BILL EMERSON & SWEET DIXIE, “Southern,” Rural Rhythm. 12 tracks.

When Bill Emerson & The Sweet Dixie Band released a self-titled album in the fall of 2007, it had the feel of a one-time collaboration.

Fortunately, it wasn’t.

The band’s name has been shortened, but the music just keeps getting better.

Emerson, one of the most influential banjo players this side of Earl Scruggs, has been performing for 55 years now in a career that began with Uncle Bob & the Blue Ridge Partners in 1955.

Two years later, he joined with the late Charlie Waller and others to create The Country Gentlemen, one of the top acts in bluegrass.

In 1959, Emerson began moving around.
First, the Stoneman Family. Then, Bill Harrell, Red Allen, Jimmy Martin and Cliff Waldron’s New Shades of Grass.

It was with Waldron in 1968 that Emerson’s banjo turned Manfred Mann’s folk-rock song, “Fox on the Run,” into a bluegrass classic.

He returned to the Gentlemen in 1969 for four years and then began a 20-year career in the U.S. Navy, leading the Navy’s bluegrass band Country Current.

Now, with Sweet Dixie, Emerson is headed back to the top again. And “Southern” is an album fans won’t want to miss.

Tom Adams sings lead on most cuts, but Teri Chism sings lead on three and Wayne Lanham on one. They’re all good vocalists.

The song lineup comes from Tompall Glazer, Chris Hillman, Vince Gill, Alton Delmore, Lionel Cartwright, Hazel Dickens, Carl Jackson, Tim Stafford, Marty Stuart, Pete Gobel, Janet Davis and Adams.

Gill’s “Life in The Old Farm Town” is the poignant story of a farmer’s suicide after his crops burn up in a drought and his farm is lost to foreclosure.

“The Black Fox,” a different type of fox on the run, tells the tale of fox hunters who chase the devil in disguise and then flee in terror.

Most of the album consists of uptempo tunes that make even heartbreak seem like fun.

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