RONNIE RENO, “Lessons Learned,” Rural Rhythm. 11 tracks.

Posted March 30, 2015 by klawrence
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This year, Ronnie Reno celebrates his 60th anniversary in bluegrass.

Not bad for a guy who’s 67 years old.

He started performing with his father, Don Reno, on the Old Dominion Barn Dance in 1955.

Through the years, he’s worked with his father, the Osborne Brothers, Merle Haggard and a lot more musicians before going his own way.

Reno also hosts the television series, “Reno’s Old-Time Music  Festival,” on RFD-TV

“Lessons Learned” is his first album in almost a decade.

He wrote or co-wrote all but two of the songs — his father’s “Trail of Sorrow” and Lefty Frizzell’s No. 1 single from 1951, “Always Late.”

Lefty’s brother, David Frizzell, joins Reno for a duet on the song.

“Lower Than Lonesome,” the album’s first single, says, “love gets you high, then turns around and says goodbye.”

The title cut says that “joy and pain go together like sun and rain.”

“Bad News At Home,” “Our Last Goodbye” and “Trail of Sorrow” are all about break-ups and pain.

But the album has an almost playful sound — like the instrumental, “Reno’s Mando Magic.”

Bluegrass has always been able to marry sad lyrics to uptempo, almost happy picking.

Reno comes across as an old master, in a comfortable setting, saying, “I know it’s rough now, but it will pass.”

“I Think of You” is a song about a love that’s lasted a lifetime.

And “Deep Part Of Your Heart” says that’s the part of a person’s heart reserved for the one’s you love the most.

Despite all the lonesome songs, “Lessons Learned” is really about surviving life’s hard knocks and finding love.

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SNYDER FAMILY BAND, “Wherever I Wander,” Mountain Home. 11 tracks

Posted March 16, 2015 by klawrence
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Mountain Home Music describes the Snyder Family Band’s sound as “Allman Brothers Band meets Stephane Grappelli meets Doc Watson.”

In other words, it’s not Bill Monroe‘s bluegrass.

Their sound is a blend of bluegrass, southern rock, blues, Texas swing and newgrass, primarily done with acoustic instruments, although an electric guitar does show up on a couple of songs on their debut Mountain Home album — “Wherever I Wander.”

This is a band on the move.

Samantha Snyder, the band’s principal songwriter and vocalist as well as its fiddle player, is 16.

Her brother, Zeb, the guitarist and mandolin player, is 19.

Their father, Bud, plays bass for the family band.

Samantha wrote five songs. Zeb wrote three.

And there are covers of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Swamp Music,” Dickey Betts “Highway Call” and the 1918 jazz standard “After You’ve Gone.”

There are five instrumentals to showcase the trio’s picking and seven songs to showcase their vocal chops.

Samantha Snyder’s songs have an old sound to them.

Songs like the uptempo gospel title track,  “A Whaler’s Song,” and “The Keeper,” a rare modern song about a lighthouse keeper.

Good album by a good band that should be going places.

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POKEY LaFARGE, “Something in the Water,” Rounder. 12 tracks.

Posted March 9, 2015 by klawrence
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Pokey LaFarge isn’t a bluegrass artist and there’s nothing on his latest album, “Something in the Water,” that remotely sounds like bluegrass.

But the St. Louis-based musician has appeared at several bluegrass festivals, including the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival.

And he has a large fan base among younger bluegrass fans.

So, his seventh album since 2006 is definitely worth taking note of.

Fans of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” might have heard LaFarge without realizing who he was.

In 2013, he performed the jazz standard “Lovesick Blues” with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks as background music in the series.

“Something in the Water,” which hits the market on April 7, features early jazz, ragtime, country blues, Western swing and a few styles that haven’t yet been named.

LaFarge wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 12 tracks on the album.

The other two are the blues standards, “When Did You Leave Heaven” and “All Night Long.”

Musicians featured include members of LaFarge’s band along with members of  NRBQ, the Fat Babies, the Modern Sounds and the Western Elstons playing electric guitar, drums, organs, pianos and horns.

Definitely instruments you wouldn’t hear on a bluegrass album.

But the lyrics could fit into some progressive bluegrass songs.

“She got a broke down El Camino in the front yard up on blocks,” LaFarge sings in the title track.

“Where have all the good girls gone?,” he asks in “Far Away.” “Was there ever one?”

In “Bad Girl,” LaFarge warns, “You can try your best to behave/But I know you have the devil inside of you.”

And in “Knocking The Dust Off The Rust Belt Tonight,” he sings, “Take a jazz band with a country beat/It’s Midwestern Swing for your dancin’ feet/We’re gonna knock the dust off the rust belt tonight.”

Good album by a man who’s doing it his way.

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CODY SHULER, “Cody Shuler,” Rural Rhythm. 12 tracks.

Posted March 2, 2015 by klawrence
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Cody Shuler, a North Carolina native, began his bluegrass career 14 years ago at age 15, playing mandolin for Raymond Fairchild.

In 2004, he joined Pine Mountain Railroad and took over ownership and management of the band two years later.

The band has scored six No. 1 bluegrass songs since then.

And now, Shuler is stepping out on his own with his first solo album — a collection of 12 songs he’s written.

The first release, “My Home Is On This Ole Boxcar,” is an uptempo song about an old hobo talking about his great his life is.

“The Beautiful Hills” is a murder ballad about a man who discovers the woman he loves with another man and kills them.

“Listen To The Hammer Ring” is about a chain gang and what happens to the warden when he messes with a convict’s wife.

“Sea of Galilee” and “The Day Love Was Nailed To A Tree” are gospel songs.

The album features an all-star cast of musicians, including Terry Baucom, Scott Vestal, Ron Stewart, Tim Crouch, Rob Ickes, Eli Johnston and Scott Linton.

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SHANNON AND HEATHER SLAUGHTER, “Never Just A Song,” Elite Circuit Music. 14 tracks.

Posted February 23, 2015 by klawrence
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Shannon Slaughter has spent two decades in bluegrass including stints with Lost & Found, Larry Stephenson, Savannah Road, Melonie Cannon and the Lonesome River Band.

Heather Slaughter is a former member of Acoustic Rain.

Now, the husband-wife team are working together, making some very good bluegrass and traditional country music.

The title cut of their latest album, “Never Just A Song,” is a Tim Stafford-Pam Tillis tribute to the late Harley Allen, who died of lung cancer four years ago at age 55.

But the lyrics are more honest than flowery — “He gave Jim Beam a bad name before it put him in the grave.”

“Whiskey Colored Dreams” is stone country, the kind of song you might find on a jukebox that’s been in storage since the late 1950s or early 1960s. And it sounds great.

Between them, the Slaughters co-wrote eight of the tracks on the album.

“Back To Birmingham” is a song about returning to your roots.

“Company Town” is about life in a hard-scrabble mining town.

Feelin’ Better” is an old Hank Williams Jr. song about getting his life back together.

“Go Sin No More” is a gospel song about redemption.

Ridin’ The Lightin’, Ropin’ The Storm” is a western song about a man running from the law.

“The Best Thing We Ever Did” is a personal song about the Slaughters finding each other and having a baby. The baby, Rae Carroll Slaughter, makes her recording debut, cooing at the end of the song.

The Slaughters have a good sound and songs worth hearing more than once.

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THE GIBSON BROTHERS, “Brotherhood,” Rounder. 15 tracks.

Posted February 16, 2015 by klawrence
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Eric and Leigh Gibson, arguably the hottest brother act in bluegrass after winning the International Bluegrass Music Association’s entertainer of the year honors in both 2012 and 2013, celebrate some of the great brother acts in country, rock’n’roll and bluegrass music in their new album, “Brotherhood.”

The upstate New York natives cut their first album in 1993.

“Brotherhood” is album No. 12 and it’s one of their best.

Material ranges from “Eastbound Train,” written in the 1890s, to Tompall and the Glaser Brothers 1982 hit, “It’ll Be Her.”

The lineup includes the Monroe Brothers‘ “I Have Found The Way,” Phil and Don Everly‘s “Bye Bye Love” and “Crying In The Rain,” Charlie and Ira Louvin‘s “Seven Year Blues,” Jim and Jesse McReynolds‘ “Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes,” Carter and Ralph Stanley‘s “How Mountain Girls Can Love,” the Blue Sky Boys‘ “The Sweetest Gift,” the York Brothers‘ “Long Gone,” the Church Brothers‘ “Angel With Blue Eyes,” the Four Brothers Quartet‘s “What A Wonderful Savior Is He,” the Osborne Brothers “Each Season Changes You” and the Lilly Brothers, “I’m Troubled I’m Troubled.”

“Brotherhood” shows that the Gibsons are equal to the task of matching their harmonies with some of the best brother acts in music.

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DARIN & BROOKE ALDRIDGE, “Snapshots,” Mountain Home. 11 tracks.

Posted February 9, 2015 by klawrence
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“Snapshots” is husband-wife duo Darin and Brooke Aldridge‘s sixth album.

It’s also their best.

The North Carolina natives released their first album, an all-gospel collection, in 2008, a few months before they were married.

Darin worked his way up through the bluegrass ranks, including a stint with the Country Gentlemen.

Brooke’s background is primarily in gospel.

But through the years, the couple has carved out a niche as the “singing sweethearts” of bluegrass.

The 11 songs on the album mostly come from bands the couple has liked or been part of in the past.

It’s a pretty even mix of sacred and secular numbers.

Sam Bush joins the Aldridges on “Get Up John,” an uptempo gospel song written by Bill Monroe, Marty Stuart and Jerry Sullivan.

Fiddle great Bobby Hicks sits in on Monroe’s “My Rose of Old Kentucky.”

Doyle Lawson lends his talents to “Let’s,” a hard-driving love song written by Eddie Adcock.

And Ricky Skaggs adds his harmonies to the gospel song, “When He Calls.”

Other songs include the Everly Brothers‘ “Let It Be Me,” Johnny Cash‘s “Tennessee Flat Top Box,” Dave Macon‘s “Wait Til The Clouds Roll By,” Gillian Welch‘s “Annabelle” and “Will You Be Ready,” written by Darin Aldridge and Bobby Jones.

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Keith Lawrence, 691-7301,


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