Archive for April 2011

DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER, “Drive Time,” Mountain Home. Seven tracks.

April 25, 2011

The buzz on the new Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver album, “Drive Time,” comes from two directions.

It’s short. Only seven tracks.

And Lawson, whose roots are deep in traditional bluegrass, has added drums to the album.

Short is a problem for Lawson fans.

You always want as many tracks as possible on a CD because it’s going to be a year or more until the next one hits stores.

But drums, not so much.

Lawson has always leaned toward the country side of bluegrass.

And much of bluegrass today sounds like country music in the 1950s and ’60s.

Heck, Lawson is even wearing rhinestones in the pictures with the CD.

And the album includes a cover of Dan Seals’ 1990 country No. 1 “Love On Arrival.”

So, drums, while a departure from past recordings, aren’t really a distraction here — except possibly for the most traditional of fans.

The album kicks off with a blazing version of Paul Simon’s “Gone At Last.”

Incidentally, Simon, a Lawson/Quicksilver fan, invited the band to perform on one cut of his new album.

Mike Rogers, one of the lead singers (and drummers), co-wrote three songs — “Country Store,” “Leavin’ And Lovin’ You” and “Gone Long Gone.”

Lawson wrote “The Greenbriar Hop,” an uptempo instrumental, for the album.

And fans of the band’s outstanding harmonies will love this beautiful version of the gospel classic, “Precious Memories.”

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JAMES REAMS AND THE BARNSTORMERS, “One Foot In The Honky Tonk,” Mountain Redbird Music. 15 tracks.

April 18, 2011

These days, most people think of outdoor family-oriented festivals when they think about bluegrass.

But, as James Reams writes in the liner notes to “One Foot In The Honky Tonk,” bluegrass pioneers like Red Allen, Jimmy Martin, Earl Taylor, Charlie Moore, Don Reno, Red Smiley and Carter Stanley honed their music in the honky tonks, roadhouses and beer joints of an earlier era.

Reams, who was born in the Kentucky foothills of Appalachia, has lived in Brooklyn, N. Y., for more than two decades now.

But his music, which straddles the border where traditional country meets bluegrass,   remains untouched by years of city living.

“Honky Tonk” includes songs of rural life like “Cornbread, Molasses & Sassafras Tea,” an uptempo dance tune; “Bailing Again,” a song that finds a farmer talking to his dead father about crops and kids; and the traditional gospel song “City That Lies Foursquare.”

But the heart of the album lies with the honky-tonk theme.

The title cut finds a man listening to a “hillbilly song on the jukebox” with a painted woman on his knee — “one foot’s in the honky tonk, the other’s in the grave.”

The theme continues with “I Can’t Settle Down,” “In The Corner At The Table By the Jukebox,” “King of the Blues,” Stonewall Jackson’s “Almost Hear The Blues” and Harlan Howard’s “Goin’ Home.”

Reams wrote “River Rising” about a flood that washes a family away and, with the late Tina Aridas, “Snake Eyes,” a song about gambling with love.

The band — Mark Farrell, Doug Nicolaisen and Nick Sullivan with an assist from Kenny Kosek and Barry Mitterhoff — gets to strut its stuff on such tunes as “Susquehanna Getaway,” “Florida Blues,” “Rocky Creek” and “Passamaquoddy.”

Good album by a good band.

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GRASSTOWNE, “Kickin’ Up Dust,” Rural Rhythm. 12 tracks.

April 11, 2011

Grasstowne became an instant supergroup when it burst on the bluegrass scene in 2007 with “The Road Headin’ Home,” a strong debut album that sent a single — “Dixie Flyer” — to the top of Bluegrass Unlimited’s charts for three consecutive months.

Its three leaders were established stars in their own rights.

Phil Leadbetter, one of the top resonator guitarists in bluegrass, had spent years with J.D. Crowe’s New South and then Wildfire.

Steve Gulley made his mark with Doyle Lawson’s Quicksilver and then became a founding member of Mountain Heart.

And Alan Bibey built his reputation with IIIrd Tyme Out and Blueridge before becoming a founding member of Grasstowne.

Last year, Leadbetter left Grasstowne to join The Whites.

But aside from the absence of Leadbetter’s resonator guitar, Grasstowne still sounds the same since Gulley and Bibey are still alternating singing lead.

Both are good songwriters and between them they contributed five songs to “Kickin’ Up Dust.”

Bibey wrote “Up In The Wheelhouse,” an uptempo instrumental, and collaborated with Gulley on “Run,” a blazing tune about Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd and Molly & Tenbrooks; “Somewhere Between Givin’ In And Givin’ Up,” a midtempo song about a couple struggling with a relationship; “Anchor In The Storm,” an uptempo gospel number; and “Vicksburg,” a Civil War song.

Highlights include “Blue Rocking Chair,” an uptempo song about an old chair that’s seen a lot of family history; “I Don’t Worry About You Anymore,” a song about a cheating lover; “Our Father,” a great a capella gospel song; and the title cut, which is the album’s first single.

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April 4, 2011

Michael Cleveland has packed a lot of music into a few years.

Consider this: He’s been named fiddle player of the year eight times by the International Bluegrass Music Association.

And his band, Flamekeeper, has won the instrumental group award four times since ending Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder’s eight-year reign in 2007.

But he started early.

In 1990, when he was 9, Cleveland won the Kentucky State Championship Old-Time Fiddler Contest and appeared at Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom Festival.

In 1993, at age 13, he appeared as Alison Krauss’ guest on the Grand Ole Opry.

Six years later, Cleveland joined Dale Ann Bradley and the Coon Creek Girls. And a year later, he was with Rhonda Vincent and the Rage.

In 2006, Cleveland formed Flamekeeper. And his star has been soaring ever since.

“Fired Up” is an accurate name for the band’s latest album.

Most of the songs find Flamekeeper in a fired-up mode.

While the band is primarily known for its instrumental work, Tom Adams is coming into his own as a great lead singer.

He also wrote five songs on the album — “Dixie Special,” a train song; “Big Wide Strum,” a song about a guitar picker who was hotter than Elvis; “I’m Yours,” a ’50s country sound on a song about a lucky man; “Hard Time Banjo Blues,” an uptempo blues; and “Monster Truck,” a song about a monster truck driver with a bad attitude.

Mandolin player Jesse Brock wrote two songs — “Untrue Blues,” on which he sings lead, and the instrumental “Maine Line.”

Marshall Wilborn, the IBMA’s bass player of the year for the past two years, wrote “Bigger Hands Than Mine.” He sings lead on that; the Delmore Brothers’ “I’ve Got The Railroad Blues”; and Tom T. Hall’s “I’m Gonna Ride That Steamboat.”

Jessie Baker, who left the band in January, wrote and sings lead on “Untrue Blues.”

Another good album by a great band.

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