Archive for July 2012

VARIOUS ARTISTS, “Pa’s Fiddle: The Music of America,” Compass. DVD 14 songs plus bonus material.

July 30, 2012

The Pa’s Fiddle Project is making the music mentioned in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” books available to a 21st century audience.

The songs featured in the project are all songs that Wilder writes about her father, Charles Ingalls, playing on his fiddle in the late 19th century.

But the arrangements have been updated for modern audiences.

Recently, the group released a 17-song CD and now there’s a 14-song DVD of a concert taped Jan. 6 at the Loveless Barn in Nashville.

It’s not bluegrass — unless your definition of the genre includes drums (and a piano on one song).

But it’s good — very good.

The Roys, the only bluegrass artists featured, perform “The Gum Tree Canoe” and “Buffalo Gals.”

Contemporary Christian singer Natalie Grant performs a version of “My Old Kentucky Home” that takes the Stephen Collins Foster song in a new — and more exciting — direction than the one you hear at the Kentucky Derby every year.

She also performs a powerful version of “There Is A Fountain,” that’s included in the bonus material.

The a capella vocal group Committed performs “Roll The Old Chariot Along” and “The Battle Cry of Freedom.”

Country singer Ashton Shepherd does “O California” and “Oft in the Stilly Night.”

Rodney Atkins does “The Gal I Left Behind Me.”

Randy Travis sings “The Sweet By and By” and “Rock of Ages.”

Ronnie Milsap performs the medley  “Dixie/The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

And Pa’s Fiddle Band –Randy Scruggs, Matt Combs, Dennis Crouch, Hoot Hester, Shad Cobb and Chad Cromwell — plays “The Arkansas Traveler/Devil’s Dream” and “Soldier’s Joy.”

The entire cast performs “Ol’ Dan Tucker.”

All the performances are powerful.

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THE KARL SHIFLETT & BIG COUNTRY SHOW, “Take Me Back,” Pinecastle. 13 tracks.

July 23, 2012

Karl Shiflett formed his band in 1993, but it took six years and a contract with Rebel Records to boost them to national prominence.

They attracted a lot of attention in bluegrass circles with their “retro” look and sound back then.

Cynics will argue that most bluegrass bands are “retro,” that every traditional bluegrass band thinks we’re still in the ’50s.

But Shiflett & Big Country have kept the 1945 sound, working around a single microphone, and they still dress like 1945 with suits and ties.

But it’s been nine years now since the band last released an album — a long wait for fans.

“Take Me Back” isn’t a pure bluegrass album. It’s an ode to the 1960s when country and bluegrass were still basically one genre and radio stations would still play both on the same program.

Some of the material — “Mama Don’t Allow,” a blues song popularized by Robert “Washboard Sam” Brown in the 1930s, for instance — is much older than that. But it was popular on country stations in the 1960s by artists such as Hank Thompson.

Bob Wills’ “Take Me Back To Tulsa,” a swinggrass song here, dates to the 1940s. But it remains a popular staple with many bands today.

Other tunes include Don Gibson’s “Blue Blue Day,” Woody Guthrie’s “Sally Don’t You Grieve,” Willie Nelson’s “I Gotta Get Drunk,” Faron Young’s “Just Come To Get My Baby,” Ernest Tubb’s “Brand New Silent Partner” and Floyd Tillman’s “Makes No Difference Now.”

There are a couple of new songs on here too — Monroe Fields’ “Song on the Juke Box” and Shiflett’s “Open Up Your Heart (And Let Jesus In)” — but they sound as old as the others.

Shiflett keeps the bluegrass instrumentation on all tracks. So the album is a blend of bluegrass and classic country music.

Band members today include C.J. Lewandowski, Christopher Hill, Kris Shiflett and Billy Hurt Jr.

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BALSAM RANGE, “Papertown,” Mountain Home. 13 tracks

July 16, 2012

Last year, Balsam Range won song of the year honors from the International Bluegrass Music Association for “Trains I Missed,” and then faced tragedy when Buddy Melton, one of its lead vocalists, suffered a severe injury when a cow kicked a gate into his face.

But Melton recovered quickly and returned to the stage a month after facial reconstruction.

He sings lead on eight of the 13 cuts on the album, which was recorded after the accident.

The band takes its name from the Great Balsam Range Mountains in its native Haywood County, N.C. And the album, the band’s fourth on the Mountain Home label, takes its name from Canton, N.C., where a paper mill has been a major employer since 1906.

The title cut tells the town’s story in song.

Most of the material here is new or newish.

Older material includes Jimmie Skinner’s “Born Ramblin’ Man,” Roy Acuff’s “The Streamlined Cannonball” and “One Way Out,” a blues song recorded in the 1960s by both Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson II and popularized in the 1970s by The Allman Brothers.

“One Way Out” still has a bluesy feel, even with its translation to bluegrass.

“Any Old Road” is a song about leaving with no destination in mind.

“Better Days” finds a man traveling, missing a woman who used to make him smile.

“Row By Row” is uptempo gospel.

“Building The Fire” blames the woman for burning down their love until nothing is left by ashes and embers.

“I Ain’t Leavin’ ” is an anthem to living off the beaten path and not being in any hurry to move into the fast lane.

Good album by a good band.

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Owensboro pledges $3 million for bluegrass center

July 16, 2012

 The Owensboro City Commission unanimously endorsed a plan Tuesday to contribute $3 million toward the cost of turning the old State Office Building into a new International Bluegrass Music Center.

But the approval hinges on the International Bluegrass Museum raising the remaining $7 million needed for the project.

The formal approval has to come at a future commission meeting. But all five members enthusiastically endorsed the project at a work session Tuesday.

Commissioner Jeff Sanford said he attended the museum’s ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival on June 30.

“I was absolutely blown away,” he said.

“This could be one of the biggest things we do in this community,” Mayor Ron Payne said.

Commissioner David Johnson said the success of ROMP, which drew an estimated 20,000 fans from most of the 50 states plus Australia, Canada, China, Brazil, England and Japan, makes the decision to go forward with the bluegrass center easier.

“You can do this when you have an event that creates the excitement that ROMP does,” he said.

Terry Woodward, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, said the museum spent $186,000 on talent this year compared with $68,000 two years ago and $169,000 last year.

Ticket sales jumped from $21,000 in 2010 to $181,000 last year and $187,000 this year.

Woodward said the $187,000 for this year is not a complete figure. “It will probably go over $200,000,” he said.

Sponsorships and in-kind contributions soared from $103,850 in 2010 to $190,000 last year and $300,750 this year.

Campers at Yellow Creek Park for ROMP increased from 60 recreational vehicles in 2011 to 101 this year, while the number of tents jumped from 390 to 508.

Woodward said the festival probably lost a couple thousand fans from the area who would have attended with better weather. The county’s all time high temperature — 107 degrees — was tied on the first two days of ROMP.

“We decided last year that we wanted ROMP to have a national reputation,” Woodward told the commission. “And you have to invest money to make money.”

He said he hired an architect and an engineer to give him an estimate on turning the old State Office Building into a bluegrass music center. Their estimate was $9.6 million.

That’s about half of what consultants estimated in May 2011.

Woodward said he believes the new figure is accurate.

The new figures include a 1,000-seat “state of the art” indoor theater and an outdoor performance space that will seat 2,000-plus, he said.

“We just have a museum now,” Woodward said. “But so much more can be done.”

He said the museum wants to host annual banjo, mandolin and fiddle camps; have outdoor bluegrass shows during Friday After 5; add film festivals and instrument conventions; host blues, jazz, gospel and Americana concerts (roots and branches of bluegrass); and have a summer musical and Saturday night performances of a bluegrass opry with national talent.

Woodward said he believes Sirius radio and PBS would be interested in broadcasting the bluegrass opry.

The museum space would increase from 20,000 square feet now to 30,000 at the new center, he said.

There’s space on the first floor for a 4,500-square-foot bluegrass-themed restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating, Woodward said.

“We could have enough events to attract people from all over the world to Owensboro throughout the year,” he said.

He said people from 52 countries and 50 states visited the current bluegrass museum last year.

The bluegrass center, Woodward said, would have escalators as well as stairs.

“We’re not cutting any corners,” he said.

Woodward said he expects 50,000 visitors in 2014 (after the center opens in April), 75,000 in 2015 and 100,000 in 2016.

By 2016, he said, the center should have a $25 million economic impact on the city and state.

Last year, Woodward said, the museum operated at a $47,000 deficit.

“We lost a lot of money doing the Bill Monroe Centennial,” he said. “But we won’t do that again for another 100 years.”

In 2014, Woodward said, the bluegrass center is expected to lose $168,000. But that should decrease to $84,000 in 2015 and $40,000 in 2016 as it attracts more visitors.

ROMP and the center’s restaurant should help cover the part of the losses, he said, and the museum has a reserve fund to help cover the rest.

Woodward said the museum will launch its drive to raise the remaining $7 million next month.

He hopes to start construction in April.

LONESOME RIVER BAND, “Chronology: Volume Two,” Rural Rhythm. 8 tracks.

July 9, 2012

The Lonesome River Band has come a long way since 1982 when Tim Austin, Steve Thomas, Rick Williams and Jerry McMillan formed the group.

They’re all moved on since then, but the LRB is still going strong.

Big names like Ronnie Bowman, Dan Tyminski, Sammy Shelor, Kenny Smith, Don Rigsby, Ron Stewart and Rickie Simpkins have come and gone through the years.

Today, only Shelor remains.

But the LRB continues to reinvent itself, keeping its music fresh.

The current lineup — Shelor, Brandon Rickman, Randy Jones, Mike Hartgrove and Barry Reed — is topping the bluegrass charts just like its predecessors.

And this year, the band is celebrating its 30 years in bluegrass with a collection of three “Chronology” albums — each highlighting music from a particular decade.

“Volume One,” covering the band’s first decade, came out in February. The third will be out in September.

“Volume Two,” released this month, covers the years from 1994 to 2000.

There’s one new track, “Barely Beat The Daylight In,” an uptempo number about a man who’s exhausted from trying to spend every night with the woman he loves and work during the day.

Re-recorded band hits include “The Crime I Didn’t Do,” “Sweet Sally Brown,” “Perfume, Powder and Lead,” “The Game I Can’t Win,” “Tears Are Blinding Me,” “Flat Broke  and Lonesome” and “Dog Gone Shame.”

Yes, the albums are short — just eight songs each.

But they’re good.

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ROMP draws estimated 20,000

July 6, 2012

Terry Woodward, chairman of the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s board of trustees, has seen every bluegrass festival in Owensboro since they began in 1985.

“I have never seen a crowd as large as we had at ROMP Saturday night,” he said Monday. “There were easily more than 8,000 people out there. We ran out of parking spaces.”

Woodward said the BBC sent a film crew to Yellow Creek Park to record the Old Crow Medicine Show performance Saturday night for a future broadcast.

Gabrielle Gray, the museum’s executive director, estimated 5,000 people on Thursday night, 6,000 on Friday night and 8,000 to 10,000 on Saturday.

“We had 20,000 easily over the three days,” Woodward said. “And we lost a lot of local sales because of the heat. Can you imagine what we would have had if we had had last year’s temperatures?”

Friday’s 107 degrees tied an all-time record that had stood for 68 years. The mercury hit 106 on Thursday and 105 on Saturday.

If the official count comes in at 20,000 when all tickets are counted, this year’s crowd will have grown at least 25 percent from last year.

Last year, the museum, which sponsors the ROMP : Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival, reported 13,693 tickets sold to 8,807 people — not counting children who were admitted free — over the event’s three-day run.

But the museum’s biggest fundraiser can’t grow much larger.

In fact, it’s nearing the point where ticket sales might have to be capped, Gray said.

“Things don’t always have to grow,” she said. “You cap ticket sales, and you know what your budget is and how many to prepare for. We haven’t reached capacity yet, but we’re very close.”

“The only way to continue to expand would be to have satellite stages,” Woodward said. “Maybe when things are finished downtown, we could have a stage there. That’s a possibility.”

The museum wants to turn the old State Office Building into an International Bluegrass Music Center with indoor and outdoor stages with seating for 200 or so inside and 1,000 outside.

“The festival now has a national reputation,” said Ross Leigh, director of Daviess County Parks & Recreation. “We had people driving in from Oregon and Santa Cruz, Calif., because they had seen posters in a coffee shop somewhere. It’s a godsend to us.”

“We had street teams across the country marketing ROMP to colleges and other places,” Woodward said.

“We were probably using 75 to 85 percent of our capacity for parking,” Leigh said. “The only area we had left was the ball fields and the old Thruston School property. That’s a long way to walk, and I wouldn’t want to have to do it. But if I wanted to go to the festival, I would do it.”

Gray said she hadn’t tallied how many states were represented at the festival. But, she said, “we had people from 24 states in the campgrounds alone.”

Nearly 1,000 campers were registered before the park opened, she said.

Gray said she met people from Japan, Brazil, Australia, England, Canada, Mexico and Italy at ROMP .

Woodward added Sweden and China to the list.

“It’s an international event now,” he said. “I had a number of people tell me that they’re marking their calendars for ROMP and plan to come every year.”

“We had so many people tell us that ROMP is the coolest event they go to,” Gray said. “That’s the way we want to brand it. People here knock themselves out to be helpful. We have a great camping area and excellent food. The children’s area was packed all the time. We try to have a good mix of traditional and progressive music.”

Dozens of fans heaped praise on the festival on ROMP ‘s Facebook page.

“Just got back from the Romp Music Festival in Owensboro (River of Music Party, Right On or Rock On, My People),” Jerry Pacholski of Lawrenceville, Ill., posted Sunday. “What a great time, despite the #/)& 105 heat. Great setting, clean, everybody had fun and the music!! Wow! Every band was good and every band was better than the one before it. Kept on until about 1 a.m. and we left before the after concert jam. My son and I are already planning on going back next year. Congrats to the Intl Bluegrass Museum, Romp and the city of Owensboro for hosting a great party.”

Gray and Woodward praised Leigh’s staff.

“The park staff took ice to campers and only charged them $2 a bag.” she said. “They weren’t making money. They were providing a convenience so people wouldn’t have to leave the park to get it. They hauled trash off and sprayed water to keep the dust down.”

“The county did an incredible job.” Woodward said.

“That’s Daviess County hospitality,” Leigh said. “That’s how we treat people.”

He said, “Everything went very smoothly. There are always minor problems, but I think it hit on all eight cylinders.”

Woodward said there’s no doubt that adding roots and branches to traditional bluegrass has helped the festival grow.

Acts like Old Crow Medicine Show, the Punch Brothers and the Carolina Chocolate Drops boosted sales by bringing in people who prefer a variety of styles of acoustic music, he said.

But Woodward and Gray both noted that Jesse McReynolds, an 83-year-old member of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Fame, drew an enthusiastic crowd for his set Thursday, playing a tribute to the Grateful Dead.

“He totally knocked it out of the park,” Gray said. “Young people who came to see progressive acts were exposed to his music. And older fans who came to hear him were exposed to newer music. And they all heard good music they hadn’t heard before. It was all ages having fun.”

The festival struggled for years to do more than break even.

But last year, with help from Steve Martin, Emmylou Harris and a number of young, progressive acts, the festival turned a healthy profit.

It turned another profit this year, Gray said, although the total won’t be tallied for a few days.

“We’ve turned the corner,” Woodward said. ” ROMP is a brand now.

And fans packed the museum downtown all three days, Gray said.

Now the question is, how do you top this year’s show and this year’s crowd?

“I don’t know how we can top it,” Woodward said. “But there’s a lot of talent out there. I don’t think we had a throwaway band this year. It was a great lineup.”

ALAN TOMPKINS, “No Part of Nothin’,” Bluegrass Heritage Music. 12 tracks.

July 2, 2012

Alan Tompkins grew up in Madisonville, Ky., about 50 miles west of Bill Monroe’s birthplace. He grew up singing in church and listening to country, bluegrass and gospel music.

In 1983, Tompkins moved to Texas and earned a master of business administration and a law degree from Southern Methodist University. He devoted the next two decades to business, but Tompkins’ love of bluegrass led him to want to perform again. And that’s the origin of this album, which features the talents of Sam Bush, Ron Stewart, Randy Kohrs, Kenny Smith, Amanda Smith, Mike Bub and Greg Cahill among others.

Tompkins, founder and president of the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation and host of a bluegrass radio show in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, plays upright bass on seven cuts, banjo on one (“Lonesome Road Blues”) and sings lead on nine.

He co-wrote two songs, “Blue Kentucky Waltz” and “No Part of Nothin’ Blues.”

Songs include “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome,” a song credited to Bill Monroe and Hank Williams; Chubby Wise and Clyde Moody’s “Shenandoah Waltz”; Albert Brumley’s “This World Is Not My Home”; and four traditional numbers, “Angelina Baker,” “More Pretty Girls Than One,” “Lonesome Road Blues” and “Farther Along.”

Tompkins also adapts Mark Knopfler’s “When It Comes To You” and Jeanne Pruett’s “Count Me Out” to bluegrass.

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DALA, “Best Day,” Compass. 12 tracks.

July 2, 2012

You might find Dala — Canadians Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walthers — performing at some bluegrass festivals.

But there’s no bluegrass on the folk-pop duo’s new “Best Day” album.

They have a pretty sound that’s really close to modern country.

Traditional bluegrass fans will  probably be turned off by the drums, piano, keyboards, electric guitars and steel guitars.

But the music is good and the songs have strong lyrics.

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