DARIN AND BROOKE ALDRIDGE, “Faster And Farther,” Mountain Home. 12 tracks

Posted January 16, 2017 by klawrence
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Darin and Brooke Aldridge, “the singing sweethearts of bluegrass,” released their first album, an all-gospel collection, in 2008, a few months before they were married.

Darin worked his way up through the bluegrass ranks, including a stint with the Country Gentlemen.

Brooke’s background is primarily in gospel.

Today, they are among the few groups whose albums just keep getting better.

And “Faster and Farther,” which hits record bins on Feb. 10, is the best yet.

Brooke, who sings lead on nine of the tracks, has never sounded better.

She cuts loose and wails on several tracks.

The album kicks off with “Kingdom Come,” a hard-driving gospel-ish song about keeping one’s eyes on the prize.

“Fit For A King” is a strong ballad about a street preacher.

“Highway of Heartaches,” which features some great fiddle work by Shad Cobb, is about a woman facing a long, lonesome road in life.

“Eugene and Diane” is a song about a country picker and a socialite who fall in love, but never tell each other.

“They lived and died regretting the things they never said,” the lyrics say.

There’s a great cover of Ian Tyson‘s “Someday Soon.”

“Heaven Just Got Sweeter For You” finds a widow looking forward to meeting her deceased husband in heaven.

Guests include Vince Gill, John Cowan, Pat Flynn, Tim Surrett and Barry Bales.

A very strong album.

If you haven’t discovered Darin and Brooke Aldridge, it’s time you did.

Can’t find it in stores? Try www.darinandbrookealdridge.com/merchandise/ on Feb. 10.


RAY CARDWELL, “Tennessee Moon,” Pinecastle. 12 tracks

Posted December 5, 2016 by klawrence
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Ray Cardwell, like many musicians, has had two careers in music.

One before the children came along and he needed a steady income.

And one after they were grown.

In the late 1970s, he performed with The Cardwell Family bluegrass band.

In the 1980s, he moved into rock and reggae.

In 1994, he became a member of New Tradition, a bluegrass/gospel group.

And then, Cardwell went home to Missouri to raise a family and become a vocal and instrumental music teacher.

Now, he’s back in bluegrass with his new “Tennessee Moon” album on Pinecastle Records.

It features some powerful picking and singing with a blend of blues, a capella gospel and bluegrass.

Cardwell wrote nine of the 12 tracks — including the title track, which is the album’s first single.

The album opens with  “His Will,” a hard-charging gospel number.

“Open Your Eyes” is a ballad about a man who feels like the woman he loves is already gone, even though she’s still by his side.

“Sailin’ for Glory” and “New Jerusalem” are uptempo a capella gospel numbers that really shine.

“Cedar Creek Pickaway” is about a favorite place to listen to live music.

“Sing It To The World” says it’s time to stop hating and start loving your neighbors.

“Think About Me” finds the singer heartbroken because he fears the woman he loves is leaving.

Guests include John Cowan, Claire Lynch and Ronnie Bowman.

A strong album.

Look for it in stores on Jan. 13 or pre-order it now at http://www.pinecastlemusic.com


WILDFIRE, “Rented Room on Broadway,” Pinecastle. 12 tracks.

Posted November 28, 2016 by klawrence
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Wildfire was formed in 2000, when four former members of J.D. Crowe’s New South began working as the house bluegrass band at Dollywood — Dolly Parton‘s east Tennessee theme park.

After two years there, they hit the bluegrass circuit, playing festivals and concert halls across the country.

Today, band members include Robert Hale, Curt Chapman, Greg Luck, Chris Davis and John Lewis.

All but Chapman are vocalists as well as instrumentalists.

Hale wrote the first track, “Home Again,” about a man who’s been gone too long and finds he doen’t fit in in the city, and “Three,” about a man who finds that there’s about to be an addition to his family.

Most of the songs are bluegrass versions of country and pop hits from years ago.

From the pop charts, there’s The Boxtops‘ 1967 hit, “The Letter”

Country hits include Loretta Lynn‘s “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy Anymore” from 1974, Cal Smith‘s “The Ghost of Jim Bob Wilson” from 1976, Mel Street‘s “Small Enough To Crawl” from the 1970s, Keith Whitley‘s “I Get The Picture” from 1985 and “A Bible and A Bus Ticket Home” from Collin Raye in 1994 and Confederate Railroad in 1998.

There’s the gospel of “Driving Nails” and the bluegrass of Carter Stanley‘s “Nobody’s Love Is Like Mine” and Elmer Burchett Jr.’s “Dollar.”

Another good album by a good band.

Look for it in stores on Dec. 9.

Or go to http://pinecastlemusic.com/wildfire/


BLUE MAFIA, “Hanging Tree,” Pinecastle. 12 tracks

Posted November 21, 2016 by klawrence
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Blue Mafia is a fairly new band, formed in 2011 in Muncie, Indiana, by Tony and Dara Wray.

But its members spent years in other bands before becoming part of the Mafia.

“Hanging Tree” is the band’s second release on the Pinecastle label.

The title track is a bluegrass version of a song from “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.”

Dara Wray wrote three of the tracks — “The Man You Know,” a gospel song that has an a capella intro, “You Belong With Me,” about a woman trying to hang onto a man who’s gone and “Life,” a song filled with nostalgia.

Calib Smith, the band’s banjo player, wrote the opening track, “Like A Mining Man,” a song about miners.

There’s the Bill Monroe classic, “With Body and Soul,” and Carter Stanley‘s “Say Won’t You Be Mine” for traditional fans.

Other songs include “Sweet Mary of the Mountains,” “Baby You’re Gone,” “Midnight Rain,” “Loneliness and Desperation” and “Who Are You.”

Look for it in stores on Dec. 9.

Or go to PinecastleMusic.com.



MICHAEL & JENNIFER McLAIN, “Hit The Road And Go,” Big Pick Productions. 12 tracks

Posted November 7, 2016 by klawrence
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In the 1970s and 1980s, the McLain Family Band seemed to be everywhere in bluegrass.

Michael McLain, the youngest member of the clan, is still carrying on the family name today with his wife, Jennifer.

Their latest album, “Hit The Road and Go,” offers a wide variety of bluegrass styles with a feel for gospel, blues and a little swing.

Jennifer McLain handles most of the vocal work and she has a voice you’ll want to hear over and over.

The album kicks off with Ray Charles‘ “This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again),” which has a gospel feel to it.

There’s Dolly Parton‘s “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” Carl Perkins’ “Restless,” Marty Stuart‘s “Busy Bee Cafe” and the Osborne Brothers‘ “Up This Hill and Down.”

There’s the gospel of “Jesus Hold My Hand” and “I’m Ready To Go.”

And a couple of instrumentals — “McIntosh” and “Lady of Spain.”

“Boom Town” is a ballad about a town whose boom has faded and the people are moving on.

Good album by a good band.

Can’t find it in stores?

Try http://www.banjocats.com.

THE SAVAGE HEARTS, “Playing It Forward,” Airshow. 11 tracks

Posted October 31, 2016 by klawrence
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The Colorado-based Savage Hearts describe their style as “fiery Route 66-flavored honky-tonk & bluegrass where tradition meets innovation with a surprising Latin flair.”

When you read something like that, you’ve just got to check it out for yourself,

The band has cut more than 30 albums and it’s well seasoned.

Leader Annie Savage boasts a background in bluegrass, classical and mariachi music.

And it all blends into a musical style that’s hearty and tasty.

Jim Croce‘s 1969 hit, “Age,” — “I’ve traded love for pennies and I’ve sold my soul for less” — becomes straight bluegrass with The Savage Hearts.

“Compadres in the Old Sierra Madre,” an old Riders in the Sky song, and the salsa beat of Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernandez Marin‘s “El Cumbanchero” provide the Latin flavor.

Bob Wills‘ “Faded Love” begins as an a capella duet between Savage and Kevin Slick and then turns into an instrumental.

There’s gospel in “Working On A Building/Old Time Religion.”

And original music with Slick’s “Heaven on Earth” and “Child’s Song.”

Several fiddlers join Savage for twin fiddling throughout the album.

Good album by a seasoned band and something you don’t hear every day.

Can’t find it in stores?

Try www.thesavagehearts.com/store

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

Posted October 17, 2016 by klawrence
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Balsam Range, the quintet named for the North Carolina mountains where band members live, has released five highly acclaimed albums since its formation in 2007.

Make that six.

“Mountain Voodoo,” the band’s latest, hits record bins on Nov. 11.

And it’s as strong as the other five, which helped the band win 10 International Bluegrass Music Association awards in eight years.

“Something ‘Bout That Suitcase” finds the singer wondering about a worn suitcase he sees and what stories it could tell.

“Blue Collar Dreams” is about struggling to make a living and survive in a world that grinds a man down and leaves him struggling with debt.

“Voodoo Doll” finds the singer unable to sleep, missing a woman who may have put a curse on him to torture him with her memory.

“Eldorado Blue” is about a woman who never left her small town because it suits her just fine.

“The Girl From The Highlands” is about a man who leaves the woman he loves behind when he sails for America, promising to send for her when he saves some money. But she dies before he can and he still misses her 20 years later.

“Rise And Shine,” a beautiful song with a gospel feel, advises people to lay their burdens down, put them in the past and get ready for a better day.

“Wish You Were Here” finds a man missing a woman who has died.

Another strong album by one of bluegrass’ best bands.

Can’t find it in stores?

Try balsamrange.com/store/