Archive for October 2011

NOAM PIKELNY, “Beat The Devil and Carry A Rail,” Compass Records. 12 tracks.

October 31, 2011

Noam Pikelny, banjo player for the genre-defying Punch Brothers, is fast becoming one of the most celebrated banjo players in any genre.

The 30-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., resident, was named “Outstanding Jazz Musician” at his high school in Skokie, Ill., in 1998.

By 2002, he was playing in Leftover Salmon, a popular Colorado jam band.

Two years later, Pikelny moved on to play in the John Cowan Band.

And in 2006, he found a home in what became the Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile.

That band has been so busy that “Beat The Devil” is Pikelny’s first solo album since 2004’s “In The Maze.”

Last year, Pikelny won the Steve Martin Prize For Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass and an appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman.”

Martin joins Pikelny for an instrumental duet — Pikelny on bluegrass banjo, Martin on clawhammer banjo — on the traditional “Cluck Old Hen.”

“Beat The Devil” isn’t traditional bluegrass. It mixes several genres to create its own unique sound. But it’s a sound worth exploration by bluegrasss traditionalists.

Pikelny wrote or co-wrote eight of the twelve songs.

His guest list is impressive — Stuart Duncan, Chris Eldridge, Mark Schatz, Jerry Douglas, Thile, Bryan Sutton, David Grier, Mike Compton, Jeff Taylor, Paul Kowert and Alex Hargreaves.

Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still provides the vocals for Tom Waits’ “Fish and Bird,” a soft dreamy song. And Pikelny borrowed the late John Hartford’s banjo for the song.

Tim O’Brien sings the only other non-instrumental on the album, “Bob McKinney,” popularized by bluesman Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas in the 1920s.

The only other tune Pikelny didn’t write was Art Stamper’s “Pineywoods,” an uptempo fiddle tune.

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THE BEE EATERS, “Oddfellows Road.” 11 tracks

October 24, 2011

The Boston-based Bee Eaters will never be mistaken for a traditional bluegrass band. Their sound is closer to chamber music. But there are distinct bluegrass influences in the band’s sound.

The Boston Globe refers to them as “a wondrous new species” and says the band “combines chamber music’s finely calibrated arrangements with bluegrass’ playful virtuosity and pop music’s melodic resourcefulness.”

You’ll also find Celtic, jazz and old-time music influences in their sound.

Wes Corbett, who played banjo with the band since its inception in 2008, bows out with this album.

That leaves Tristan Clarridge on cello, fiddle and vocals; his sister, Tashina Clarridge on fiddle; and Simon Chrisman on hammer dulcimer. Dominick Leslie plays mandolin on three cuts and Mike Marshall, on one. And Bruce Molsky adds vocals to “The Way It Is,” the only non-instrumental on the album.

“The Way It Is” looks at cruelty in the world, from poor people being told to get a job to people denied jobs because of the color of their skin.

It’s an album that traditionalists will probably steer clear of, but people who are into what’s called “progressive acoustic music” will likely enjoy.

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THOMAS PORTER & COPPER RIVER BAND, “Trolley Days,” TKPIV Publishing. 13 tracks.

October 17, 2011

THOMAS PORTER, “Thomas Porter,” TKPIV Publishing. 13 tracks.

Thomas Porter is an Arizona-based bluegrass singer-songwriter whose “Teddy Bear Revival” was recorded by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver a couple of years ago on their “Light On My Feet, Ready To Fly” album.

Now, Porter is promoting his songs with two albums and a single. And his Copper River Band is taking his music to bluegrass festivals.

Porter wrote or co-wrote all the songs on both albums.

Songs on his self-titled album include “Cold Drunk and Lonesome,” an uptempo missing someone song; “Touch My Scar” and “Don’t Go To Jerusalem,” a pair of a capella gospel songs; “Rose In A Cabin,” a song about a man in prison for a crime he didn’t commit worrying that his wife will be unfaithful; and “I May Not Be Your First,” a song that finds a man wishing his wife had been his first love.

Songs on “Trolley Days” include the title cut, a nostalgic song about street cars; “No More Room,” a ballad about a lonely mansion; “God Bless My Home,” a song that blends religion and patriotism; “Poor Sister Cry,” a story song about an abused woman killing her abuser; and “Why Me,” an uptempo gospel number.

The single, “Simple Box of Pine,” is a tribute to Vincent Beach, a musician who died last year. It features Dan Tyminski, Ron Brock, Molly Cherryholmes and the Jam Pak Blues ‘N’ Grass Neighborhood Band.

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DARIN & BROOKE ALDRIDGE, “So Much In Between,” Mountain Home. 12 tracks

October 10, 2011

Darin and Brooke Aldridge, “the Sweethearts of Bluegrass,” released their first album — “I’ll Go With You” — in October 2008, a couple of months before their wedding.

And the past three years have kept them busy on the bluegrass circuit.

Last year, their self-titled album made it to the Top Five on bluegrass, Americana Roots and gospel music charts.

This year, they’ll perform in more than 20 states.

Aldridge has the bluegrass pedigree.

He was a member of the Country Gentlemen for seven years, until lead singer Charlie Waller died in 2004. Then, he worked with the Circuit Riders for three years before joining with his then-finance, Brooke Justice, to form a new band.

But his wife has the show-stopping voice.

On the new album “So Much In Between,” she sings lead on six songs. He sings lead on two and the other four are duets.

It’s a mix of secular and gospel music.

And there are plenty of love songs for those who expect that type of music from the couple.

There’s “Lonely Ends Where Love Begins,” “That’s Just Me Lovin’ You,” “Love Makes The Ride Worthwhile” and “We’re In This Love Together.”

“Every Scar” begins with a man taking inventory of the scars he’s accumulated in life and segues into the scars Jesus bore.

“Jesus Walk Beside Me,” “Lord Lift Me Up” and “He’s Already There” are uptempo gospel numbers.

But the song that’s sure to be a show-stopper on the bluegrass circuit is Patsy Montana’s “A Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” Brooke nails the hard-driving cowgrass song and even gets to yodel.

It’s an album the couple’s fans will definitely want.

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JUNIOR SISK & RAMBLERS CHOICE, “The Heart of a Song,” Rebel. 13 tracks.

October 3, 2011

If they ever do a bluegrass version of George Jones’ “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” one of the answers is Harry Sisk Jr. — Junior Sisk to his friends and fans.

Bluegrass musicians don’t come more hard-core traditional than Sisk.

The first song on the new album by Sisk and his band, Ramblers Choice, “A Far Cry From Lester & Earl,” laments the fact that bluegrass music today doesn’t sound the way it used to.

“We’re way down below that high-lonesome sound,” he laments.

If you feel that way, just hang on. There’s a dozen more songs coming and you won’t have ask if they’re bluegrass. Well, a couple are more traditional country than bluegrass, but who’s counting.

Sisk’s version of “String, Eraser and Blotter,” a song the Stanley Brothers recorded in the early 1960s, is faithful to the original sound.

“Another Man’s Arms” is a blazing fast song about a man in prison wondering if his wife is being faithful.

Rhonda Vincent joins Sisk for a duet on “The Sound of Your Name,” a song that should garner some nominations from the awards shows.

“Thankful For Each Day,” a song written by Sisk and his father, is an a capella gospel quartet number.

Jason Tomlin, the band’s mandolin player, sings lead on “There’s No Place Like Home,” a song he co-wrote.

Tim Massey, the bass player, handles the lead singing on “Sea of Regret,” a song recorded by Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs 40 years ago, and on “Tailor Made.”

Dixie and Tom T. Hall’s “The Grave Robber,” an eerie song about a man who robs graves of clothes and jewelry, gets a spare reading with just Sisk and his guitar.

“The Devil’s Old White Well” tells the story of a Bible-reading woman and a moonshine-drinking man whose love ends tragically.

Good album by one of the best traditional bluegrass bands around.

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