EARL SCRUGGS: BANJO ICON

EARL SCRUGGS: BANJO ICON—GORDON CASTELNERO AND DAVID L. RUSSELL
Rowman & Littlefield 9781442268654. Hardback, 258 pp., Forward by Bela Fleck, $40.

This is an insightful tribute to the man who put the banjo in bluegrass. Taken from many oral histories or first-hand accounts of folks who knew Scruggs, we get a rather detailed look into his life from the time he was a child right up to the time of his death. With a foreword by Bela Fleck setting the stage, we hear from a who’s who of modern banjo players of all ages. The authors have even extrapolated the influence that Scruggs had upon succeeding generations by including interviews with so many young players who felt his influence first-hand and through his many recordings and appearances.

Jim Mills and Gary Scruggs provided a wealth of the information here. A list of the other people cited in telling this story reads like a down-home biography provided by a who’s who of bluegrass history. There are excerpts of Earl’s own words from radio shows like Fresh Air and other interviews thrown in for added insights. As a special treat for banjo players, the authors often get into bits of banjo tech-talk about licks that Scruggs played and how he used them, along with some rather detailed attention to the different banjos he used and when he used them over the years. There are detailed notes at the end of the book and a nice spread of pictures of Lester Flatt and Earl through the years, as well as the Scruggs family, too. This includes Earl’s brothers as well some of the many folks that were part of his professional life in music and on television.

This book is essential for all fans of bluegrass banjo, Flatt & Scruggs, and the Earl Scruggs Revue or even The Beverly Hillbillies. While not a perfect biography, it does present a solid representation of the man behind the music. (www.rowman.com)RCB


MAMA CORN

MAMA-CORNMAMA CORN
LIVE AND LEARN

No Label
No Number

Mama Corn, a fun and funky bluegrass group from central Pennsylvania, has scaled down from a quintet to a quartet since their previous recording Hold That Crooked Line. On Live And Learn, they sound like they’ve done exactly that, refining their sound and repertoire and managing that precarious balance between polish and spunk. They also succeed in maintaining a relatively consistent sound, which can be a bit of a trick when you’re balancing four different lead vocalists and four songwriters. It helps that all the singers are solid vocalists, with guitarist Bruce Forr’s craggy delivery standing out as the most distinctive. But when combined with some high-tenor harmonies and the tasty banjo work of Jeremy Nelson and the single-string resonator guitar playing of John Stevens, Mama Corn offers enough of bluegrass music’s rootsy charm even while delving into folk and blues.

Regional bands can live or die on the strength of their original material, and Mama Corn has included some memorable songs on their new release. One of the numbers that stands out is “Nobody Died,” a very clever novelty song that serves as an alternative to the classic bluegrass death wish and turns out to be a hitherto-unrecorded collaboration between Stevens and none other than Peter Rowan. Bassist Bryan Homan contributes “In The High Rise,” an up-tempo, if not upbeat, exploration of modern 9-to-5 existence that John Hartford captured so eloquently in his “In Tall Buildings.” There’s a surprising but ultimately successful bluegrass adaptation of Tom Paxton’s classic “Last Thing On My Mind.” “Sing!” is an effectively rousing paean to rambunctious musicianship, an appropriate anthem for a band such as this.

It’s gratifying to see a band like Mama Corn take a significant step forward in their musical growth, and Live And Learn indicates that the band may have lots more good music in them and ahead of them. (www.mamacornbluegrass.com)HK


ANDREW VOGTS

RR-ANDREW-VOGTSANDREW VOGTS
SASQUATCH WITH AN ALIEN ON ITS HEAD

Patuxent Music
CD-298

Here is another talented young picker making his recording debut on Tom Mindte’s Patuxent Music. His name is Andrew Vogts. He’s 15, plays fiddle, and is already something of a music veteran, having won competitions at Galax and Clifftop and also performed with the Beach Boys. As that disparity between the ultra old-time of Galax and the rock’n’roll of the Beach Boys indicates, Vogts has wide horizons and, as this recording shows, the talent to match. His ideas and variations are quite advanced, his confidence in execution is impressive, and he already has a distinct fiddling style.

This recording, as bassist Mark Schatz writes in his liner notes, focuses on the traditional end. Largely that means old-time, be it a standard such as “Durang’s Hornpipe” or lesser-known public domain tunes such as “Boxing Reel,” “The Pig And The Devil’s Eye,” and “Bumblebee In A Jug.” Also here is a funky reading of Amy Cann and Natalie McMasters’ Cape Breton-style “Catharsis” and an equally funky low-string banjo and fiddle cover of Nate Leath’s “Rosin On The Gourd,” which along with “Durang’s Hornpipe” are the most intriguing tracks included.

The album includes banjoist Victor Furtado, guitarist Danny Knicely, bassist Schatz, fiddler Aila Waldman, and mandolinist Eli Waldman. Four tracks are fiddle and banjo duets. All praise aside, this would have been a better recording had the sound been better. The backing is often muddy, and the soloing instruments sound distant and range from thin (the banjo and guitar) to somewhat scraping and whiney (Vogts’ fiddle). But for a talent of this level, it’s still a promising debut. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)BW


THE JAKOB’S FERRY STRAGGLERS

JACOBS-FERRYTHE JAKOB’S FERRY STRAGGLERS
WHITE LIGHTNING ROAD

No Label
No Number

The latest from the western Pennsylvania-based Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers, a self-described “Appalachian bluegrass” band, features a collection of originals by bandmembers Gary Antol and Joe Dep, plus some traditional tunes. Two well-chosen covers that really show off the old-time instrumentation and natural vocal blend between guitar/mandolin player Gary Antol and fiddler Libby Eddy are Peter Rowan’s masterful “Thirsty In The Rain” and the old-time standard penned by Si Kahn, “Wild Rose Of The Mountain.”

This band is an offshoot of a former project, The Weedrags. Antol, Eddy, Ed Croft (bass), and Dep (banjo) hail from mountain towns in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland. The goal when they put the band together in 2014 was to “write good songs, have fun, and take it to the road.” This, they appear to be doing successfully. The title track, written by Darren Hunt, is the story of a moonshiner trying to survive in a dying coal town. We raise our jugs to Southern stars and drink to better times is something we can all probably relate to—although the contents of our jugs may vary. Darren Hunt also contributed the swingy, Ray Stevens-inspired song “Get Along Gone.”

The B-part on the first track, “Red Prairie Dawn,” is a particularly fine melody that puts one in mind of  driving down a summertime country road with the windows rolled down. “Tight Like That” has a jug band vibe and memorable lyrics: Mama killed a chicken / Thought it was a duck / Put him on the table with his legs stuck up. On the Antol original “Smokestacks,” the singer gets creative with his romantic compliments. He tells his love (in no particular order): I like myself reflected in your eyes…I like the way you like your chicken fried…I love the shifting colors in your eyes…I love the way your accent drives me wild. “Country Melodies,” written by Joe Dep, is another great driving song ending in an instrumental jam that brings to mind the Dirt Band’s “Ripplin’ Waters.” The band pulls off “Billy In The Low Ground” with an earthy scratch, and Antol’s “The Breadline” features thought-provoking lyrics. Be sure to check out this band if they come rolling through your town, and bring your dancing shoes. (www.jakobsferry.com)NC


SING ME BACK HOME: SOUTHERN ROOTS AND COUNTRY MUSIC

SING ME BACK HOME: SOUTHERN ROOTS AND COUNTRY MUSIC—BY BILL C. MALONE
Univ. of Oklahoma Press 9780806155869. Hardcover, 368 pp., 21 b&w illus., $29.95. (Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2800 Venture Dr., Norman, OK 73069, www.oupress.com.)

This new book from Bill Malone is a collection of essays written during his more than fifty years as a researcher and author regarding the history of country music. Mr. Malone is best known for his 1968 book Country Music, USA, and he is considered one of, if not the, foremost authority of this style of American music.

The book begins with a 2004 essay in which he describes growing up in rural East Texas, getting his exposure to country music via the radio, especially Mexico’s Border Radio and the Grand Ole Opry. Malone’s essays cover the many influences that Scotch-Irish and African-American cultures had on the music, which included gospel, blues, and the music resulting from the Civil War. He explored the creation of honky-tonk, Texas Swing, the Appalachian folk culture, and the migration of rural Southern people to the Northern States, bringing music with them. He looked into the careers and influences of such artists and writers as William Hays, Jimmie Rodgers, Albert E. Brumley, and Elvis Presley. He wrote liner notes for album projects including the Blue Sky Boys and the Chuck Wagon Gang.

The 16 chapters in this book are a wonderful, historic look through Mr. Malone’s thoughts on how the music we call “country music” became fixed in the American culture. Each chapter is accompanied with extensive notes and research references which give more detail to specific sources. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in where the genre came from.BF


ROB BENZING

ROB-BENZINGROB BENZING

Patuxent Music
CD-296

Those concerned with the future of traditional bluegrass music can seek comfort in the latest crop of young pickers coming along, making the next generation of tunes. Rob Benzing debuts with a self-titled album that combines old favorites and fresh tunes from this banjoist and his group of friends and bandmates. Backing up Benzing on the CD are Danny Knicely on rhythm guitar/lead guitar/vocals; Taylor Baker, mandolin; Mark Schatz, bass; Patrick McAvinue, fiddle; Scott Brannon, guitar/vocals; Jacob Mosley, mandolin/vocals; Joey Mosley, guitar/vocals; and Tom Mindte, vocals.

Benzing wrote “Monocacy Crossing” and “Fingerboard Road,” the latter of which is a signature piece that showcases not just good picking and timing, but a flair for making an instrumental stand out. McAvinue’s fiddle is not to be missed on this one. There are three tracks for banjo diehards, including nice turns on “Shenandoah Breakdown,” “Armadillo Breakdown,” and  “Dixie Breakdown.” Joey Mosley handles the vocals admirably on “Carry Me” written by Jacob Mosley.

Benzing, while a youngster, gives a nod to his influences, first to Reno & Smiley on “Sockeye” and “No Longer A Sweetheart Of Mine,” and later to Earl Scruggs with “Lonesome Road Blues.” All in all, this CD offers plenty, with a fresh take on some oldies, along with old-time drive. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)MKB


CORRINA ROSE LOGSTON AND JEREMY STEPHENS

Logston-&-StephensCORRINA ROSE LOGSTON
AND JEREMY STEPHENS
SONGS OF HOME AND INSPIRATION

No Label, No Number

   Recordings like this remind us that these old songs still have power to both entertain and move the listener. The old brother-duet style, focused largely on sentimental or religious tunes, may be somewhat dated by contemporary standards, but it’s still hard to resist, particularly when presented by performers so deeply immersed in those older styles.

In this case that would be the talented husband-and-wife pairing of Corrina Rose Logston and Jeremy Stephens. Both are young/old hands at this type of material with deep pedigrees that belie their age. Logston plays the guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. Stephens plays the guitar, mandolin, and banjo. Both of them sing, usually as a duo, although a solo turns up here and there.

Anyone familiar with the older duet style can anticipate that there’s not much here in the barnburner class. With the exception of some of the Bill and Charlie Monroe sides of the ’30s, that was not a huge part of the style of that time. So about as rollicking as it gets here are the two fiddle and banjo instrumentals, “Round Town Gals” and “Arkansas Traveler,” both of which are models of clarity and melody. The opening gospel tune “I’ll Shout And Shine” can also be put in that category and, to a lesser extent, Logston’s version of “Matterhorn,” underscored with some very nice cross-picked mandolin.

There’s a languid, bluesy, fingerpicked duet on Dave Evans’ “Highway 52,” followed by the 3/4-time gospel of “The Sons And Daughters Of God” and an all-too-brief country tale of caution, “Don’t Trade.” That, along with the Anglin’s “Just A Friend” and Odell McLeod’s “Be On Time,” are album standouts. Of course, citing those standouts is all relative on an album full of great songs done in fine fashion. (Logston and Stephens, P.O. Box 261, Whites Creek, TN 37189, www.corrinacorrina.com.)BW


DAVE ADKINS TRIO

DAVE-ADKINSDAVE ADKINS TRIO
TURN TO JESUS

Mountain Fever
MFR 170407

Bluegrass gospel recordings can use approaches ranging from spare to ornate, following one end or the other exclusively, or create an overall blend located anywhere on the spectrum or mixing and matching tracks from all over that spectrum. There is no right way. Each approach works towards a common goal.

Dave Adkins and his singing partners, Richie Rose and David Taylor, instrumentally supported by resonator guitarist/bassist Jeff Partin and guitarist/mandolinist Aaron Ramsey, focus their all-gospel debut predominantly on the spare end. Arrangements are simplified, often featuring the bass and guitar, elsewhere adding a third instrument. Only a handful are “full band.” Vocally, a similar simplicity is followed. Adkins sings, and Rose and Taylor harmonize on the choruses. There is little or no call-and-response, no staggered, overlapping, intricately-woven wording. This is basic emotional singing, getting right to the point, and the results place it among the best gospel records of recent years.

Adkins has a huge, bluesy, emotion-laden voice. He can growl and bend and shout it out with the best of them, but can also get a powerful whisper-like voice when he wants or needs to, as he does at times on “The Old Rugged Cross.” His phrasing and timing are very good. He is at his best on the slower tunes that make up a bit over half of the 12 tracks. Standards such as “The Old Rugged Cross,” “He Touched Me,” and “House Of Gold” are simply beautiful. So too are his own (with Brink Brinkman) “Turn To Jesus,” and Colbert and Joyce Croft’s “I Can’t Even Walk.” On the faster tunes, “I’ll Fly Away,” “Honey In The Rock,” “Crying Holy Unto The Lord,” and “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” the joy and emotion Adkins creates is very powerful and uplifting. Gospel records don’t come much better than this. (Mountain Fever, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)BW


ZOE AND CLOYD

Zoe-&-CloydZOE AND CLOYD
EYES BRAND NEW

No Label
ZC02

When a duo releases a debut album, it makes perfect sense to present themselves in the authentic purity of two voices and two instruments. That’s exactly what Zoe and Cloyd did on their initial recording, Equinox. And it makes just as much sense, when putting out their follow-up effort, to broaden their range and instrumentation and show the world just how wide their stylistic scope and sound can be. And that’s where we find the pairing of fiddler Natalya Zoe Weinstein and John Cloyd Miller on Eyes Brand New, a compelling and engaging second CD.

While the album’s ten tracks give them plenty of opportunity to display the intimacy of their sound as just two musicians, they have also brought in banjoist Jens Kruger, resonator guitarist Will Straughan, and bassist Kevin Kehrberg to augment their band on some tracks. And augment they do, perhaps most effectively on Cloyd’s ancient sounding ballad “Jewel Of The Caspian Sea,” which opens with his a cappella voice and concludes as a propulsive bluegrass song in which Zoe’s fiddle drives the rhythm effectively.

They achieve an engaging balance in styles with their softer folk songs such as “You Light My Way,” “Old Stone Wall,” and the title-track serving as contrast to songs that would serve them in good stead at a bluegrass festival, such as the gospel number “Let’s Go Down To The River” and the clever novelty song “Running On Empty.” The instrumental tracks “Frontier Waltz” and “Underground Railroad” let Zoe’s fiddle play off of Cloyd’s mandolin and banjo for a spare, evocative sound.

What really makes Zoe and Cloyd’s music linger pleasingly in the listener’s memory is the special synergy their two voices have together, as well as their knack for both composing songs and tunes in a traditional-sounding mode. Add to this the addition of hauntingly beautiful older material like “Farewell To Fiunary,” which closes the album, and we’re left with a musical collaboration that demands to be heard. (www.zoeandcloyd.com)HK


TIM O’BRIEN

TIM-OTIM O’BRIEN
WHERE THE RIVER MEETS THE ROAD

Howdy Skies CD-2017

   No American acoustic artist has presented a more honest, deeply-rooted expression of bluegrass, old-time, Celtic, and roots music than West Virginia’s favorite son, Tim O’Brien. Whether it’s his early work with the Ophelia Swing Band, his initial solo records and songwriting work for Nashville stalwarts like Kathy Mattea, to his generation-spanning work with bluegrass legends Hot Rize and more, Tim simply can’t sing or play an unauthentic or inelegant note on any of the instruments he plays or through that immutable voice.

On his latest solo CD, O’Brien explores nearly every musical avenue he’s ever walked down, ranging from bluegrass to mountain modal to lush ballads, such as his glorious original “Guardian Angel,” which tells the true story of a guardian angel picture he grew up with and a letter written by his mom that helped his family endure the loss of his big sister. With younger sister Mollie on harmony vocals, it’s impossible to hear this without welling up deep emotions for the universal loss they endured.

The title tune perfectly captures his enduring love for Celtic and mountain music, telling the tale of an immigrant heading West to make his fortune. Backed by Mike Bub, Stuart Duncan, and Noam Pikelny, the tune is a modern classic like so many of Tim’s compositions. With his bluegrass itch soothed by his work in Hot Rize, O’Brien takes the opportunity here to use this solo release as a vehicle for multiple musical fascinations and visions. He delves into trad fiddling in a gorgeous duo with cellist Nathaniel Smith on “Queen Of The Earth And Child Of The Skies.” “Drunkard’s Grave” should placate any Red Knuckles fans looking for their hero on this album. (Never have understood how those two musicians got confused.) “Windy Mountain,” a Curly Ray Cline number, lets Tim demonstrate his unparalleled bluegrass chops, except mysteriously, he’s playing guitar here, not mandolin. The next tune, “Few Old Memories,” is another classic, uncovered from the trove of brilliant tunes written by Hazel Dickens. Here, O’Brien re-imagines the song as a country ballad perfectly suited to his world-weary, weathered tenor voice.

Where The River Meets The Road presents a clear portrait of one of America’s musical treasures, an artist equally at home belting out bluegrass and then singing with current Nashville breakthrough Chris Stapleton. With his broad-ranging interest in so many acoustic music styles, O’Brien has drawn on a range of sources and influences to craft a delightful record celebrating great American string music. Highly recommended. (www.timobrien.net)DJM


DARRELL WEBB BAND

DARRELL-WEBBDARRELL WEBB BAND
LOVER’S LEAP

Mountain Fever Records
MFR170210

Darrell Webb’s years with Wildfire, Lonesome River Band, Rhonda Vincent, and Michael Cleveland have served him well. The time spent with those groups enabled Webb to learn both sides of the business—the stage and the office. He took those learned skills and formed his own band and now with a number of projects under his belt, he introduces us to his latest release.

Webb on mandolin is joined by Jared Hensley (guitar), Tyler Collins (resonator guitar), Kameron Keller (bass), and Cody Hill (banjo). He is also joined by guests Aaron Ramsey (bass), Jeff Partin (resonator guitar), and Jake Joines (resonator guitar). Webb shows his songwriting strengths on the title-cut “Lover’s Leap,” “Nothing Like A Woman To Bring You Down,” and “Mountain Dan.” Other tunes include the old chestnut “Lost John,” the hot single “If You’re Thinking You Want A Stranger,” Norman Blake’s “Orphan Annie,” and Harley Allen’s “Daddy’s Drinking Shoes.” Also included are “Forty Acre Blues,” “Always On The Move,” “Diggin’,” and “I’m Going That Way.”

Webb’s mandolin is featured throughout, with lots of support and backup from the other members. He’s a great vocalist, backed by the harmonies of Keller, who also takes the lead on “Always On The Move.” “Lover’s Leap” tells the story of a farmer in love with a girl and follows their love to its tragic end. This is a very strong new release from an accomplished and successful artist. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd., Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)BF


TUSSEY MOUNTAIN MOONSHINERS

TUSSEY-MTNTUSSEY MOUNTAIN MOONSHINERS
SHINE

No Label
No Number

In the liner notes, the following recipe appears: “How to make SHINE. 5 parts songwriters, 6 parts acoustic instrumentation, and 3-part harmonies. Age ingredients 18 months on many stages. Take fermented sour mash to the stillhouse, add one condenser microphone, and boil. Do not over mix.”

The Tussey Mountain Moonshiners band from central Pennsylvania won the 2010 DelFest Bluegrass Band Competition. Bandmembers include Marc “Slim” Prave on bass (aka The Thumper), Stephen “Buck” Buckalew (The Still Hand) on fiddle and mandolin, Gwen “Gdub” Stimely (The Bootlegger) on banjo, Stephen “Crawdaddy” Crawford (The Beer) on guitar, and Jeremiah “Groove” Tosten (The Stir Stick) on lead guitar, mandolin, and clawhammer banjo. Everybody sings and contributes original material. You can’t say these guys don’t have a sense of humor in the way they approach their music. It definitely sounds like a fun time is being had by all.

The album leads off with Stephen Crawford’s cleverly written “I’ll Be Your Johnny Cash (If You Will Be My June),” which incorporates a couple dozen song titles from the Man in Black within the lyrics. In “Somebody Else,” Gwen Stimely asks the Lord: Why, oh why do I have to be myself? / Just for today I’d rather be somebody else / Who doesn’t have to wear these shoes and make the same mistakes I do.

“Marching Through Sand” is a modern day soldier’s lament penned by Crawford who is dreaming of the harvest moon over his home in Pennsylvania. I’m half a world away / and I’m marching through sand. Stimely’s “Chicken Run” is a quick-paced, old-time tune that features the banjo. Gwen is the unlucky person who has to chase the chicken down for Sunday dinner. In the last verse, she imagines an angel with chicken wings chasing her around the clouds in Heaven, singing the same song.

Gwen’s love song “Ordinary Woman, Ordinary Man” is about a couple who are stuck like glue in love with each other for the long run: So we’d best figure out what we can / because there’s way too much to understand, for an ordinary woman and an ordinary man. Check out this band if you enjoy rambunctious, moonshine-themed humor and a foray into some new original bluegrass songs. If you go see them live, they may even come up with a nickname for you, too! (www.tusseymountainmoonshiners.com)NC


THE WEEPING WILLOWS

WEEPING-WILLOWSTHE WEEPING WILLOWS
BEFORE DARKNESS COMES A-CALLIN’

No Label
No Number

The second recording from Australian duo, Andrew Wrigglesworth and Laura Coates (The Weeping Willows) is a collection of original songs guaranteed to haunt. “We are the darker side of Americana,” Laura Coates says. “We are drawn to murder ballads, as well as spiritual hymns, and we also love Hank Williams, Sr.” Self-produced and engineered by multiple Grammy-winner Ryan Freeland in Los Angeles, the couple’s intertwined voices are backed by Wrigglesworth’s acoustic guitar, plus Kevin Breit (clawhammer banjo), David Piltch (bass), Tommy Detamore (pedal steel), Luke Moller (fiddle and mandolin), and Freeland on piano accordion in a spare, but strikingly effective style.

The first single released to radio, “River Of Gold,” is a song of “desire, temptation and surrender,” Andy says. The duo describes the blues influenced “Devil’s Road” as a cautionary tale of despair and regret. “Pale Rider,” written about the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse, is a pleading song reminiscent of Dr. Ralph Stanley’s “O Death” in content. Save me, save me, before darkness come’s a calling, the two singers implore with Laura’s quick vibrato soprano woven around Andrew’s faint Aussie-accented tenor. After the first two or three songs, the harmony is so close that the two singers become one voice.

“Travelin’ Man” is the familiar tale of a man whose heart belongs to the open road and the woman he is destined to leave behind, no matter how much they love each other. In “Fallen Ring,” backed by a Travis-style guitar line, the lovers say, It looks like a future in misery. In the haunting a cappella treatment of “When The Sun Comes Down,” a child is born at night, dressed in black, and everyone knows there’s something not quite right with his soul. (You’ll have to listen to the song to find out what happens.) The most frightening song is probably “Forever In My Dreams,” about a partner obsessed and controlling. You cry to set you free, but no one’s gonna steal you from me / You can’t run away, you’re here to stay / Forever in my dreams. If you enjoy a good ghost story, scary movie, and your acoustic music edged in black, you’ll enjoy the Weeping Willows. I recommend listening before nightfall. (www.theweepingwillows.com.au)NC


NED LUBERECKI

NED-LUBERECKINED LUBERECKI
TAKE FIVE

Clemment Luberecki Music
CLM 0317

   The ever quixotic Mr. Luberecki has produced an engaging outing here that will take the listener on a romp through a wide range of material with an extensive cast of musical partners. There are interesting and engaging banjo and fiddle duets with Becky Buller, hard-driving bluegrass with Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, jams with session artists, and nods to jazz with the title-cut “Blue Monk” and “The Girl From Ipanema.” Then there’s mainstream bluegrass with Amanda Smith’s fine vocals on “We’ll Put Out The Fire” and Dale Ann Bradley ripping through “Higher Ground.”

The titles don’t always reveal all of the joy laying to be discovered on each track. “B-Flat Medley” featuring David Grier’s guitar, Mike Compton’s mandolin, Shad Cobb’s fiddle, and Missy Raines’ bass is a romp through some of the more challenging tunes in the bluegrass catalog. The “Kitchen Squirrel Medley” is one of those banjo-fiddle duets mentioned earlier with Ms. Buller.

If you are starting to get the feeling that this project is all over the place, it is. Please note that the last two cuts consist of a medley of Buck Owens songs and the “Star Trek Theme.” True to form, we are treated to a seemingly harum-scarum group of pieces that work together better than one might imagine. That Mr. Luberecki is a force of nature should not be a question. His wit and wisdom are expressed in these tracks. Here we get to see the wide range of this man’s mind and his vision of where the banjo belongs today. Kudos to a fine effort. This is essential listening for fans of banjo. (www.nedski.com)RCB


THE GARRETT NEWTON BAND

GARRETT-NEWTON-BANDTHE GARRETT NEWTON BAND
YOUNG HEART OLD SOUL

Pinecastle Music
PRC1204

Young looking even for 17, Garrett Newton is well on his way to making a name for himself in the bluegrass community with his first solo release Young Heart Old Soul. He’s been playing banjo since he was ten, when he started hanging out at the Beaver Creek Music Hall near his hometown of Benson, in rural Johnston County, North Carolina. In his progression to learning the banjo, he took lessons from Steve Dilling, longtime five-stringer for IIIrd Tyme Out.

Newton also spends time playing with Lorraine Jordan (of Carolina Road). Jordan has returned the favor by joining Newton on his project on bass, and serving as his agent and producer. Daniel Aldridge fills the mandolin role and vocals; Allen Dyer plays guitar and sings lead; and Parks Icenhour plays lead guitar and bass vocals. Guests include Ron Stewart on fiddle; Jason Moore on bass; and Heather Berry on vocals.

This CD offers some fine picking all around, but the banjo work shines. The vocals and production values are topnotch. There are plenty of opportunities for Newton to shine on classic tunes such as “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me,” “Farewell Blues,” “Take This Hammer,” and “Bells Of Saint Mary.” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Redwood Hill” is tracked, as is the IIIrd Tyme Out hit, “I Ain’t Broke (But I’m Badly Bent).” Jordan penned “Last Hanging Of Wise County.”

Listeners will recognize and enjoy a lot on this opening salvo from a banjo player that is certainly going to make some noise, no pun intended. It sets a high bar for a follow-up album. (Pinecastle Music, 2514 River Rd., Ste. 105, Piedmont, NC 29673, www.pinecastlemusic.com.)MKB


LARRY CORDLE

LARRY-CORDLELARRY CORDLE
GIVE ME JESUS

Mighty Cord Records
MCR1003

Singer-songwriter-producer Larry Cordle and his celebrated musical compatriots sure raise a joyful noise on this fine new gospel album. The 13 wisely-chosen songs are an inspired mixture of traditional spirituals (the title-tune and “Two Coats”) and powerful oldies (Carl Story’s “It’s A Lonesome Road,” A.E. Brumley’s joyful “I’ll Meet You In The Morning,” Willie Nelson’s “Family Bible,” and Carl Jackson’s and Jerry Salley’s “God Had A Hand In It”).

These are leavened with a handful of sparkling Cordle originals, co-written with Larry Shell and Ronnie Bowman. Among the latter are the spooky “The Old Thing’s Walkin’ About,” the soulful “Gone On Before,” and the playful yet profound “Lost As A Ball In High Weeds.” The picking on the album, provided by Clay Hess (guitar and mandolin), Brennan Hess (bass), Irl Hees (bass), and Rob Ickes (Weissenborn slide guitar), is impeccable. The vocal arrangements, in which Cordle raises his voice in celebration with guest vocalists Carl Jackson, Lethal Jackson (Carl’s dad) Don Rigsby, Val Storey, Bradley Walker, Jerry Salley, Chris Latham, Angie La Primm, and Gail Mayes, are as near to transcendent as it gets down here on earth.

As an added bonus, the first-run edition of Give Me Jesus includes a 12-page booklet with song lyrics, along with Cordle’s personal notes on each track. (www.larrycordle.com)BA


DOS VALLEY TRIO

DOS-VALLEY-TRIODOS VALLEY TRIO
JEWELS OF THE SAN JOAQUIN

Mt. Wow
CD002

This trio is composed of Harry Liedstrand on fiddle, guitar, and vocals, his wife Cindy on guitar, and Terry Barrett on mandolin and fiddle. This is their loving look back on part of the wealth of tunes and songs they learned from their mentors decades ago.

About 100 years ago, the Crockett family, originally from Kentucky, moved to Fowler, Cal. They recorded some influential tunes in the original heyday of old-time music, and their influence is felt here especially on the fine “Crockett’s Reel,” which sounds like a variant of the old gem “Salt River” in its modal wanderings. The late Kenny Hall, sometimes called the Doc Watson of the West Coast, was a blind fiddle and mandolin player whose infectious and inclusive joy for the music and the folks that play it cast a long shadow over the old-time music scene in California and beyond. He is represented here by a number of tunes and the joyful spirit that infuses every note of this music. Fiddlers such as Ron Hughey, who came to California with his family in 1926 is represented here with an old modal fiddle tune, “Yellow Gals,” from his home state of Missouri. Hughey’s fiddling was more of an old-time sort, so he stuck out from the slick contest fiddlers who predominated the scene in the valley.

As to the performances here, Harry Liedstrand is a fine fiddler, adept at bringing the tune to the fore with warm tone and an agile bow. Cindy has backed him for years and her tasteful, steady guitar shadows his every move. Icing on the cake is Barrett’s mandolin. It is spot on, clean in a rich tuneful tone. At times, he catches the old standby lick that was a hallmark of Kenny Hall’s two-finger mandolin style. The tunes span a wide spectrum of material that was popular with the old-time crowd in the San Joaquin valley nearly a half century ago due to the influence of Hall. The singing is straightforward and honest, and songs such as “Every Bush And Tree” still pull at the heartstrings so many years later. (www.mtwow.com)RCB