SHOTGUN HOLLER, “Loaded,” Dry Lightning Records. 11 tracks

Posted October 12, 2015 by klawrence
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Publicity for Shotgun Holler’s debut album uses words like “alternative edge” and “cutting edge.”

But don’t let that throw you.

This is bluegrass.

And it’s good.

Shawn Brock and Matt Jones formed the band in February 2014 with Nathan Treadway and Rod Lunger.

The idea, Brock said, was to create a band with its own sound.

That sound is a cross between classic country and bluegrass.

Jones, formerly with Blue & Lonesome and the Wildwood Valley Boys, is a strong lead singer.

“Out in the Parkin’ Lot,” the first single, is a Guy Clark-Darrell Scott song about people having fun, hanging out in the parking lot listening to the band playing inside a club.

“I Hope Heaven Has A Holler” is a ballad that finds a man hoping that heaven has mountains, woods and a holler so his father will be happy there.

“Clovis Johnson’s Old Red GMC” finds a boy romancing a moonshiner’s daughter and fearing for his life if her father catches them.

“This Side of the Grass” is about a man sitting beside his wife’s grave, telling her about what’s happening with the kids.

“Miner’s Grave” is an uptempo song about a coal miner working his way to an early grave.

“One Lone Tree” finds a man living the fast life in Detroit, thinking about the tree that stands by his mother’s grave and remembering the things she tried to tell him.

And “I Should Have Started Yesterday” is a song about making amends.

Good debut album from a band with a lot of potential.

DONNA ULISSE, “Hard Cry Moon,” Hadley Music Group. 12 tracks

Posted September 28, 2015 by klawrence
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Donna Ulisse headed for the bright lights of Nashville in the 1980s, determined to be a country singer.

She quickly found work as a demo singer and was signed by Atlantic Nashville.

In 1991, the label released her first CD, “Trouble at the Door,” which produced two videos and three singles before disappearing.

But Ulisse came home to bluegrass nearly a decade ago, recast as a “bluegrass poet” who performs “bluegrass without borders.”

And she’s been making some great music ever since.

Ulisse is primarily a singer-songwriter.

Her CDs showcase songs she has written.

And “Hard Cry Moon” is no exception.

The only song Ulisse didn’t write was “Whispering Pines,” a 1959 country hit by Johnny Horton.

Two songs honor her grandfathers — “Workin’ On The C&O” is about Lloyd Porter Butler, her mother’s father’s, life on the railroad and “Papa’s Garden” is about the garden of her father’s father, Carmine Ulisse.

The first single, “It Could Have Been The Mandolin” is about falling in love sitting in the back seat of a Cadillac listening to Bill Monroe on the radio.

“The River’s Runnin’ Free” finds the singer stumbling upon a neighbor acting strange beside the river with blood on his clothes. And where’s his wife been lately?

“Black Train” is a hard-driving song about a woman who is determined to move on and leave her current life behind.

The title track is about a long, lonesome night of missing someone.

“We’re Gonna Find A Preacher” is about a girl on her way to marry a Delta boy that no one trusts.

“I’ll Sleep In Peace At Night” is about having a chance every day to make things right so you can sleep peacefully at night.

Good album by a good singer-songwriter.

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THE COX FAMILY, “Gone Like The Cotton,” Rounder/Warner Nashville/Asylum, 12 tracks

Posted September 14, 2015 by klawrence
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The Cox Family from Cotton Valley, Louisiana, burst on the national scene in the early 1990s and quickly became one of the top bluegrass acts in the country.

Their sibling harmonies caught music lovers ears.

Of course, it helped that Alison Krauss, the reigning queen of bluegrass at the time, introduced them to the national scene.

The Cox Family won a Grammy, were soon touring with the rock band Counting Crows and headlining festivals across the country.

They signed with Asylum Records, a Nashville-based Americana label.

And it seemed like they were on their way.

But as quickly as they appeared, the Cox Family seemed to disappear.

In 1998, the family band was recording the album that became “Gone Like The Cotton.”

But changes in management at their label found the Cox Family without a contract.

In 2000, they did record on the soundtrack of “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?,” a mega hit.

But on July 4 that year, Willard and Marie Cox — the parents in the family band — were driving near their home when their car was struck in the rear by a logging truck.

Willard was paralyzed from the waist down and could no longer perform.

Marie recovered but was soon diagnosed with breast cancer, which took her life in 2009.

The siblings — Sidney, Suzanne and Evelyn — “went back to civilian-type life,” although there were occasional performances and some touring.

But people in the record industry never forgot the album that lay unfinished in Nashville.

And finally, in April, the Cox Family returned to the studio to finish it — after 17 years.

It was definitely worth waiting for.

Willard Cox’s vocals from 1998 are featured on “I’ll Get Over You,” a previous hit by Crystal Gayle; the Louvin Brothers‘ “Cash on the Barrelhead” and the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers‘ “Honky Tonk Blues.”

There’s a lot of heartache — “Good Imitation of the Blues,” “Lost Without Your Love,” “Desire,” and “Too Far Gone,” which was written by Sidney and Suzanne Cox.

The title track, also written by Sidney and Suzanne, is a tribute to their parents and grandparents.

Another great album by a great band that’s been out of the spotlight for far too long.

Look for it Oct. 23.

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FLATT LONESOME, “Runaway Train,” Mountain Home. 12 tracks.

Posted September 8, 2015 by klawrence
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Flatt Lonesome is a band on the move.

It won’t celebrate its fifth anniversary until early 2016.

But the band was named emerging artist of the year for 2014 by the International Bluegrass Music Association.

And on Oct. 2, Flatt Lonesome’s third studio album, “Runaway Train,” hits stores and websites.

The band’s roots go back several years to the day the Rev. Dolton Robertson and his wife, Lisa, created a family bluegrass gospel band called Sandy Creek Revival with their children Kelsi, Buddy and Charli.

As they got older, the Robertson children decided to make bluegrass a full-time occupation and formed Flatt Lonesome with friends Dominic Illingworth, Michael Stockton and Paul Harrigill.

Harrigill and Kelsi Robertson married in 2012.

Today, the Robertson siblings share lead vocal duties and create a strong harmony sound.

“Runaway Train” is a mixture of gospel, traditional and progressive bluegrass.

Songs come from the likes of Gram Parsons (“Still Feeling Blue”), Dwight Yoakam (“You’re The One”), David and Don Parmley (“Don’t Come Running”) and Tommy Collins and Merle Haggard (“Mixed Up Mess of A Heart”).

But there’s a lot of original material on here too.

The Harrigills wrote or co-wrote six of the tracks — “You’ll Pay,” “In The Heat of the Fire,” “In The Morning,” “Road to Nottingham,” “Casting All Your Care on Him” and “Letting Go.”

Dolton Robertson contributed “New Lease On Life.”

Like the title track implies, Flatt Lonesome is on a fast track in bluegrass these days.

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THE TENNESSEE MAFIA JUG BAND, “Lester’s Lofain’ Lounge,” no label. 15 tracks

Posted August 10, 2015 by klawrence
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It’s been almost a dozen years since The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band released “Barnyard Frolic,” an album that garnered a lot of attention from people who like their music a tad on the raw side.

“Lester’s Loafin’ Lounge,” the band’s fifth album, is dedicated to the memory of the Jug Band’s founder, “Lonesome” Lester Armistead, who died of cancer last year at age 71.

His Loafin’ Lounge is a former general store in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, where country and bluegrass legends and just regular folks have been jamming for decades.

Be advised though that there are no jugs listed among the instruments on the album.

There’s knee slapping, maracas, a washboard, eefin’, a ukulele, drums, piano, steel guitar, guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, Dobro and bass.

But no jugs.

Band members are Mike Armistead, Leroy Troy, Dan Kelly, Mike Webb and Ernie Sykes.

Webb wrote three songs for the album — the title track, “Hillbilly Logic” and “Wood and Strings,” a song about a guitar.

Most of the material dates back to the heyday of traditional country music — “I’m My Own Grandpa” was a 1947 hit by Lonzo & Oscar; “Bridge Washed Out” was a 1965 hit by Warner Mack; “Count Me Out” was a 1966 hit by Marty Robbins; and “Mansion On A Hill” was a 1948 hit by Hank Williams.

“Grey Eagle” and “Trombone Rag” are traditional numbers.

Until the 1950s, country, folk, western, bluegrass and any number subgenres of the music were all lumped under the “hillbilly” label.

But people like Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe and Ernest Tubb considered the label demeaning and fought for more politically correct names for their sounds.

Today, though, a new generation is returning to its roots with pride in the word “hillbilly.”

And that’s what this is — roots music with no borders.

It’s a little bit of everything.

And it’s good.

You can tell these guys are having fun.

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CHRIS JONES & THE NIGHT DRIVERS, “Run Away Tonight,” Mountain Home. 12 tracks.

Posted June 29, 2015 by klawrence
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Chris Jones started the Night Drivers 20 years ago.

Bass man Jon Weisberger and banjomeiser Ned Luberecki came aboard in 2003.

The new guy, mandolin player Mark Stoffel, has been with them since 2008.

Few bands have kept the same lineup that long.

The new album, “Run Away Tonight,” won’t be available for nearly two months — Aug. 21.

But its worth the wait for the band’s fan base.

Each member of the band wrote at least one song and Jones and/or Weisberger wrote a combined seven.

In fact, the only songs members of the band didn’t write were Tom T. Hall’s “Pinto The Wonder Horse is Dead,” a song about the death of a hero of the silver screen of yesteryear; Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs “Thinking About You”; and the traditional “The Leaving of Liverpool,” a song that dates to the 19th century.

There are a couple of instruments — Stoffel’s “Shelby 8” and Luberecki’sBowties Are Cool.”

“Laurie” is a playful song about a man trying to entice a woman out into the moonlight.

“One Night in Paducah” is the musical saga of a heartbroken man who finds untrue love while gambling on a riverboat and then wakes up on a levee with a hurting head and empty pockets.

“Once You’re Gone” and “She’s About To Say Goodbye” both find a man knowing that the woman who loves him is about to leave forever.

But “Dust Off  The Pain” finds him searching for a new and better love.

And “Tonight I’m Gonna Ride” finds him on the road searching for a healthier town — and not coming back.

The album ends with a gospel song, “My Portion And My Cup.”

Good album by a good band that’s stood the test of time.

Can’t find it in stores? To preview songs or order the album, try

UNDERHILL ROSE, “The Great Tomorrow,” no label. 11 tracks.

Posted June 15, 2015 by klawrence
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Listening to Underhill Rose‘s new album is like sitting on a shady veranda on a hot summer day with a paddle-fan overhead and a sweaty pitcher of lemonade beside you.

It’s that sweet and relaxing.

Most of the songs are ballads with harmonies that smooth away the stresses of life.

The Asheville, North Carolina-based trio was formed in 2009 by Eleanor Underhill and Molly Rose Reed. Salley Williamson, the bass player, joined later, making the duo a trio.

Their 2013 album, “Something Real,” spent 10 weeks in the Americana Music Association’s Top 20.

And this album is likely to repeat or excel that.

All but one of the songs — Elliot Wolff‘s “Straight Up” — were written by band members.

“The Great Tomorrow” fits into that growing genre called Americana.

It’s not exactly bluegrass with its drums and electric guitars.

But it’s close enough for all but the most traditional fans.

Reed’s “When I Die” expresses sentiments you probably haven’t heard before — “When I die/wrap me in cotton/bury me low in the gournd/so that I may be helpful to the worms and the robins/while my soul takes its cosmic crown.”

Underhill’s “Whispering Pines Motel” begins, “There’s heat in the air tonight/with the smell of honeysuckle vines/driving past the Whispering Pines Motel.”

And you know something is going to happen there.

Reed’s “My Friend” says, “We grow up/we grow out of each other/the hardest part of all/now that we are at the end/is that I just can’t stand losing my friend.”

Williamson’s “Shine” is about a family held together by the moonshine trade — “The moon shines east/the moon shines west/but the moonshine from our cellar’s best.”

Underhill’s “The Great Tomorrow” offers the hope that “in the morning, it’s all gonna be better/in the morning, I’m gonna get it together.”

Good album. Good band.

It’ll be available on June 30.

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