Archive for January 2011

VALERIE SMITH, “Blame It On The Bluegrass,” Bell Buckle Records. Six tracks.

January 31, 2011

Valerie Smith burst on the bluegrass scene in 1997 with “Patchwork Heart,” an album on the Bell Buckle label.

Her first single, Gillian Welch’s “Red Clay Halo,” went to No. 1 on both the Panel Independent Country and the Country Music Independent European charts and stayed on the Bluegrass Unlimited charts for well over a year.

And the former opera singer — she studied jazz, opera and Broadway at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri in Kansas City — was instantly established in bluegrass.

It wasn’t that much of a stretch. After all, she’d grown up going to bluegrass festivals with her  family.

In 2004, Smith and her band, Liberty Pike, went to Owensboro, Ky., to headline the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s first “Bluegrass in the Schools” program, performing for 8,500 students in 21 elementary schools.

Last year, Smith and her band returned to Owensboro to perform in the schools again.

She also launched a series of fund-raising concerts at the museum. And several other bluegrass groups have followed her lead with concerts there.

Last year, while she was at the museum, Smith and her band decided to record an album in The Cave — the studios of the museum’s Radio Bluegrass International.

It’s the first album ever recorded at the museum.

It’s being released as a “six-pack” — six songs rather than the traditional 12. A second six-pack is scheduled to follow next January.

Becky Buller, who plays fiddle and guitar in the band, co-wrote the title cut and wrote “A Good Day, Lord,” an uptempo gospel number.

The album includes Merle Travis’ “No Vacancy,” a hit for him in the late 1940s; “Where The Sun Never Shines,” an uptempo song about a woman whose man finds a new love so she’s going honky-tonking “where the night turns to day”; “Slow Healing Heart,” a ballad about the aftermath of love gone bad; and the hard-charging, “Four Leaf Clover.”

For an 8-minute video about the making of the album, check

Good (half) album by a good group.

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JOE MULLINS & THE RADIO RAMBLERS, “Hymns From The Hills,” Rebel. 14 tracks

January 24, 2011

It took Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers four years to release their first album, but only a few months to add their second.

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 four stations in Ohio to create a small country music network.

Over the past decade and a half, Mullins performed occasionally with Longview.

But in 2006, he formed The Radio Ramblers — Adam McIntosh, guitar; Evan McGregor, fiddle; Tim Kidd, bass; and Mike Terry, mandolin — and returned to the bluegrass circuit.

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

“Hymns From The Hills” is just as strong.

Mullins brings in some bluegrass legends to help out.

Larry Sparks performs the traditional “Come On” and “That Little Old Country Church House” with the band.

Rhonda Vincent performs a duet with Mullins on “We Missed You In Church Last Sunday.”

Paul Williams sings lead on “Hold On To The Old Gospel Way,” a song he wrote.

Ralph Stanley and a children’s choir sing “Jesus Loves Me.”

Doyle Lawson sings lead on the Louvin Brothers’ “I’ll Never Go Back.”

And Williams and Vincent join in on “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”

But the seven songs that feature just Mullins and the band are just as strong.

One note for purists: There’s a piano on two tracks.

Good album by a good band.

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ROSS NICKERSON, “Bluegrass Banjo: Let’s Kick It,” Bones Records. 14 tracks

January 17, 2011

Ross Nickerson, a banjo player and teacher (, has released a new album of banjo tunes backed by members of Blue Highway.

He wrote two tracks — “Roundhouse” and “Feeling Low.”

But this is primarily an album of familiar bluegrass tunes.

The album features five Bill Monroe tunes — “Kentucky Mandolin,” “Old Dangerfield,” “Bluegrass Breakdown,” “Jerusalem Ridge” and “Wheel Hoss” — along with Jim & Jesse McReynolds’ “Dixie Hoedown.”

Traditional tunes include “Cluck Old Hen,” “Little Maggie,” “Don’t This Road Look Rough and Rocky,” “You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming” and “John Henry.”

Nickerson also takes on George and Ira Gershwin’s “Lady Be Good.”

Most are instrumentals, but Tim Stafford and Wayne Taylor add vocals to “Little Maggie” and “John Henry.”

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THE LAWS, “Try Love,” JML Music. 11 tracks.

January 17, 2011

John and Michele Law say they’ve spent 10 years and a million miles on the road making music together.

That includes more than 200 dates a year in the U.S. and Canada.

“Try Love” is the Canadian couple’s sixth album.

They describe their music as “country folk with bluegrass hints.”

But hints are about all you get of bluegrass.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wherefore and Why” is the closest thing to bluegrass on the album.

The other 10 songs, which the Laws co-wrote, are country.
But The Laws have a good sound.

So, if you’re looking for country, check them out at

Opry offering 2-for-1 bluegrass tickets

January 11, 2011

 The Grand Ole Opry is offering several bluegrass shows at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium through the end of the month.

The Opry is offering a “buy one, get one free” discount on up to eight tickets for any of the following shows:

Jan. 14 – 15: Vince Gill, Del McCoury Band and more.

Jan. 21- 22: Del McCoury Band, Ricky Skaggs, Ralph Stanley and more.

Jan. 28: Del McCoury Band, Ricky Skaggs and more.

 To take advantage of the offer, enter code BOGOBLUE when ordering tickets at or mention the code when ordering tickets at (615) 871-OPRY or (800) SEE-OPRY.

Benefit concert series begins Friday at bluegrass museum

January 10, 2011

The 23 String Band will kick off the 2011 series of benefit concerts at the International Bluegrass Music Museum, 117 Daviess St., at 7 p.m. Friday.

So far this year, the museum has signed bands from England and Russia along with North Carolina and Tennessee-based bluegrass acts for the benefit concerts in the museum’s Woodward’s Theater.

“The 23 String Band is such a great band,” said Gabrielle Gray, the museum’s executive director. “They’re the best band to come out of Kentucky in a long time.”

Dave Howard, an Owensboro native, plays mandolin in the group.

The band’s website says it “pays homage to the deep roots of American traditional music, while pushing forward with genre-bending, hard-driving originals and distinctive arrangements.”

The site adds: “Their youthful brand of ‘original hillbilly music’ weaves in and out of old-time, bluegrass, acoustic roots and anything else that strikes their fancy — it’s not uncommon to hear a Beastie Boys cover by these boys.”

Gray said she saw the 23 String Band last year at the Master Musicians Festival in Somerset.

“They had hundreds of people up in front of the stage dancing,” she said. “I really want to get people up and dancing in Owensboro.”

The 23 String Band will return to play for the museum’s River of Music Party at Yellow Creek Park in June.

The Coal Porters, an English band based in London, will perform at the museum on Feb. 15.

Formed as an electric band in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, the Coal Porters relocated to England a few years later and began shifting its sound to acoustic — mixing folk, country and bluegrass.

By 2008, the band, led by Louisville native Sid Griffin, had started labeling itself as the “world’s first alt-bluegrass band.”

Griffin’s father, Gus Griffin, was born in Owensboro, and Sid Griffin comes back frequently to visit relatives.

On April 7, Town Mountain, an Asheville, N.C.-based band, will perform at the museum.

The band has been described as “a bridge between traditional bluegrass, outlaw country and old-time, with sounds reminiscent of Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, J.D. Crowe and Tony Rice.”

“That’s three progressive bands in a row,” Gray said.

But on April 23, the concert series turns to a traditional sound.

Patsy and Donna Stoneman, members of the legendary Stoneman Family, will perform. They’re being accompanied by bluegrass musicians Valerie Smith and Becky Buller.

The Stoneman Family was headed by Ernest “Pop” Stoneman, who began recording in 1914. The family had one of the top syndicated television shows of the 1960s.

Smith’s band, Liberty Pike, played the first benefit concert at the museum in 2009. Last year, Ernie Evans, her mandolin player, began promoting the museum benefits and lining up acts.

The 2010 series included James King, Kenny & Amanda Smith, Jack Hicks & Summertown Road and Jeff Burke & Vida Wakeman.

They all donated their services.

Gray said a bluegrass band from Russia is also planning a benefit concert at the museum, but the date hasn’t been set yet.

Tickets are $10 for each of the concerts. The theater seats only 85 to 100 people, so seating is limited.

For reservations, call the museum at  (270) 926-7891.

WILDFIRE, “Crash Course in the Blues,” Lonesome Day Records. 12 tracks.

January 10, 2011

Wildfire was formed in 2000. when four former members of J.D. Crowe’s New South began working as the house bluegrass band at Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s east Tennessee theme park.

After two years there, they hit the bluegrass circuit, playing festivals and concert halls across the country.

Today, only Robert Hale and Curt Chapman remain from the original lineup, but the band is still going strong.

“Crash Course in the Blues” is a strong album with good songs, good harmony and good picking.

The title track tells the story of a West Virginia boy who thought Los Angeles looked like heaven until a California angel broke his heart.

“21 Years” is about a man who goes to prison for a crime his girlfriend committed, only to find that she’s quickly forgotten him.

“Lies That You Told” is about a woman who broke her wedding vows with her husband’s best friend — and now she’s dead. (What more could you ask for in a bluegrass song?)

“Daddy Loved Trains” is about a man who loved trains more than his family — “Mama loved Daddy, but Daddy loved trains.”

“I Wanna Know Your Name” finds the singer trying to get to know a woman in the front row at a show.

“Paint This Town” finds a woman from the Kentucky hills going honky-tonking.

And “She Burnt The Little Roadside Tavern Down” is a blend of bluegrass and honky-tonk music about a woman who gets tired of her man hanging around a tavern and takes action.

Good album by a good band.

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