinct enough, and the tempos do run the usual gamut from slow to fast, but a mood is a mood and the one Reno establishes here does carry from track to track, giving them all if not a sameness, then certainly a kinship.

That said, several of the tracks do rise a bit higher than the others. “Lower Than Lonesome,” an uptempo, drum-propelled (as all the tracks are) number about lost love, is quite good. The title-track, which follows, also has an attractive medium bounce and a nice message about getting along in a marriage. The romantic notions of “Deep Part Of Your Love” and “All That’s Worth Remembering,” both medium in tempo and both very tuneful also standout. And of course, it’s hard not to like any cover of “Always Late.” A fine celebration of Reno’s sixty years in music. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 750, Mt. Juliet, TN 37121, www.ruralrhythm.com.)BW


SPRINGFIELD EXIT, THAT WAS THEN

SPRINGFIELD-EXITSPRINGFIELD EXIT
THAT WAS THEN

Patuxent Music
Patuxent CD-268

Having three former members of the ultra-traditional Johnson Mountain Boys would seem to indicate that Springfield Exit might follow suit. While David McLaughlin, Tom Adams, and Marshall Wilborn do tilt it in the traditional direction at times, particularly McLaughlin’s Monroe-style mandolin, the ultimate product has more to do with a softer, gentler approach than the hard-driving roar of JMB. For every mournful “Lonesome Wind” from Buzz Busby’s catalogue or the honky-tonk stylings of Wilborn’s “That Was Then And This Is Now,” there is a folk-tempered tune such as “No One Knows” and “Still My Thoughts Go Back To You.” Countering the old-time edge of “Elkhorn Ridge,” with McLaughlin on clawhammer, is the lyrical flow of Chris Brashear’s “Listen To Me Mother.” Throw in “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and Don Williams’ “Till The Rivers All Run Dry” and a pattern is forming.

Motivating and focusing the band’s sound are lead vocalist Linda Lay and guitarist/harmony vocalist David Lay. Mostly, it’s Linda. She has a wonderful voice, one that is very expressive. At times, she makes a good run at the bluesy side on the aforementioned Busby tune and the title tune, but she seems more comfortable with a lighter approach. As a result, the band adjusts accordingly, lightening up and pulling back to support that strength, as it should be. You should always play to the strength of the singer.

All that said, this is a good and well-rendered album. They’ve made sure to cover as wide a spectrum as possible, including the anthem declaration of Ola Belle and Bud Reed’s “I’ve Endured” and the standard “Some Old Day,” and they’ve managed to craft a highly-distinct band sound and carry it through from track to track. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20648, www.pxrec.com.)BW


DOUG FLOWERS AND FRIENDS

DOUG-FLOWERSDOUG FLOWERS AND FRIENDS

Melody Roundup
No Number

Doug Flowers is a bluegrass veteran who has played with and befriended many in our industry over the years. He’s performed with Little Roy Lewis and Lizzy Long and has been providing some excellent mandolin playing and harmony vocals with Clinton Gregory’s recent bluegrass resurrection.

On this new album, he calls in favors and acquaintances to make a very good album of straight-ahead bluegrass. With a title that includes the phrase “And Friends,” the list of collaborators is long and includes Gregory, banjo master Scott Vestal, gospel buddy Ben Speer, Lisa Shaffer, John Pennell, Francis Mooney, Jason Roller, Lisa Hoyle, Larry Mars, Jimmy Stewart, Torey Flowers, Tabor Lee Flowers Henson, Brandon Henson, Gerald Smith, Rickey Rakestraw, Rebekah Long, Jim Iler, and Al McCall.

What’s cool about this project is that even though some of the names listed above might not be familiar, their musicianship makes for a solid album of music. Another thing impressive about the project is that Gregory, Vestal, and Flowers co-produced it and were all on the same page as each artist is utilized wonderfully. There are seven cuts written or co-written by Flowers, the highlights being the traditional bluegrass romp “All Of Me,” the country/bluesy lead vocals of Gregory on “When The Morning Comes,” and the Stanley Brothers-influenced “Where The Sun Never Shines.” One standout song is “Beautiful One” featuring Tabor Henson on lead vocals, sweetly blended harmony vocals by Flowers and Brandon Henson and Gregory on fiddle. Flowers also gives tribute to the first generation with a rockin’ version of Carter Stanley’s “Ridin’ That Midnight Train,” Johnny Bond’s “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight,” and two Bill Monroe numbers: “Rawhide” and “I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling.” (Doug Flowers, P.O. Box 896, Hephzibah, GA 30815, www.dougflowersmusic.com.)DH


ERYNN MARSHALL & CARL JONES, SWEET MEMORIES NEVER LEAVE

ERYNN-MARSHALL-&-CARL-JONESERYNN MARSHALL & CARL JONES
SWEET MEMORIES NEVER LEAVE

Dittyville
006

Erynn Marshall and Carl Jones both have deep roots in traditional music. Erynn is Canadian, but spent many years learning from West Virginia and Kentucky fiddlers. Carl has played with Norman Blake, James Bryan, Beverly Smith, and many others. Both also compose new tunes and songs, and there are five on this recording.

They start off a cappella with a nice version of “Poor Ellen Smith” from Obray Ramsey and then add banjo and guitar. Next, Erynn fiddles the West Virginia fiddle tune “Camp Chase” with lots of sweet double-stops. Carl wrote “One Fond Adieu,” a song about the perils of aging, which also contains the title of the CD in its lyrics. “Piney Woods” is another relaxed and lovely West Virginia fiddle tune. Erynn wrote “Rocky Point” for a friend in Alberta. The Blue Sky Boys’ “Convict And The Rose” is a gentle duet. Erynn wrote “Daredevil Blues” for her brother and, as the title suggests, it’s a hard-driving fiddle tune with great twin-fiddling by Joel Savoy. Carl’s “Jack Rabbit Jump” is a lively original mandolin tune. The classic “Maple On The Hill” is another duet. Buddy Thomas’ “Turkey Gobbler” has a neat crooked B part. Erynn fiddles it smoothly and with power. Carl then sings the Dixon Brothers’ “Rambling Gambler.” It seems appropriate to end with a waltz, another original tune by Erynn, “The Lohman Waltz.”

You might appreciate this CD for its original material, for its skillful playing, for its sensitive singing, or for all those qualities combined. If you enjoy listening to traditional music, you will certainly find much to like here. (Erynn Marshall & Carl Jones, 99 Faith Dr., Galax, VA 24333, www.dittyville.com.)SAG


GRANDPA’S COUGH MEDICINE, 180 PROOF

Grandpa's-cough-medicineGRANDPA’S COUGH MEDICINE
180 PROOF

No Label
No Number

Grandpa’s Cough Medicine’s new album 180 Proof is rip-roaring, rowdy, and fun. But, let me be clear right off the bat. There is such a thing as “outlaw bluegrass,” the Earl Brothers being another good example, and the music of Grandpa’s Cough Medicine is truly on the edge and Rated-R at the least for language and content. There is no pretense here, no “making appearances” and then doing the outlaw thing on the side. This excellent album is straight, no chaser, with some fine hot picking to boot.

One good example of their musical grit is the song “Van Trip.” There have always been murder ballads in bluegrass music, but this one leaves no doubt as to its approach with lyrics such as: My girlfriend’s ex-boyfriends are in the back of my van/They’re in for some trouble because I’m a jealous man/Ain’t none of them prepared for what I’m about to do/There’s a swamp down in the holler, with a little run-down shack/There’s five of us going, and only one is coming back.

The group is made up of guitarist and vocalist Brett Bass, Mike Coker on the five-string, and bassist Jon Murphy. (Bass was tapped by the Travelin’ McCourys for a multi-day run in Florida, so his flatpicking bonafides are for real.) Produced by Randy Kohrs, 180 Proof lives up to its name with all-original songs such as “Liquid Courage,” “Brand New .22,” “Respect The Shine,” “Blood And Justice,” and “Every Critter In The County.” Hold on to your horses boys and girls, brace yourself before sipping, and be prepared to take a walk on the wild and fun side of bluegrass music. (www.outlawbluegrass.com)DH


ADKINS AND LOUDERMILK

ADKINS-LOUDERMILKADKINS AND LOUDERMILK
Mountain Fever Records MFR150317

   On Dave Adkins’ solo recording last year were bassist Edgar Loudermilk, guitarist Jeff Autry, banjoist Jason Davis, mandolinist Wayne Benson, and fiddler Justen Haynes. Adkins and Loudermilk wrote one song together, and three each separately. They co-produced and Aaron Ramsey and Mark Hodges engineered. The results were good with several tracks good enough for five weeks on the BU charts, reaching number 9.

Loudermilk then became an equal partner, and they began working on their debut, again as their own producers, writing four songs each and one together, using Ramsey as engineer, keeping Autry and substituting the talents of banjoist Chris Wade, mandolinist Zack Autry, and resonator guitarist Glen Crain. As good as the other was, this recording impresses me more. Maybe it’s having Loudermilk on an equal footing or maybe it’s better balanced or maybe it’s just the experience gained. Whatever the reason, this recording hooks the ear more and presents a brighter, more elevating sound (even as heartbreak, loss, and hard times dominate).

Loudermilk’s “Georgia Mountain Man” is a rolling bit of traditional bluegrass about remembrance and emulation, which he drives emphatically with his direct, bright mid-range lead. He then shows his vocal versatility leading four others, most notably his own “Open Road” with its relaxed flow and sing-song chorus, and his pensive “This Mournful Soul” which encourages the need for compassion.

Adkins offers equally fine performances in his inimitable growling, twisting, contemporary country approach. He’s honed his timing on faster bluegrass numbers, as heard on his plea for a clean relationship break, “Cut The Rope,” and on his hard-luck saga, “Backside Of Losing.” Slower tempos give him more space to bend the melody to his will, as highlighted by his own “Turn Off The Love,” his slow and pulsing reading of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and his tour de force cover of Hoyt Axton’s “Spain” (though barely touching on bluegrass, it provides a welcome contrast for the CD.) Whatever changed with the creation of this new partnership, Adkins and Loudermilk definitely have the chemistry working. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd., Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)BW


THE FOGHORN STRINGBAND, DEVIL IN THE SEAT

Foghorn-StringbandTHE FOGHORN STRINGBAND
DEVIL IN THE SEAT

No Label
No Number

   Caleb, Sammy, Reeb, and Nadine are back with 16 selections on the eighth Foghorn Stringband recording. They open with a sprightly version of “Stillhouse” from Virginia banjo player Matokie Slaughter and then go into a powerful Reeb/Nadine duet of Hazel and Alice’s “Mining Camp Blues.” The blues theme continues with Caleb singing “Columbus Stockade Blues” to Sammy’s driving fiddle. Then it’s “Old Molly Hare.” The breakneck pace slows with the Child Ballad “Henry Reed,” which is sung as a duet by Caleb and Reeb. Clyde Davenport’s “Lost Gal” is next; they also play Clyde’s “Chicken Reel.” “John Hardy” has a few sources listed; Caleb sings lead with Sammy on harmony and his usual hard-driving fiddle. “What Will We Do?” comes from the British Silly Sisters. It’s a poignant piece sung a cappella by Reeb and Nadine.

The Cooke Duet was one of the most high-powered gospel singing groups I’ve ever heard, and their “Longing For A Home” suits perfectly the sharply-edged singing of Reeb and Caleb. “Jailbreak” is a fiddle tune by the late Garry Harrison. Sammy sings lead on “Pretty Polly.” “Paddy On The Turnpike” is from Fiddlin’ Powers, and it really moves down the road in these hands. “Leland’s Waltz” by Tim Foss shows that they can play slow and sensitive when they want to. Nadine sings “90 Miles An Hour,” a Hank Snow novelty song. The final tune is “Chadwell’s Station” by David Russell Hamblen, whose music was rediscovered some years ago.

The Foghorn Stringband just gets better and better with stirring vocals and powerful instruments. The essential skill of traditional musicians is to play songs and tunes in their own styles without losing the connection to their roots. Foghorn has mastered that skill, and their music deserves to be heard and enjoyed. (www.foghornstringband.com)SAG