Archive for July 2009

July 27, 2009

Prime Cuts of Bluegrass

Back in the spring of 1992, Kirk and Becky Brandenberger created “Prime Cuts of Bluegrass,” a music sampler service that offers bands an economical way to bring one or two songs to the attention of disc jockeys at 300-plus radio stations from coast to coast.

This month, the couple released the 100th edition of Prime Cuts with 13 tracks by 13 bands.

The service, which allows disc jockeys to fill out “rate-a-record” survey forms on each CD, has been successful for both national and regional bands and exposed a lot of newcomers to national attention.

The current edition contains half a dozen tracks worth requesting from your favorite bluegrass DJ.

Balsam Range’s “Caney Fork River” is a good uptempo story of love, betrayal and murder. You can find it on the band’s “Last Train To Kitty Hawk” album on Mountain Home records.

The Grass Cats’ “A Good Way To Get The Blues” is a hard-driving tune about a woman who makes getting the blues worthwhile. It’s the title cut from the band’s album on New Times Records.

Larry Stephenson’s “Give This Message To My Heart” features some outstanding harmony with Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent on this classic Louvin Brothers song. You’ll find it on Stephenson’s “20th Anniversary” album on Pinecastle Records.

Darren Beachley’s “Daddy’s Chair” is a new song written by Tom T. and Dixie Hall with plenty of nostalgia for home and family. You’ll find it on Beachley’s “Sad Songs and Sunday Mornings” album on MasterShield Records.

The Cockman Family’s “The Answer Is Jesus” features some great four-part a capella gospel harmony. It’s from the group’s “All About Love” album on CF Records.

Kathy Joy Bell’s “Stay Outta My Kitchen” is a self-penned uptempo blast at a cheating man that has its roots in the blues. You can find it on her album of the same name on JoySong Records.

July 20, 2009

Bryan Sutton and Friends. “ Almost Live.” Sugar Hill. 10 tracks.

Bryan Sutton has been one of the top guitarists in bluegrass and country music for 14 years now — since he joined Ricky Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder in 1995.

And the International Bluegrass Music Association has named Sutton its guitar player of the year five times — 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Only Tony Rice has won it more times (six).

By 1999, Sutton had tired of life on the road and decided to spend his time with session work in Nashville — playing on albums by Dolly Parton, the Dixie Chicks, Jerry Douglas, Earl Scruggs and a lot more.

But he has occasionally toured through the years, such as Chris Thile’s 2007 “How To Grow A Band” tour and the recent “Bluegrass Sessions” tour.

“Almost Live,” the Asheville, N.C., native’s first album in three years, brings together a lot of friends to make some great music — some of it bluegrass.

The liner notes say the album “manages to stay very much grounded in bluegrass even as he strides ever forward toward the new American acoustic music he and his gifted friends are forging.”

There are a lot of “gifted friends” on this album.

The opening cut, Sutton’s “Morning Top,” features Béla  Fleck, Mark Schatz, Sam Bush, Stuart Duncan and Jerry Douglas.

Thile’s “How To Grow A Band” group reunites for “Big Island Hornpipe,” a tune written by Thile and Sutton.

Sutton and Fleck perform a guitar-banjo duet on “Rye Straw Suite,” a tune they co-wrote.

The surviving members of Hot Rize join Sutton on Norman Blake’s “Church Street Blues” and the traditional “Kitchen Girl.”

Dennis Crouch, Aubrey Haynie and Jeff Taylor (on accordion) sit in on Sutton’s “Le Pont De La Moustache” and “Loretta’s Waltz.”

Russ Barenberg joins Sutton for a guitar duet on “Dark Island.”

Crouch, Duncan and Tim O’Brien join in on Sutton’s “Wonder Valley Gals.”

And Thile and Sutton perform a duet on The Delmore Brothers “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar” with Sutton singing lead.

A good album. But don’t buy it expecting traditional bluegrass.

Can’t find it in stores? Try

July 13, 2009

Brandon Rickman, “Young Man, Old Soul,” Rural Rhythm. 12 tracks.

Brandon Rickman’s first solo album — “Young Man, Old Soul” — is a strong debut. But it’s also part of a growing trend in bluegrass that’s taking the genre closer and closer to traditional country music.

A couple of cuts — “Wide Spot in the Road” and “I Take the Backroads” — feature drums, which used to be a major faux pas in bluegrass.

But drums are appearing on more and more bluegrass albums these days.

So don’t hold that against Rickman.

Besides, where else can you hear traditional country these days?

Rickman is the lead singer of a resurgent Lonesome River Band, which holds the top spot on the Bluegrass Unlimited singles (“Them Blues”) and album (“No Turning Back”) charts this month.

He joined the band in 2002, took some time off to pursue songwriting full time and then returned to the road with the LRB.

Rickman co-wrote 10 of the tracks on this album — everything but Carter Stanley’s “Let Me Walk, Lord By Your Side” and William J. Mullins and Gary J. Carpenter’s “Rest For His Workers.”

“Always Have, Always Will,” the first single, finds the singer drinking alone every night, even though it cost him the love of his life.

“I Bought Her A Dog” is a novelty tune about a woman who wants a baby, so he buys her a dog.

“What I Know Now” finds the singer reflecting on changes he would have made in his life if he had had the advantage of hindsight.

“So Long 20s” is a ballad about turning 30.

“Take The Backroads” is nostalgia for the landmarks of his youth.

“Wearin’ Her Knees Out Over Me” is about a mother who continues to pray for her wayward son until he turns his life around.

Rickman has the voice, the musicianship and the songwriting ability to become a major force in bluegrass.

Strong album. Can’t find it in stores?


July 6, 2009

Various Artists. “Appalachia: Music From Home.” Lonesome Records. 20 tracks.

This 20-song album is designed as a companion piece for the PBS series, “Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People.” But it stands on its own as a strong collection of music ranging from symphonic to native American to old-time string band to gospel to country to bluegrass.

It features performances by artists — Art Stamper and Moran Lee “Dock” Boggs — no longer living as well as new artists — 15-year-old Molly Slemp, who performs a beautiful version of the traditional “The Blackest Crow.”

Ralph Stanley, the elder statesman of bluegrass, performs an a capella version of the traditional gospel song, “Gloryland,” with Judy and Dan Marshall. And Blue Highway performs its original, “Union Man,” from 2001.

The Virginia-based Midnight Ramblers add a bluegrass version of “Roll On Buddy” to the mix. And Mitch Barnett updates the classic “Shady Grove” as a tale of inter-racial love.

Most of the rest of the album isn’t bluegrass, but it’s close enough for most fans —  Kentucky Wild Horse’s “Rock Andy” and Jean Ritchie’s “Pretty Saro” — and interesting when it’s not — the Traditional Seneca Singers and Dancers’ “Corn Dance.”

A good collection of Appalachian music.

Can’t find it in stores? Try