Archive for October 2010

JOE DIFFIE, “Homecoming: The Bluegrass Album,” Rounder. 12 tracks.

October 25, 2010

The only thing you can say about an album like this is: Wow, what took so long?

This is the album Joe Diffie was born to make. His voice isn’t high, but voices don’t come more lonesome than his.

Diffie burst on the country music scene in 1990, topping the charts with a song called, “Home.”

And for awhile, the hits just kept on coming — “If The Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets),” “Third Rock From The Sun,” “Pickup Man.”

But 1995’s “Bigger Than The Beatles” was Diffie’s last No. 1 and 2004’s “Tougher Than Nails” was his last Top 20 song.

In fact, 2004 marked Diffie’s last studio album

There were reports in recent years that he was planning a return to bluegrass, where he started in the mid-’80s. And last year, when Rounder released Diffie’s “The Ultimate Collection,” a lot of people expected that to be the long-awaited bluegrass album.

But it turned out to be just a re-recording of some of Diffie’s biggest country hits.

“Homecoming” — a title that refers to his return to bluegrass where he started his career with the Oklahoma-based The Special Edition — is finally the album that bluegrass fans have waited years for.

And it’s definitely worth the wait.

Diffie assembled an all-star cast to help with his homecoming — The Grascals, Rhonda Vincent, Bradley Walker, Alecia Nugent, Rob Ickes, Aubrey Haynie, Mike Compton, Bryan Sutton, Mark Fain and Charlie Cushman.

“Homecoming” kicks off with Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs’ “Somehow Tonight,” and jumps into “Lonesome and Dry As A Bone,” a somewhat spooky tale of death and loneliness written by Diffie and Shawn Camp.

“Tennessee Tea” is a song that dates back to The Special Edition days, a hard-driving tale of a man using moonshine to get over a woman — by burning it in his gas tank.

“Fit For A King” is the story of a ragged street preacher who will someday wear clothes fit for a king. “Route 5 Box 109” is an uptempo nostalgia song about driving and dreaming of home. “Rainin’ On Her Rubber Dolly” is about missing a daughter lost through divorce.

“Til Death” is a murder ballad. And “Free and Easy” is about the heavy price of being free.

Definitely an album worth checking out.

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THE BOXCARS, “THE Boxcars,” Mountain Home Records. 13 tracks.

October 18, 2010

When they call The Boxcars a supergroup, they’re not kidding.

Just look at their credentials.

Adam Steffey and John Bowman once played with Alison Krauss & Union Station.

Ron Stewart, Harold Nixon and Bowman are graduates of J.D. Crowe & The New South.

Keith Garrett and Nixon were members of Blue Moon Rising.

And Steffey and Stewart were in The Dan Tyminski Band.

Garrett is the band’s lead singer, but Bowman and Steffey each sing lead on two songs and Stewart on one.

They’re strong pickers too. Steffey is the International Bluegrass Music Association’s 2010 mandolin player of the year.

And they’re good songwriters.

Garrett contributed five songs to the album and Stewart, four.

The band’s sound leans toward the country side of bluegrass.

Garrett’s murder ballad, “December 13th,” his “Old Henry Hill” and especially his “Never Played The Opry” would have found a place at the top of the country charts a couple of decades ago.

But there’s plenty of hard-charging bluegrass as well — “Take Me On The Midnight Train,” “Jumpin’ The Track” and “I Could Change My Mind.”

A great new band. A great new album.

It’s definitely one of the year’s best.

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BIG COUNTRY BLUEGRASS, “The Boys in Hats & Ties,” Rebel Records. 15 tracks.

October 11, 2010

This six-piece band from the Virginia-North Carolina border country has seen more than its share of tragedy in the past decade.

In October 2003, Larry Pennington, the band’s banjo player from its inception in 1987, died of Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis — Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Then, last May, Alan Mastin, the band’s bass player for 21 years, died in a traffic accident driving home from a show.

This album marks Mastin’s final recording with Big Country Bluegrass, an album which ironically includes “Wreck on the Highway,” a Roy Acuff classic from 1942.

The title cut, written by Tom T. and Dixie Hall along with Don Rigsby, is a salute to the pioneers of bluegrass music in the 1940s and 1950s. It’s the first single from the album and is No. 16 on Bluegrass Unlimited’s October singles charts.

The Halls also wrote “The First Rose,” a song about a love that spans decades of separation.

Jeff Michael is the band’s lead singer, but Johnny Williams sings lead on three songs and Teresa Sells on two.

Three instrumentals — “Prodigal 5,” “Top Hat Ramble” and “Rendezvous” — are featured.

If you like to sing along with CDs, there are plenty of good opportunities on this album.

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CHRIS HILLMAN AND HERB PEDERSEN, “At Edwards Barn,” Rounder. 15 tracks.

October 4, 2010

Most musicians can only dream of careers like Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen have had.

Hillman, 65, who got his start in the California-based Scottsville Squirrel Barkers as a teenager, went on to make music history with The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas and The Desert Rose Band.

Pedersen, 66, played in the Pine Valley Ramblers, the Dillards, The Desert Rose Band and the Laurel Canyon Ramblers, contributed music to several TV shows and movies, and performed on a number of albums by other artists.

The two California musicians have been friends for more than 45 years and have worked together off and during that time, including their years in The Desert Rose Band.

On Nov. 7, 2009, Hillman and Pedersen got together with David Mansfield, Larry Park and Bill Bryson to record a live album at Mavi and Dave Edwards’ music barn in Nipomo, Calif.

The resulting “At Edwards Barn” is easily one of the best bluegrass albums of 2010.

The 15 songs are really a career retrospective done bluegrass style.

From The Byrds, we get “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Eight Miles High” and “Have You Seen Her Face.”

From the Burritos, there’s “Sin City” and “Wheels.”

The Desert Rose era produces “Love Reunited.”

There’s a great version of Ralph Stanley’s “Going Up Home,” which features some a capella harmony; the Louvin Brothers’ “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” which Pedersen recorded with Emmylou Harris in 1975; and Buck Owens’ “Together Again,” a salute to the Bakersfield, Calif., legend who was a mentor to both men.

Hillman wrote or co-wrote nine cuts on the album. Pedersen wrote one, “Wait A Minute,” a song recorded by the Seldom Scene in 1972.

A great album by a couple of great musicians.

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