Archive for June 2010

JOE MULLINS & THE RADIO RAMBLERS, “Rambler’s Call,” Rebel. 12 tracks.

June 28, 2010

Joe Mullins grew up in bluegrass. His father, Paul “Moon” Mullins, played fiddle with the Stanley Brothers and was a member of The Boys From Indiana before fronting the Traditional Grass.

Joe Mullins came of age performing with the Traditional Grass during the 1980s and early 1990s. But he left the band in 1995 to devote more time to a radio career, buying three stations in Ohio to create a small country music network.

Over the past decade and a half, Mullins performed occasionally with Longview. But now, he’s back on the bluegrass circuit with a new band — The Radio Ramblers.

“Rambler’s Call,” their debut album, is a strong traditional bluegrass album with solid picking and great harmonies.

There’s a good mix of old and new material. And a lot of country songs get the bluegrass treatment here.

There’s Porter Wagoner’s “Boston Jail” and “Another Day, Another Dollar,” George Jones’ “Old Blue Tomorrow,” Marty Stuart’s “Farmer’s Blues” and Loretta Lynn’s “Smoke Along  The Track.”

Don Reno’s “Charlotte Breakdown” is the only tune from a bluegrass hall of famer.

Newer tunes include Ronnie Bowman and Sammy Shelor’s “Mountain  Girl” and Gerald Evans Jr.’s “The Old Rocking Chair” and “Don’t You Want To Go Home,” which features a capella gospel quartet singing.

The band features three lead singers — Mullins, Adam McIntosh (formerly with The Dry Branch Fire Squad) and Mike Terry.

Other members include Tim Kidd on bass and Evan McGregor (formerly with the Wildwood Valley Boys) on fiddle.

Good debut album by a band that can go as far as Mullin’s schedule will allow.

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JUNIOR SISK & RAMBLERS CHOICE, “Heartaches & Dreams,” Rebel. 12 tracks.

June 21, 2010

If you think hard-core traditional bluegrass is hard to find these days, you haven’t heard Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice.

“Heartaches and Dreams” is rock solid bluegrass. Many of the songs are new, but the sound is old.

Harry Sisk Jr. — “Junior Sisk” to bluegrass fans — made his mark as a songwriter in the early 1990s and stepped onto the national stage in 1996 as a singer/guitar player with Wyatt Rice & Santa Cruz.

Two years later, he formed the first version of Ramblers Choice and then left after one album to play with Lost & Found for a short period until he joined Alan Bibey in BlueRidge.

In 2008, Sisk brought back Ramblers Choice with the critically acclaimed album “Blue Side of the Blue Ridge.” His cousin, Tim Massey, shared lead singing duties with Sisk and continues to do so today.

Now, the band is back with another strong album.

There are plenty of lost love songs — “Train Without A Track,” “Working Hard Ain’t Hardly Working Anymore,” “A Black Hearse Following Me,” “You Broke Your Promise” and “The Laugh’s On Me.”

There are a couple of story songs — “Bullets Always Win” and “Guns, Coins and Jewelry.” And a couple of gospel songs — “The Lowest Valley” and “Let The Light Shine Down,” a blazing tune most often associated with Bill Monroe.

Strong harmonies, solid picking and two soulful lead singers. What more could you ask for?

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DON RIGSBY & MIDNIGHT CALL, “The Voice of God,” Rebel. 14 tracks.

June 14, 2010

Expect Don Rigsby’s “The Voice of God” to show up on quite a few Ten Best lists this year in both gospel and bluegrass.

And in just plain great albums.

Too many bluegrass gospel albums fail to challenge listeners.

They stick with the tried and true songs and sounds.

But Rigsby presents story songs that make you think about the message.

Like Skip Ewing’s “The Gospel According to Luke,” a 1989 country hit about an alcoholic street preacher who carries his Bible in a Crown Royal bag.

Like Dixie & Tom T. Hall’s “Then Y’Ain’t,” which says that self-righteousness “ain’t nothin’ to be proud of” and if “you have to tell your neighbor that you’re righteous and holy, then y’aint.”

Like Paul Craft’s “Charged With Being A Christian,” a song about a dream where the singer is charged with being a Christian and released because there’s not enough evidence.

Or Bobby Cyrus’ “Send Me Wings So I Can Fly,” the prayer of a neglected and unloved child who longs to die and go to heaven.

But the album’s highlight is “Harmonica” Phil Wiggins’ “Forgiveness,” a powerful blending of bluegrass and blues in a duet with blues singer and slide guitarist Rory Block about cocaine, whiskey and salvation.
It definitely should be a candidate for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s recorded event of the year for 2010.

Clyde Marshall, Robert Maynard and Dale Vanderpool contribute strong harmonies throughout the album. And Beth Castle shines in a duet on Alan Johnston’s “Mary Magdalene.”

At 42, Rigsby is just coming into his own as a solo artist.

He started his career in 1988 in the Charlie Sizemore Band, moved to the Vern Gosdin Band two years later and then to J.D. Crowe & the New South, the Lonesome River Band, Longview and Rock County before striking out on his own.

Last year, Rigsby left his day job as director of Morehead State University’s Kentucky Center for Traditional Music, a post he had held for eight years, to devote more time to his music.

Hopefully that’ll mean more frequent albums.

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DIERKS BENTLEY, “Up On The Ridge,” Capitol Records. 12 tracks.

June 7, 2010

Dierks Bentley is one of Nashville’s hottest musicians. He’s also a man with a passion for bluegrass, a sound he discovered as a 19-year-old struggling musician in Music City.

His seven chart-topping singes have given Bentley the clout to make “Up On The Ridge,” his fifth album for Capitol, the way he wanted it made.

And that means a lot of bluegrass musicians and a lot of bluegrass influences while still being radio-friendly with appeal to people who think the Eagles invented country music.

The lineup of musicians includes Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers, the Del McCoury Band, Sam Bush, Alison Krauss, Chris Stapleton, Rob Ickes, Randy Kohrs, Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Rob McCoury, Ronnie McCoury, Mike Bub and Tim O’Brien.

Del McCoury joins Bentley in a duet on U2’s “Pride (In The Name of Love).”

But this is not a bluegrass album.

Think of it as acoustic Southern rock/country/grass.

There’s a lot of good music on here — and Bentley co-wrote five of the songs.

But the best is “Down in the Mines,” a bluegrass ballad about a place where the choices of making a living are few — “You can grow marijuana back in the pines/or work for the man down in the mines…loading hillbilly gold where the sun never shines.”

The title song is about partying with the woman he loves — or at least lusts for — up in the hills.

“Bad Angel,” which features vocals by Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson, is about “standing at the crossroads of Temptation and Salvation street” and trying to decide which way to go.

“Bottle to the Bottom,” which features vocals by Kris Kristofferson, is a classic drinkin’ song about “falling from the bottle to the bottom, stool by stool.”

This is the way country music should sound, but so seldom does.

JETT’S CREEK, “Guilty,” no label. 12 tracks.

June 1, 2010

Jett’s Creek is an Ohio-based family band that spreads its lead vocal work fairly evenly between father Jon McIntosh, son Adam McIntosh and daughter Angie Young.

But it really needs to concentrate on Young.

She’s the star of the show.

Her performance on Miranda Lambert’s “Gun Powder and Lead” — a song about domestic violence and revenge (“His fist is big, but my gun’s bigger”) — is every bit as tough as Lambert’s original.

Fortunately, it’s the first single off the “Guilty” album.

She also portrays a tough woman on “Danville Prison Grave,” which finds the singer serving a life sentence for killing her cheating husband and her best friend when she catches them together.

Not many women in bluegrass attempt those types of songs.

There’s nothing wrong with the men’s vocal work. After all, Adam McIntosh spent more than three years with Dry Branch Fire Squad and is currently a member of Joe Mullins’ Radio Ramblers. And Jon McIntosh has been a bluegrass musician for 30 years.

But Young is still the star of the band — at least on this album.

She wrote two songs — “Please,” telling a cheating lover to leave, and “One Small Problem,” telling a man she cares about him, but she’s married and won’t cheat.

Adam McIntosh wrote the uptempo gospel, “He Loves Me.”

Other highlights include Jon McIntosh’s version of “The Arms of Tennessee” and Adam McIntosh’s chain-gang song, “This Old Hammer.”

Band members include Brad Jessmer, Wayne Haddix and Jeff Byrd.

This is the band’s second album and it’s time a major bluegrass label signed them.

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