DISClaimer Single Reviews (6/27/12)

There are days when I just want to clear my head, and bluegrass is just the ticket whenever one of those days comes along.

This stack of current bluegrass CDs includes offerings from three of the genre’s most enduring and brilliant groups — Special Consensus, the Lonesome River Band and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. The last named won my heart as the Disc of the Day. I caught Quicksilver’s set during Fan Fair was blown away (again) by just how stunning the band is in performance.

The Punch Brothers play what they call “Plunk Rock,” which is to say acoustic music with an attitude. Fresh from performing at Bonnaroo comes the group’s Noam Pikelny with a dandy new CD. This is his first appearance in this column, so that makes him a DisCovery Award winner.

NOAM PIKELNY/Jim Thompson’s Horse
Writer: Noam Pikelny; Producer: Gabe Witcher; Publisher: Noam Tunes/Camel Vision, BMI; Compass (track) (www.noampikelny.com)
—The second album by Punch Brothers banjo man Pikelny is packed with stellar support — Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Stuart Duncan, Steve Martin, Chris Thile, Bryan Sutton…you get the idea. If you go to his website, you can get this track from it as a free download. It’s an ear-tickling, four-minute instrumental romp with a heartbeat bass line, courtesy of the always-great Mark Schatz. The CD’s title is Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail. Heartily recommended.

LARRY STEPHENSON/What Really Matters
Writer: Harley Allen/John Wiggins; Producer: Ben Surratt & Larry Stephenson; Publisher: Coburn/Notewrite/Fiddle Stock, BMI; Compass (track) (www.larrystephensonband.com)
—The band isn’t particularly flashy, but this hillbilly tenor soars with sincerity on the CD’s title tune. He didn’t write it, but the lyrics are all about the birth of a daughter, which is exactly what happened to him in real life.

CARRIE HASSLER/Catch My Breath
Writer: Bobby K. Boyd; Producer: Steve Gulley; Publisher: Bobby Boyd, BMI; Rural Rhythm (track) (www.carriehassler.com)
—This sounds like a classic country track from the ‘60s, right down to the “answering” fiddle, steel and electric guitar. I’m in. The rest of her The Distance CD is straight-ahead bluegrass, by the way.

DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER/Sing Me a Song About Jesus
Writer: Corey Hensley/Michael Rogers/Doyle Lawson; Producer: Doyle Lawson; Publisher: WDLQ/Morgan Racing/Top O’Holston, ASCAP/BMI; Mountain Home (track) (www.doylelawson.com)
—Co-writers Hensley, Rogers and Lawson are also the awesome harmony vocalists on this toe tapping title tune of the newest Quicksilver CD. Nobody, but nobody, does bluegrass gospel better than this breath-taking ensemble. I remain an enormous fan.

BOBBY OSBORNE & THE ROCKY TOP X-PRESS/I’m Going Back to the Mountain
Writer: Jake Landers; Producer: Glen Duncan, Bobby Osborne & Bobby Osborne Jr.; Publisher: Rocky Top, BMI; Rural Rhythm (track) (www.bobbyosborne.com)
—Osborne’s piercing, incredible tenor can still cut the mustard. At age 80, he sings with the vigor of someone literally half that age. His group’s new collection is titled New Bluegrass & Old Favorites.

CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS/Country Girl
Writer: Rhiannon Giddons/Lalenja Harrington/Adam Matta; Producer: Buddy Miller; Publisher: Bring It Forward/Lucky Guitar, ASCAP; Nonesuch (track) ()
—Nominated as Duo/Group of the Year by the Americana Music Association, this African American string band continues is superior music-making ways on its new Leaving Eden collection. On this rhythmic track, the North Carolinians tell the tale of a musician who’s seen the world but still loves family and home the most. The 15-song collection is available on vinyl, by the way.

SPECIAL CONSENSUS/Monroe
Writer: Craig Market; Producer: Alison Brown; Publisher: Drop D/Missing Link, BMI; Compass (track) (www.compassrecords.com)
—Year in year out, Special C just keeps rolling along. I believe the group is now in its fourth decade of making music. But this hearty, cleverly written, salute to bluegrass music’s founding father sounds like it comes from a band that was born yesterday. It’s on the group’s current Scratch Gravel Road CD. Also check out the cool bluegrass reworking of Don Gibson’s “Sea of Heartbreak.”

LONESOME RIVER BAND/Close the Door Lightly When You Go
Writer: E. Anderson; Producer: Lonesome River Band; Publisher: EMI U Catalog, no performance rights listed; Rural Rhythm (track) (www.lonesomeriverband.com)
—The Lonesome River Band is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a collection titled Chronology: Volume One. It includes this lively, zippy, tightly arranged update of Eric Anderson’s folk classic, which is currently rising fast on the Bluegrass Unlimited popularity chart. Deservedly so: It’s a listening delight.

THE BOXCARS/Ol’ Lonesome Won’t Leave Me Alone
Writer: Tim Stafford/Robert G. Starnes; Producer: The Boxcars; Publisher: Daniel House/It Says What It Says, BMI; Mountain Home (track) (www.theboxcars.com)
—The Boxcars play like the seasoned and accomplished vets its members are, so the instrumental work is flawless and dazzling. However, the group lacks charisma in the vocal department.

AUDIE BLAYLOCK & REDLINE/I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky
Writer: Bill Monroe; Producer: Audie Blaylock; Publisher: Unichappell, no performance rights listed; Rural Rhythm (track) (www.audieblaylock.com)
—Bluegrass music is always looking backwards, but never more so than in this 100th anniversary of Bill Monroe’s birth. It seems like there’s a tribute album of one sort or another in the mail every month. Blaylock’s takes the approach of avoiding many of the obvious songs in favor of some of the master’s lesser known tunes. This lickety split take on a 1947 classic plays like greased lightning. Guests on the CD include Del McCoury, Carl Jackson, Ronnie McCoury, Lou Reid and Bobby Osborne.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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