The Cockman Family - All About Love
THE COCKMAN FAMILY
ALL ABOUT LOVE
The Cockman Family is one of the more influential bluegrass gospel groups throughout North Carolina and surrounding states. Over the years, they’ve garnished many awards for their unique and sincere approach to gospel music.
“All About Love” is the Cockmans’ latest in a series of unparalleled recordings. The dozen selections are a nice mix of gospel favorites and original material. Seven tracks were penned by various family members, some of which were inspired by sermons given by their church pastor. Caroline Cockman-Fisher (vocals) and Billy Cockman (banjo, guitar, and vocals) share the lead vocals on the inspirational “God Is Watching Over Me,” “The Wheel,” and “The Living God.” Also featured are interpretations of the gospel favorites “Angel Band,” “I Shall Not Be Moved,” and an instrumental version of “Power In The Blood.”
The album closes with a “Patriotic Medley” that includes stirring renditions of “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic,” “America,” and others. “All About Love” is bluegrass gospel at its finest—another momentous milestone for the Cockman Family. (Cockman Family, P.O. Box 63, Sherrills Ford, NC 28673, www.cockmanfamily.com.) LM
David Davis and The Warrior River Boys - Two Dimes and a Nickel
DAVID DAVIS AND THE WARRIOR RIVER BOYS
TWO DIMES AND A NICKEL
Similarities abound between this recording and Davis’ previous release, “Troubled Times.” Both are full of talent of the highest caliber. The singing is dead on, as is the instrumental work. Backing Davis on both recordings are bassist/vocalist Marty Hays, guitarist Adam Duke and fiddler Owen Saunders. They were good then and they’re good now (if anything, they’re more cohesive). The one change is that Robert Montgomery has replaced Daniel Grindstaff on the banjo and also taken Duke’s vocal role. Again, there is no loss of quality.
The album has 12 songs that are dominated by mostly medium and slow tunes that lean heavily on the blues and tragedy and loss. It has two public domain tracks: “I’ve Been All Around This World” and a ripping cover of the oldtime tune “The Train That Carried My Girl From Town.”
The majority of the tracks are from contemporary songwriters, including three from upandcomer Tommy Freeman (check out “The Tennessee Line”). Alan Johnston, who wrote three for the last record, contributes four here. His best retells the John Hardy legend and details how Hardy’s troubles began from gambling for “Two Dimes And A Nickel.” Johnston’s “That’s When I Cried” is also achingly compelling.
The inclusion of a Marshall Tucker Band tune called “Blue Ridge Mountain Skies” has Davis and the band giving a nod to the original with a mildly southern rock intro, but they quickly bring it into line with a more traditional feel—except for a nifty descending chord turnaround in the chorus. Just as the “Troubled Times” album was one of the best releases of its year, “Two Dimes And A Nickel” is one of the best recordings of this year. (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7045, Charlottesville, VA 22906, www.rebelrecords.com.) BW
Melvin Goins and Windy Mountain - Dancin' In The Dirt
MELVIN GOINS & WINDY MOUNTAIN
DANCIN’ IN THE DIRT
Blue Circle Records
Tom T. and Dixie Hall songs are all over bluegrass music these days. And why not? The duo writes catchy songs that are recognizable after only a line or two. They are almost guaranteed crowd pleasers and and excellent way to open an album—certainly the case here. Melvin Goins digs into the title tune ‘Dancin’ In The Dirt,” setting a downtoearth mood.
The rest of this recording is about as diverse a mix as can be found on a traditional bluegrass release. In 14 tracks, Goins and Windy Mountain (mandolinist/fiddler John Rigsby, banjoist/bassist Jack Hicks, and guitarist Bo Isaac) run through just about every countryoriented genre around. They cover bluegrass and country, of course, but also oldtime and rockabilly, gospel and blues, and even throw in a recitation for good measure. They cover “Hey, Good Lookin’” backed with drums and electric guitar. They do a medley of “Kentucky Waltz”/“Tennessee Waltz” and a rollicking rockabillyinflected “Haunted House.” “Deck Of Cards” is a postwar recitation number about a soldier using a deck of cards to symbolize the gospel (i.e., the Ace reminds him that there is one God).
With their version of Jim Eanes’ “Wiggle Worm Wiggle,” Goins recalls the era when bluegrass felt and struggled against the rise of rock-and-roll. “Old Shanghai” (written by the Goins Brothers, as was the Jimmie Rodgersstyle blues, “Two Kinds Of Blues”) and “Farmer’s Girl” are danceable, oldtime tunes. The lyrics have that pattertype delivery and just go wild, be they’re relating the fate of a rooster or the merits of a particular girl (regardless of the father’s occupation). They’re both fun and underscore very well the overall, lighthearted feel of the recording. The opening track says it all. (Blue Circle Records, P.O. Box 681286, Franklin, TN 37068, www.bluecirclerecords.com.) BW
Angelica Grim - Look for Me
LOOK FOR ME
Nineteen year-old Californian Angelica Grim’s 12-track debut album proves that she is nothing if not a versatile singer with a strong yet tender voice. She writes but one song on the project—the bouncy title track that leaves you wanting more from her pen—but, the focus here is on Grim’s vocals and what she can do with a wide range of material.
From an uptempo nonsense song like “Rubber Dolly” to a slightly-updated version of the Stanleys’ “She’s More To Be Pitied” to Johnny Cash’s downbeat “I Still Miss Someone,” this young singer captures the mood and meaning of a song while flashing just the right amount of technique. She also manages to do credit to two Hazel Dickens songs, “Old Calloused Hands” and the gorgeous “West Virginia My Home,” and turns in one of this reviewer’s favorite covers of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” that features nice fingerstyle guitar work from Keith Arneson. She closes the album with an invigorating take on the Box Tops’ 1967 pop hit “The Letter,” which suggests Grim will be willing to take more vocal and musical risks in the future.
The more-than-capable studio band here includes John Miller (guitar), Frank Solivan (mandolin and harmony vocals), Chris Walls (bass), Mike Munford (banjo), and Michael Cleveland (fiddle), whose inimitable apearance alone is worth the price of admission. Bill Emerson (banjo) and Mike Auldridge (resonator guitar) each guest on two tracks. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.angelicagrim.com.) AKH
Carol Hausner - Still Hear Your Voice
STILL HEAR YOUR VOICE
Carol Hausner is a dynamic vocalist from Montpelier, Vt. She is noted for her heartfelt vocal style and imaginative songwriting. “Still Hear Your Voice” is Carol’s latest project featuring 14 performances including Don Reno and Red Smiley’s “No Longer A Sweetheart Of Mine,” “The Fiddler,” Tim Stafford’s “Rambling Heart,” and Patty Loveless’ country hit, “Nothin’ But The Wheel.” Also featured are numbers either composed or cowritten by Carol including “Last Years,” “Love Gone By,” and “Slipping Through My Hands.” While Carol is supported by an outstanding cast of guest pickers, it is her lead vocals that dominate the album from start to finish. For that reason alone, “Still Hear Your Voice” is a magnificent collection of traditional and contemporary bluegrass showcasing Carol Hausner’s talents. (Bramblewood Music, P.O. Box 624, Montpelier, VT 05601, www.carolhausner.com.) LM
Pathway - Somewhere Tonight
Mountain Roads Recordings
More than the solid instrumental skills displayed throughout, and more than the fine songwriting that fills 11 of the 15 tracks, Pathway succeeds best on their singing. They can play—no doubt about it. Just listen to their cover of the instrumental standard “Soldier’s Joy” or the gentle setting they create for Tommy Hill’s slow, traditional country weeper, “You’re Looking For An Angel.” Or listen to the melodic sense they bring to the classic “One Tear” or to Tom T. and Dixie Hall’s “They Don’t Make Girls Like Ruby Anymore.”
They can also write—no doubt about that either. Each of their songs, among them “What Must I Do,” “Somewhere Tonight,” and “Pathway,” show a thorough understanding of song construction and good ears for a turn of phrase.
It is, however, their singing that most catches one’s attention. Four of the bandmembers—Casey Byrd (resonator guitar), Justin Freeman (guitar), Mark Freeman (banjo), and Scott Freeman (fiddle)—have good lead voices. Which one leads which song, the liner notes don’t say. I was most impressed by whoever sings “What Must I Do.” His voice is the most resonant and the richest in timbre, though the other three are not far off. In harmony, which all share, including the remaining two members—Mitchell Freeman (bass) and Jake Long (mandolin)—their blend is seemless and very smooth.
Such good leads and tight blends are especially important for a band that emphasizes gospel music as much as Pathway does. Eight of their fifteen tracks are of that genre and all are original and all are good. Of those eight, “Pathway” with its velvet lilt, and “Somewhere Tonight,” with its energy and sense of mission rise above the rest.
This is this Mt. Airy, N.C., band’s debut for the Mountain Roads label and makes a strong promise about its future. (Mountain Roads Recordings, 3192 Hwy. 421, Bristol TN 37620, www.mountainroadsrecordings.com.) BW
Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers - Rambler's Call
JOE MULLINS & THE RADIO RAMBLERS
Although he has been concentrating on keeping real radio alive the last few years, most bluegrass fans still recognize banjoman Joe Mullins from his years in the acclaimed Traditional Grass band with his late father, Paul “Moon” Mullins. Joe’s current group has dedicated “Rambler’s Call” to Moon’s memory. With their hardcore bluegrass, featuring less well-known classic bluegrass and country and excellent new material in the same spirit, Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers would make Moon proud.
Like the Traditional Grass, the Radio Ramblers are a big ensemble with six members—Adam McIntosh (guitar), Mike Terry (mandolin), and Evan McGregor (fiddle) with all three joining Joe in the singing. Tim Kidd (bass and drums) and resonator guitarist Matt DeSpain round out the band. These guys exhibit the right blend of energy, drive, and soulful passion to make this unabashedly midwestern-style of bluegrass click.
Wynn Stewart’s “Another Day, Another Dollar” gets the album off to a rousing, yet atavistic start, and things just get better from there. The band pulls from sources as diverse as Don Reno (“Charlotte Breakdown”) to Primitive Quartet (“No Longer An Orphan”) to Tony Senn and Tommy Stough whose “Boston Jail” is one of the album’s most pleasant surprises. The title track comes from Boys From Indiana alumnus Aubrey Holt, whose contributions as a topnotch songwriter remain underappreciated. Joe’s former bandmate, Gerald Evans, checks in with two most appropriately retro compositions, “The Old Rocking Chair” and “Don’t You Want To Go Home.”
In the middle of the last century, immigrants from the South, especially eastern Kentucky, migrated to Ohio and made the Dayton and Cincinnati areas a musically distinctive hotbed for bluegrass. Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers deserve their place in a powerful tradition of music made by people with names like Osborne, Allen, Wakefield, and Harvey. (Joe Mullins, 23 E. Second St., Xenia, OH 45385, (www.radioramblers.com.) AM
Tommy Webb - Heartland
Tommy Webb hails from Kentucky and sings in a country style that can and does easily crossover to bluegrass. His tenor has that patina that marks great country vocalists. The production by Ron Stewart is rich and multilayered. The picking is first-rate with strong vocal and instrumental performances by all of the bandmembers.
Webb had a hand in writing five of the fourteen songs. His material is every bit as good as that of Jim Rushing, Ricky Skaggs, and Mike Wells, among others. The traditional number “Little Sadie” stands out, as Webb puts down his guitar and plays clawhammer banjo. The material has a true, hard, country flavor. The bluegrass arrangements are natural extensions of the songs. The music could provide a few more surprises, but should please those who like well-sung bluegrass with a strong country edge. The ode to bluegrass, “If It Weren’t For Bluegrass Music (I’d Go Crazy)” may get old, but will surely please fans as it mentions so many artists. The powerful gospel number, “Fall Upon Him,” followed by “Good Day To Run” do much to dissipate the angst in “A Hard Row To Hoe.” The sweet arrangements throughout take the edge of lyrics that tell the hard truths of rural life today.
This is a fine effort from a singer who has much to say. Like some other fine projects recently, we hear a plaintive voice singing of the farmer’s fate and of others who struggle daily—the very same country folks who love to listen, sing, and play that old country soul and bluegrass. (Rural Rhythm Records, P.O. Box 660040, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) RCB
ON THE EDGE
Hamilton County - Brokedown Breakdown
Hamilton County is a mandolin/guitar/bass trio from Maine, and “Brokedown Breakdown” is a mostly instrumental recording. To their credit, all 11 tracks are original compositions. All three players know their way around their respective instruments, with special kudos to bassist Adam Montminy. Although he’s mainly featured on a short break on the CD’s title cut, there’s no hiding in a spare acoustic trio, and his rich tone and solid time-keeping help strengthen the overall sound of the recording.
Having said that, this isn’t quite a totally satisfying album. Judging by the singing style of the one vocal track, “Borrowed Banjo Breakdown” (the singer is not credited in the liner notes), there’s a strong jamgrass influence here. Given the amazing array of redhot and creative acoustic musicians currently on the scene recording and performing, one really has to be special to be noticed. On this CD, there are just too many notquitememorable melodies and slightly-fudged licks here to make Hamilton County stand out from the crowd. It’s a shame, too, because at their best, on a number like “Suha,” composer/mandolinist Evan Chase and guitarist Bob Hamilton play deftly and cleanly over an interesting tune and varied arrangement.
There’s still a lot of potential with this group, and here’s hoping that with more attention paid to arrangement and polishing up a few clams here and there, Hamilton County could still end up turning some heads on the acoustic music circuit. (Hamilton County, 122 Emory St. #3, Portland, ME 04101, myspace/thehamiltoncounty.com.) HK