Archive for May 2013

THE ROYS, “Gypsy Runaway Train,” Rural Rhythm. 13 tracks.

May 28, 2013

Lee and Elaine Roy are easily the most successful brother-sister duet in bluegrass today.

It’s an easy distinction. There have been plenty of brother acts in bluegrass through the years, but brother-sister acts are rare.

They were born in Massachusetts, raised in Canada and headed to Nashville in 2011 to record their first album for Rural Rhythm Records — “Lonesome Whistle.”

It was followed by “New Day Dawning” in 2012.

“Gypsy Runaway Train,” the title cut and first single off the new album, is a song about traveling musicians who roll into town and “step out on that stage, open up our hearts and let our fingers fly.”

The Roys wrote six songs on the album and if they’re a little said, well, Lee’s father-in-law died and Elaine’s divorce was finalized while they were working on the album

She turns in a stellar performance on Johnny Bond’s country classic, “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight” as well as her own “Half of Me,” a song about a lost love that hurts so bad “that the stillness in the air makes it hard to breathe.”

Lee’s “Another Minute” was written about their grandfather. But the message, “Lord, what I wouldn’t give for just another minute with him,” can apply to anyone who’s missed.

Originals include “You Can Count On My Love,” “Workin’ On It” and “Enough For Me.”

Other songs include Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” which begins as a mournful ballad and quickly kicks into overdrive; Merle Haggard’s “Ramblin Fever”; Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs‘ “He Took Your Place”; and Alan O’Bryant’s “Those Memories Of You.”

Good album by a duo that just keeps getting better.

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DELLA MAE, “This World Oft Can Be,” Rounder. 12 tracks.

May 20, 2013

Della Mae, a 4-year-old Boston-based bluegrassish band, took American music to the “stans” — Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — on a recent 43-day tour for the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad program.

Now, the band is touring the United States in support of its first Rounder album — “This World Oft Can Be.”

It follows “I Built This Heart,” Della Mae’s self-released 2011 debut.

Fiddler Kimber Ludiker founded the band in 2009 with musicians from different different parts of the country and different backgrounds.

She’s a two-time winner of the National Old Time Fiddlers Contest.

Vocalist Celia Woodsmith comes from a blues/rock background; guitarist Courtney Hartman studied at Berklee College of Music; bassist Shelby Means is a former Nashville musician and mandolin player Jenni Lyn Gardner comes from a strong bluegrass tradition.

Their sound isn’t traditional bluegrass. It aligns more closely with bands like the Avett Brothers, the Punch Brothers and the Lumineers.

Between them, Woodsmith and Hartman wrote nine of the 12 tracks.

The lyrics are poetry set to music and the music is beautiful.

“Letter From Down The Road/And Other Things” is a love story that finds the singer wanting to stay with the man she loves until the end of time.

The title track says music takes her cares away.

“Ain’t No Ash” says loves is a precious thing, but it burns like West Virginia coal — and when it’s cold, no ash will burn.

“Hounds” says the hounds of heaven are chasing her, but it’s not her time to go.

“Heaven’s Gate” is about a ghost drawn to the place where she killed herself.

And “Empire” is about a ghost town.

Beautiful music by a strong band.

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DON RIGSBY, “Doctor’s Orders: A Tribute To Ralph Stanley,” Rebel. 14 tracks.

May 13, 2013

Don Rigsby is a lifelong fan of Ralph Stanley. Getting to meet his hero backstage at Ashland, Ky’s, Paramount Theatre as a 6-year-old in 1974, influenced Rigsby’s life and the style of music he still performs today.

So, it was only natural that Rigsby would someday do a tribute album to his hero.

The title, “Doctor’s Orders,” is a play on Stanley’s 1976 honorary doctorate of music degree from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.

Stanley has used Dr. in front of his name ever since.

Rigsby, who made his mark on bluegrass as a member of J.D. Crowe’s New South, the Bluegrass Cardinals and the Lonesome River Band before fronting his own band, Midnight Call, brought in three of Stanley’s former band members — Larry Sparks, Ricky Skaggs and Charlie Sizemore — who went on to have solo careers of their own to help on the album.

Stanley himself helped select the 14 songs. He sings a duet with Rigsby on “The Daughter of Geronimo,” tenor on “Home In The Mountains” and plays banjo on “Traveling The Highway Home.”

Stanley introduced a capella singing to bluegrass. And Rigsby honors that tradition with an a capella “Sinner Man.”

Thirteen of the songs are songs associated with Stanley. The 14th is a new song — “The Mountain Doctor” — written by Rigsby and Larry Cordle that tells how Stanley’s music will take away your pain.

Songs include “Brand New Tennessee Waltz,” “Wild Geese Cry Again,” “Little Maggie,” “I Only Exist,” “Six More Miles,” “Walking Up This Hill On Decoration Day,” “Medicine Springs,” “Tennessee Truck Driving Man” and “The Water Lily.”

It’s a strong album for Stanley fans and lovers of traditional bluegrass music with some great harmony singing.

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THE BOXCARS, “It’s Just A Road,” Mountain Home. 12 tracks.

May 6, 2013

The Boxcars, a supergroup that released its first album in 2010, continues to produce great bluegrass.

Adam Steffey and John Bowman once played with Alison Krauss & Union Station.
Ron Stewart, Harold Nixon and Bowman are graduates of J.D. Crowe & The New South.

Keith Garrett and Nixon were members of Blue Moon Rising.

And Steffey and Stewart were in The Dan Tyminski Band.

Their self-titled debut album made several critics’ Ten Best lists that year.

And the latest album, “It’s Just A Road,” will likely make a few lists too.

Band members wrote five of the 12 tracks.

Garrett wrote the title cut, which says that poetry aside, a road is just a road; “Cornelia,” a song about a man with a broken heart who’s determined to make a new start; and “Caryville,” a song about a place where God doesn’t live anymore.

Stewart wrote “Skillet Head Derailed,” a hard-driving instrumental, and “The Devil Held The Gun,” a murder ballad that sounds very old.

The song list includes a couple of A.P. Carter songs — “Coal Miner’s Blues” and “I’m Leaving You This Lonesome Song.”

And there’s a bluegrass version of one of Hank Williams’ lesser-known country songs, “Never Again (Will I Knock On Your Door).”

Other songs include “You Took all The Ramblin’ Out Of Me,” a song about a woman who made him want to settle down; “When Sorrows Encompass Me Around,” an uptempo gospel number; “Southern Train,” a ballad about a man in prison wishing he was on a train headed home; and “Trouble In Mind,” a blues standard that dates back to 1924.

Good album by a great band.

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