Archive for September 2011

BEARFOOT, “American Story,” Compass Records. 10 tracks

September 26, 2011

Bearfoot’s roots go back to the late 1990s when a group of students at music camps in Alaska got together to play bluegrass.

The youngest was 14 then.

Soon, folks in the Lower 48 discovered that ’grass does grow in Alaska. And Bearfoot was making waves at such festivals as Wintergrass, Grey Fox, Strawberry and RockyGrass.

In 2001, the band won the Telluride bluegrass band contest, a contest previously won by the Dixie Chicks and Nickel Creek.

There have been a lot of personnel changes since then. Angela Oudean and Jason Norris are the only founding members left.

Now located in the warmer climes of Nashville, Beargrass has added singer-songwriter Nora Jane Struthers, Todd Grebe and P.J. George to its ranks.

The band has also shifted from a string band-bluegrass focus to more of an acoustic pop sound. The instruments include violin, viola, electric bass, tambourine, accordion  and drums.

But there’s still bluegrass in Beargrass’ repertoire. Grebe’s “Midnight in Montana” with Charlie Cushman guesting on banjo, plays it straight.

Struthers wrote or co-wrote five of the songs. Grebe added three and the whole band wrote “When You’re Away.”

“Eyes Cast Down,” written by Struthers and Claire Lynch, tells about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship — “There’s no easy life to live, as long as he’s around/You give it up and take what he will give.”

“Billy” is a great a capella song about a girl who “ain’t never gonna marry” the boy and tells him it’s better if he doesn’t come around. But she sure sounds like she wants  him to.

“Kill The Rooster” is a fun song about a rooster that wakes her too early and days with too much work to be done.

“The Dust” tells the story of a woman whose husband leaves her on a burned out Oklahoma farm with “a rusty plow and in her belly, one more hungry mouth.”

It might not all be bluegrass, but it’s good music.

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BLUE HIGHWAY, “Sounds of Home,” Rounder. 12 tracks

September 19, 2011

Sometimes when you read the lists of people named rookie of the year in any field, you find yourself wondering, “Whatever happened to them?”

But when the International Bluegrass Music Association named Blue Highway as its emerging artist of the year in 1995, it knew what it was doing.

The band has consistently released outstanding albums year after year and been one of the best bands on any festival card.

“Sounds of Home,” the band’s 10th album, is its first with all original material in a decade.

“Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” a gospel song first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in the late 1920s, is the only song band members didn’t write. But this version was arranged by the band.

The title cut finds a man missing the familiar sounds of the home he couldn’t wait to leave when he was young.

“Heather And Billy” tells the story of a couple who filled their home with abused and neglected children.

“Restless Working Man” is the story of a man who’s working himself to death at a job he hates because “the ones at home depend on me/to keep ’em fed and make their way.”

“Only Seventeen” tells the story of young miner killed in a cave-in, whose ghost still walks the mine’s passageways 50 years later.

“Drinking from a Deeper Well” suggests that people slow down and appreciate life.

Strong album from a great band.

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RICKY SKAGGS, “Country Hits Bluegrass Style,” 14 tracks. Skaggs Family Records.

September 12, 2011

The theory behind Ricky Skaggs’ “Country Hits Bluegrass Style” is that he’s remade his country hits from the 1980s into bluegrass songs.

But bluegrass traditionalists might take issue with that.

Pianos, accordions, steel guitars, drums and the Nashville String Ensemble don’t really say bluegrass to most traditionalists.

Maybe it’s bluegrass-style with country instruments.

But whatever you call it, “Country Hits Bluegrass Style” is a good “greatest hits” package from the guy Chet Atkins once said “single-handedly” saved country music.

Compared to everything else that was coming out of Nashville 30 years ago, Skaggs’ music sounded downright retro. And his 1984 version of Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen” was definitely bluegrass — the first bluegrass song to top the country charts since Flatt & Scruggs’ “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” in 1963.

This collection includes Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ “Don’t Get Above Your Raising” and “Crying My Heart Out Over You,” Larry Cordle’s “Highway 40 Blues” and Mel Tillis’ “Honey (Open That Door).”

You’ll also hear “Heartbroke,” “You’ve Got A Lover,” “Cajun Moon,” “He Was On To Something (So He Made You),” “Lovin’ Only Me,” “I Don’t Care,” “Country Boy,” “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could” and “Somebody’s Prayin’.”

Here’s the deal: “Country Hits Bluegrass Style” is a good album, one that Skaggs’ legions of fans should want.

But if you’re offended by drums, pianos and string ensembles, be warned.

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Ohio County planning four-day Monroe Birthday bash

September 7, 2011

Bill Monroe’s native Ohio County will celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth with a free four-day festival that includes an 8-foot birthday cake shaped like Monroe’s mandolin and performances by more than a dozen bands.

“There is no better place to celebrate the birthday than in Ohio County, where Bill Monroe was born and it all began,” said Renetta Romero, executive director of the Ohio County Tourism Commission.

“It’s an honor for Ohio County Tourism to arrange an event for such an accomplished native of Ohio County,” she said. “Everywhere he performed, Bill Monroe recognized Rosine and Ohio County. Now it is our turn. We want to recognize the Father of Bluegrass Music’s lifetime achievements and his birth.”

Romero said since no tickets are being sold for the celebration, “we have no idea how many people to expect.”

With Monroe’s birthday on a Tuesday, the crowd could be smaller, she said. But then, many of Monroe’s fans are retired.

“We’re just hoping for a good crowd,” Romero said.

If the 8-foot birthday cake isn’t enough to feed the crowd, she said, “We’ll have some more cakes in reserve too. I’m getting excited about this.”

James Monroe, Bill Monroe’s son, is scheduled to help cut the cake at noon Tuesday on the Monroe Homeplace lawn and lead the singing of “Happy Birthday.”

The festival opens Saturday at 9 a.m. with tours of the Monroe Homeplace on Jerusalem Ridge. The entrance is on U.S. 62 west of Rosine.

Crafts such as quilt making, basket weaving and instrument making with be demonstrated. The Bluegrass Young’uns, a band of Ohio County students, will perform at 2 p.m.

Sunday features an afternoon of gospel music in Rosine Park starting at 1 p.m. with Jerusalem Ridge, God’s Little Voices, Blue River Band featuring Michael T. Jones, County Line and The Chris Jarboe Band Action returns to the Monroe Homeplace at 6 p.m. Monday with performances by Jerusalem Ridge, The Persimmon Sisters, McDonald Road and a “Hee Haw” show by Ohio County’s Courthouse Players.

Tuesday — Monroe’s birthday — will be filled with music starting at 10 a.m.

Acts include the Kentucky School of Bluegrass & Traditional Music, Mountain Drive, Cornfields & Crossroads, Leiper’s Fork Bluegrass Group, Cumberland River, Blue Lonesome, King’s Highway and David Parmley & Continental Divide.

Bill Monroe Centennial next week

September 7, 2011

Some of the biggest names in bluegrass music will be in Owensboro next week to celebrate what would have been Bill Monroe’s 100th birthday.

Monroe, “the father of bluegrass music,” was born on Jerusalem Ridge near Rosine on Sept. 13, 1911. He died on Sept. 9, 1996, and is buried in Rosine Cemetery.

The International Bluegrass Music Museum will celebrate the Monroe centennial with three days of music Monday through Wednesday at the RiverPark Center, featuring all the members of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Fame who are still performing.

The list includes banjo great Earl Scruggs, whose banjo playing as a member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in the mid-1940s set a standard for future generations of bluegrass musicians.


Monroe’s son, James Monroe, will also be featured.

Gabrielle Gray, the museum’s executive director, said fans are coming from across the country as well as in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.

Several Japanese fans are coming, she said.

Gray said this will be the largest gathering of bluegrass legends ever at a single festival.

“I checked with Lance LeRoy (a Hall of Fame agent and manager),” she said. “He said there has never been a festival with a lineup like this. We’re going to have one enormous headliner after another.”

And there may never be another with the same lineup. Age is catching up with some of the legends.

Doc Watson and Mac Wiseman had to drop out of this year’s festival because of health problems. And fiddle great Kenny Baker died this summer.

“This might be the last chance to see some of these legends perform,” Gray said earlier.

Performers include Ralph Stanley, Curly Seckler, J.D. Crowe, Everett Lilly, Jesse McReynolds, the Lewis Family, Rodney Dillard, Doug Dillard, Melvin Goins, Paul Williams; Bill Clifton, Tom Gray and Eddie Adcock.

One of the world’s oldest bluegrass bands, The Dismembered Tennesseans, will also perform. The band has been active since 1945, the year Scruggs joined Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys.

Tickets — which range from $100 to $175 for all three days — can be purchased at the museum at 117 Daviess St. or by calling 926-7891.

Single-day tickets will be available at the RiverPark Center’s box office on the day of the show. The $35 seats will be located in the balcony.

“We won’t know how many single-day tickets will be available until that day,” Gray said. “People should buy them early in the day.”

Jane Beshear, Kentucky’s first lady, will be in town at 9 a.m. Monday to greet students attending a preview of the musical, “Young Monroe” in the RiverPark Center’s Cannon Hall.

The musical will be performed again as part of the Monroe Centennial at 7 p.m. Monday in Cannon Hall.

Mike Cooper, Kentucky’s tourism commissioner, and Lindy Casebier, deputy secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, are slated to attend the centennial, Gray said.

RODNEY DILLARD & THE DILLARD BAND, “Don’t Wait For The Hearse To Take You To Church,” Rural Rhythm. 10 tracks.

September 6, 2011

Rodney Dillard has been busy in the past year.

Last fall, he released “I Wish Life Was Like Mayberry,” a collection of songs The Dillards recorded nearly 50 years ago as The Darlin’s for “The Andy Griffith Show” along with newer nostalgic songs.

This year, he’s released “Don’t Wait For The Hearse To Take You To Church,” a gospel album, with his wife, Beverly Cotten Dillard. The couple has a ministry, “Mayberry Values,” which it takes to churches across America.

Beverly Dillard sings lead on five of the 10 tracks.

The album is a blend of gospel standards — “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms,” “Softly and Tenderly,” “Somebody Touched Me” and “Gospel Ship” — and newer material — the title cut and “The Devil Just Can’t Knock Me Off My Knees”

The title cut says, “Lying on your back in a black Cadillac ain’t no way to meet the Lord.”

The album includes four bonus tracks — one-minute sermons on “Mayberry Values.”

It’s a good album and there’s still a lot of interest in “The Andy Griffith Show,” but it would be nice for Dillard to leave the Darlin’s behind for awhile and return to The Dillards’ sound for at least one more album.

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