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

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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MENpfBoU51I.

Good (half) album by a good group.

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

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