Archive for November 2012

ASTROGRASS, “The Colored Pencil Factory,” Smoggy Borough Records. 16 tracks.

November 26, 2012

Bluegrass grows in Brooklyn as Astrograss fans can attest.

The 9-year-old band mixes bluegrass, Appalachian mountain music, newgrass and some Eastern European folk music to reach out to children.

Jordan Shapiro, guitar and vocals, says in a news release, “I believe that bluegrass music, and all American folk music, is essential listening for kids, and I also believe that the purity of the music is important.”

The album features traditional tunes like “Shortenin’ Bread,” “Cluck Old Hen” and “Sail Away Ladies.”

But it’s primarily an album of original music designed for young listeners.

“Make It Up,” which mixes bluegrass with traditional Albanian dance music, tells children to use their imaginations.

“Sawing on the Strings” is about a mountain fiddler.

The title cut encourages children to seek adventure.

“Honeybells” features a capella three-part harmony.

“Playground” is a blazing tune that encourages children to visit the playground.

“Grave Diagnosis” is a comedy romp.

And “Music Makes Me Feel” is a musical adaptation of a poem written by 9-year-old Marcella Fellus Borgenicht.

The band’s school outreach program encourages children to write poems, which Astrograss then sets to music.

A good way to introduce children to bluegrass.

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VARIOUS ARTISTS, “Christmas: The Mountain Way,” Rural Rhythm Christian. CD, 15 tracks. DVD 16 tracks

November 19, 2012

Back in June, 11 bluegrass acts performed a live Christmas show, “Christmas: The Mountain Way,” at the Bell Theater in Pineville, Ky.

It was filmed and recorded. And now, just in time for Christmas, Rural Rhythm Christian is releasing it as a combo CD/DVD pack.

Each is just under an hour of mostly spiritual songs. The only secular material is Mike Scott’s instrumental version of “Jingle Bells,” Cumberland River’s “Christmas In The Mountains” and the title cut performed by Dale Ann Bradley and Steve Gulley.

Not all of the sacred songs are what people generally think of as Christmas songs, but they are about Jesus.

That list includes Bradley’s “In The Sweet By and By,” Mike and Brenda Scott’s “Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus,” Audie Blaylock’s “A Voice of Our Savior,” Common Strings’ “Nothing But The Blood,” Don Gulley’s “In The Garden”  and Debbie Gulley’s “Amazing Grace.”

More traditional Christmas material includes Blaylock’s “Joy To The World,” Cumberland River Music Academy’s “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” Marty Raybon’s “Silent Night” and “There’s A Way In The Manger,” Brad Gulley’s “O Holy Night” and Steve Gulley’s “Away In The Manger.”

The concert is also a Gulley family affair. Steve Gulley is joined by his wife, Debbie; son, Brad; and father, Don, on the show.

The DVD includes interviews with the artists and a behind-the-scenes look at the concert.

Good addition to the Christmas holidays.

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LONESOME RIVER BAND, “Chronology: Volume Three,” Rural Rhythm. 10 tracks.

November 12, 2012

The Lonesome River Band celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, releasing three volumes of music from its three decades of performing.

The band, which has no original members left, is still a vibrant part of the bluegrass scene today.

In October, the Lonesome River Band won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s recorded performance of the year award for its version of “Angeline The Baker.” And Sammy Shelor won his fifth banjo player of the year award from the IBMA.

“Volume Three” in the band’s 30th anniversary series consists of songs selected by fans in a poll earlier this year.

There’s the somewhat creepy “Carolyn The Teenaged Queen,” a song about a man pushing 30 marrying a 14-year-old and then plotting to kill her when she cheats on him 10 years later.

“Sorry County Blues” tells the stories of several people who have fallen on hard times in today’s economy.

“Whoop And Ride” is a blazing song about a man who’s running from the law.

“Stray Dogs And Alley Cats” is a ballad about a man who knows he’s not good enough for heaven, but hopes there’s room for people to empty the garbage cans up there.

“Harvest Time” finds a boy stealing corn and expecting to be shot by the mean farmer who owns it. But the farmer is off making moonshine that night.

Several songs — “Long Gone,” “Am I A Fool,” “Money In The Bank,” “Who Needs You” and “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” — are about broken relationships and men who are trying to deny their pain.

Good album by a band that’s still on top of its game.

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NIALL TONER, “Onwards and Upwards,” Pinecastle. 11 tracks.

November 5, 2012

Niall Toner, an Irish bluegrass musician and songwriter, is still largely unknown in this country, despite one of his compositions — “Nuns Island Reel”– being included on “Grand Theft Auto IV,” one of the all-time best-selling video games.

But his first American album, “Onwards and Upwards,” should change that.

Of course, traditionalists will have to overlook  the occasional electric guitar and piano, but those seem to be increasingly common these days.

Toner wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs.

There’s “William Smith Monroe,” an uptempo tribute to “the father of bluegrass music,” that was partly written during a visit to Monroe’s boyhood home outside Rosine, Ky., in 2005.

“The Pride And Joy Of Shelby” is an uptempo song about Earl Scruggs’ banjo-picking style.

“Judge and Jury” is a ballad about a man falsely accused of murder, who can’t tell where he was when the crime was committed because he had been with the judge’s wife.

“Remember Me” is a ballad about a man whose mind and body are both failing as he pleads for people to remember him as he was, not as he is.

“Bling,” a song about a woman who loves jewelry, has a jazz/ragtime feel to it.

“Tomorrow” is a ballad about procrastination.

Good album by a good singer-songwriter.

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