UNCAGED & FREE

UNCAGED & FREE: UNDERSTANDING, IMPLEMENTING AND OVERCOMING THE CAGED SYSTEM—TAUGHT BY ROLLY BROWN—Stefan Grossman Guitar Workshop GW1015. DVD, 121 min., $29.95. (Stefan Grossman Guitar Workshop, P.O. Box 802, Sparta, NJ, 07871, www.guitarvideos.com.)

The CAGED system gets its name from the common major chords C, A, G, E, and D that it uses to teach the guitar fingerboard in a way that’s easily understood and implemented. It’s a handy mnemonic and has entered into the mainstream of guitar instruction perhaps because it is such a simple method.

Rolly Brown is an articulate teacher who has done several DVDs for the Stefan Grossman Guitar Workshop. He knows how to start with basic concepts and build on them—not a common trait in instructors who are also players. The two-hour DVD goes through the system: the five neck positions; chord structures; major, minor, and blues scales and arpeggios; and how to navigate through them. What sets Rolly’s DVD apart is that he also discusses the limitations of the system and how to overcome them. He adds sections on intervals, pentatonic scales, and playing outside the bounds of the basic CAGED system. Tab and notation is on the DVD.

One tip: the table of contents is under the menu item “The Show.” Recommended for guitarists looking for a way into scales and arpeggios.CVS


MA CROW & THE LADY SLIPPERS, MEMORY OF A MOUNTAIN

MA-CROWMA CROW & THE LADY SLIPPERS
MEMORY OF A MOUNTAIN

Boopie Studios
BPS005

   This Ohio-based quartet has a lot going for it on this project. The steady guiding hand of Ron Stewart is one of those things, but it is the wealth of talent and experience from each member that really shines through on each track. Ma Crow’s distinctive vocals and strong guitar anchored by Vicki Abbott’s bass are at the core of their sound. Trina Emig expertly handles the banjo and mandolin. Margie Drees’ fiddle adds nice touches throughout. She also wrote three of the original songs and sings most of the harmonies on this project.

Bluegrass is at its best when the songs tell a story worth repeating with a feeling that speaks to the listener. These ladies have all of that covered. The original songs are built of the solid pieces that last and grow stronger with repeated listening. Crow’s vocals dig into the lyrics and drive the melodies home. Drees’ harmonies blend well. The well-integrated arrangements sing with textured layers.

The songs include traditional material, “Shady Grove,” “Going To The West,” and “Time Is Winding Up.” They also cover Gene Autry’s “Ages And Ages Ago,” a number that Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen featured in days gone by. The late Don Stover’s gem, “Things In Life,” gets a fresh treatment. The sole instrumental “Get Up John” features Emig’s full-throttle mandolin.

Don’t miss this CD if you are a fan of well-done bluegrass. Their sound is on the traditional side with some nice essences of country and old-time woven in without forsaking the ’grass that permeates their roots. Highly recommended—catch them live if you can, they are bound to be a lot of fun. (Ma Crow Music, 2229 Park Ave. #1, Cincinnati, OH 45206, www.macrowmusic.com.)RCB


DANNY ROBERTS, NIGHTHAWK

rr-DANNY-ROBERTSDANNY ROBERTS
NIGHTHAWK

Mountain Home
15232

   Ten years ago, I reviewed Danny Roberts’ first solo recording, Mandolin Orchard, giving it solid marks. Now comes Nighthawk, a step up all across the board. Begin with the sound quality improvements. If you remember his first, you’ll notice this immediately. This is much clearer, much more sonically pleasing. That in itself goes a long way, but then there is the addition of three vocals numbers. Roberts could have easily followed the all-instrumental format of his first, but having his daughter, Jaelee, sing a gorgeous “How Great Thou Art” and belt out stunningly “Oh, Atlanta,” and having his wife, Andrea, lead a stirring “I Went Down A Begger,” lends a welcome variety.

Which brings us to Roberts’ compositional skills and what is the most important change. While his first recording had solid originals, varied in style and certainly well-played, they rarely approached in interest or tunefulness the album’s lone cover, “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” Here, that has been largely corrected, beginning with the Monroe-sounding, bluesy stomp of “New Gil Ramble,” featuring a sparkling triplet-laced solo from Ronnie McCoury. Also Monroe-influenced, albeit tempered with some modern rhythmic punctuations, is “Nighthawk,” which includes some ear-catching note slides from Roberts and the expert mandolin and sinuous fiddle of Sam Bush. Then comes the ultra-fast “Big Stone Gap” in the breakdown tradition and later the Celtic Reel and bounce of “Coppinger’s Court” and, later still, a bluesy stroll with guest Mike Compton on “Walking To Winslow.” Woven among them are the antique/jazzy blending of “F-5 Rag,” the light mandolin/banjo duet of “Danielle’s Waltz,” the rip and twist of both “You’ll Have That” and “Derrington Drive,” and the surprisingly-noted melody of my favorite, “Swing-A-Long.” Not a one will fail to intrigue or impress or, for that matter, surprise.

Co-creating this excellent recording are the stellar core group of guitarist Tony Wray, banjoist Kristin Scott Benson, and bassist Tim Surrett, along with tracks from fiddlers Jimmy Mattingly, Adam Haynes, and Aubrey Haynie. (Mountain Home Music, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.crossroadsmusic.com.)BW


MATT WALLACE, FOR A SEASON

MATT-WALLACEMATT WALLACE
FOR A SEASON

Pinecastle Records
PRC-6515

   There have been many albums recorded over the years by sidemen and women, some that were great and some that let you know why the headliners are the headliners. I have to admit, I wasn’t all that familiar with Matt Wallace before listening to the CD. I knew of him from his current work as bassist with Mark Newton and Steve Thomas, but that’s about the extent.

Wallace’s new album For A Season, however, is nothing short of a breath of fresh air. I love it when a project that doesn’t have a big budget works, and this is a perfect example. Wallace plays bass throughout, but he also lends his solid lead singing voice to the song “Old Man Winter” and a wonderful cut written by John Douglas Meyer called “Home In Tennessee.” But, Wallace also happily gives up the lead vocalist chair to others on this project. Jesse Gregory reminds us of her wonderful vocal abilities on “Creepin’ In” and “Lonesome Homesick Blues,” Wayne Taylor takes the mic on “Have You Come To Say Goodbye,” Jerry Cole sings “Got Leavin’ On Your Mind,” and the great voice of Paul Brewster powers “Long Gone.”

The house band on this project is rock-solid as Wallace is backed up on every cut by Darrell Webb on guitar, Tim Crouch on fiddle, Alex Hibbits on mandolin, Josh Hymer on banjo, and Jeff Partin on resonator guitar. Carl White also adds tenor vocals on “I Want To Know More About My Lord.” All of this comes together under the vision and leadership of Wallace who produced this recording. (www.mattwallacemusic.com)DH


BRADFORD LEE FOLK AND THE BLUEGRASS PLAYBOYS SOMEWHERE FAR AWAY

RR-BRADFORD-LEE-FOLKBRADFORD LEE FOLK AND THE BLUEGRASS PLAYBOYS
SOMEWHERE FAR AWAY

No Label
No Number

Since Bradford Lee Folk’s recording seems centered around lyrics, that will draw the most attention here. That said, some mention of the musical settings is necessary. A couple of them are straight-ahead bluegrass, the one with the most traditional drive being the opener “Foolish Game Of Love.” The rest work the Americana and folk end of the spectrum, characterized by light, jangly guitar strumming and airy instrumental work. They set moods and do so quite well. They also have some nice melodic contours. “Somewhere Far Away” stands out as the best overall song.

Lyrically, the album is far more poetic than the standard bluegrass fare. The opener and “Somewhere Far Away” are about as concrete as the lyrics get, the former being fairly straightforward in its look at love’s perils, the latter cataloging images that transport the singer—shallow Virginia lakes, empty bottles, and airliner wing lights…that sort of thing. At other times, you sense you know Folk’s message even when the images are veiled, as in “Trains Don’t Lie,” which uses a moment’s stream of consciousness to speak of longing for home. But then comes “The Piper” with lines like: Smoke will choke the sparrow/And wind excites the flame/No matter who pulls the chain/The lights go out the same. We’re suddenly in a mental wilderness. So, too, in several others and in Nick Woods’ “The Wood Swan,” about a dying relationship: The wood swan that rode on the metro years ago is still here/Although you know that it was a close one/The grandma that raised us all is still in a window here/She sees what I see, it takes one to know one. And yet, even at its most obscure, it’s hard not to like or be intrigued by this recording. It’s worth a listen. (www.bradfordleefolk.com)BW


SPECIAL CONSENSUS AND FRIENDS, COUNTRY BOY: A BLUEGRASS TRIBUTE TO JOHN DENVER

SPECIAL-CONSENSUSSPECIAL CONSENSUS AND FRIENDS
COUNTRY BOY: A BLUEGRASS TRIBUTE TO JOHN DENVER

Compass Records
7 4627 2

   The late John Denver never really played bluegrass music, but he wasn’t shy about using the fiddle and other bluegrass instruments on songs such as “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” and others. And, over the last four decades, many of Denver’s compositions have lent themselves nicely to a bluegrass arrangement. There have been a ton of bluegrass bands that have performed their own take on “Take Me Home, Country Roads” over the years, and if you search on YouTube, you’ll see a wonderful video of the song by the Osborne Brothers back in the day.

On Country Boy: A Bluegrass Tribute To John Denver, Greg Cahill and his band Special Consensus have recorded the singer’s tunes with an array of all-star guest musicians. Produced by Alison Brown, the album features Cahill and bandmates Dustin Benson, Rick Faris, and Dan Eubanks joined by Dale Ann Bradley, Jason Carter, Michael Cleveland, Rob Ickes, John Cowan, Jim Lauderdale, Rhonda Vincent, Buddy Spicher, Peter Rowan, and Claire Lynch.

Some highlights include Spicher and Cleveland twin-fiddling on “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” Lauderdale singing a beautiful “Poems, Prayers And Promises,” and a sweet version of “This Old Guitar” featuring just the members of Special Consensus. And, it’s hard to go wrong with “Take Me Home, Country Roads” sung by both John Cowan and Benson with Carter’s fiddle underneath. (Special Consensus, 9701 S. 51st Ave., Oak Lawn, IL 60453, www.specialc.com.)DH


I DRAW SLOW, WHITE WAVE CHAPEL

RR-I-Draw-SlowI DRAW SLOW
WHITE 
WAVE CHAPEL

Pinecastle Records
PRC1187

   I Draw Slow’s second album for Pinecastle Records, White Wave Chapel, draws from the many roots and branches that have made up the underlying ingredients of bluegrass music over the years. Not a standard bluegrass album by any means, the recording is an amalgamation of what Monroe called the “ancient tones” of the British Isles mixed with folk music and Appalachian grooves. I saw the band jam at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass in impromptu fashion with IBMA award-winner Joe Newberry, and that showed me the band had their Appalachian chops underneath.

I Draw Slow hails from Ireland and consists of Dave Holden on guitar and vocals, sister Louise Holden on vocals, Colin Derham on banjo, Adrian Hart on fiddle, and Konrad Liddy on standup bass. All of the songs here were written by Dave and Louise Holden. Most of the tunes lope along at a steady pace with banjo, guitar, and fiddle keeping a steady and light groove. The songs are tales in the Irish tradition, which became the Appalachian tradition as well, as both sides of the cultural divide come together. Many of the cuts are on the folky side showcasing Louise’s vocals, including cuts such as “Old Wars,” “Grand Hotel,” “Springtime,” and “Souvenirs.” Other highlights include the waltz “Now You’re Gone,” two hoedowns “Don’t You Cry My Honey” and “Bread And Butter,” and a good old-fashioned sea shanty in “The Captain.” (www.idrawslow.wordpress.com)DH


ONDRA KOZÁK, ATAMAN

Ondra-KozakONDRA KOZÁK
ATAMAN

Bluegrass music is, thankfully, an international endeavor. Even so, more can always be done to reach out to lovers and performers of the music whether they be in Japan, Italy, Australia, or the Czech Republic, where scenes are already established, or in many other countries ripe for good tunes. The Czech Republic has long been fertile ground for bluegrass music, with bands like Fragment carrying on the faraway tradition in their homeland.

Ondra Kozák is a member of Fragment, as well as another Czech band called G-Runs ’n Roses. Ataman is his new solo album, and it explores acoustic music done his way. This is not a traditional bluegrass album in any way, shape, or form, but instead explores the roots and branches end of the genre. Kozák plays virtually all of the instruments including acoustic and electric guitar, bass, fiddle, mandolin, and lead vocals on one song. Not that there isn’t some bluegrass-inspired work on this album, because there is. But, it’s more in line with the newgrass of Sam Bush or David Grisman or the new acoustic work of Tony Rice.

Some of the highlights of this mostly instrumental album include “Flatpig #1,” “Bukit Batok,” “Flatpig #2,” and “The Best Thing In My Life.” The album also features Kozák’s bride Marta on occasional piano, along with guests Karel Zacal on resonator guitar, Vít Hanulík on mandolin, and Filip Bat’o on banjo. It’s very enjoyable to hear this young man from Olomouc, Czech Republic showcase his skills and writing abilities, as all of these tunes were written by Kozák. (www.ondrakozak.com)DH


IN IT FOR THE LONG RUN: A MUSICAL ODYSSEY

BR-Rooney_InItForLongRun_COVERIN IT FOR THE LONG RUN: A MUSICAL ODYSSEY
BY JIM ROONEY
University of Illinois Press 9780252079818. Paperback, 321 pp., $24.95. (University of Illinois Press, 1325    S. Oak St., Champaign, IL 61820, www.press.uillinois.edu.)

   Just how important is Jim Rooney—singer, songwriter, show promoter, record producer, and author—in the history of bluegrass, folk, and folk/country music?

Just browse through the index of his story-packed and densely-populated autobiography In It For The Long Run. You’ll find not idle name-dropping, but a roster of figures who Rooney has known well and/or worked with closely. These include, to name but a scant few, Bill Monroe (Rooney wrote the first Monroe biography, Bossmen), Bill Keith (a college friend with whom he performed and recorded, as Keith perfected his innovative melodic banjo style), the Lilly Brothers, Don Stover, Tex Logan, Peter Rowan, and Joe Val (all major players in the vibrant New England bluegrass community of which Rooney was also a stalwart), Joan Baez, Taj Mahal, Tom Rush, Buffy Ste. Marie, Jim Kweskin, Geoff Muldaur and Eric Von Schmidt (of the equally important 1960s Boston-Cambridge folk scene and Rooney and Von Schmidt’s 1979 book Baby Let Me Follow You Down is an invaluable document of that heady era), and a pantheon of other greats including Doc Watson, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Béla Fleck, Nanci Griffith, Iris Dement, Don Everly, and many, many more.

It’s indeed been a long run, starting way back in 1951 when Rooney, then a 13-year-old in Dedham, Mass., first heard “hillbilly” music on a regional radio show. As he writes in his engaging style, at the sound of a fiddle and banjo, “My Irish genes woke from their slumber and started jangling.” From there, Jim embarked on a musical odyssey worthy of one of the Greek heroes he later studied as a university Classics scholar. He experienced smooth sailing and storm-thrashed seas, prosperous reigns and grueling labors, loves and losses, cherished moments, and miserable frustrations. But there’s been music, music, music throughout. And that’s the emphasis here—on the artists and attractions, the shows and recording sessions, all recalled honestly, but affectionately, with no scores to settle.

Jim Rooney tended American roots music during its modern flowerings. You can enter his life’s garden sequentially with such lively opening chapters as: “Beats and Bluegrass at Amherst.” Or just wander down the index rows and jump into fields of interest. Either way, In It For The Long Run is a substantial history, as lived and recalled by a grand character.RDS


RICH IN TRADITION, LONESOMEVILLE

RICH-IN-TRADITIONRICH IN TRADITION
LONESOMEVILLE

Mountain Roads Records
MRR-1019

   The fourth CD from Rich In Tradition offers much that recalls such ’70s and ’80s groups as Boone Creek or Summer Wages or the Virginia Squires. They are not on the same level as Boone Creek—though arguably not far off—but are a very listenable band, highlighted by strong harmony singing and a tight, cohesive sound.

Traditional bluegrass roots and technique are here in abundance, and it’s obvious that the group has spent much time with and has great interest and respect for tradition, just as those bands above did. Here also, as with those bands, are softer vocalizing, an electric bass prominently featured in the mix, and material that exhibits pop and country touches, all of which give this album a sound closer to what was in vogue forty years ago rather than sixty years ago. Their covers of “This Girl That I Love,” “Life’s Highway,” and their cover of Steve Wariner’s “Where Did I Go Wrong,” certainly fit that assessment. The band’s vocal approach, both lead and harmony, are at their best on that style of song. “This Girl…” is especially notable.

At the other end of the spectrum are their versions of the traditional standards “Long Journey Home,” “Some Old Day,” and of Acuff’s “Branded Wherever I Go” and Tubbs’ “Are You Waiting Just For Me.” All four, particularly the first two, have a solid traditional feel, though the electric bass and the rounded off vocals pull the sound into a later era. Mixed in are several originals, the best of which are the gospel tunes “God Has Been So Good To Me” with it’s catchy, descending opening melody line, and “Glorious City,” which features harmonies as good as anything going. Those two and “Long Journey…” and “This Girl…” highlight an enjoyable album. (Mountain Roads Recordings, 3192 Hwy. 421, Bristol TN 37620, www.richintraditionbluegrass.com.)BW


THE GENTLEMEN OF BLUEGRASS, CAROLINA MEMORIES

GENTLEMEN-OF-BLUEGRASSTHE GENTLEMEN OF BLUEGRASS
CAROLINA MEMORIES

Pinecastle Records
PRC1188

   They do and they don’t. A decided lean toward the Country Gentlemen is evident on this Pinecastle debut from the Gentlemen of Bluegrass. Five of the tracks are covers of tunes once covered by the CG, including “Traveling Kind,” “This Morning At Nine,” “Blue Birds Calling,” “Waltz Of The Angels,” and “Keep Me From Blowing Away.” Two others, “Big Jim” and “God’s Country,” both originals from lead singer and guitarist Danny Stanley, draw on the CG tradition. That’s the “they do” portion of this recording.

The “they don’t” portion is that though they, at times, approximate the sound of the CG, there is little here that sounds like outright recreating. Yes, “Traveling Kind,” if heard without focus, might prompt a double-take. So, too, the two originals, particularly “God’s Country” with its Matterhorn-esque colorings. The rest, however, covers though they may be, sound more like they’re honoring a style rather than copying. Throw in Lorraine Jordan’s “Carolina Memories,” with its “Highway 40 Blues” form, and throw in some more traditional covers such as “Father’s Table Grace” and “Will The Roses Bloom,” and the lean becomes more a nod.

One could argue for a vocal similarity between Charlie Waller and Danny Stanley, but it is a similarity superficial at best. Though they both possess deep, rounded voices, Stanley has more of a country polish and a resonance to his work. He makes me think of Jim Reeves. The same is true of tenor singer and mandolinist Julian Rowland. He gets up there like John Duffey, but has his own sound when he gets there. Instrumentally, there is little or no attempt in the fine work by banjoist Randy Smith, resonator guitarist Tom Langdon, or bassist Greg Penny to cop the licks of the originals.

Where does that leave us? With an excellent, vocally-impressive album on which “they do” pay homage to the Country Gentlemen, but on which “they don’t” let that homage crowd out their own fine sound and personality. (Pinecastle Records, 5000 Old Buncombe Rd., Ste. 27-242, Greenville, SC 29617, www.pinecastlemusic.com.)BW


BRYAN SUTTON, INTO MY OWN

BRYAN SUTTONBRYAN SUTTON
INTO MY OWN

Sugar Hill
SUG-CD-4105

Bryan Sutton has long been revered as one of the most accomplished and innovative acoustic guitarists on the scene. Novice guitarists no doubt study his techniques the way young, aspiring painters study masterpieces in The Louvre.

Now, with his aptly-named fourth album for Sugar Hill, Sutton has taken a quantum leap forward by rolling out a couple of striking new dimensions to his artistry. More specifically, he emerges not just as a lyricist, but as a singer with a style as distinct as that of other great acoustic guitarists/singers such as Doc Watson, Norman Blake, and an early Tony Rice.

In a recent interview, Sutton talked about the amount of time, thought, and energy that went into this project over the five or so years since the 2009 release of his last album, Almost Live. (Of course, during that time, he’s also stayed busy as a much in-demand Nashville session player, has continued with his ongoing collaborations with several different bands, and he’s even produced an album or two for other artists. The man stays busy.) As the music on this album quickly reveals, that time, thought, and energy was very well spent.

Collaboration has always been a key component of Sutton’s musical identity and a vital source of his creativity. And even though Into My Own might be considered a solo album (if only because Sutton’s name is the only one on the cover), it’s nearly as much a collaboration as all of his previous albums have been. This time around, he’s joined on various cuts and in various configurations by Sam Bush, Stuart Duncan, Ronnie and Rob McCoury, Dennis Crouch, Greg Garrison, Luke Bulla, Alan Bartram, Jason Carter, Noam Pikelny, and fellow guitar wizard Bill Frizzell. In the studio, he also had the help of his right-hand-man, Brent Truitt.

These performances are imbued with the sort of technical prowess and adventurous improvisation that you’d expect. Yet there’s absolutely nothing abstract or abstruse about them; they are also grounded in down-home soulfulness and rootsy emotion. Of all the impressive cuts, there are two in particular that illustrate Sutton’s great musical leap forward. On his rendition of the Guy Clark classic “Anyway, I Love You,” he shows what an impressive voice he has. On “Run Away,” a stark mountain-style ballad to which he wrote the music and lyrics, he sings to the sole accompaniment of his own clawhammer-style banjo playing.

Here and elsewhere on the album, Sutton and his fellow musicians capture that elusive and fragile balance between awesome cutting-edge virtuosity and solidly-grounded traditional rootsiness. And that’s no small achievement. (Sugar Hill Records, 230 Franklin Boulevard, Bldg. 14B, Franklin, TN 37064, www.sugarhillrecords.com.)BA


UNSPOKEN TRADITION, SIMPLE LITTLE TOWN

Unspoken-TraditionUNSPOKEN TRADITION
SIMPLE LITTLE TOWN

No Label
CRA 002

   Split by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the western North Carolina-based members of Unspoken Tradition have melded into a polished ensemble with strong original material, abundant talent, and an already distinctive sound subtly more trad than most new bands. Simple Little Town proves an auspicious debut from (self-described) “six working-class guys from North Carolina” who have been together for less than two years. This whole far exceeds the sum of its parts.

Original songs prove a must these days. Unspoken Tradition goes well beyond that standard with new songs that stand out and shape their sound. Seven band compositions propel the album, starting with the radio friendly and instantly memorable title-track written and sung by resonator player Lee Shuford. He also contributes the closing “Rebel’s Shake”—the quite rare war song from the deserter’s point of view—and “Time Marches On.” Shuford founded Unspoken Tradition down the mountain in Cherryville, N.C., with banjo player Zane McGinnis and guitarist and primary lead singer Audie McGinnis. The latter composed a trio of songs, two quite daringly distinctive. “Mr. President” is Tea-Party angry yet politically non-partisan, populism without party, emotions shaping policy. Audie sings lead on his powerful, Levon Helm-style “Blood And Bone,” about a farmer’s attachment to the land. Mandolinist and sometime lead singer Ty Gilpin provides the other title, “Bitter Haze,” from within the band, rounded out by fiddler Tim Gardner and bassist Matt Warren. Those three come from Asheville.

Given the sincere traditional soul of their original songs, Unspoken Tradition seems just a bit less confident and a lot less distinctive on their cover of the Stanley Brothers’ “I’m Lost And I’ll Never Find The Way.” On the other hand, their bluegrass version of Cake’s “Stickshifts And Safetybelts” works quite well, despite some phrasing challenges in the translation. The ability to identify the bluegrass potential of that pop song demonstrates a great talent long ago mastered by Doyle Lawson and Bill Emerson. Unspoken Tradition demonstrates unlimited potential, genuine passion, fine writing, and, particularly, a well-formed sense of themselves on their first album. (www.unspokentradition.com)AM


DENNIS ELLIOTT, FIDDLER’S DREAM

RR-DENNIS-ELLIOTDENNIS ELLIOTT
FIDDLER’S DREA

No Label
No Number

   This self-produced CD features Elliott’s obvious talents on banjo, mandolin, guitar, and especially fiddle. He has won many contests on fiddle, banjo, and mandolin, not only in his native Louisiana, but also in his current home in Virginia and beyond. His playing on these instruments is solid and dead-on. He plays banjo in both the Scruggs- and melodic-styles with equally good results. His mandolin is tasteful and fluid. His emphasis is on fiddle and, here, his fiddling shines throughout. The program is made up of seventeen tunes including two from Bill Monroe, “Ground Speed” from Earl Scruggs, and Vassar Clements’ “Lonesome Fiddle Blues.”

At times, his fiddle renditions take the tune to a new place. “Martin’s Waltz” is a tune that takes quite a bit of finesse to play, and he does play it just fine, until he goes over the top with innovations that would give the late Clark Kessinger a run for his money. And like Kessinger, these improvisations can actually distract from the melody. The original “New South Breakdown” features some odd fiddle bowing that gets at the back of the beat, giving the tune the feel of pulling backwards. The rest of the material is quite exciting, and Elliot handles it all with ease as he glides through workouts such as “Crazy Creek,” “Road To Columbus,” “Jole Bon,” and the title track.

If your tastes run to hot bluegrass fiddle backed by solid banjo and mandolin, you’ll find a lot to like here. Bass, the only instrument Elliot does not play on this project, is handled by Brian Sulser with the utmost skill. This is a fine effort showcasing an obvious talent. (Dennis Elliot, 1205 Whitby Rd., Richmond, VA 23227, www.dennis-elliott.com.)RCB


THE DOWNTOWN MOUNTAIN BOYS, HEARTLAND

rr-DOWNTOWN-MOUNTAINTHE DOWNTOWN MOUNTAIN BOYS
HEARTLAND

No label
No number

Let’s see…plenty of superlatives? Check. Showers of accolades? Check. Glowing tributes? Check. Then we’re off. The Downtown Mountain Boys are a group of five veteran Puget Sound area musicians who have been together for at least seven years. Heartland is their second release.

To begin with, each of the band members should be considered a master of his particular instrument. None may ever be judged instrumentalist of the year, but each player—Paul Elliot on fiddle, Don Share on guitar, Terry Enyeart on bass, David Keenan on banjo, and Tom Moran on mandolin—has the chops to fit easily with any band performing today, and (most importantly) they all have a great sense of how to play something that fits the tune or song perfectly. Taste—very good taste.

Share, Enyeart, and Keenan share lead and harmony vocals throughout. All are strong lead singers, with a nice variety between the lead voices. One of the most compelling aspects of this release is the superb vocal blend. Sublime is not too strong a description for the harmony singing on “Going Home,” on Don Stover’s “Things In Life,” on “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” (with great lead work by Terry Enyeart), and on many others. The vocal harmonies are tight, dead-on, and stirring. Another hallmark of this project is the attention to detail. The intricate, well-conceived, and well-executed arrangements, both vocally and instrumentally, are found throughout and really set the CD apart. Clearly, a lot of thought went into how to best showcase each song or tune, and it shows.

Another strength here is the nicely varied selection of material. Paul Elliot contributes two fine original instrumentals, “Road To Dawson” and “Heartland Waltz.” Terry Enyeart penned “Shannon’s Last Ride” bidding adieu to a longtime equine companion, and “Timber,” a tribute to a signature Northwest occupation, both of which help give the material a nice variety and a distinctive stamp. Other especially strong cuts (there are no throwaways here) would have to include “Up And Down The Mountain,” “Going Home,” “If It Hadn’t Been For Love,” “Like A Train Needs A Track,” and “Cloudy Days.” Many of these deserve some serious airplay, especially “Going Home,” “Things In Life,” and “If It Hadn’t Been For Love.”

This is a great CD. Strong musicians, great vocals, great material, great arrangements, and well and tastefully executed. What a pleasure to review. (DownTown Mountain Boys, 1921 9th Ave. W., Seattle, WA 98119, www.downtownmountainboys.com.)AW