Archive for December 2010

Bluegrass legends to celebrate Monroe Centennial

December 29, 2010

Virtually every active member of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Fame will be performing in Owensboro on Sept. 12-14 to celebrate what would have been Bill Monroe’s 100th birthday.

Monroe, “the father of bluegrass music,” was born on a farm outside Rosine on Sept. 13, 1911. He died on Sept. 9, 1996, and is buried in Rosine Cemetery.

The International Bluegrass Music Museum’s Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration at the RiverPark Center will mark the first time this many bluegrass legends have performed at one event, said Gabrielle Gray, executive director of the museum.

“I checked with Lance LeRoy (a Hall of Fame agent and manager),” she said. “He said there has never been a festival with a lineup like this. We’re going to have one enormous headliner after another.”

Earl Scruggs, whose banjo work in Monroe’s band in 1945 helped create the bluegrass sound, is scheduled to perform along with Ralph Stanley, Doc Watson, Jesse McReynolds, Mac Wiseman, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Osborne, Eddie Adcock, Tom Gray, Kenny Baker, Curly Seckler, Everett Lilly, The Lewis Family, Bill Clifton, Rodney Dillard, Melvin Goins and Paul Williams.

Other bluegrass pioneers and former Blue Grass Boys will also be performing at the three-day event, Gray said.

Tickets for all three days range from $100 to $175.

The festival will also see the premiere of a new Bill Monroe musical in the RiverPark Center’s Cannon Hall.

In February 2009, the museum staged “Lincoln in the Land of Bluegrass,” a bluegrass-based musical on the life of the nation’s 16th president, as a pilot project for the Monroe musical.

It featured a cast of more than 300.

Rick Miller, a local amateur historian, wrote the play as a series of vignettes about Lincoln’s life from his Kentucky birth to his delivery of the Gettysburg Address.

Randy Lanham, the museum’s education director, worked with students to write the music. Barry Lanham did with the choreography, and Teresa Wills, a local veterinarian and member of Theatre Workshop of Owensboro, was the director. Gray produced the show.

The same partners are involved with the Monroe musical, which will debut with a morning performance for students at the RiverPark Center on Sept. 12. An evening performance for the general public is planned that day as well.

Most of the performance times by Hall of Fame members are still being scheduled, Gray said, “but Ralph Stanley will perform on Sept. 12 just before the evening performance of the musical.”

A documentary about Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys, is also scheduled to premiere during the festival.

The museum is producing the documentary and interviewing as many former members of the band as it can locate.

“We’re seeing the canonization of Bill Monroe,” Gray said. “He’s not just a saint. He’s the king of the saints.”

The interviews with former band members, she said, show that “they are canonizing him too. He was hard on his musicians until he got wanted he wanted and then they were good enough to go out on their own. They love him for it.”

Monroe, Gray said, “produced several generations of fabulous musicians.”

The Monroe Centennial will be the museum’s second festival of 2011.

The museum’s River of Music Party on June 23-25 at Yellow Creek Park will shift away from traditional bluegrass and explore the roots and branches of the genre, she said.

So far, that lineup includes Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile, Infamous Stringdusters, Tony Rice, Mountain Heart, Josh Williams Band, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, Kenny & Amanda Smith, Pete & Joan Wernick, Audie Blaylock & Redline, Trampled By Turtles, 23 String Band and the Kentucky BlueGrass AllStars.

Three-day tickets are $70 for the general public, $60 for senior citizens and the military, $55 for students and $50 for museum members.

Tickets for both festivals are on sale at the museum at 117 Daviess St. or by calling 926-7891.

The RiverPark Center has limited seating and tickets are expected to go fast, Gray said.

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BOBBY OSBORNE & THE ROCKY TOP X-PRESS, “Memories,” Rural Rhythm. 14 tracks.

December 28, 2010

Bobby Osborne celebrated his 79th birthday on Dec. 7.

“Memories,” his latest album, marks his 60 years as a professional entertainer.

But it’s a little late.

Osborne began his career with the Miami Valley Playboys in Middletown, Ohio, in 1947.

By the time, he joined the legendary Lonesome Pine Fiddlers in 1949, he had also performed with the Silver Saddle Boys in Welch, W. Va., and Rex & Eleanor Parker in Bluefield, W. Va.

In 1951, he worked with the Stanley Brothers.

After his service with the U.S. Marines in the Korea War, Osborne and his younger brother, Sonny, joined with Jimmy Martin to form a group.

But by 1958, Bobby and Sonny were working full time as the Osborne Brothers.

They joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1964, were named vocal group of the year by the Country Music Association in 1971, became the first bluegrass act to play the White House in 1973 and were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 1994.

When rotator-cuff surgery in late 2004 forced Sonny Osborne to stop playing the banjo, the last of the great first-generation bluegrass brother acts was history.

But Bobby Osborne wasn’t ready to retire.

He formed a new band — The Rocky Top X-Press — and hit the road.

He’s in the bluegrass Hall of Fame twice — with the Osborne Brothers and with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers.

But as “Memories” shows, Bobby Osborne is not an oldies act. He’s still a vital force in bluegrass.

His duet with Patty Loveless on the title cut, a song he wrote, is beautiful — one of the best duets you’ll hear this year in country or bluegrass.

“With A Pain In My Heart,” the first of the more than 75 songs he’s written, was first recorded in 1949. Osborne performs it here with Audie Blaylock.

“I’ve Seen It All,” written by Daryl Mosley, sets Osborne’s biography to music — “I’ve roared through my life with my foot on the pedal,” he sings.

Russell Moore joins Osborne on “Mountain Fever” and traditional Japanese musician Takeharu Kunimoto plays the traditional Japanese three-stringed shamisen on “Up This Hill And Down.”

Osborne is joined by an all-star lineup for two instrumentals — “Man From Rosine” and “Bobby Van Waltz.” Glen Duncan, Ronnie McCoury, Sammy Shelor, David Harvey and David Grisman perform on the former and Grisman, Duncan, Harvey, McCoury and Mike Toppins on the latter.

Naturally, the album includes “Ruby,” the Osbornes first hit in 1956, and “Rocky Top,” their biggest hit from 1967.

Osborne is arguably the best tenor in bluegrass. And in his 80th year of life, he can still come close to hitting notes that only a dog could hear.

A must for Osborne Brothers fans.

Can’t find it in stores? Try www.RuralRhythm.com

Best Bluegrass Albums of 2010

December 20, 2010

New groups, veterans, country singers coming home and acts in their prime all turned out some of the best bluegrass of 2010.

Here are my picks for the Ten Best Bluegrass Albums of 2010:

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

The Boxcars are a new group with a veteran lineup.

When they call them 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.

The band’s sound leans toward the country side of bluegrass — a reminder that there was a time when bluegrass was part of country music

9. BALSAM RANGE, “Trains I Missed,” Mountain Home Music. 12 tracks

Balsam Range melds country, gospel, bluegrass and old English ballads into a sound that is both traditional and contemporary.

 Having four lead singers — and two writers on this project — shows the band’s depth.

And “Trains I Missed” shows why bluegrass fans should pay attention to Balsam Range.

8. RANDY KOHRS, “Quicksand,” Rural Rhythm. 13 tracks.

Randy Kohrs’ resophonic guitar has appeared on more than 500 CDs, but he’s a lot more than a sideman.

He’s also a first-class singer-songwriter. He co-wrote five of the songs on this album.

“Quicksand” is classified as an acoustic album, rather than bluegrass, because it pushes boundaries.
And it pushes them in an exciting way.

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

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 15 songs on the album are really a career retrospective done bluegrass style.

6. THE STEELDRIVERS, “Reckless,” Rounder Records. 12 tracks.

The SteelDrivers roared out of Nashville in 2008 with a sound that’s best described as “outlaw grass.”

The band had a sound that ranged from high-lonesome to low-down blues — often in the same song.

They mixed a rock attitude with some Delta blues, gospel and country, but kept it all within the framework of bluegrass.

High tenor vocals were replaced with Chris Stapleton’s rough-hewn growls and wails.

But it’s the last album with the original lineup.

And that’s a reason for fans to check it out.

5. THE GRASCALS, “The Famous Lefty Flynn’s,” Rounder. 12 tracks.

The Grascals burst on the bluegrass scene in 2005 with a self-titled album featuring Dolly Parton on a grassed-up version of Elvis’ “Viva Las Vegas.”

It made a splash, earning the band “emerging artist of the year” honors from the International Bluegrass Music Association and a Grammy nomination.

The Grascals went on to win entertainer of the year honors from the IBMA in both 2006 and 2007. And they picked up another Grammy nomination for 2006’s “Long List of Heartaches.”

A resume like that leaves a band room to coast for a few years.

But The Grascals are still taking chances, trying new things while sticking to the sound that brought them fans and honors.

“Lefty Flynn’s” is a bluegrass album with a country edge. It features steel guitars on three tracks, drums, a mandola and a viola — instruments not typically found on bluegrass albums.

4. JOSH WILLIAMS, “Down Home,” Pinecastle. 12 tracks.

Back in 1993, Pete “Dr. Banjo” Wernick put together a band he called the Bluegrass Youth All-Stars to perform at the International Bluegrass Music Association awards show at the  RiverPark Center in Owensboro, Ky.

The band — which would make a great supergroup today — consisted of Michael Cleveland on fiddle, Josh Williams on banjo,  Chris Thile on mandolin, Cody Kilby on guitar and Brady Stogdill on bass.

Williams went on to work in the Special Consensus and Rhonda Vincent’s band, The Rage.

Now, he’s on his own with his first solo album since “Lonesome Highway,” which made several “best of” lists back in 2004.

His tenor/baritone vocals rank him among the top male singers in the genre as well. He really shines on lonesome ballads.

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

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.

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 on a song about cocaine, whiskey and salvation.

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

2. DAILEY & VINCENT, “Dailey & Vincent Sing The Statler Brothers,” Rounder/Cracker Barrel. 12 tracks

The Statler Brothers hit the road with Johnny Cash in 1964 and racked up 33 Top 10 country singles before their retirement in 2002.

In January 1966, their “Flowers on the Wall,” climbed to No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 (pop) charts.

The Statlers have been retired for eight years.

But Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent — the hottest act in bluegrass music as the second decade of the 21st century begins — are counted among their rabid fans and saluted them with this outstanding collection of Statler Brothers songs available in Cracker Barrel stores.

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

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.

“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.

COMMON STRINGS, “Somewhere In Glory,” Rural Rhythm Christian. 12 tracks.VARIOUS ARTISTS, “Look To The Light: Songs of Faith from the pen of Rick Lang,” Rural Rhythm Christian. 14 tracks.

December 13, 2010

Christmas is the time of year when more people turn to gospel music for faith and inspiration.

And Rural Rhythm Christian is offering a couple of new gospel albums this year.

Common Strings, the husband-wife (or wife-husband, if you prefer) team of Darron and Vanessa Nichols is featured on “Somewhere In Glory,” a collection of “Appalachian gospel” songs.

It’s bluegrass with an emphasis on mountain gospel.

The couple is joined on the project by Dale Ann Bradley, Steve Gulley, Mike Hartgrove, Phil Ledbetter, Brandon Rickman and Sammy Shelor.

Darron Nichols wrote two songs — “Glorious Power” and “Golden Streets of Home.”

Highlights include “Hardhat For A Halo,” a song about a dying miner; “Preachin’ By The Roadside”; “Nothing But The Blood”; and the somewhat eerie “The Revelation.”

Rural Rhythm Christian has also turned to the work of Christian songwriter Rick Lang for an album of bluegrass gospel.

Russell Moore, Dale Ann Bradley, Junior Sisk, Jeff Parker, Barry Scott, Dale Perry, Jesse Brock, John Miller, Ron Stewart, Michael Cleveland, Roger Williams, Pete Soukas, Wyatt Rice, Ron Rice and Eric Seay are featured on this collection of 14 gospel songs.

Can’t find them in stores? Try www.RuralRhythm.com.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, “Bluegrass Number One Hits,” Rounder. 12 tracks.

December 6, 2010

If you’re looking for a sampler to decide if you or someone on your Christmas list really likes bluegrass music, here’s a good one.

You get a pair of hard-charging songs — “Sweet Carrie” and “Head Hung Down” — by Dailey & Vincent, the International Bluegrass Music Association’s entertainers of the year for the past three years.

The Grascals — entertainers of the year in 2006 and 2007 — contribute “Long List of Heartaches” and “Me And John And Paul,” the 2005 song of the year.

Blue Highway adds “Through The Window Of A Train,” the 2008 song of the year.

Hall of Famer J.D. Crowe and his New South are featured on “Lefty’s Old Guitar.”

Rhonda Vincent, seven-time female vocalist of the year, performs “Kentucky Borderline,” the 2004 song of the year.

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, the seven-time vocal group of the year, are featured on “Sadie’s Got Her New Dress On.”

Dan Tyminski, the 2009 male vocalist of the year and a member of Alison Krauss & Union Station, sings lead on “Rain Please Go Away” and “Wheels.”

Claire Lynch, the 2010 female vocalist of the year, is featured on “Train Long Gone.”

And Charlie Sizemore pays a comical tribute to Krauss and Union Station with his “Alison’s Band.”

When it comes to bluegrass samplers, you won’t find one much better than this.

Can’t find it in stores? Try www.rounder.com.

MUMFORD & SONS, “Sigh No More,” Universal UK. 12 tracks.

December 6, 2010

If there’s a rock fan in your life and you want to bring him or her a little closer to bluegrass, you might start with Mumford & Sons’ “Sigh No More.”

The 3-year-old London-based band melds country, bluegrass, folk and rock into a sound that bears a slight resemblance to bluegrass.

It’s close enough to hopefully make a few rock fans curious enough to check out some bluegrass albums.

The album’s been around for about a year now, but it should still be in stores.

The band has been nominated for a best new artist Grammy and the song, “Little Lion Man” has been nominated for best rock song.