Archive for August 2009

August 26, 2009

Adam Steffey. “One More For The Road.” Sugar Hill Records. 12 tracks.

So why has it taken Adam Steffey 22 years in bluegrass to discover that he’s a good vocalist?

“I try to be realistic about my voice,” Steffey says in publicity material for what’s only his second solo album in the past eight years, “and I’m not the ballad singer at all.”

Maybe not, but he sounds fine on everything else. And fans can check it out when the album hits stores on Sept. 22.

Steffey’s baritone vocals on the title cut should qualify the song for a lot of airplay on country radio — if DJs will just overlook the banjo and Dobro, which bluegrass fans love.

Steffey began his career with the Lonesome River Band in 1987, left to help form Dusty Miller, then spent nearly eight years with Alison Krauss & Union Station, joined The Isaacs, then moved on to Mountain Heart for more than six years and currently is mandolin player for the Dan Tyminski Band.

He’s also won mandolin player of the year honors from the International Bluegrass Music Association five times.

Now, he’s displaying his strong vocal chops on “One More For The Road,” “Don’t Lie To Me,” “A Broken Heart Keeps Beatin’,” “Trusting In Jesus” and “What Gives You The Right.”

Of course, like most musicians who are primarily instrumentalists, Steffey brings in some friends to help with the vocal work.

And he has some good friends.

Tyminski sings lead on “Let Me Fall.” Ronnie Bowman does a great cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends” and Krauss contributes an outstanding version of “Warm Kentucky Sunshine,” an old Bluegrass Cardinals song.

Steffey assembled an all-star band for the album — Clay Hess, Barry Bales, Ron Block, Stuart Duncan, Ron Stewart, Randy Kohrs, Tyminski, Bowman, Tina  Steffey and Bryan Sutton.

He also wrote three of the songs — “Deep Rough,” “What Gives You The Right” and “Barnyard Playboy.”

Here’s hoping the next solo album comes out a little faster than this one did.

Can’t find it in stores? Try www.sugarhillrecords.com.

August 16, 2009

RICKY SKAGGS, “Ricky Skaggs Solo: Songs My Dad Loved.” Skaggs Family Records. 13 tracks.

Ricky Skaggs is 55 now. And he’s been performing for nearly half a century.
In 1960, Bill Monroe, “the father of bluegrass music,” brought the 6-year-old mandolin player on stage with him in Martha, Ky.

A year later, he made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. By the time he was 15, Skaggs was riding the bluegrass backroads, performing with Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys.

Forty years later, Skaggs has a collection 14 Grammy awards, 12 No. 1 country hits, 12 top country albums, 11 International Bluegrass Music Association awards and eight Country Music Association awards.

But with “Solo,” which hits stores on Sept. 15, he goes back to his roots. This is the music he heard his father, Hobert Skaggs, playing around the house back in Cordell, Ky.

It’s not bluegrass really. Sort of pre-bluegrass country and mountain music.

But it’s definitely a solo album.

Skaggs plays every instrument — acoustic guitars, resonator guitars, mandolins, mandocello, steel string banjo, gut string fretless banjo, fiddle, piano, bass, electric baritone guitar and percussion.

He sings a duet with himself on the Monroe Brothers’ “What Is A Home Without Love” and “Sinners, You Better Get Ready” as well as the Stanley Brothers’ “Little Maggie.”

There’s even some one-man call-and-response singing on “God Holds The Future In His Hands.”

And Skaggs produced the album as well.

His voice sounds deeper this time around. He limits the tenor singing to the duets.

There’s some a capella singing on the first part of “The City That Lies Foursquare.”

In short, Skaggs does a musical tour de force on the album.

So how is it?

Well, if you’re expecting some of the outstanding bluegrass Skaggs as done in recent years, you’ve come to the wrong place.
But if you’re a Skaggs or a fan of roots music, it’s a great album.

Can’t find it in stores? Try www.skaggsfamilyrecords.com.

August 10, 2009

CLAIRE LYNCH, “Whatcha Gonna Do,” Rounder. 12 tracks.

For Claire Lynch fans, the long wait is almost over.

On Sept. 15, Rounder will release her first studio album in three years and the second in nine years.

There was a greatest hits album — “Crowd Favorites” — in 2007. But two new albums in an entire decade is a long time for fans to wait.

“Whatcha Gonna Do” returns Lynch to her rightful place as one of the best voices in bluegrass and acoustic music.

At 55, her voice is still as clear and pure as ever.

Lynch never was a traditional bluegrass musician — and nothing has changed.

She still blends bluegrass, folk, country, pop, rock, swing, gospel and a smidgen of blues into a contemporary sound that straddles a few borders.

The only traditional bluegrass on “Whatcha Gonna Do” is Bill Monroe’s “My Florida Sunshine.” It’s enough to make you long for an entire Lynch album of pure bluegrass music.

But that doesn’t detract from this album.

It kicks off with Mark Schatz’s heavy bass beat on “Great Day in the Mornin’,” a happy song that’s bound to put a smile on even a grouch’s face.

Lynch wrote one song, “Woods of Sipsey,” and co-wrote three others — the jazzy gospel “Face to Face” with Donna Ulisse, “Highway” with Irene Kelley and “Widow’s Weeds” with Jennifer Kimball.

Liner notes say “The Mockingbird’s Voice” is the first cheating song Lynch has ever recorded. Let’s hope it opens the door for more.

“Barbed Wire Boys,” one of the album’s highlights, is a salute to the men of the World War II generation, who came home to work hard and raise their families without complaining. But there’s a sorrow there for what the men missed.

“You never heard him speak, you never saw him cry,” Lynch sings. “But where do the tears go, that you never shed/Where do the words go, that you never said/Well there’s a blink of the eye, there’s a catch in the voice/That is the unsung song/Of the barbed wire boys.”

Good album by a great artist.

Hopefully, the wait won’t be so long for the next one.

Can’t find it in stores? Try www.rounder.com.

August 3, 2009

LOU REID & CAROLINA, “My Own Set of Rules,” Rural Rhythm. 13 tracks.

Most musicians have a hard time working in one nationally touring bluegrass band. But Lou Reid is in three.

He plays mandolin and sings tenor in the Seldom Scene, performs with the supergroup Longview and fronts his own band, Carolina. And he’s been successful with all three.

Reid was a founding member of Doyle Lawson’s Quicksilver 30 years ago when he was 25. But he had already been active in bluegrass for more than six years by then.

Reid moved on to spend four years in Ricky Skaggs’ band during its country phase and then moved to the Seldom Scene. After six years, he moved on to work with some traditional country artists and then, in 1992, formed Carolina with Terry Baucom.

Baucom left after a couple of years and, in 1997, Reid disbanded Carolina and rejoined the Scene. But a year later, he brought it back, continuing to work in both bands.

And fans are glad he did.

“My Own Set of Rules” continues the band’s traditional sound with new material.

The only song from the first-generation of bluegrass is Carter Stanley’s “She’s More To Be Pitied,” which gives Christy Reid (Lou’s wife) a chance showcase her own vocal prowess.

The album’s first track, “Amanda Lynn,” is a pun about a girl named for the instrument whose sound her cry resembles.

There’s a lot of good bluegrass gospel here — the a capella “It’s Hard To Stumble (When You’re Down On Your Knees),” “Daddy Tried,” “John In The Jordan,” “Mama” and “Over In The Promised Land.”

“Beat The Train” is an instrumental that lives up to its name. And “A Tall Cornstalk” — probably the only song ever written about a stalk of corn — gives the band another instrumental workout between verses.

One picky point: Shannon Slaughter’s “Blueridge Girl” is a new song. Yet it finds a man who has found wealth and fame out west riding a train back to Virginia in hopes that the girl he loves is still waiting.

This is the 21st century. Surely they have telephones in the Blue Ridge mountains these days. And planes are faster ways to travel if you’re trying to connect with an old love.

Another strong album from a good band.

Can’t find it in stores? Try www.ruralrhythm.com.