To refresh your head and restore your spirit, I recommend a stroll through the field of bluegrass.
The sounds of The Infamous Stringdusters, of Jerry Salley, of Kristin Scott Benson with Claire Lynch, of Jeff White and of Adam Steffey will greet you on your journey like kindly companions. Lend all of them your ears.
Our Disc of the Day belongs to Dwight Yoakam. His debut bluegrass collection is a perfect fit for his singing and songwriting. The DisCovery Award goes to Volume Five. The band’s album is called Drifter, and it’s a winner.
BRYAN SUTTON/The More I Learn
Writer: Bryan Sutton; Producer: Byran Sutton; Publisher: Deepwood BMI, Sugar Hill (track)
-Sutton has entered the top-30 on the bluegrass chart with this title tune of his current CD. His gentle, rippling guitar work is matched by his tender, soft vocal delivery of this philosophical ditty. This goes down smooth and easy.
DWIGHT YOAKAM/These Arms
Writer: Dwight Yoakam; Publisher: ƒigs D/Bicycle, BMI; Producers: Gary Paczosa, Jon Randall Stewart & Dwight Yoakam; Sugar Hill (track)
-Flatt Lonesome’s rendition of Dwight’s oldie “You’re the One” led its being named Song of the Year at the IBMA awards. So his releasing a bluegrass collection couldn’t be more timely. It’s called Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars and contains this sprightly, tuneful reworking of his 1998 country single. Davey Faragher’s tenor harmony voice and Stuart Duncan’s greased-lightning fiddle work compliment the star’s performance brilliantly. The collection also contains Dwight’s fabulous bluegrass version of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” by the way.
JEFF WHITE/Run Little Rabbit Run
Writer: David Akeman; Publisher: Fort Knox, BMI; Producer: Jeff White; JW (track)
-This is an old Stringbean tune, given a sizzling, mountain-wildfire arrangement by White and his sellar cohorts Charlie Cushman, Michael Cleveland, Vince Gill and Barry Bales, with a harmony-vocal assist from Shawn Camp. It’s at No. 11 and rising fast on the current bluegrass hit parade. Hot stuff.
THE INFAMOUS STRINGDUSTERS/Gravity
Writers: The Infamous Stringdusters; Publisher: The Infamous Stringdusters, BMI; Producer: The Infamous Stringdusters & Billy Hume; Compass (track)
-This ridiculously gifted group is sort of a fusion of bluegrass and jam-band styles. Billed as “The Future of Bluegrass,” the band drops its new Laws of Gravity collection tomorrow (Jan. 13). This enchanting track captures how deeply involving this act’s music can be. It’s a swooning dream that mixes fluid vocals with a stirring, complex instrumental smoke cloud. Essential listening.
MAC WISEMAN/I Sang the Song
Writer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Producer: none listed; Mountain Fever
-At age 91, this Bluegrass Hall of Fame member continues to amaze. The title tune of his latest collection is nothing short of his life story in one elegant lyric. He’s called “The Voice with a Heart” with good reason.
TRINITY RIVER BAND/Come Back Train
Writer: Jerry Salley/Cassidy Lynn Alexander; Publisher: none listed; Producer: Joshua Harris & Sarah Harris; Orange Blossom
-This family band is celebrating its 10th album, Things We Do For Dreams. This single from it has just entered the Bluegrass Unlimited chart. The song is as cool as the breeze. Alas, there’s not a vocalist in the group who’s electrifying enough to truly bring it life.
ADAM STEFFEY/Dear John
Writers: Aubrey A. Gass/Tex Ritter; Publisher: Tex Ritter, ASCAP; Producer: Adam Steffey; Mountain Home
-This East Tennessee native is one of the bluegrass genre’s hottest mandolin pickers. His warm mountain baritone croons this 1951 Hank Williams oldie with ease, and his dazzling fingers do the rest of the work. The track is new this month on the bluegrass chart. It comes from his CD Here to Stay.
KRISTIN SCOTT BENSON AND CLAIRE LYNCH/When Fall Comes to New England
Writer: Cheryl Wheeler; Publisher: Penrod And Higgins/Amachrist, ASCAP; Producer: Kristin Scott Benson; Mountain Home
-Benson is the banjo player in The Grascals. On her solo CD, Stringworks, you’ll find this lilting little slice of paradise. The divine Claire Lynch sings lead while the banjo wizard conjures her instrumental magic. Lynch, by the way, has her own new CD, North By South. More on that in another column.
VOLUME FIVE/I Am A Drifter
Writers: Donna Ulisse/Marc Rossi; Publisher: Uncle Hadley/Marc My Words, ASCAP; Producer: Volume Five & Aaron Ramsey; Mountain Fever
-These relative newcomers have entered the bluegrass top-10 with this wandering-boy song. They sound like they have it all going on — a yearning, melancholy, soulful lead singer backed with the silvery fiddle of a crack, five-piece acoustic ensemble. Stardom awaits these guys.
JERRY SALLEY/All Dressed Up
Writers: Jerry Salley/Dianne Wilkinson; Publisher: Den What/Christian Taylor, SESAC/BMI; Producer: Jerry Salley; Very Jerry (track)
-Singer-songwriter Jerry Salley has issued his first bluegrass-gospel CD, Gospel From My Grassroots. It contains his heart-in-throat performance of this cowritten tale of a simple man who is headed for Heaven. Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers won an IBMA Award last fall for their version of the song. For extra treats on Jerry’s collection, check out the triple harmonizing on Jerry’s rousing “Mountain View Missionary Baptist Church,” Steven Curtis Chapman’s guest turn on their cowritten classic “His Strength Is Perfect,” bluegrass queen Dale Ann Bradley’s gossamer voice on “Send the Angels Down” and the thrilling, gospel-quartet tune “The Cross on the Right.”
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