Archive for May 2011

VARIOUS ARTISTS, “I Love: Tom T. Hall’s ‘Songs of Fox Hollow’. Red Beet Records. 12 tracks.

May 31, 2011

This isn’t a bluegrass album. But since everybody and his brother in bluegrass is recording Tom T. Hall songs these days, it’s an album that may be of interest to bluegrass fans.

In 1974, Hall recorded “Songs of Fox Hollow,” a children’s album mostly about animals on his farm.

Several of the songs — “I Love,” “I Care” and “Sneaky Snake” — became hits on country radio at the time.

Now, the album has been remade by a variety of musicians including Bobby Bare, Tommy Cash, Jim Lauderdale and Duane Eddy.

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THE GRASCALS, “Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin’,” BluGrascal Records. Seven tracks.

May 31, 2011

Boy, fans of “The Andy Griffith Show” are having a bonanza year for musical memories of the television series which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Last fall, Rodney Dillard, who played one of the Darlin’ Boys on the show, released “I Wish Life Was  Like Mayberry” on Rural Rhythm Records.

And now, The Grascals, one of the hottest groups in bluegrass, is releasing “Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin’ ” on their own BluGrascal label.

For fans of TAGS, the only complaint is that it’s only seven songs.

Five of the songs are from the series — “Dooley,” “Boil Them Cabbage Down,” “Stay All Night (Stay A Little Longer),” “Ol’ Joe Clark” and “Leaning On  The Everlasting Arms.”

One, “Mayberry’s Finest Theme,” is a bouncy tune that’s really a jingle for a line of muffin and baking mixes.

And the seventh is a new song, “Boy, Giraffes Are Selfish,” which is based on a line from one of the old shows.

The Grascals say they are “huge fans of the show. We’re borderline experts. We even have trivia contests with our audiences on the road.”

Even if you’re not a fan of the television series, this is still good bluegrass.

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It’s only $5.

BEN HALL, “Ben Hall!” Tompkins Square. 11 tracks.

May 23, 2011

There is no bluegrass on this album, which highlights the thumbpicking guitar style popularized by Merle Travis and Chet Atkins.

But both thumbpicking and bluegrass have a common godfather — Arnold Shultz, a black Ohio County, Ky., miner who worked with (and influenced) a young Bill Monroe and his uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, at square dances in the late 1920s.

The late Mose Rager of Drakesboro, Ky., taught Travis the thumbpicking style he had learned from Kennedy Jones.

“Kennedy Jones, the man that taught me to play, learned a lot of chords from Arnold Shultz,” Rager said once.

But thumbpicking was Jones’ invention, he said. “Arnold played with his thumb and finger. He didn’t have no pick.”

Still, Shultz’s influence was there in the music that has been passed down to Hall.

Hall, a 22-year-old picker, was discovered by the late Charlie Louvin.

The album includes Travis’ “Cannonball Rag,” “Guitar Rag” and “Sweet Temptation”; Woody Guthrie’s “Oklahoma Hills”; the Louvin Brothers’ “Every Time You Leave” and Hall’s own, “Mimi & Me.”

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VARIOUS ARTISTS, “The All-Star Jam: Live At Graves Mountain,” Rural Rhythm. 25 tracks 12 songs.

May 23, 2011

On June 4, 2010, Rural Rhythm Records celebrated its 55th anniversary at the 18th annual Graves Mountain Festival of Music in Syria, Va. And fortunately, somebody decided to record the performances.

This is traditional bluegrass at its finest with a cast of all-star musicians playing with people they don’t normally perform with.

Russell Moore, Sammy Shelor and Mike Hartgrove join The Crowe Brothers on “More Pretty Girls Than One” and The Louvin Brothers’ “When I Stop Dreaming.”

Brandon Rickman sits in with Carrie Hassler on Lester Flatt’s “Head Over Heels.”

Wayne Benson plays mandolin with Audie Blaylock and Redline on the Bill Monroe instrumental, “Old Dangerfield.”

Moore and Hassler join Blaylock on Flatt’s “Get In Line Brother.”

Blaylock gets with The Lonesome River Band for Jimmy Martin’s “Hold Whatcha Got.”

Moore sits in with Lou Reid & Carolina for Carter Stanley’s “Lonesome River.”

Carl Jackson wrote a new song for the album, “Graves Mountain Memories,” that’s performed by an all-star cast — himself, Mark Newton, Blaylock, Reid, Moore, Hassler, Shelor, Hartgrove and Mike Anglin.

A great showcase for some top artists.

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TOWN MOUNTAIN, “Steady Operator,” Pinecastle. 12 tracks.

May 16, 2011

Pinecastle Records, one of heavy hitters among the small bluegrass labels from 1989 to 2010, is back.

The label shut down in February 2010 because of the declining health of its owner, Tom Riggs. But Lonnie Lassiter acquired the label last August and issued his first album — Town Mountain’s “Steady Operator” — this month.

Producer Mike Bub describes the album as “a colorful pallet of bluegrass, blues, ballads, breakdowns and Bible” and says it features “passionate, original bluegrass played by tradition-minded, in-tune hipsters from the mountains of western North Carolina.”

The Asheville, N.C., quintet 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.” You could also say Town Mountain is sort of Hank Williams meets Bill Monroe with more than a touch of rockabilly attitude.

 “Steady Operator” is filled with original songs. Mandolin player Phil Barker wrote or co-wrote six songs and banjo player Jesse Langlais wrote three. The other three are the traditional instrumental “Flannery’s Reel,” Aaron Wood’s “All You Despise” and Hank Williams III’s “Five Shots of Whiskey.”

Williams has a way with lyrics like his grandfather — “They weren’t good times, but they were the best of my life.”

That sense of despair is echoed in Barker’s “Sparkle City” — “It’s a long road to destruction, but, son, I’m makin’ time.”

His “Humble Shepherd” is an uptempo gospel number. And his “Tarheel Boys” is a blazing hot Civil War song about North Carolinians who were the last to leave the battlefield at Gettysburg.

Good album by a band that’s rapidly making a name for itself.

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NEWFOUND ROAD, “Live At The Down Home,” Rounder. 13 tracks.

May 9, 2011

When NewFound Road left southwestern Ohio on the bluegrass trail a decade ago, it was primarily a bluegrass gospel group.

But it wasn’t long until the quartet was covering a full range of bluegrass material, from sacred to secular, traditional to contemporary.

Tim Shelton, lead singer and guitarist, is the only founding member still with the group. But the newer members of the band — Jamey and Joe Booher and Josh Miller — are good musicians and NewFound Road is as strong as it ever was.

However,  Jim VanCleve’s fiddle — added for the album — seems so essential to the music that it’s hard to imagine the band’s sound without it.

“Live At The Down Home” was recorded live last December at The Down Home, a Johnson City, Tenn., restaurant/club. Most of the material comes from earlier albums.

But a live performance — even recorded — brings more energy to the music than a studio recording.

The band does a good job of taking songs from other genres and turning them into strong bluegrass songs.

There’s Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”; Dave Loggins’ “Please Come To Boston”; Jackson Browne’s “These Days”;  David Paich’s “Houston,” a country hit for Glen Campbell; and Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got To Memphis,” from his years as a country singer.

There are a couple of bluegrass classics — Earl Scruggs’ “Ruben” and Carter Stanley’s “Lonesome River.”

But NewFound Road also creates some great original music.

Miller wrote “Blackadders Cove,” an uptempo murder ballad; and co-wrote “If You’ll Pretend,” an uptempo love song, with Shelton; and “We Ain’t Going Down Without A Fight,” an uptempo song about a moonshiner declaring war on revenue agents who have arrested his son, with Barry Bales.

Randall Hylton’s “Room At The Top Of The Stairs” and Sonya Isaacs and Josh Ragsdale’s “Try To Be” are both strong additions to the album.

Good album.

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