Archive for May 2009

May 26, 2009

SPRING CREEK, “Way Up On A Mountain,” Rebel. 12 tracks.

Colorado-based Spring Creek is a relatively new band  — it’s only 5 years old — that’s starting to garner national attention as part of the neo-traditional movement. Rebel Records refers to the sound as “daring, yet indebted to the forefathers of bluegrass.”

The label also says the band blends “the soul of the Rocky Mountains” with the sounds of the “Appalachian hills and piedmont of the bluegrass heartland.”

The four members of Spring Creek met while they were students at South Plains College in Texas.

Two years ago, they became the first band to win both the RockyGrass and Telluride band competitions in the same year.

“Way Up On A Mountain” features eight original songs and a couple of interesting covers.

There’s Bill Monroe’s “In Despair,” a blazing-hot traditional number. And then there’s Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town” from 1958, a pretty ballad about a place where broken hearts stay.

All four members — Chris Elliott, Jessica Smith, Taylor Sims and Alex Johnstone — share lead vocal duties. And Michael Cleveland and Sally Van Meter add their fiddle and resophonic guitar to the mix.

Strong debut by a good band.

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CHRIS PANDOLFI, “Looking Glass,” Sugar Hill. 11 tracks.

Chris Pandolfi’s resume includes being “the first ever banjo principal at the Berklee College of Music (in Boston), studying jazz performance and composition.”

Not your average bluegrass resume.

But his resume also includes being a co-founder of the Infamous Stringdusters, one of the hottest young bands in bluegrass.

Although he was inspired by Bela Fleck, who spends more time in jazz than bluegrass these days, Pandolfi has also studied the music of Earl Scruggs, the father of bluegrass banjo.

“Looking Glass” — which includes 11 instrumentals written by Pandolfi — leans heavily toward the progressive side of bluegrass and strays into jazz and other forms. But traditional fans will find a strong influence in “Machines,” “Rolling Blackout,” “Wichita Stomp” and “Close Encounters.”

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May 18, 2009

Lost & Found. “Love, Lost and Found.” Rebel. 13 tracks.

The title of Lost & Found’s first album since 2002’s highly acclaimed “It’s About Time” album is somewhat poignant.

On Dec. 10, 2006, Dempsey Young, the mandolin player and vocalist who helped found the band in 1973, took his life after a battle with depression. His passing was a blow to the band and fans alike.

Half of the tracks on the album — recorded in 2003 — feature Young’s work. The other half — recorded last year— feature Scott Napier, who began filling in for Young shortly after his death.

The results are so seamless that only the most die-hard of fans can tell the difference between the two sets of tracks.

Lost & Found has never been a flashy band. It’s forte is warm, solid bluegrass with just a hint of folk music.

It’s like home cooking in a fast-food world.

And “Love, Lost and Found” lives up to the band’s legacy.

Allen Mills, the band’s lead singer, alternates leads with Napier on this album. And Young is featured singing lead on Jud Strunk’s “A Daisy A Day.”

Songs include Don Reno’s “Trail of Sorrow,” Ernest Tubb’s “I’ll Always Be Glad To Take You Back” and Mills’ “If Today Was The Last Day.”

The first single off the album is “That’s What Country Folks Do,” an anthem about rocking chairs, neighbors and grandkids. It’s the kind of song fans have come to look forward to.

And it’s a worthy follow up to 2002’s chart-topping “Johnston’s Grocery Store.”

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May 10, 2009

David Davis & The Warrior River Boys. “Two Dimes & A Nickel.” Rebel Records. 12 tracks.

“Two Dimes & A Nickel” just might be the darkest bluegrass album of 2009.

It’s also one of the best.

There’s not much happiness in these dozen songs, but there’s some great picking and singing.

And Owen Saunders plays the lonesomest fiddle this side of a graveyard.

David Davis has been leading the Warrior River Boys since 1985. But for years, he was a Bill Monroe disciple — singing tenor, not lead, and sticking to the traditional songs from the early years of bluegrass.

He still dresses like Monroe — and resembles him somewhat.

But with the band’s self-titled debut on Rebel Records in 2004, Davis began finding his own voice — a voice that ranks among the best in bluegrass.

He moved to the lead singer spot in the band and he discovered a penchant for new — or newish — story songs.

The band’s 2006 “Troubled Times” continued the evolution and made quite a few “10 Best” lists for the year.

It was filled with murder ballads, Civil War songs, songs about coal mines and songs about natural disasters.

Fans had to wonder if the next album could be as good.

Oh, yeah. And then some.

Men are waiting to hang for murder in “I’ve Been All Around This World,” the title cut and “I Can Hear Daddy Play The Fiddle.”

In “The Brambles, Briars and Me,” the singer has murdered his best friend and his cheating wife — and gotten away with it.

In “Hard Times,” his wife has left and taken everything he had.

“The Tennessee Line” finds the singer going back home with nothing left but his guitar and one change of clothes — after his parents have died.

“The Train That Carried My Girl From Town” is a hard-driving tune. But it finds the singer wanting the train to wreck so he can shoot the man who took his woman away.

“Broken Promises” finds him going back to the mountains after years of ignoring the woman who was waiting for him at home — and finding her dead.

Even the gospel songs are dark.

“That’s When I Cried” finds the singer in a cold fog, confronted by the sins in his life.  And “Where Were You” finds rivers turning to blood and stars falling in the sea.

A great album — but chase it with a Three Stooges DVD.

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May 4, 2009

Alecia Nugent. “Hillbilly Goddess.” Rounder. 11 tracks.

If “Hillbilly Goddess” had been made 40 years ago, it would have been a major country album. And Alecia Nugent would be a contender for the Country Music Association’s female vocalist of the year award.

But what they’d called country music 40 years ago is mostly found in bluegrass today.

While there are some fine uptempo songs on this album — including the title cut about finding love at a tractor pull and happiness in a double-wide — it’s on the ballads that Nugent really shines.

She can wring the lonesome out of any lyrics with a voice that was made for hurtin’ songs.

On “Don’t Tell Me,” she realizes that she can’t stop loving a man who no longer loves her.

“Just Another Alice” tells the story of wannabe country music stars coming to “wonderland” in search of wealth and fame. “The Last Greyhound” follows a woman’s journey in search of something that was already at home.

“Dyin’ To Hold Her Again” is about a man drinking himself to death so he can be with his late wife. In “Wishin’ Hard,” she knows she can live without the man she loves, but she doesn’t want to.

“The Writing’s All Over The Wall,” a duet with Bradley Walker, tells of a love that has ended, with nothing left to do but say good-bye. And “Already Home” says you can travel forever, but what you’re looking for is inside you.

“The Nugent Family Band” is an uptempo song about her father’s Southland Bluegrass Band, where she grew up performing as a child.

“Wreckin’ The Train” is an uptempo number about a ramblin’ woman and “Cryin’ All The Way To The Bank” is a fun romp about a woman who’s glad he’s gone.

It’s been three years since Nugent’s last album. Let’s hope it’s not that long before the next.

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Keith Lawrence, 691-7301,