Archive for January 2014

TONY TRISCHKA, “Great Big World,” Rounder. 13 tracks.

January 27, 2014

Tony Trischka calls his latest album “Great Big World.”

It’s an apt description of the album, which embraces a big world of musical styles and genres, while keeping one foot solidly in bluegrass.

That’s been the case for Trischka for the past 50 years.

At 65, he’s no longer the new kid on the block. He’s one of the legends.

And this album adds to his status as one of the more inventive musicians on the planet.

The Syracuse, N.Y., native began playing banjo in 1963, after hearing the Kingston Trio’s “Charlie and the MTA.”

Then, he discovered bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs and never looked back.

Bill Monroe, Trischka says, “was a huge influence on me and he’s still at the heart of everything I do.”

But don’t expect traditional bluegrass.

There’s “Joy,” a Trischka gospel original sung by Catherine Russell with verses adapted from Buddhist, Christian and Jewish texts.

“Wild Bill Hickok” is a five-minute western saga sung by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott with additional vocals by Mike Compton and a dramatic reading by John Goodman.

“Say Goodbye (for KM)” is a tribute to the late singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle.

And then, there’s “Single String Medley,” which features five tunes each played on a different string.

Steve Martin joins Trischka on “Promontory Point,” a tune they composed together.

Other guests include Mike Barnett, Michael Daves, Skip Ward, Andy Statman, Russ Barenberg, Naom Pikelny, Aoife O’Donovan, Abigail Washburn, Chris Eldridge, Larry Campbell, Oteil Burbridge and Trischka’s son, Sean.

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BLUE HIGHWAY, “The Game,” Rounder. 12 tracks.

January 20, 2014

Seems like only yesterday that Blue Highway was a brand new band.

But they’re celebrating 20 years together in 2014 and — amazingly — with the same lineup.

“The Game,” the band’s 11th album, features 11 songs written or co-written by band members.

The only non-original song on the album is “Hick’s Farewell,” a traditional gospel song featuring an a capella duet by Shawn Lane and Wayne Taylor.

The title cut is about a gambler who shoots a man over a card game and then has to shoot two more people to get away.

“All The Things You Do” is a song about someone who died too soon and will always be missed. It was inspired by the deaths of Harley Allen and Larry Rice.

There are some great lines in a couple of songs.

“Remind Me Of You” says, “I started slowly like I always do/Day old coffee at the crack of noon.”

And “A Change Of Faith In Tennessee” uses gospel imagery to describe a lost love. “The body of our love is lying in the tomb/It’s gone and will rise again no more.”

“My Last Day In The Mine” finds a miner on his last day at work wishing he could go back and start all over again.

“I’m not sure if I’m the kind of man who can spend all day sitting by himself, slowly growing old with a fishing pole,” he sings.

Trey Hensley, a band protege, was brought in to sing lead on the song.

Another working-man song, “Just To Have A Job,” finds a long-haul trucker thinking about his aching back and the kids who are growing up at home without him. But he knows he’s lucky just to have a job.

There are also a couple of instrumentals — “Dogtown” and “Funny Farm.”

Another strong album by a band that just keeps getting better.

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J.D. MESSER & SANCTIFIED, “Coal Miner’s Prayer,” Kindred Records. 12 tracks.

January 13, 2014

J.D. Messer & Sanctified is a six-member bluegrass-gospel band from the Eastern Kentucky-West Virginia border.

You might not have heard of them yet, but with an album like this, the band should start getting a lot of notice.

Messer, the band’s lead singer and mandolin player, wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 12 tracks. And Kenny Stanley, the guitar player, wrote the other one.

That might sound like a vanity project, but it’s not.

There are some strong songs on the album.

“Lunch Box Letter” isn’t a gospel song, but it fits the album well.

A woman writes a love letter to her coal miner husband and sticks it into his lunch box every morning. He dies in a cave-in, but there’s a love letter inside the lunch box that he wrote to her before he died.

“Coal Miners Prayer” is about a miner who doesn’t believe in God. But he hits his knees and learns to pray when his wife and newborn child are in danger.

“When Mama Talks To The Man” tells the story of a junkie about to commit suicide. But his mother is praying at home and his gun jams.

“Road Less Traveled” is about a man driving home from a revival who picks up an angel disguised as an old man.

And “Rain” is a great a capella number about Noah and the flood.

Good album with some good original songs.

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