Archive for February 2011

SIERRA HULL, “Daybreak,” Rounder. 12 tracks.

February 28, 2011

Sierra Hull burst on the bluegrass scene eight years ago as an 11-year-old mandolin player, invited by Alison Krauss to play on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

By the time she was 16, her first critically acclaimed album, “Secrets,” had been released.

Hull was suddenly the new teen queen of bluegrass. And the buzz about her was almost as loud as it had been for Krauss two decades before.

Comparisons to Krauss were inevitable. They both have soft voices that critics called “tender” and “eloquent.”

And they were both outstanding instrumentalists when they were still children — Krauss on fiddle, Hull on mandolin.

But that was three years ago.

And Hull isn’t a kid anymore.

Today, she’s a student at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music — the first bluegrass musician to ever be awarded the school’s prestigious Presidential Scholarship.

She’s becoming a well-rounded musician and it’s reflected on “Daybreak,” her sophomore album.

Hull wrote seven of the 12 songs, including the title cut — essentially a pop ballad.

Songs range from straight bluegrass to western swing to country.

On “All Because Of You,” Hull sings that it doesn’t matter what he does or says because he’ll just hurt her anyway.

On “Best Buy,” she sings that she won’t buy the words he says because she’s heard them all before.

On “What Do You Say?” she questions whether he’s staying or leaving.

“Tell Me Tomorrow” finds her wondering if they’re going to break up, but hoping he’ll wait another day to tell her.

Hull also wrote a couple of instrumentals — “Chasin’ Skies” and “Bombshell” — for the album.

The prettiest song on the album, though, is Mary Ann Ballard’s gospel ballad, “The Land of Living.”

Hull has assembled an all-star studio band for the album — Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Randy Kohrs, Barry Bales, Shawn Lane, Ronnie Bowman, Dan Tyminski and Ron Block among others.

A strong album by a strong musician.

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Monroe movie filming moved back

February 25, 2011

“Blue Moon of Kentucky,” a movie based on the life and loves of Bill Monroe, had been scheduled to begin filming in March.

But Terry Woodward, vice chairman of the board of trustees at the International Bluegrass Music Museum, said Wednesday that production has been moved back to April.

Woodward, who recently sat in on a day of recording in Nashville for the movie’s soundtrack, said Finn Taylor, the movie’s director, told him that he plans to “definitely shoot some scenes in Kentucky.”

Last summer, Trevor Jolly, the movie’s producer, said in an e-mail that he was “hoping to shoot scenes at Rosine and Owensboro.”

Several big names have been lined up for the movie about the “father of bluegrass music,” Woodward said.

But the lead role as Bill Monroe is open, he said.

Peter Sarsgaard was slated for the role but had a scheduling conflict, Woodward said.

But Sarsgaard’s wife, Maggie Gyllenhaal, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in 2009’s “Crazy Heart,” is still scheduled to portray Bessie Lee Mauldin, Monroe’s “road girlfriend,” Woodward said.

He said Ed Helms (“The Office,” “The Hangover”) has been cast as Earl Scruggs. Helms actually plays banjo and performs in a bluegrass band — “The Lonesome Trio” — when he’s not acting.

Sam Shepard has been cast as Pendleton Vandiver, Monroe’s “Uncle Pen,” Woodward said. Ashley Judd will appear as Monroe’s estranged wife, Carolyn.

And bluesman Keb Mo is doing the music for Arnold Shultz, the black Ohio County guitarman who was a major influence on Monroe, he said.

Woodward said actor John C. Reilly, who performed as a musician in 2007’s “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” is also scheduled to be in “Blue Moon.”

The movie’s soundtrack is being produced by Joseph Henry “T-Bone” Burnett, who produced the soundtrack for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

“They’re finished with the soundtrack,” Woodward said. “”T-Bone is really excited about it. It really sounds good.”

Woodward owns the fiddle of Monroe’s uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, which was used on the soundtrack.

The day he visited the recording session, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys were among the musicians in the studio, he said.

The movie is the story of Monroe and his sometimes stormy relationship with Mauldin, beginning in 1938 and continuing into the 1970s.

Richard D. Smith, author of the 2000 Monroe biography, “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’,” wrote that the romance inspired several major bluegrass songs, including “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Their child, which Mauldin gave up for adoption, according to the book, inspired the song, “My Little Georgia Rose.”

Mauldin, a bass player with Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys off and on for two decades, played on 99 of Monroe’s recordings.

Thompson describes Mauldin — “The Carolina Songbird”— as “a hefty blond, flashy dresser, strong, spirited and quite earthy.”

Monroe’s wife, Carolyn, finally accused him of adultery and divorced him in 1960.

The divorce decree forbade Monroe from marrying Mauldin as long as Carolyn Monroe lived.

Maudlin died Feb. 8, 1983, after suffering a heart attack at 63.

Carolyn Monroe outlived her by nearly 18 months, dying on July 31, 1984.

Monroe died on Sept. 9, 1996.

CHARLIE SIZEMORE, “Heartache Looking for a Home,” Rounder. 14 tracks.

February 21, 2011

There is a growing subgenre in bluegrass and country music today that blends traditional country music with traditional bluegrass in a sound that fans of both can enjoy.

And nobody does it better than Charlie Sizemore.

Sizemore is 50 now, his voice honed to perfection with decades of singing behind him.

He was a 16 when he replaced Keith Whitley in Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys in 1977; 25 when he struck out on his own.

Sizemore headed for college in 1986 and became a lawyer, playing bluegrass on the side for years.

In the mid-1990s, he stopped performing to concentrate on his law practice.

But in 2002. Sizemore returned to bluegrass in a big way with “The Story is…The Songs of Tom T. Hall,” followed by the critically acclaimed “Good News” in 2007.

“Heartache Looking for a Home” is just as strong as the last two albums.

It kicks off with the hard-driving “Down in the Quarter,” a song about a wealthy man who’d give it all just to be back with the woman in loves in New Orleans.

Ralph Stanley joins Sizemore on “Red Wicked Wine,” a song that Sizemore first recorded in his Clinch Mountain Boys days.

“No Lawyers in Heaven” is a comic look at lawyers. And “Ashley Judd” is comic song that finds a man in love with a woman he knows he can’t have. Think of it as a sequel to “Alison’s Band,” Sizemore’s song about a picker with a crush on Alison Krauss.

Trivia note: Judd and Sizemore were students at the University of Kentucky at the same time.

“Feelin’ Like El Paso,” one of the best songs on the album, was written by John Pennell, Sizemore’s bassist. It finds a woman coming home from Hollywood to the cowboy she loves.

“Walking The Floor Over Me” is an old Alan Jackson song and “I Don’t Remember Loving You” was a 1982 hit for John Conlee. But Sizemore makes it sound sadder.

“Pay No Attention To Alice” is a Tom T. Hall song that’s described as two old drunks sitting around talking about a third.

The only bad thing about “Heartache Looking for a Home” is it will probably be another three years before the next Charlie Sizemore album.

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Two festivals, three exhibits on tap for Monroe centennial

February 7, 2011

The approaching centennial of the birth of Bill Monroe, the “father of bluegrass music,” is creating a lot of business for the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro.

Monroe was born on a farm outside Rosine, Ky. — about 40 minutes from the museum — on Sept. 13, 1911. He died on Sept. 9, 1996, and is buried in Rosine Cemetery.

In June, the museum opened The Bill Monroe Centennial Art Exhibit featuring artwork inspired by Monroe’s music. It’s available online at

In September, The Bill Monroe Exhibit opened at the museum. It features the fiddle of his uncle, Pendelton Vandiver, who was immortalized in Monroe’s classic, “Uncle Pen”; one of Monroe’s mandolins; and the defaced headstock veneer from his 1923 F-5 Lloyd Loar mandolin along with some of Monroe’s personal artifacts and clothing, records and photographs.

The Bill Monroe Centennial Exhibit opens this September with artifacts donated by former members of Monroe’s band — The Blue Grass Boys.

Two festivals are also on tap.

Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers will headline the ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival in Owensboro on June 23-25.

They will join the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile, Pete & Joan Wernick, Audie Blaylock & Redline, Tony Rice, Mountain Heart, Trampled By Turtles, Kenny & Amanda Smith, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, The 23 String Band, the Josh Williams Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, the Professors of Bluegrass and Sarah Jarosz for the three-day event.

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 Monroe’s 100th birthday.

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 Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration.

The museum’s sixth annual Monroe-Style Mandolin Camp, scheduled for Sept. 9-11, is filling up fast as a result of the approaching centennial.

“We’re already about half full,” Gabrielle Gray, the museum’s executive director, said of the 50 slots at the camp. “It’s usually April or May before we start getting reservations. But we already have people, signed up from six countries including the U.S.”

For information on any of the events included in the Monroe centennial, call the museum at (270) 926-7891 or (888) MY BANJO (692-2656)  or check the website —