Archive for September 2009

September 20, 2009

Grasstowne. “The Other Side of Towne,” Pinecastle. 14 tracks.

Grasstowne burst on the bluegrass scene two years ago with “The Road Headin’ Home,” a strong debut album that sent a single — “Dixie Flyer” — to the top of Bluegrass Unlimited’s charts for three consecutive months.

The band was an instant super-group with Phil Leadbetter, one of the top resonator guitarists in bluegrass, who had spent years with J.D. Crowe’s New South and then Wildfire; Steve Gulley, who first made his mark with Doyle Lawson’s Quicksilver and then became a founding member of Mountain Heart; and Alan Bibey, who built his reputation with IIIrd Tyme Out and Blueridge.

But it’s been two years since the debut album. How does the band sound now?

About the same actually. When you start with veteran musicians at the top of their game, there’s not a lot of room for growth.

Gulley and Bibey are still honing their songwriting skills and each contributed three songs they wrote or co-wrote to the project.

Gulley’s songs are “Lifting Up The Cross,” a gospel number; “Somebody’s Gonna Let You Down,” an uptempo song about people not living up to expectations; and “Sorrow Ain’t Far Behind,” a song that gives all the instruments a good workout.

Bibey contributed “Pay Your Dues,” a song about the traveling life; “Tobaccoville Road,” an instrumental; and “The Day Hell Freezes Over,” a song with a sing-along chorus and some great harmony.

Gulley, who does George Jones almost as well as George Jones does, sings Jones’ classic “The Door” from 1974.

Melba Montgomery’s “Big, Big Heartaches,” an uptempo number, is the first single from the album. It was already at No. 20 on the September Bluegrass Unlimited charts.

Other cuts worth checking: “Laura Lie,” a cheatin’ song about the “daughter of the devil,” and “Salvation Of The Lord,” an a capella gospel quartet number that features Terry Baucom singing bass.

It’s a strong album.

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September 14, 2009

JEFF AND VIDA, “Selma Chalk,” Rosebank Records. 13 tracks.

Take a California girl who grew up in Germany and a New Jersey boy, put them together in New Orleans to form a band and what do you get?

I’m not really sure. But it’s good.

Jeff Burke and Vida Wakeman began performing their blend of bluegrass, alternative country, blues, rock, rockabilly, Cajun, folk and a few other things in New Orleans clubs in 1998.

They’ve toured nationally and internationally for the past 11 years and moved their base of operations to Nashville. And they’re ready for some wider recognition.

“Selma Chalk,” the latest album, was written entirely by Wakeman with assistance from Burke on four tracks and Pat Flory on one.

The title comes from a term for “an impurity found in the most fertile ground of the South,” the album says.

Wakeman’s lyrics are original, in some ways like a Southern poet. There’s a singer-songwriter feel to the album.

In “Alabama Sky,” she sings, “in that Alabama sky/there’s a falling star for each goodbye/and I just saw mine coming down/last night leaving town.”

In “Letter To My Love,” a woman has taken the blame for a murder committed by her lover. As her life nears its end, she sings, “It wasn’t the money that made me stay/It was not the world that led me astray/It was just to be near you near you everyday.”

The police tell her that they had a phone call, telling them where to find her and she laments, “Baby, was it you?”

 And in “Sharp As A Knife,” Wakeman sings, “my love for you is as sharp as a knife/cut me and bleed me and make me your wife/and if you don’t want me don’t throw me away/love without you is like hurt with out pain.”

Wakeman’s voice is unique. She doesn’t really sound like a bluegrass singer.

But “Little Sara” is definitely hard-charging bluegrass. “Sharp As A Knife” has bluegrass instrumentation. “Fire in the Water” and “Crush” also have a strong bluegrass presence.

While it’s not strictly a bluegrass album, “Selma Chalk” is definitely worth checking out.

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September 8, 2009

GOLD HEART, “My Sisters and Me,” Rural Rhythm. 12 tracks.

Chances are, you haven’t heard of Gold Heart yet. But, rest assured, you will.

The Gold sisters from Hamilton, Va., are one of the hottest new acts in bluegrass — as well as one of the youngest.

Analise, the oldest at 19, switched from bagpipes to mandolin when the sisters decided to form a bluegrass band.

Jocelyn, 16, is the songwriter and guitar player. She wrote or co-wrote nine of the 12 songs on this album.

Shelby, who’s 13, is a fiddle prodigy. They take turns singing lead and their harmony is fantastic.

“Heavenly Home,” a gospel song written by Jocelyn Gold, is performed as an a capella trio. If angels sing bluegrass, this is what it sounds like.

The songwriting is mature and the musicianship is on a par with pickers twice their age.

A lot of bluegrass albums these days leave you wondering, “Is that really bluegrass?” There are no doubts here. “My Sisters and Me” is bluegrass, pure but not so simple.

It’s hard to pick a favorite here. It’s a solid album by a band that should just get better with time.

Can’t find it in stores? Try