It’s time for a smooch from country’s “kissin’ cousin,” bluegrass music.
This is a genre that’s hard to find on radio, but which thrives at 500+ bluegrass festivals a year. And, as we see today, on records, too.
I have no newcomers in this stack of platters, so there’s no DisCovery Award this week.
However, I do have two winners of the Disc of the Day prize. Much awarded bluegrass superstars Dailey & Vincent claim one of them.
The other goes to the enduringly great Claire Lynch. She’s no slouch in the awards department, either, having been the IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1997, 2010 and 2013. Her Grammy nominations have been for her Moonlighter CD of 1995, as well as for her current North By South, which competed for Best Bluegrass Album last February.
BALSAM RANGE/Blue Collar Dreams
Writers: Adam Bibelhauser; Producer: Balsam Range; Publisher: none listed, BMI
– Perched at No. 1 on this month’s Bluegrass Unlimited chart is this uptempo working-class lament of being trapped in a daily grind, deep in debt and struggling to survive. The lickety-split picking is super hot and the flawless vocal harmony this group is noted for is firmly in place. You’ll find it on the group’s fifth CD, Mountain Voodoo.
BLUE HIGHWAY/Don’t Weep for Me
Writers: Shawn Lane/Buddy Brock/Gerald Ellenberg; Producer: Blue Highway; Publisher: Cat Town/Wadako/Buddy Brock/Pop Batson, BMI
– Snapping at Balsam Range’s heels on the chart is the red-hot bluegrass supergroup Blue Highway at No. 2. Its hit track is a minor-key murder saga. He finds her in another’s arms, sees red and is now facing a death sentence. The twist is that the man he found in her arms turned out to be her long-lost brother, so his jealous rage was utterly unfounded. Dig those mournful, regret-filled vocals. These veterans have never sounded better than they do on Original Traditional, their 11th studio album.
EDDY RAVEN & CAROLINA ROAD/All Grassed Up
Writers: Eddy Raven/David Stewart; Producer: Josh Goforth, Lorraine Jordan & Eddy Raven; Publisher: Sony-ATV/Dingo Daze/In the Wings, BMI
– The title tune of country veteran Raven’s collaboration with bluegrass stars Carolina Road ripples along as a smoothly rolling “road” tune. Along the way, he disses mainstream Music Row for forgetting country’s traditions.
DARIN & BROOKE ALDRIDGE/Someday Soon
Writers: Ian Tyson; Producer: Darin & Brooke Aldridge; Publisher: Warner Bros., ASCAP
– This evergreen Ian & Sylvia folk classic has been revived by everyone from Judy Collins and The Kingston Trio to Suzy Bogguss, Lynn Anderson, Glen Campbell, Crystal Gayle and Moe Bandy. Brooke’s heart-in-throat version simply sparkles. It rises to No. 7 on this month’s Bluegrass Unlimited chart and can be found on the Aldridges’ Faster & Farther collection.
THE GIBSON BROTHERS/Highway
Writers: Eric Gibson; Producer: Eric Gibson, Leigh Gibson & Mike Barber; Publisher: Brown Bird, BMI
– The fastest rising song in the top-10 on this month’s chart is “Highway,” which leaps eight spots to No. 8. I admit that I’m a sucker for brother harmonies, and few acts today are as good at that as these guys. Especially on a jaunty traveling song that is so downright jolly sounding. The album is called In the Ground. It’s a keeper.
LARRY STEPHENSON BAND/Yesterday’s Gone
Writers: Chad Stuart/Wendy Kidd; Producer: Ben Surratt & Larry Stephenson; Publisher: EMI Unart, BMI
– Rounding out the top 10 in the 10th spot is this remake of the Chad & Jeremy “British Invasion” pop hit of 1964. It works surprisingly well as a bluegrass tune, easily as well as Manfred Mann’s “Fox on the Run” did. The hillbilly quartet harmonies here are spectacular. A must listen.
NU-BLU, JIMMY FORTUNE & BEN ISAACS/Still Small Voice
Writers: Tony Lopacinski/Devin Belle/Jimmy Fortune; Producer: Nu-Blu; Publisher: Big Mouth/Little Igloo/Jimmy Fortune, BMI
– This North Carolina group is anchored by the warm soprano lead singing of Carolyn Routh. On this upbeat lyric about finding inner strength, she is joined by former Statler Brother Jimmy Fortune and the Isaacs’ exemplary harmony man Ben. The result is a track that is as good as progressive bluegrass can be. In its third month on the chart, this track from the Vagabonds CD lands at No. 19. The collection also includes imaginative rearrangements of Waylon & Willie’s “Good Hearted Woman,” Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” the late Norro Wilson’s Charly McClain oldie “Surround Me with Love” and the Sawyer Brown tune “Gypsies on Parade.”
CLAIRE LYNCH/Black Flowers
Writers: Lynn Miles; Producer: Alison Brown; Publisher: Cold Girl, SOCAN
– The sublime bluegrass diva Claire Lynch went northward on a song quest, fell in love with a community of songwriters and now has an entire CD containing almost all Canadian tunes. Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn and Ron Sexsmith are here, but so are a lot of other gifted tunesmiths you might not know. Her current single/video is a haunting, hushed, bluesy lament of death and mourning penned by Ottawa’s Lynn Miles. Instrumental support on her North By South album comes via such stellar names as Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Kenny Malone, Alison Brown, David Grier and Stuart Duncan. You’d be a fool to overlook this perfect audio jewel.
DAILEY & VINCENT/Gimme All the Love You Got
Writers: Jaimie S. Dailey/Karen Staley/Darrin Vincent; Producer: Dailey & Vincent; Publisher: Bluegrass Ambassador/Hobo Lizard/Julieann, BMI
– Stand back or face the force of nature that is this astounding ensemble. Their new Patriots & Poets CD kicks off with this fiery jolt of energy. It blasted onto this month’s Bluegrass Unlimited hit parade at No. 20 as the genre’s highest charting new tune, doubtless en route to No. 1. If you’ve never seen these great showmen, head to The Ryman Auditorium tonight (July 13). I promise you will be royally entertained. Take it from me, there’s a reason they’ve earned three Grammy nominations, won four Dove Awards, claimed an astounding 35 IBMA honors (including three as Entertainers of the Year) and landed their own TV show on RFD.
CHRIS JONES & THE NIGHT DRIVERS/I’m a Wanderer
Writers: Thom Jutz/Charley Stefl/Jon Weissberger; Producer: Chris Jones & Tim Surrett; Publisher: Thom Songs/Maddy Dog/Use Your Words, SESAC/BMI
– Mellow. It’s an easy-going ode about marching to the beat of your own drummer. The melody is a lilting, gentle thing, perfect for a lazy summer afternoon. It’s at No. 23 this month and comes from the band’s Made to Move CD.
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