Archive for August 2010

STEVE GULLEY AND TIM STAFFORD, “Dogwood Winter,” Rural Rhythm. 14 tracks.

August 30, 2010

Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford have been writing songs together for years. In 2008, their “Through The Window of A Train” was named song of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association.

Both have made their marks separately as singers and musicians.

Gulley, a member of Grasstowne, honed his skills with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and Mountain Heart.

Stafford, a member of Blue Highway, worked in Dusty Miller and Alison Krauss & Union Station before helping launch Blue Highway in 1994.

But after years of writing together for other people, the two decided to record an album of 14 of their favorite songs.

It’s not strictly a bluegrass album — there’s a piano on “Nebraska Sky” and percussion on both “Nebraska Sky” and “Torches.”

So call it “countrygrass” — a description that fits a lot of bluegrass albums these days.

It’s definitely a singer-songwriter album with lots of well-crafted lyrics.

The title cut is about pioneers who find hard times and death “in the land of milk and honey where the dogwood blossoms bloom.”

“Nebraska Sky” is a letter to a mother from her soldier son, which promises “someday soon, I’ll be coming home to stay.”

“Just Another Setting Sun” is about the death of gunfighter/gambler John Henry “Doc” Holliday as told by his common-law wife “Big Nose Kate” Elder.

“Sixteen Cents” tells the story of a dead hobo who has only 16 cents in his pockets.

“Angel On Its Way” offers the philosophy that when you help someone, “you never know when you might help an angel on its way.”

“Torches” says “When I carry torches, I always get burned.”

The first single from the album is the blazing “Just Along For The Ride,” about making changes and being glad you did it your way.

The album also features the musicianship of Adam Steffey, Ron Stewart, Justin Moses, Dale Ann Bradley, Michael Alvey and Mark Laws.

It’s a good showcase for two of bluegrass best songwriters.

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MARTY STUART, “Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions,” Sugar Hill. 14 tracks.

August 23, 2010

“What inspires me now is traditional country music,” Marty Stuart says in a news release for his new “Ghost Train” album. “It’s the music I most cherish.”

That said, don’t expect to find any bluegrass on here.

Sure, Stuart got his start as a 13-year-old mandolin player with Lester Flatt in 1972. And he’s made a few bluegrass albums through the years since Flatt’s death in 1979.

But this isn’t one of them.

The songs feature drums, electric guitars, steel guitars, pianos, violins, cellos and violas — not banjos, fiddles and mandolins.

Still, bluegrass these days is leaning closer to traditional country music than modern country music does.

And the more liberal (in terms of music) bluegrass fans will probably enjoy “Ghost Train.”

The strangest — and maybe the best — song on the album is Stuart’s “Porter Wagoner’s Grave,” a recitation about a homeless man whose life is turned around when he meets the ghost of Porter Wagoner while sleeping on Wagoner’s grave.

Stuart, incidentally, wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 14 tracks, including “Hangman,” a song he co-wrote with Johnny Cash, four days before Cash’s death. The song tells of an executioner who uses drugs and liquor to dull the pain of killing people.

The album features a duet with Stuart’s wife, Connie Smith, on the ballad, “I Run To You,” which they co-wrote. The two also co-wrote the ballad, “A World Without You.”

There are three instrumentals — Stuart’s “Hummingbyrd” and “Mississippi Railroad Blues” and Ralph E. Mooney and Charles P. Seals’ “Crazy Arms.” Mooney plays steel guitar on the tune as well as on several of the other tracks.

“Hard Working Man” is a song about the Great Recession, when jobs are taken away from Americans and shipped overseas.

 “Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten” finds a man at the depot where trains no longer stop. He’s broke, his woman is gone and he’s ready to ride a ghost train.

 It’s the kind of album Nashville should be making more of, but isn’t.

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FRANK SOLIVAN & DIRTY KITCHEN, “Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen,” Fiddlemon Music. 12 tracks.

August 16, 2010

Frank Solivan’s background is far from the norm for bluegrass musicians.

A California native who migrated to Alaska in the mid-1990s, he played first-chair violin for the University of Alaska Symphony when he wasn’t touring with Doug Dillard and Ginger Boatwright.

From there, he became a vocalist and played mandolin, fiddle and guitar with Country Current, the U.S. Navy’s county/bluegrass band. He’s a hunter, fisherman, gourmet chef, poet. But most of all, Solivan is the mandolin player and leader of a hot bluegrass band that’s starting to garner a lot of attention.

He wrote or co-wrote half the songs on the band’s self-titled album. Banjo player Mike Munford added “Line Drive,” a galloping instrumental to the mix.

Older material on the album includes John C. Stewart’s “July You’re A Woman” and the Stanley Brothers’ a capella gospel “Paul and Silas.”

“Drifting Apart” is a hard-driving song about a relationship that’s on the rocks. “Together We’ll Fly” is about facing the future with someone you love. “Tarred and Feathered” says it’s hard to keep a good man down, no matter what life throws at him.

“Left Out In The Cold” is about a homeless war hero. “The Note That Said Goodbye” is about a woman who left her husband notes every day when they were in love and then she wrote a final note.

Band members include Stefan Custodi on bass and Lincoln Meyers on guitar. Guests include John Cowan, Rob Ickes, Moondi Kline and Megan McCormick.

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J.D. CROWE, DOYLE LAWSON, PAUL WILLIAMS, “Old Friends Get Together,” Mountain Home Music. 12 tracks

August 9, 2010

Three bluegrass legends who graduated from Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys finishing school have teamed up for a gospel album that’s well worth fans’ attention.

Banjo legend J.D. Crowe was with Martin from 1956 to 1960; Paul Williams, best known for his bluegrass-gospel work, was also part of Martin’s late 1950s lineup, working with him from 1958 to 1963; and Doyle Lawson, whose band Quicksilver has been one of the top groups in bluegrass for a quarter century, was there from 1963 to 1966.

This summer, the three released “Old Friends Get Together,” a collection of 12 gospel songs, including two co-written by Martin — “Voice of My Savior,” written with Raymond Long, and “Give Me Your Hand,” written with Williams.
But all 12 songs are from Martin’s repertoire.

The album was recorded near the end of Martin’s life in 2005 and he was able to come to the studio to listen to the tapes.

There are no real surprises here. Just three bluegrass legends singing bluegrass gospel the way it was meant to be. The harmonies are as powerful as ever.

Songs include “Prayer Bells of Heaven,” “The Little White Church,” “Pray The Clouds Away,” “This World Is Not My Home,” “Shake Hands With Mother Again” and “Who’ll Sing For Me.”

Musicians include Ben Isaacs, Cia Cherryholmes, Sonya Isaacs, Ron Stewart and Harry Stinson.

Bluegrass purists alert: Stinson plays snare drums on the album.

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