Archive for May 2010

VARIOUS ARTISTS, “Dark As A Dungeon: Songs of The Mines,” Rebel. 14 tracks

May 24, 2010

Coal mining came to Kentucky in 1820, near the future town of Paradise, about 40 miles — much less as the crow flies — southwest of the farm where Bill Monroe would be born 91 years later.

Since 1890, Kentucky mines alone have claimed the lives of more than 7,000 miners.

America has long had a romance with the danger of the mines and they’ve been part of the country, folk and bluegrass music scene for generations.

As a kid, Monroe helped his uncle, Pendelton Vandiver, haul cross ties to the mines near his Jerusalem Ridge, Ky., home.

Now, Rebel Records has collected 14 songs about mining recorded between 1971 and 2007. It’s a collection of good music by top performers.

Three of the songs are from Monroe Country — in Muhlenberg County, across the Green River from his Ohio County farm.

There’s John Prine’s “Paradise,” a Seldom Scene version cut within months of Prine’s version; Randall Hylton’s “Coal Town Saturday Night,” about Central City, Ky., in the 1920s, a time when Monroe was playing nearby with his Uncle Pen; and James Alan Shelton’s version of Merle Travis’ “Dark As A Dungeon,” written about the Muhlenberg mines near Travis’ home.

Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley recorded “Dream Of A Miner’s Child” in 1971, when they were 17.

There are songs about the glory days of mining (David Davis & The Warrior River Boys’ “The River Ran Black”), songs about black lung (The Country Gentlemen’s “A Miner’s Life” and Wildwood Valley Boys’ “Black Dust Fever”), songs about mine disasters (Ralph Stanley II’s “Daddy’s Dinner Bucket”) and songs about quitting (Bill Harrell & The Virginians’ “Green Rolling Hills” and Steep Canyon Raiders’ (”Call The Captain”).

It’s a good compilation of songs about mining and the men and women who dig the black gold out of the ground.

Mining is still a dangerous occupation, but it pays a lot better these days. According to the  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay is around $60,000 a year now.

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BECKY SCHLEGEL, “Dandelion,” Lilly Ray Records. 13 tracks.

May 24, 2010

Becky Schlegel, a North Dakota native, has a background in bluegrass. She formed her first band, True Blue, in 1997.

And they showcased at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s trade show in 1999.

And “Dandelion” features bluegrass musicians Randy Kohrs and Josh Williams on resonator guitar, mandolin and vocals.

It has a banjo. But it also has electric guitars, pianos and drums.

This is a country album, not a bluegrass album.

“Colorado Line” is the closest to bluegrass you’ll find on the album, but it has drums and pedal steel guitar.

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NU-BLU, “Nights,” Red Squared. 12 tracks.

May 17, 2010

North Carolina-based Nu-Blu has had a roller-coaster year.

Last October, during the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual convention in Nashville, Pinecastle Records signed the band to a recording contract.

But before the band’s first album could be released, Pinecastle closed its doors.

Fortunately for fans, Nu-Blu has released the album and its first single — “Spin on a Red Brick Floor” — on its own.

The single, written by Nanci Griffith, is about life on the road and wanting to be with the one you love.

Nu-Blu is centered around Daniel and Carolyn Routh, a couple whose musical background ranges from Broadway-style musicals to gospel, country, blues and classic rock.

When the bluegrass bug bit, they formed Nu-Blu in 2003. That fall, Carolyn suffered two strokes that slowed the band’s development and nearly ended her career before it moved to the national stage.

Kendall Gales and Levi Austin round out the band, which describes itself as giving “the listener a diverse experience, while remaining within the realms of bluegrass.”

Greg Luck, who co-produced the album with Carolyn Routh, adds his fiddle to the mix. The band really needs to consider adding a fiddle player for the future.

The Rouths co-wrote two songs — “In and Out of Love,” and “How Do I Move On.”

Daniel Routh co-wrote “My Sweet Carolyn” with Austin and sings lead on it. 

But Carolyn Routh, who has a voice you’ll want to hear more of, is the band’s lead singer.

One of the best songs on the album is “Old Black Suit,” a song about an old man looking at the suit he’s worn for all special occasions since his wedding at 22 and now he’s planning to wear it one last time.

A cynic might say that’s one heck of suit. But whether anyone could wear the same suit that many years or not, it’s a good song.

The title cut, written by Donna Hughes, is about missing someone who has died.

“I know that heaven’s glad to have you,” Carolyn Routh sings, “but I sure wish you were here.”

It’s a feeling most people have experienced.

A good album by a good new band.

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AUDIE BLAYLOCK & REDLINE, “Cryin’ Heart Blues,” Rural Rhythm. 13 tracks.

May 10, 2010

In 1982, Audie Blaylock enrolled in the Jimmy Martin school of bluegrass as a 19-year-old member of Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys.

He went on to work with such artists as Red Allen, Lynn Morris and Rhonda Vincent.

Today, he’s rapidly emerging as a bluegrass star in his own right.

Last year’s, “Audie Blaylock & Redline” debut album was well received by both critics and fans.

And “Cryin’ Heart Blues” is as good as or better than that album.

Blaylock knows two styles of bluegrass — hard-driving songs and lonesome ballads. And even the hard-driving songs — like “You Can Keep Your Nine Pound Hammer,” about a man in prison for seven years — are usually filled with pain.

There’s a reason “blue” is the first word in bluegrass.

Blaylock tips his hat to some of the founding fathers of bluegrass with Bill Monroe’s “Stay Away From Me,” Jimmy Martin’s “Pray The Clouds Away” and Carter Stanley’s “Let’s Part The Best of Friends.”

But most of the material is newer and less familiar.

Blaylock and Redline — Evan Ward, Patrick McAvinue and Matt Wallace — produce some strong harmony singing along with some great instrumental work.

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DONNA ULISSE, “Holy Waters,” Hadley Music Group. 13 tracks.

May 3, 2010

Donna Ulisse, pronounced you-liss-ee, left her home in Hampton, Va., in the 1980s and headed for Music City with dreams of being a country music queen.

She soon found work as a demo singer and was signed by Atlantic Nashville. In 1991, the label released her first CD, “Trouble at the Door,” which produced two videos and three singles before disappearing.

In 2007, Ulisse resurfaced as a “bluegrass poet” with the critically acclaimed “When I Look Back” album. She wrote or co-wrote all 14 tracks.

Then came “Walk This Mountain Down” in 2009.

Now, she’s back with “Holy Waters,” a collection of gospel songs. Ulisse wrote or co-wrote 12 of the 13 tracks.
The 13th is Carter Stanley’s “Who Will Sing For Me.”

Ulisse’s husband, Rick Stanley, is a cousin of Ralph and Carter Stanley.

Keith Sewell plays her father-in-law’s 1935 D-28 Herringbone Martin guitar, which Carter Stanley is said to have played once at a family gathering, on the song.

Other musicians featured on the album include Andy Leftwich, Scott Vestal, Byron House and Rob Ickes.

“Caney Creek  to Canaan Land” is an uptempo song with the message,  “You don’t have to go to Israel to find Jesus.”

“This Crazy Road” find the singer getting out  in nature to refresh her soul.

“Who You Need To Know” says getting to heaven is all about who you know.

A strong album by an artist who deserves more attention from bluegrass fans than she’s been getting.

Can’t find it in stores? Try, CDBaby, iTunes, County Sales or Music Shed.