Archive for June 2009

June 28, 2009

Palmer Divide. “Shenandoah Train.” no label. 11 tracks.

You may not have heard of Palmer Divide yet, but the 5-year-old Colorado-based quartet is making some great-sounding mostly-original bluegrass these days.

Over the past year, singles such as “Oklahoma Daydreams,” “Red Dirt On My Shoes,” “Somebody’s Playing My Fiddle” and “One More Night” have attracted the attention of bluegrass radio and critics.

Lead singer Jody Adams brings more to the table than a soulful voice. He wrote or co-wrote (with bandmates Mickey Stinnett and Greg Reed) 10 of the tracks on the album. Only one track — Eddy Lee’s “April’s Fool” — is not a band original.

“Whiskey Row” tells about a street of taverns where alcoholics battle for their souls.

The title cut finds a miner resenting the rich man who gets richer from his labor.

“Blackjack Joe” is the tale of a man who is haunted by the memory of the lover he murdered 30 years ago.

“Voices of Home” is about wandering minstrels — and the ones they leave behind.

“All Day Singin’ (and Dinner on the Grounds)” is an uptempo nostalgia piece about a rural church.

“St. Michael’s Stomp” is a lively instrumental.

The band may be only 5 years old, but the members — including Dick Carlson — have been up and down the road a few times with other bands. Palmer Divide is a well-seasoned band making some very good music these days.

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Some bluegrass singles worth checking out:

Dale Ann Bradley and the Daughters of Bluegrass’ I Don’t Think I’m Going Back to Harlan from their “Bluegrass Bouquet” album on Blue Circle Records. A college-educated woman doesn’t want to return to her mountain mining town in this Tom T. and Dixie Hall song.

Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa’s “Dirt Roads” from their self-titled album on Raincoe Music. Pure nostalgia has been a bluegrass staple for more than 60 years and this is a good addition to that sub-genre.

Kenny Ray Horton’s “A Canary’s Song” from the album of the same name on Fader 4 Records. Miners used canaries to know if there was enough air in a “deep, dark hole where men don’t belong.” Good song.

Stacy Grubb’s “Baby Dear” from her “Hurricane” album, which isn’t on a label. A woman commits suicide as her baby is born. A song with a good sound and more muscle than you’d expect.

Daughters of Bluegrass’ “Leaving Here  For Nashville” from their “Bluegrass Bouquet” album on Blue Circle Records. Eight lead singers on one four-minute song sounds confusing, but it makes a great sound.

The Homestead Pickers’ “Ghost Chickens In The Sky” from their “The Homestead Pickers Extra Crispy” album, which isn’t on a label.  A parody of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” with chicken sound effects. Yeah, it’ll get old quick, but it’s a lot of fun for a few listens.

June 22, 2009

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out. “Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out.” Rural Rhythm. 12 tracks.

In 1991, former members of Doyle Lawson’s band, Quicksilver, formed a new group called IIIrd Tyme Out. The name came from the fact that this was the third group for most of the members.

The past 18 years have seen the band pick up 50 industry awards, including seven consecutive trophies for International Bluegrass Music Association vocal group of the year.

So, when the band’s name changes to put lead singer Russell Moore’s name in front of the band, the first question is, “Has there been a big turnover in band membership?”

Fortunately, the answer is no. Veteran members Steve Dilling and Wayne Benson are still in the band along with newer members, Edgar Loudermilk and Justen Haynes.

And the sound that made IIIrd Tyme Out one of the top bands in bluegrass is still intact.

The new self-titled album ranks with the best of the band’s previous works.

“Hard Rock Mountain Prison (Till I Die),” the first single, is an uptempo story of a man serving life in prison and longing for home.

“Me and Dad” is a tribute to fathers. “Carolina’s Arms” is about a woman who chooses North Carolina over her man. “My Angeline” adds new words to an old tune about a man who lives to regret choosing the sea over the woman he loves.

“The Last Greyhound” finds an 18-year-old woman leaving town on a bus, only to come back years later after learning that what she was searching for was right there at home. And “Big City Blues” finds a man ready to quit his 9-to-5 job and move to Kentucky to play bluegrass all day.

New band name, same great sound.

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June 15, 2009

Tommy Webb. “Heartland.” Rural Rhythm. 14 tracks

Tommy Webb’s “Eastern Kentucky” album on the tiny Kindred Records label captured critics’ attention two years ago. Now, he’s back with a new album on a bigger label — Rural Rhythm. And the sound is just as good.

Webb wrings the emotion out of any lyrics. Ballads are his strong suit and fortunately there are five on the album.

 Unfortunately, there aren’t more.

Webb hit No. 4 on the Bluegrass Unlimited singles’ chart two years ago with “If It Weren’t For Bluegrass Music (I’d Go Crazy),” a bluegrass version of Clinton Gregory’s old “If It Weren’t For Country Music, I’d Go Crazy.”

It’s included on this album, along with Ricky Skaggs’ “A Hard Row To Hoe,” a cut from Webb’s first album.

 The first single from the new album — “Teardrop Inn” — is the tale of a cheatin’ man about to be gunned down outside a bar by the woman he betrayed. It’s as much classic country as bluegrass, but who cares?

Webb wrote or co-wrote five of the tracks — “Everything You Do,” “What You Weren’t Thinking Of,” “Heartland”, “Fall Upon Him” and “If It Weren’t For Bluegrass Music….”

There’s a cover of Skaggs’ 1984 hit “Something In My Heart” and Darryl Worley”s 2000 “Good Day To Run” as well as the traditional “Little Sadie” and Carter Stanley’s “Clinch Mountain Backstep,” which features Webb on clawhammer banjo.

A good album by an artist you should be hearing a lot more about in the future.

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 Doyle Lawson has launched a new weekly video series called “Ask Doyle.”

A new video is posted each week and Lawson uses it to answer questions from his fans.

Here’s the link to the first one

June 8, 2009

Rhonda Vincent. “Destination Life.” 12 tracks. Rounder.

Rhonda Vincent spent much of the Nineties in Nashville, chasin’ the neon rainbow. But fortunately — for her and bluegrass both — she returned to her roots in bluegrass in 2000.

And she’s been so successful that, with the possible exception of Ricky Skaggs, she’d probably make most critic’s lists as the bluegrass artist of the decade.

Vincent has won female vocalist of the year honors from the International Bluegrass Music Association for an unprecedented seven years in a row. She was entertainer of the year in 2001 and co-wrote the 2004 song of the year. And she’s been nominated for four Grammy awards.

So, how does Vincent’s latest album — “Destination Life” — stack up with her other recent works?

It’s easily on a par with the best of the them.

The title cut — written by Donna Dean, a New Zealand songwriter — is a strong ballad about a woman fleeing an emotionally abusive relationship.

Vincent co-wrote three songs — “Last Time Loving You,” “What A Woman Wants To Hear” and “I Heard My Saviour Calling Me.”

And there are three older songs — Carl Belew’s “Stop The World (And Let Me Off),” Poco’s “Crazy Love” and Chubby Wise’s instrumental “Eighth of January.”

There’s a beautiful ballad (“I Can Make Him Whisper I Love You”), a duet with band member Ben Helson (“Crazy What A Lonely Heart Will Do”) and a beautiful a capella gospel song (“When I Travel My Last Mile (He Will Hold My Hand)”).

For the first time, Vincent uses no guests musicians on an album. These are the same musicians you hear at her live shows.

A strong album by an artist who hasn’t learned to cut corners or rest on her laurels.

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June 1, 2009

Steve Martin. “The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo.” Rounder. 16 tracks.

It would be too easy for hard-core bluegrass fans to dismiss Steve Martin’s first bluegrass album.

After all, he’s a Grammy-winning comedian — for “Let’s Get Small” (1977) and “Wild and Crazy Guy” (1978). He’s an actor and a best-selling author.

 But he’s also a very good banjo player — and not bad as a songwriter. Don’t forget that Martin also won a Grammy for his 2001 collaboration with Earl Scruggs on “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

Since then, he’s been writing music and pulling together this album, which was produced by boyhood friend John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

 Martin wrote or co-wrote all but one of the 16 tracks — “Clawhammer Medley.” He wrote “Daddy Played The Banjo” with Scruggs and “Words Unspoken” with Pete Wernick.

The rest were a one-man effort.

 No, this isn’t a traditional bluegrass album. But it’s good progressive bluegrass.

 Vince Gill and Dolly Parton duet on “Pretty Flowers.” Tim O’Brien sings “Daddy Played The Banjo” and Irish singer Mary Black adds vocals to “Calico Train,” a beautiful Celtic-influenced song.

 Scruggs adds his banjo to “Daddy Played The Banjo” and “Pretty Flowers.” And the band includes McEuen, Wernick, Tony Trischka, Jerry Douglas and Stuart Duncan.

 The album was released in January, exclusively on, and went to No. 1 on Billboard’s bluegrass albums chart. It finally hit record stores at the end of May.

Martin made appearances with the Steep Canyon Rangers in New York City and has performed on the Grand Ole Opry in support of the album.

Maybe he’s not a “real” bluegrass artist, but don’t let that fool you. “The Crow” is definitely an album worth checking out.

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