STEEP CANYON RANGERS, “Out in the Open,” Ramseur Records. 12 tracks.

Posted January 22, 2018 by klawrence
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The Steep Canyon Rangers have been making bluegrass-based — but not necessarily bluegrass — music since 2000.

But it wasn’t until 2009, when they first teamed with Steve Martin, that the Rangers began to garner national attention.

In 2013, their album, “Nobody Knows You,” won the Grammy for best bluegrass album.

The Rangers have pushed the bluegrass boundaries with each album.

And “Out in the Open” may well be the best ever.

The first single, “Going Midwest,” is about a man on the move, thanking the woman he left behind for “being kind to a stranger.”

“Farmers and Pharaohs” finds the singer advising others to not let their true loves go the way he did.

The title track is about a man breaking free of the life he was living and deciding to live his life out in the open.

“Can’t Get Home” finds him visiting the house he grew up in, but finding that it’s no longer home.

“When She Was Mine” is about a man who realizes that he never wanted to be free.

“Love Harder” finds the singer deciding not to give up on a long-time relationship and resolving to just love harder.

“Let Me Die in My Footsteps” is a plea for world peace.

Bill Monroe wouldn’t call this album bluegrass.

But he’s been dead for more than 20 years.

And most bluegrass fans today will consider it close enough.

Another strong album from a great band.

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REBEKAH LONG, “Run Away,” LUK Records, 12 tracks

Posted December 4, 2017 by klawrence
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“Run Away” is only Rebekah Long’s second album on LUK Records.

But the Lincolnton, Georgia, native has been around the bluegrass and gospel circuit for years.

She toured and played upright bass with Little Roy Lewis and Lizzy Long — her twin sister — and also played bass in Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike for a time.

Now, Long is branching out as a solo artist.

She co-wrote nine of the 12 songs on the album with Donna Ulisse.

One she didn’t write is Elton John‘s “Honky Cat,” but Long makes it sound like an original.

The album opens with “Georgia Bound,” a song about heading home to the place where she grew up.

“I’ve Seen The Light,” not to be confused with Hank Williams‘ “I Saw The Light,” is a love song.

“Every Time I Fall Asleep” is about a love that exists only in her dreams.

The title track is about a man who runs away when she tells him she loves him.

“A Place Beyond The Clouds” and “Lay Your Isaac Down” are gospel songs.

The latter is a duet with her late husband, Ben Speer, who died earlier this year.

“My Greatest Shame” is about a woman who has a child out of wedlock and becomes so enraged with the way people in the town treat him that she starts murdering them.

“Fishin’ On The Cumberland” is an uptempo song about the joys of nature and fishing.

“The Swimming Song” is similar, but it’s about swimming.

“Welcome Me Back Home” is about a woman going back home to the man she loves and wishing she’d never left.

“Woodland Street” is about an elderly man, who apparently suffers from dementia, and his wife who go walking every night as she remembers better days.

A good album.

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WILSON BANJO CO., “Spirits in the Hills,” Bonfire. 14 tracks

Posted November 27, 2017 by klawrence
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Steve Wilson, banjo player and banjo builder, waited until his kids were grown to hit the bluegrass circuit with his own band.

Now, he’s making up for lost time.

“Spirits in the Hills” is the band’s first album, but it won’t be the last.

The title track is a spooky tale of a man with a hook for a hand who gives the singer a drink of moonshine and owns his soul.

“Shiner’s Mountain” is also about moonshiners in the hills and how you don’t want to be mistaken for a revenue agent.

“Forty Years of Trouble” is a hard-driving tale of a man who’s spent long years in prison and is longing to meet the son he’s never seen.

There are a couple of country songs — “Catfish John,” a 1972 hit for Johnny Russell, and “Carolina in the Pines,” a song Michael Martin Murphey released in both 1975 and 1985.

“Her Sunday Best” is about a woman whose Sunday best doesn’t mean her clothes. It means the way she’s lived her life.

“Railroad Man” tells the story of a man whose love life is going through a train wreck.

And there are a couple of gospel songs — “When He Reached Down His Hand” and “Ain’t No Grave.”

Band members include Sarah Logan, the fiddle player who sings lead on five tracks; Joey Newton, who plays guitar, banjo and fiddle and sings lead on two tracks; Dylan Armour, the Dobro player who sings lead on one track; Brandon Couch, who plays mandolin and sings lead on four tracks; and Rob Walker on bass.

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BRAD HUDSON, “Next New Heartache,” Pinecastle. 12 tracks

Posted November 20, 2017 by klawrence
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Brad Hudson was one of those child prodigies in bluegrass, picking and singing from a young age.

He’s worked at Dollywood — Dolly Parton‘s theme park — and in the bands of Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road and Jeff & Sheri Easter.

Now, he’s the lead singer and Dobro player in the band Sideline.

And Hudson has recorded his first solo album for Pinecastle — “Next New Heartbreak.”

It kicks off with “Ramblers Song,”  a hard-driving song about a man who proclaims that he’ll never settle down and likes to move from town to town.

Dolly Parton joins Hudson on her “Appalachian Memories,” a song about Southern people going north in search of the Promised Land — but never finding it.

“I Wonder What You See In Your Dreams” has a similar theme — a man watching the woman he loves go to the city to marry someone else.

The title track finds the singer hurting and waiting to be hurt again.

“Truckers Blues” finds a truck driver missing his wife and waiting for a chance to stop to eat and call her.

“Smoky Mountain Strong” is a tribute to the area devastated by a forest fire in 2016.

“The Day My Daddy Cried” is a song about a man who never cried — until the day his wife died.

Loretta Lynn’s “World of Forgotten People” is a ballad about people who are lonely and hurting.

Jeff & Sheri Easter and Hudson’s grandmother, Betty Swinson, join him on the gospel song, “Beulah Land.”

And there are a couple of instrumentals — “Hugging The Hound” and “My One And Only (Crystal’s Song),” the latter written by Hudson for his wife.

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REMINGTON RYDE, “A Storyteller’s Memory,” Pinecastle. 11 tracks.

Posted November 13, 2017 by klawrence
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James King was known as “The Bluegrass Storyteller” and the “King of Mountain Soul.”

But his voice was silenced on May 19, 2016, when he died way too young at 57.

Remington Ryde, a 12-year-old Pennsylvania-based bluegrass band, remembers King with its first release on Pinecastle Records, “A Storyteller’s Memory.”

The album features nine songs from King’s repertoire; a tribute song, “Mr. King,” written by the band’s founder, Ryan Frankhouser; and a 1989 track of King singing, “It’s A Cold, Cold World,” a song he wrote.

“Bed By The Window,” one of King’s better known songs, is a story song about two old men in a nursing home and the difference between optimism and pessimism.

“Days of Gray  & Black” is a hard-charging song about winter coming and a man missing a woman.

“Crazy Heart” is an uptempo song about a woman changing like the weather and driving a man insane.

Chris Stapleton’s “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” is about a man who prayed constantly — until the day he died.

“Thirty Years of Farmin'” finds a family farm being foreclosed on with an auction coming soon.

“Leavin'” is another hard-charging song about a man who’s been put down by his woman and has decided to hit the road.

Hazel Dickens‘ “A Few Old Memories” is a ballad about memories of an old love that creep into his mind from time to time.

“Old Swinging Bridge” is an uptempo song about memories of an old love and things they used to do.

If you’re a James King fan, you’ll want to hear this.

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BALSAM RANGE, “It’s Christmas Time,” Mountain Home. Six tracks

Posted November 6, 2017 by klawrence
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There’s no doubt that “It’s Christmas Time” is a Christmas EP — six songs rather than a dozen.

But is it bluegrass?

That’s something the purists and the progressives can debate this holiday season.

Violins, violas, saxophones and cellos are not normally heard on bluegrass albums.

And the Nashville Recording Orchestra doesn’t usually perform on bluegrass CDs.

But if you’re broadminded about your bluegrass, this is a Christmas album you might want to consider.

It opens with Doc Watson‘s “Christmas Lullaby” and closes with an instrumental version of “Jingle Bells.”

“The First Noel,” a Christmas classic that dates back to at least 1823, features the band’s classic three-part harmony.

“Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” a 1958 megahit by Brenda Lee, features a saxophone in a nod to the late Boots Randolph.

The Stanley Brothers‘ “I’m Going Home, It’s Christmas Time” is the EP’s only song done in traditional bluegrass style.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” which dates back to at least 1739, does include a banjo and mandolin.

The North Carolina-based band is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2017.

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DANIEL CRABTREE, “In The Shadow of His Wings,” no label. 13 tracks

Posted October 23, 2017 by klawrence
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“In The Shadow of His Wings,” Daniel Crabtree‘s second bluegrass gospel album, is a singer-songwriter showcase.

Crabtree wrote all 13 songs on the album.

He says on his website that he’s had a passion for bluegrass gospel since he was a kid.

And he’s performed it in recent years with The Lights Chapel Boys.

A few years ago, Crabtree says he discovered that he could write songs and he’s been doing it daily ever since.

The title track is about Biblical heroes who God sheltered from harm. And now, the singer is asking for the same shelter.

“Land of Milk and Honey” says we’ve been taught to love each other and we need to do it.

“Lord, I’m Gonna Need Your Strength Today” finds a man on his way to a friend’s funeral, asking God for the strength to get through the day.

“I’m On My Way To Gloryland” and “The Gospel Train” are uptempo songs about getting ready for heaven.

“Where Jesus Is” finds the singer realizing that he’s lost his way and deciding that he wants to get to heaven.

An all-star lineup of musicians backs Crabtree on the album — including Scott Vestal, Mike Bub, Rob Ickes, Cody Kilby and Patrick McAvinue

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