The blue grass grows all around.
And so does the musical style that bears its name. In this week’s stack of platters, we find such stars of the idiom as Rhonda Vincent, Del McCoury and The Steeldrivers.
The Disc of the Day goes to Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out. This band has long been known for its clever, bluegrass rearrangements of hits from outside the genre. Now it has a whole CD full of them. Goody.
Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers already have a 2012 IBMA Award as Emerging Artists of the Year. Now they also have a DisCovery Award from DisClaimer.
RUSSELL MOORE & IIIRD TYME OUT/Only You
Writer: Buck Ram/Andre Rand; Producer: Barry Bales; Publisher: Hollis/Screen Gems-EMI, no performance rights listed; Cracker Barrel (track)
—Having trouble finding a record store these days? Drop into your nearest Cracker Barrel restaurant, because this chain always carries plenty of CDs in its gift shops. Bluegrass stars Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out are the latest act with a Cracker Barrel CD. Timeless Hits from the Past Bluegrassed consists mostly of new versions of pop and country favorites. When you get to their doo-wop, a cappella performance of this 1955 golden goodie by The Platters, the only proper response is, “Wow.” Sonya Isaacs drops by to harmonize on “Golden Ring.” Pam Tillis guests on the lone Moore co-write “John & Mary.”
JOE MULLINS & THE RADIO RAMBLERS/Bottom of a Mountain
Writer: Don McKinnon; Producer: Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers; Publisher: Sony/ATV-Tree, BMI; Rebel (track)
—Winners of the bluegrass association’s 2012 Emerging Artist of the Year award, Mullins and his band hail from southwestern Ohio, where they also recorded their latest CD, They’re Playing My Song. Its first single is this rolling, mid-tempo coal miner’s plea. It’s extremely well written, with plenty of hooks both lyrically and melodically. And it doesn’t hurt that Mullins has a wonderfully restrained, effortlessly mournful vocal style, and that both he and his band mates pick brilliantly. Enthusiastically endorsed.
THE STEELDRIVERS/I’ll Be There
Writer: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Rounder (track)
—The new Steeldrivers CD comes out the first week in February, but if you go to the Nashville band’s website now, you can get a free download of this track. It’s a splendidly languid, mournful lament of a lover left behind. The mandolin work is simply poetic, and the group harmonies have never sounded better. The album is titled Hammer Down. Look for it.
DARIN & BROOKE ALDRIDGE/Lonely Ends Where Love Begins
Writer: Billy Austin/Don Pfrimmer/Lisa Shaffer; Producer: Darin & Brooke Aldridge; Publisher: Songs of Platinum Plow/Don Pfrimmer/KLMS, ASCAP; Mountain Home (track)
—This North Carolina couple and their band have been a steadily rising force on the bluegrass scene for the past few seasons. Their newest CD is a live record that kicks off with this upbeat Music Row toe tapper. The Aldridge’s hearty harmonies remain the central focus, but the band gets its licks in during the romping performance. The concert also contains versions of the country classic “Making Plans,” Neil Young’s “Powderfinger,” and Phil Spector’s “To Know Him Is to Love Him.”
ROBIN & LINDA WILLIAMS/Storms Never Last
Writer: Jessi Colter/Bo Jan Erik Andersson; Producer: Jim Rooney; Publisher: Universal Songs of Polygram, BMI; Red House (track)
—I am a big, big fan of these Prairie Home Companion regulars. Now celebrating their 40th anniversary of entertaining, lustrous vocalists Robin & Linda have a dandy Nashville-recorded CD titled These Old Dark Hills. It includes a heaping helping of their original tunes, plus this standout rendition of the much-loved Waylon & Jessi 1981 duet. The pedal steel of Al Perkins underscores every sentiment in the lyrics. As far as I’m concerned, all musical couples should have this beautiful song in their repertoires. A standing ovation from this corner.
AUDIE BLAYLOCK & REDLINE/A Natural Thing
Writer: Harley Allen; Producer: Audie Blaylock; Publisher: EMI Blackwood/Song Island, no performance rights listed; Rural Rhythm (track) (www.audieblaylock.com)
—Their current CD is titled Hard Country and includes this cool single. It’s a bracing, bouncy tempo tune led by lightly bowed fiddling. What Blaylcock’s voice lacks in passion is more than made up for by the band’s breathtaking instrumental abilities.
Writer: G.A.A. Thacker; Producer: none listed; Publisher: Bridge Building, BMI; UM (track)
—The Queen of Bluegrass went back home to her Missouri church to record her live Sunday Mornin’ Singin’ CD. It includes this heart pounding, exciting, thrilling, frothing slab of call-and-response fervor. With more than 80 honors, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage are the most honored act in bluegrass. Performances like this are why.
BILL EMERSON & SWEET DIXIE/My Baby Thinks He’s a Train
Writer: Leroy Preeston; Producer: Bill Emerson; Publisher: Bug, BMI; Rural Rhythm (track)
—The co-founder of the legendary Country Gentlemen, banjo player Emerson now leads his own band, Sweet Dixie. The instrumental contributions on this Rosanne Cash/Asleep at the Wheel oldie are all simply outstanding. You’d think with its leader’s experience and connections, he’d be able to find a more soulful lead singer than this.
DAVID GRISMAN & THE DEL McCOURY BAND/ 20/20 Vision
Writer: none listed; Producer: David Grisman; Publisher: none listes; Acoustic Disc (track)
—Grisman’s mandolin playing can be all over the map, everywhere from jazz to new age. But teamed with Nashville’s McCoury bunch, he clings closely to bluegrass tradition on chestnuts including “John Henry,” “A Good Woman’s Love,” “Hit Parade of Love,” “Tennessee Waltz,” “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” and this 1955 Jimmy Martin oldie. It may be billed as a “Dawg” disc, but this is Del’s show all the way.
JIMMY GAUDREAU & MOONDI KLEIN/New Morning
Writer: Casey B. McPherson; Producer: Jimmy Gaudreau, Moondi Klein & Stuart Martin; Publisher: AlphaRev/Seven Peaks, ASCAP; Rebel (track)
—The team’s new disc is titled Home from the Mills. Despite the presence of more familiar fare such as “Close the Door Lightly When You Go,” “If I Needed You,” and “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” it’s this lilting, melodic song from the repertoire of a band called Alpha Rev that gets the emphasis. Whatever. I could listen to these guys sing the phone book.