Archive for October 2009

October 26, 2009

THE DIXIE BEE-LINERS, “Susanville,” Pinecastle. 19 tracks.

Concept albums are rare in bluegrass. So the Dixie Bee-Liners’ “Susanville” is definitely worth checking out.

 The band says the album “peers into the cars and trucks in America’s cities and towns, bringing to life 19 breathtaking musical moments along America’s interstates and byways.”

Well, actually, there are only 15 songs on the album including two instrumentals of 36 and 28 seconds respectively. There’s also a yawn, an announcement that the trip is starting, a warning to turn back and an announcement that the trip is over.

 “It’s a soundtrack to a movie that plays in your mind,” mandolinist Buddy Woodward says on the band’s Web site. “Each song is a vignette about a different person in a different car or truck in a different highway in America, and they’re all headed either to or from Susanville.”

Susanville is a northern California city of 13,000 or so.

The Bee-Liners, a band born in New York City and now based in Virginia, is an eclectic group that writes its own material and isn’t adverse to having fun with bluegrass.

Instruments — in addition to mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo and bass — include toy piano, piccolo frog, bouzouki, cello, pedal steel, drums, mellotron, harpsichord, Hammond organ and piano.

At times, the album has the feel of ’60s psychedelic rock fused with bluegrass. It’s an interesting concept.

The first track, “Heavy,” finds a couple arguing. “Restless” is about a woman “trying to outrun this demon in my head.” “Road Hog” is about a truck on her bumper.

 Other songs include “Truck Stop Baby,” “Eighteen Wheels,” Trixie’s Diesel Stop Cafe,” “Lead Foot” and “Brake Lights.”

The songs work better as part of the whole concept than they do as individual material. But the title cut is a beautiful ballad that can stand on its own anywhere.

Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward are the vocalists and writers. Bandmates include Rachel Renee Johnson, Jonathan Maness, Jeremy Darrow and Sam Morrow.

 Hart says “Susanville” is the “first of several bluegrass concept records we’ve been planning.” That’s something to look forward to.

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

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October 19, 2009

SAM BUSH, “Circles Around Me,” Sugar Hill. 14 tracks.

After years of experimenting with everything from jazz to rock to blues to funk and a whole lot more, Sam Bush has come home to bluegrass.

And “Circles Around Me” is easily the best album he’s produced in years — at least as far as bluegrass fans are concerned. And it’s also easily one of the best bluegrass albums of the year.

At 57, Bush’s voice seems better than ever.

There are a lot of old songs on here.

Bush updated “Souvenir Bottles” and “Whisper My Name” — songs from his days with New Grass Revival.

He’s also reunited with Courtney Johnson, a bandmate from New Grass Revival who died in 1996, on “Apple Blossom.” The tune was recorded in 1976, but was never released. The tape was restored and new parts were added for this album.

Del McCoury duets with Bush on a couple of Bill Monroe songs — “Roll On  Buddy, Roll On” and “Midnight On The Stormy Deep.”

Also on the album are a couple of songs Bush enjoyed as a fan 40 years or more ago — “Diamond Joe” and “You Left Me Alone.”

But some of the best songs on the album are those that Bush wrote or co-wrote.

The title cut is a beautiful song about surviving life.

And “The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle” is a ballad about the 1973 murders of former Bill Monroe banjo player and Grand Ole Opry star David “Stringbean” Akeman and his wife Estelle.
The killers found little to steal in the couple’s cabin, but 23 years later, $20,000 was discovered behind a brick in the chimney — too rotted to be of any value. One killer died in prison, the other is still incarcerated.

There’s not a bad cut on the entire album.

This is Sam Bush at his best.

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

CORINNE WEST, “The Promise,” Make Records. Nine tracks.

Corinne West is best described as an Americana artist. Her music is a blend of folk, rock, country and bluegrass.

She’s been on the road since she was 15, absorbing life in America. And it shows in her writing. She wrote eight of the nine tracks on the album.

Some of West’s previous albums contained songs that had strong bluegrass influences. But “The Promise” is mostly progressive folk.

Bluegrass fans will have to wait for the next album.

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

October 19, 2009

SAM BUSH, “Circles Around Me,” Sugar Hill. 14 tracks.

After years of experimenting with everything from jazz to rock to blues to funk and a whole lot more, Sam Bush has come home to bluegrass.

And “Circles Around Me” is easily the best album he’s produced in years — at least as far as bluegrass fans are concerned. And it’s also easily one of the best bluegrass albums of the year.

At 57, Bush’s voice seems better than ever.

There are a lot of old songs on here.

Bush updated “Souvenir Bottles” and “Whisper My Name” — songs from his days with New Grass Revival.

He’s also reunited with Courtney Johnson, a bandmate from New Grass Revival who died in 1996, on “Apple Blossom.” The tune was recorded in 1976, but was never released. The tape was restored and new parts were added for this album.

Del McCoury duets with Bush on a couple of Bill Monroe songs — “Roll On  Buddy, Roll On” and “Midnight On The Stormy Deep.”

Also on the album are a couple of songs Bush enjoyed as a fan 40 years or more ago — “Diamond Joe” and “You Left Me Alone.”

But some of the best songs on the album are those that Bush wrote or co-wrote.

The title cut is a beautiful song about surviving life.

And “The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle” is a ballad about the 1973 murders of former Bill Monroe banjo player and Grand Ole Opry star David “Stringbean” Akeman and his wife Estelle.
The killers found little to steal in the couple’s cabin, but 23 years later, $20,000 was discovered behind a brick in the chimney — too rotted to be of any value. One killer died in prison, the other is still incarcerated.

There’s not a bad cut on the entire album.

This is Sam Bush at his best.

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

CORINNE WEST, “The Promise,” Make Records. Nine tracks.

Corinne West is best described as an Americana artist. Her music is a blend of folk, rock, country and bluegrass.

She’s been on the road since she was 15, absorbing life in America. And it shows in her writing. She wrote eight of the nine tracks on the album.

Some of West’s previous albums contained songs that had strong bluegrass influences. But “The Promise” is mostly progressive folk.

Bluegrass fans will have to wait for the next album.

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

October 12, 2009

RALPH STANLEY & THE CLINCH MOUNTAIN BOYS, “Can’t You Hear the Mountains Calling,” 12 tracks.

Ralph Stanley is an American legend now. At age 82, he’s been performing   bluegrass and mountain soul for 63 years and, if his career ended today, he would have left quite a legacy.
Stanley is still making music today, but Rounder Records has resurrected a little-known album from 1986 to give fans another chance to hear Stanley in his prime.

Charlie Sizemore, one of the better singers in bluegrass today, was the band’s 25-year-old lead singer. Junior Blankenship was on lead guitar; Curly Ray Cline, fiddle; and Jack Cooke, bass.

And Stanley, of course, was playing banjo.

The album was originally a cassette called “16 Years” on River Tracks Records. It was re-released as a CD on Cooper Creek Records in 1995. And now, 14 years later, it’s out again with a wider distribution.

A lot of bluegrass albums today are mixture of styles — bluegrass, country, gospel, rockabilly, jazz, Cajun and other influences.
But people searching for pure, unadulterated bluegrass need look no further than “Can’t You Hear the Mountains Calling.”

There’s a lot of uptempo heartache here — the broken lives of “When You Go Out Walking After Midnight,” the loss of a spouse after “16 Years” of marriage, watching the one you love with another man on “”With Whiskey and Wine.”

There’s a lot of joy too — the rousing “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” the hard-driving “Dickenson County Breakdown.”

This is Stanley and his band at or very near their prime. Fans will definitely want to check it out.

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

October 5, 2009

STEEP CANYON RANGERS, “Deep in the Shade,” Rebel. 12 tracks.

These days, the North Carolina-based Steep Canyon Rangers is better known as Steve Martin’s backing band. Last month, the group launched a 15-city tour with Martin that included an appearance on ABC’s “The View.”

But the Rangers are far more than Martin’s backing band.

The 10-year-old group that formed after a stairwell jam session at the University of North Carolina was named emerging artist of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2006 and its last album — “Lovin’ Pretty Women” — was nominated for album of the year in 2008.

You don’t have to wonder if the music is really bluegrass when the Rangers take the stage.

The sound is definitely bluegrass, but don’t expect to recognize any of the songs. This is not a cover band, so don’t wait for the old standards.

Members Graham Sharp, Charles R. Humprhey III and Nicky Sanders wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 12 songs.

There’s a beautiful a capella version of Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter’s “Sylvie” and an uptempo version of Merle Haggard’s “I Must Be Somebody Else You’ve Known.” All the rest are band originals.

As the album’s publicity material says, “The age-old theme of heartbreak has never sounded as upbeat as when accompanied by driving banjo, sawing fiddle and ringing mandolin.”

“Have Mercy” sees a couple ending an affair to keep from hurting others. “I Thought That She Loved Me” is the classic tale of a city girl who did a country boy wrong. “Turn Up The Bottle” finds a man ready for a change after a hard life. And “There Ain’t No Easy Street” is an uptempo song about struggling to survive on the hard side of town in today’s economy.

Another strong album by a good band.

Can’t find it in stores? Try http://www.rebelrecords.com