Bluegrass music notes
By Keith Lawrence
Owensboro (Ky.) Messenger-Inquirer
Looking for music to buy for the bluegrass fans in your life? Here are my choices for the 10 best bluegrass albums of 2009.
10. DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER, “Lonely Street,” Rounder. 12 tracks.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver have been named vocal group of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association for an unprecedented seven years — because they are that good.
And “Lonely Street” is a very good example of the band at its best.
9. 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.
And “The Other Side of Towne” is a worthy successor to that album. One of the best you’ll hear this year.
8. ALECIA NUGENT, “Hillbilly Goddess,” Rounder. 11 tracks.
If “Hillbilly Goddess” had been made 40 years ago, it would have been a major country album. And Alecia Nugent would be a contender for the Country Music Association’s female vocalist of the year award.
But what they’d called country music 40 years ago is mostly found in bluegrass today.
It’s on the ballads that Nugent really shines. She can wring the lonesome out of any lyrics with a voice that was made for hurtin’ songs.
7. RUSSELL MOORE & IIIrd TYME OUT, “Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out,” Rural Rhythm. 12 tracks.
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.
This album should help the group pick up even more awards.
6. DAVID DAVIS & THE WARRIOR RIVER BOYS, “Two Dimes & A Nickel,” Rebel Records. 12 tracks
“Two Dimes & A Nickel” just might be the darkest bluegrass album of 2009.
It’s also one of the best.
There’s not much happiness in these dozen songs, but there’s some great picking and singing.
And Owen Saunders plays the lonesomest fiddle this side of a graveyard.
5. ERNIE THACKER, “The Hangman,” Pinecastle. 12 tracks.
“The Hangman” is filled with powerfully told story songs: “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me,” where a man faces the choices of drinking himself to death or dying of loneliness; “Friday Once Again,” where a divorced man waits for Friday to see his daughter; “The Ballad of Charlie Dill,” where a man shoots his friend over a woman; and a strong bluegrass version of “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
But the album’s highlight is “Keith How Many,” a tribute to the late Keith Whitely, who died of alcohol poisoning 20 years ago. “How many young singers will fall, livin’ the song,” Thacker asks.
4. RHONDA VINCENT, “Destination Life,” 12 tracks. Rounder.
Since her return to bluegrass from the bright lights of country music nearly a decade ago, Rhonda Vincent has become the undisputed queen of the genre.
“Destination Life” continues her string of strong albums.
3. 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 easily one of the best bluegrass albums of the year.
A highlight: “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.
2. DRY BRANCH FIRE SQUAD, “Echoes of the Mountains,” Rounder. 14 tracks.
Look in the dictionary under “mountain soul,” and you should find a picture of Ron Thomason, the band’s leader. Nobody can wring pathos out of a lyric like Thomason.
The music, and the emotions it evokes, are both raw. You could argue whether this is truly bluegrass. It is a mixture of bluegrass, country, western, gospel, folk and maybe a few more genres. But what it is is great music.
1. DAILEY & VINCENT, “Brothers From Different Mothers,” Rounder. 12 tracks.
“Brothers From Different Mothers” should be on every “Ten Best” list this year.
This is some of the best harmony singing — and some of the best Southern soul — you’ll hear this year.