DISClaimer: The Cox Family, The Hillbenders Offer Some of The Best in Bluegrass

The Hillbenders

The Hillbenders

People are always asking me what I’m listening to.

Well, in recent weeks, some of the coolest new records have been coming from bluegrassy acts like Donna Ulisse, The Cox Family, Dailey & Vincent, Ron Block and The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band.

Unquestionably the best of these is Gone Like the Cotton by The Cox Family. It isn’t traditional bluegrass, since several tracks feature drums, piano, steel or electric guitar. But it the Disc of the Day, whatever you call it.

The DisCovery Award goes to The Hillbenders for their audacious reimagining of a rock-music classic.’

THE HILLBENDERS/Pinball Wizard
Writer: Pete Townsend; Producer: Louis Jay Meyers; Publisher: Fabulous/Spirit One, BMI; Compass (track)
-You read that correctly. The Hillbenders are on the bluegrass charts with The Who’s “Pinball Wizard.” Not only that, the whole album is a reinterpretation of the classic Tommy, billed now as “a Bluegrass Opry.” The vocals work surprisingly well. The banjo accompaniment takes a little getting used to.

RON BLOCK/Smartville
Writers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publishers: none listed; RB (track)
-The longtime Union Station banjo man has a new solo instrumental CD titled Hogan’s House of Music. It kicks off with this lively, bouncing ditty that has a built-in smile. Guests on various tracks on the album include Stuart Duncan, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Sierra Hull, Adam Steffey and Tim Crouch. Highly recommended.

RALPH STANLEY, BUDDY MILLER AND JIM LAUDERDALE/I Am the Man, Thomas
Writers: Larry Sparks/Ralph Stanley; Producers: Buddy Miller/Jim Lauderdale; Publishers: Zap, BMI; Cracker Barrel/Red
-This patriarch’s new CD finds him collaborating with country stars such as Dierks Bentley, Josh Turner and Lee Ann Womack, bluegrass celebrities like Del McCoury and Ricky Skaggs and even rock stars Elvis Costello and Robert Plant. On this rousing gospel chestnut, co-producers Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale harmonize with gusto.

DONNA ULISSE/Hard Cry Moon
Writers: Donna Ulisse/Rick Stanley; Producer: Bryan Sutton; Publishers: Uncle Hadley/Pop ‘N Paw, ASCAP; Hadley Music
-Ulisse’s new CD is No. 1 on the Roots Music Report chart and No. 3 on the Euro Americana chart. I can certainly hear why. Its title tune is a mournful, melodic ballad with a gently caressing lead vocal and some gorgeous harmony singing from Jerry Salley and Rick Stanley. Heart melting.

DAILEY & VINCENT/We’re All Here To Learn
Writers: Karen Staley/Jamie S. Dailey; Producer: none listed; Publishers: Bluegrassambassador/Hobo Lizard, BMI; Pillar
-This award-winning group’s debut live CD is a Cracker Barrel exclusive. Recorded at a concert in a Virginia performing arts center, the set opens with this uplifting, inspirational and hard-driving performance. The bluegrass ensemble is backed by The George Mason University Student Orchestra. The sound is majestic.

THE TENNESSEE MAFIA JUG BAND/Lester’s Loafin’ Lounge
Writers: Mike Webb; Producer: Eric Heatherly; Publishers: none listed, BMI; TMJB (track)
-This good-time string band is a perennial favorite on Marty Stuart’s RFD-TV series. Its new CD’s title tune is about a real place that’s situated near Goodlettsville, Tenn., where good food and pickin’ parties abound. Owner “Lonesome” Lester Armistead passed away last year. This album and this song are dedicated to him. Fear not: Tennessee Mafia Jug Band member Mikey Armistead now maintains the Lounge’s traditions. If you can’t make the trip there, get this CD, and you’ll have a taste of its hearty cheer.

MIKE AULDRIDGE, JERRY DOUGLAS, ROB ICKES/The Three Bells
Writers: Jean Villard/Bert Reisfeld; Producers: Mike Auldridge/Jerry Douglas/Rob Ickes; Publisher: Southern, ASCAP; Rounder (track)
-This trio won the Instrumental Recorded Performance award at the International Bluegrass Music Awards earlier this month. No wonder: The three greatest Dobro masters of our lifetime are all on the same record together. Heaven sounds something like this.

LORRAINE JORDAN & CAROLINA ROAD AND THE KENTUCKY HEADHUNTERS/Runnin’ Water
Writers: The Kentucky Headhunters; Producers: Josh Goforth/Lorraine Jordan; Publishers: Them Young Boys/ I.B. Headed, no performance rights listed; Pinecastle (track)
-Jordan and her Carolina Road boys have titled their new CD Country Grass. It features them collaborating with John Conlee, Lee Greenwood, T.G. Sheppard, Eddy Raven, Crystal Gayle and the late Jim Ed Brown and Lynn Anderson, among others. They are midway up the Bluegrass Unlimited chart with this rip-roaring, lickety-split outing with The Kentucky Headhunters. Yee-hah!

THE INFAMOUS STRINGDUSTERS/American Girl
Writers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publishers: none listed; Lumenhouse
-The Infamous Stringdusters’ new Undercover five-song EP entered the Billboard bluegrass chart at No. 1. It features the group reinterpreting the songs of Johnny Cash (”Big River”), Bob Dylan (”Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”), Jimmy Webb (”Highwayman”) and, yes, Pink Floyd (”Fearless”). Their version of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” has a pinched-nose lead vocal, woozy fiddle lines and slightly sour harmonies. But the long instrumental ride at the song’s end is outstanding.

The Cox FamilyTHE COX FAMILY/Gone Like The Cotton
Writers: Sidney Cox/Suzanne Cox; Producer: Alison Krauss; Publisher: ANSALLY/Marla, BMI; Rounder (track)
-Let me just state up front that I adore this group. The title tune of its new CD is a wistful waltz about loved ones who have passed away. The blood-harmony trio voices on the choruses are lump-in-throat listening ecstasy. Elsewhere on the set are cool reworkings of songs made famous by The Louvin Brothers (”Cash on the Barrelhead”), Bread (”Lost Without Your Love”) and Crystal Gayle (”I’ll Get Over You”). The album, by the way, is a completion of one that they began recording for Asylum back in 1998. Good music is truly timeless.

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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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