Archive for October 2012

DONNA ULISSE, “All The Way To Bethlehem,” Hadley Music Group. 11 tracks.

October 29, 2012

Concept albums, which were somewhat common in country music in the 1960s and 1970s, have never really caught on in bluegrass.

But Donna Ulisse has created what she calls a “dramatic story told in song” with “All The Way To Bethlehem.”

It’s a musical journey of all the elements in the story of the first Christmas, leading to the birth of Jesus.

There’s “I See The Light of the World,” which sets the stage; “Elisabeth,” the cousin of Mary and the mother of John the Baptist; “He’s Not Mine,” the story of Joseph; “You Will Be Delivered,” the angel’s message to Mary; the title cut, a duet with her husband, Rick Stanley, about the journey to Bethlehem; “You Cannot Stay Here,” the innkeeper says he has no room

“Let The World Wait A Little While,” Mary wants time alone with her baby; “He Is Here,” the angels message to the shepherds; “I’m Gonna Shine,” the star’s song; “We’re Coming To Worship Him,” the journey of the Magi; and “Morning in Bethlehem,” when the elements all come together.

Ulisse wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs in the production, which she and her band will be performing at concerts during the Christmas season.

The musical lineup includes Keith Sewell, Andy Leftwich, Victor Krauss, Rob Ickes, Byron House, John Mock, Wendy Buckner Sewell, Ana Sewell and Stanley.

Bluegrass purists may find fault with electric guitars, a concertina and a penny whistle that appear on a couple of tracks. But, for the most part, it’s an acoustic album

And it’s a good way to get in the spirit of Christmas early.

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JOE MULLINS & THE RADIO RAMBLERS, “They’re Playing My Song,” Rebel Records. 14 tracks.

October 22, 2012

The traditional sound of bluegrass music is part of Joe Mullins’ heritage.

He grew up in bluegrass. His father, Paul “Moon” Mullins, played fiddle with the Stanley Brothers and was a member  of The Boys From Indiana before fronting the Traditional Grass.

Joe Mullins came of age performing with the Traditional Grass during the 1980s and early 1990s.

But he left the band in 1995 to devote more time to a radio career, buying four stations in Ohio to create a small country music network.

Over the past decade and a half, Mullins performed occasionally with the supergroup Longview.

Then, in 2006, he formed The Radio RamblersAdam McIntosh, guitar; Evan McGregor, fiddle; Tim Kidd, bass; and Mike Terry, mandolin — and returned to the bluegrass circuit.

“They’re Playing My Song” is the band’s fourth album in six years.

This year, the group was named “emerging artist of the year” by the International Bluegrass Music Association.

The new album is a blend of new and old tunes, but you’d be hard pressed to tell which is which — if you didn’t recognize the standards.

The title cut was a Waylon Jennings song from the 1960s; “Bottom of a Mountain,” was a Johnny Cash single in the 1960s; and “Steel Guitar Rag,” dates back to Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys in 1936. Banjo great Earl Scruggs performed the song on banjo starting in the 1950s, but never released it commercially.

Songs like “Cruisin’ Timber,” “When The Snow Falls On My Foggy Mountain Home,” “She Left Me Standing On The Mountain,” “Lily” and “Katy Daley” have been in bluegrass repertoires for years.

There’s also an Osborne Brothers’ medley tribute on the album.

Newer material includes Bill Anderson’s “Some Kind of War,” a great ballad sung by McIntosh; Becky Buller’s a capella “Moses, Set My People Free”;  McIntosh’s “Granddad (The Preacher)”; and “Terry’s “Our Old Kentucky Home.”

Good album by a good band.

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FRONT PORCH STRING BAND, “Hills of Alabam,” Rebel Records. 13 tracks.

October 15, 2012

If angels don’t sound like Claire Lynch, they should.

Lynch, a two-time International Bluegrass Music Association female vocalist of the year, has one of the most beautiful voices in country or bluegrass.

But the problem for Lynch’s legion of fans is the long wait between albums. Her last new album was released three years ago.

And that’s a long time to wait.

But Rebel Records has just released “Hills of Alabam,” a compilation of tracks from The Front Porch String Band’s albums from 1981 and 1991.

Her name might not have been out front in those years, but there was no doubt that Lynch was the star of the show.

There’s also a track — “The Day That Lester Died” — from Lynch’s performance on Mark Newton’s “Follow Me Back To The Fold” album from 2000.

The songs may be 10, 20 or 30 years old, but they sound as fresh as they did back then.

Songs include “Kennesaw Line,” a story song about a Civil War battle told by a dying soldier; the title cut about traveling and dreaming of home; “Natchez Trace,” a dreamy song about a Mississippi highway; “The Singer,” a song about a man who was a dreamer;  Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times”; A.P. Carter’s “Wabash Cannonball”; and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Go My Way.”

It’s a good album that should help tide fans over until the next new Lynch album.

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RICKY SKAGGS & KENTUCKY THUNDER, “Music To My Ears,” Skaggs Family Records. 11 tracks.

October 8, 2012

Ricky Skaggs made Bill Monroe a promise, not long before the “father of bluegrass music” died in 1996, that he and others would keep the music alive.

And, not long after that, Skaggs returned to bluegrass in a big way after years of success in country music.

But bluegrass purists continue to be a little dismayed that country seems to be creeping back into his bluegrass.

They’ll note that “Music To My Ears” features bagpipes on one cut, a piano on another, an electric guitar on two and a keyboard on three.

But the rest of the listening audience will just concentrate on some good (mostly) bluegrass music.

As always, Skaggs pays homage to the old songs — Kirk McGee’s “Blue Night,” Don Stover’s “Things In Life,” Carter Stanley’s “Loving You Too Well” and Jimmy Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud” (a tribute to the late Doc Watson).

But happily, he also introduces new material as well.

“You Can’t Hurt Ham,” which Skaggs wrote with Gordon Kennedy, pays homage to the ham that early entertainers like Monroe and “Uncle” Dave Macon took on the road with them and kept eating even when it got moldy.

And “Soldier’s Son” pairs Skaggs with Barry Gibb (yes, that Barry Gibb) in a duet on a song written by Gibb and two of his children — Stephen and Ashley.

That’s definitely a surprise.

The album also features an instrumental — “New Jerusalem” — written by Skaggs.

Gordon Kennedy, who co-produced the album with Skaggs, also co-wrote “What You Are Waiting For,” a song that advises people not to settle for less than they want; “You Are Something Else,” a song that says he’s seen the wonders of the world, but nothing like her; and “Nothing Beats A Family,” a song about the importance of family.

Another strong album by one of bluegrass’ top performers, a man who’s been playing the music for more than half a century now.

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THE TIME JUMPERS, “The Time Jumpers,” Rounder. 12 tracks.

October 1, 2012

This isn’t a bluegrass album. The music is mostly western swing with a few touches of stone country thrown in.

But several of the musicians have worked in bluegrass. The band’s home for the past 14 years was the Station Inn, Nashville’s bluegrass mecca. And it’s an album that many bluegrass fans will enjoy.

The Time Jumpers was created in 1998 by a group of session musicians who wanted to jam together in front of an audience.

Through the years, big names dropped by the club to either sit in with the band or just listen. The list included Jimmy Buffet, Kings of Leon, Robert Plant, Bonnie Raitt, Reba McEntire and a lot more.

“The Time Jumpers” is the group’s first studio album. But their 2007 live album, “Jumpin’ Time,” garnered two Grammy nominations. So, the band has a good track record.

Band members wrote all but three of the tracks on the album — Vince Gill wrote five. But you’d swear that some of them came from Bob Wills’ repertoire from the 1940s.

Vocalists on the album include Gill, “Ranger Doug” Green, Dawn Sears and Kenny Sears.

Other members in the band are Andy Reiss, electric guitar; Dennis Crouch, upright bass; Jeff Taylor, accordion and piano; Joe Spivey, fiddle; Larry Franklin, fiddle; Paul Franklin, pedal steel guitar; Rick Vanaugh, drums; and Billy Thomas, harmony vocals.

It’s a great album. But here’s hoping The Time Jumpers will jump on a bluegrass album next.

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