We’re overdue for an overview of what our bluegrass brothers and sisters are up to, so here’s a batch of CDs that are currently picking and grinning out there.
The Disc of the Day belongs to The Grascals. Life Finds a Way is the band’s first for Mountain Home Records, and I think it’s one of the ensemble’s best efforts ever.
This edition’s DisCovery Award goes to Kentucky newcomers Cumberland River. They’re already being featured on a television soundtrack and are hip enough to recognize the power of a music video. Go, boys, go.
JUNIOR SISK & RAMBLERS CHOICE/A Far Cry from Lester & Earl
Writer: Tim Massey/Rick Pardue/Harry Sisk Jr.; Producer: Wes Easter & Ramblers Choice; Publisher: Dixie Breeze/Mitchell River/Dreamin’ Creek, BMI; Rebel (track) (www.juniosiskandramblerschoice.com)
—This track is presently No. 1 on the Bluegrass Unlimited popularity chart. It decries how bluegrass is drifting too far away from the classic sounds of The Stanley Brothers and the men of the song’s title. “We’re way down below that high-lonesome sound” sings Junior in this lively toe tapper. Sisk’s CD is titled The Heart of a Song, and it’s hardcore bluegrass all the way.
CHRIS JONES & THE NIGHT DRIVERS/Final Farewell
Writer: Chris Jones/Jon Weisberger; Producer: Chris Jones; Publisher: Gal Sal/Use Your Words, BMI; Rebel (track) (www.rebelrecords.com)
—I’m a big fan of guitarist-singer Jones. This yearning, midtempo, romantic outing is drawn from his current Lost Souls & Free Spirits, which is a compilation of his finest work for Rebel, plus three new tracks. As always, he sings with understated warmth and unforced soulfulness. Heartfelt.
THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS/Nobody Knows You
Writer: Graham Sharp; Producer: Gary Paczosa & The Steep Canyon Rangers; Publisher: Enchanted Barn, ASCAP; Rounder (track) (www.steepcanyon.com)
—Because of backing Steve Martin last year, the Rangers won the IBMA Entertainer of the Year award with him. This title tune to the band’s just-released (4/10) new album that it kicks plenty of butt without the banjo-playing superstar. In addition to hearty harmonies, it features some wonderfully scampering fiddle work and a throbbing bass line. Fresh sounding.
THE GRASCALS/Life Finds a Way
Writer: Jamie Johnson/Dierks Bentley/Ronnie Bowman; Producer: The Grascals; Publisher: Country Gentleman/Little Johnson/Big White Tracks/Sony-ATV, SESAC/ASCAP/BMI; Mountain Home (track)
—This rolls along gently as the sweetly romantic title tune of The Grascals’ latest collection. Jamie Johnson and Terry Eldredge remain two of the genre’s finest young lead vocalists. Kristin Scott Benson’s award-winning banjo work is just stellar. I also like the way this band consistently looks “outside the box” for material. In this CD, you’ll find bluegrass reworkings of “Mystery Train” and “Sweet Baby James” alongside terrific songs by writers like Harley Allen and Jerry Salley. And get a load of the writer credits on this tune.
BRAND NEW STRINGS/Other Side of Lonesome
Writer: Randall Massengill; Producer: Preston Schmidt & Brand New Strings; Publisher: Eastern V, BMI; Rural Rhythm (track) (www.brandnewstringsband.com)
—I think the concept here is to combine traditional high-lonesome vocals with ultra-modern instrumental flash. Because these five guys can all play their fingers off. The seven-song mini-album is titled Stay Tuned. I will.
CUMBERLAND RIVER/Cold and Withered Heart
Writer: J. Dean; Producer: Steve Gulley; Publisher: none listed, BMI; Rural Rhythm (track) (www.cumberland-river.com)
—It’s a brave new world out there — bluegrass groups now make music videos. This tune from this new band’s The Life We Live CD has its own clip. So does the album’s tune “Justified,” the theme song of an FX TV show by that name. From an audio standpoint, these fellows sing with urgency and abandonment here that keep you on edge as a listener. Cumberland River hails from Harlan, KY. Two of its members are for-real coal miners. Four of them are cousins. Now that’s country.
DAILEY & VINCENT/Living in the Kingdom of God
Writer: Jaimie Dailey; Producer: Darrin Vincent & Jaimie Dailey; Publisher: Bluegrass Ambassador, BMI; Rounder/Cracker Barrel (track) (www.daileyandvincent.com)
—This is the lead-off song and first charting track from this team’s second bluegrass-gospel collection. As before, the set is co-marketed by Rounder in partnership with Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores. This is a lickety-split, happy-happy celebration of being born again. Elsewhere on the CD are well-chosen tunes by Dolly Parton, Buck Owens, Jimmy Fortune, Willie Nelson (“Family Bible”) and Carl Perkins (“Daddy Sang Bass”). An all-star cast of sidemen is on hand.
THE CROWE BROTHERS/He Could Pick the Hound
Writer: Steve Watts; Producer: Steve Thomas, Josh Crowe, Wayne Crowe & Steve Sutton; Publisher: Redbud Ridge, ASCAP; Rural Rhythm (track) (www.crowebrothers.com)
—New on the Bluegrass Unlimited chart this month is this track from Bridging the Gap by The Crowe Brothers. As you might expect, the sibling harmony is spot-on. But what really drives this number is the fleet-fingered banjo playing of Steve Sutton.
CAROLINA ROAD/A Light in the Window, Again
Writer: Dixie Hall/Tom T. Hall; Producer: Lorraine Jordan; Publisher: Good Home Grown, BMI; Rural Rhythm (track) (www.carolinaroadband.com)
—This wistful mountain tune is currently on the chart for the smooth-sounding Carolina Road. Producer Jordan is the band’s able mandolinist and high-harmony vocalist. Guitarist Tommy Long has a marvelously evocative lead voice that is a gentle persuader. Back to My Roots is the second Rural Rhythm outing for this super band. It’s a total winner, thoroughly listenable, track after track.
NU-BLU/Other Woman’s Blues
Writer: Kira Small; Producer: Nu-Blu; Publisher: Gerry Bruce, ASCAP; Pinecastle (track) (www.nu-blu.com)
—Thanks to breakthroughs by Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, Dale Ann Bradley, Laurie Lewis and others, female lead singers in bluegrass are more common than ever. Add Nu-Blu’s Carolyn Routh to that list. She brings a pleading, plaintive tone to this minor-key gem. Promising.