Archive for November 2011

JOHN McCUTCHEON, “This Land: Woody Gurthrie’s America,” Appalsongs. 15 tracks.

November 28, 2011

This is a folk album, not bluegrass. And that’s a shame because a bluegrass tribute to the songs of Woody Guthrie is long overdue.

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born in Okemah, Okla., just 10 months after Bill Monroe was born in Rosine, Ky. And both became giants in their musical fields.

Monroe’s music leaned more toward the instrumentation; Gurthrie’s to the lyrics.

A blending of the two would make for some great music.

John McCutcheon, a Guthrie disciple, brings 14 of Guthrie’s songs to life here along with “Hobo’s Lullaby,” a song Guthrie supposedly said was his favorite.

It’s been nearly 60 years since Guthrie, who died in 1967 at age 55, wrote his last song. But his lyrics still sound familiar in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

His most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land,” really says that America belongs to the people, not the rich or the corporations. Here it features an all-star cast including Tom Paxton and Willie Nelson.

“Deportees,” a song about migrant workers being shipped back to Mexico when the crops have been harvested, fits well with today’s immigration debates.

And plenty of people today can relate to “I Ain’t Got No Home.”

“Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done” says that creating a peaceful world would be the biggest thing that we could do. And we haven’t found a way to do that yet.

“Ludlow Massacre” and “1913 Massacre” detail early union struggles. Guthrie’s lyrics are anything but subtle. He believed in calling a “gun thug” a gun thug.

“Pretty Boy Floyd” turns bank robber Charles Arthur Floyd into a 1930s Robin Hood. But the song really says that it was the banks who were the robbers: “Some will rob you with a six-gun/And some with a fountain pen,” Guthrie sang and added, “You won’t never see an outlaw/Drive a family from their home.”

Tim O’Brien plays mandolin on “Ludlow Massacre” and “This Morning I Was Born Again.” Stuart Duncan adds his fiddle to “1913 Massacre” and “Deportees.”

Great album. Just wish it was bluegrass.

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VARIOUS ARTISTS, “A Skaggs Family Celebration: Volume Two,” Skaggs Family Records. CD 10 tracks, DVD 26 tracks.

November 21, 2011

“A Skaggs Family Christmas” is a two-fer — a Christmas CD and a DVD for one price.

It comes six years after 2005’s “Volume One.”

But it’s worth the wait.

The CD makes good background music during the holidays as well as some good sing-along time in the car. The two-hour DVD makes for a pleasant evening of TV watching around the Christmas tree.

It’s not exactly a bluegrass package. There’s bluegrass on it, but you’ll also hear some country, western swing and even a little classical music with The Nashville Strings.

The CD features 10 tracks — a mix of studio and live recordings — of Christmas songs.

The DVD was shot in Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium last year as the final stop on the the Skaggs Family’s eighth annual Christmas tour.

It features Ricky Skaggs, The Whites (his wife, Sharon, father-in-law, Buck, and sister-in-law, Cheryl), the Skaggs adult children (Molly and Luke) and niece (Rachel Leftwich), Skaggs’ band, Kentucky Thunder, and The Nashville Strings.

The songs include a mixture of secular and sacred carols.

It’s a good package for Skaggs’ fans as well as fans of country Christmases.

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PERT NEAR SANDSTONE, “Paradise Hop,” Pert Near Music. 14 tracks

November 14, 2011

Minneapolis-based Pert Near Sandstone is an acoustic string band.

It’s not bluegrass, but it’s pert near.

The sound is close to old-time stringband with rock energy.

There’s a lot of swing and bounce as well.

The vocals are raw — and real — not polished.

And the lyrics are strong.

The band wrote 12 of the 14 tracks on “Paradise Hop,” its fifth album in six years.

The exceptions are “Ruben’s Train” and “All Night Long.”

“Solid Gone” is about a woman leaving — “Why a woman goes out at night/the devil knows what for.”

On “Crossroads,” they sing, “Don’t want dime-store salvation/Profitability don’t mean a thing.”

“Sad When That Great Bridge Went Down” is about the Aug. 1, 2007, collapse of the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis  during rush hour.

The band’s name comes from its roots. Its members grew up in the Brooklyn Park area of Minneapolis, “pert near” the sandstone of the Mississippi River.

Band members are Nate Sipe on mandolin and fiddle; Kevin Kniebel on banjo; J Lenz on acoustic guitar; Adam Kiesling on upright bass; and Andy Lambert on clogs and washboard.

Good album by a band on the rise.

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RUSSELL MOORE & IIIRD TYME OUT, “Prime Tyme,” Rural Rhythm. 14 tracks

November 7, 2011

“Prime Tyme” is IIIrd Tyme Out’s 16th album in 20 years. It was released at the end of October and is already listed in Billboard’s Top 10 bluegrass albums.

The first single, “If Your Heart Should Ever Roll This Way Again,” is No. 8 on this month’s Bluegrass Unlimited singles chart.

That’s about what you’d expect from one of the premier bands in bluegrass today.

Russell Moore, the lead singer who added his name to the band’s a couple of years ago, is a three-time International Bluegrass Music Association male vocalist of the year. And the band was IBMA vocal group of the year for seven straight years.

The song selection is broad enough to cover bluegrass’ traditional base in the Southeast (“Pretty Little Girl From Galax”) and expand into areas not usually mentioned in bluegrass lyrics — Montana (“Goodbye Old Missoula”) and Nebraska (“What’s This World Coming To”), a song about struggling farmers and the economy.

“Hooverville” tells a story from the Great Depression about a World War I veteran marching on Washington, trying to get his promised bonus.

There are songs of nostalgia (“Old Kentucky Farmer”), songs of loneliness (“Whippoorwill” and “Little Magnolia”) and songs of hard times (“Big Muddy”).

The Delmore Brothers’ “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar” finds a man dying and wishing he could take his guitar with him.

“Moon Magic” is a bouncy tune about a couple sitting in the moonlight. And “Dusty” finds a man remembering that the woman he loves could have had more successful men, but she chose him.

Good album by a good band.

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