Today’s stroll through the field of bluegrass is as refreshing as springtime.
Highlights include outstanding outings by such stars of the genre as The Grascals, The Infamous Stringdusters and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.
Finishing in a dead heat for Disc of the Day are the chart-topping Lonesome River Band and the reigning Vocal Group of the Year Flatt Lonesome.
Our DisCovery Award goes to The Farm Hands.
LONESOME RIVER BAND/Wrong Road Again
Writers: Allen Reynolds; Producers: Lonesome River Band; Publishers: Universal Songs of PolyGram, BMI
– Perched at No. 1 on the current bluegrass chart is this lively remake of Crystal Gayle’s 1974 country smash. Award winning Sammy Shelor’s rippling banjo leads the sprightly way with the stellar harmony singing of his band mates turning the tune into an extra audio delight. This veteran group has long been one of my faves. Here’s one more reason why.
DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER/Life To My Days
Writers:Jerry Salley/Lee Black/Devin McGlamery; Producers:Doyle Lawson; Publishers: Banner/Extry Good/Christian Taylor/Winding Way/Dixie River, SESAC/BMI/ASCAP
– Year after year, bandleader and Bluegrass Hall of Famer Lawson attracts and trains his genre’s finest vocalists. This philosophical song about making the most of your time on earth deservedly enters the bluegrass top-10 this month.
THE GRASCALS/Sleepin’ With the Reaper
Writers: Becky Buller/Grant Williams; Producers: The Grascals; Publishers: Goodnight Sparky/Fun Money, BMI
– The new album by these Nashville favorites is titled Before Breakfast, and it kicks off with this haunting story song. The married guy gets in over his head with a temptress who has dark intentions. Co-writer Buller, by the way, has a new solo CD coming out next month.
VALERIE SMITH & LIBERTY PIKE/Small Town Hero
Writers: Sarah Majors/Penny Clark/Katy Clark; Producers: Valerie Smith; Publishers: Nashgrass/Sony-ATV Harmony, ASCAP
– A couple of counties south of Music City lies the charming village of Bell Buckle, TN. Smith rules the bluegrass kingdom there, issuing a string of homemade CDs. Her sturdy, earnest voice anchors this ode to small-town values. It’s the theme song of her current collection, Small Town Heroes.
DONNA ULISSE/Back Home Feelin’ Again
Writers: Donna Ulisse/Marc Rossi; Producers: Doyle Lawson; Publishers: Uncle Hadley/Marc My Words, ASCAP
– Singer-songwriter Ulisse is a leading light of today’s influx of female bluegrass performers. She’s currently midway up the Bluegrass Unlimited chart and climbing with this lilting, winsome, nostalgic ditty. She is the reigning Bluegrass Songwriter of the Year whose current collection is titled Breakin’ Easy.
STEVE MARTIN & THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS/Caroline
Writers: Steve Martin; Producers: Peter Asher; Publishers: None listed
– Movie star Martin is merely an adequate banjo player. The Steep Canyon Rangers are a somewhat average band. But in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Together, they create delightful listening experiences like this comedic tune about a guy who can’t help talking about his ex while on a dinner date. Taken from The Long Awaited Album (yes, that’s the CD’s title), it has just entered the charts.
THE FARM HANDS/Rural Route
Writers: Daryl Mosley; Producers: Lonnie Lassiter & Ethan Burkhardt; Publishers: Songs of Daryl, ASCAP
– Everyone is picking their brains out here, guitar and dobro, in particular. The toe-tapping tune skips along with a built-in smile. The band lacks a distinctive lead vocalist, but when the four members sing together in harmony, magic happens. Other highlights of its new Colors CD include remakes of “Nashville Skyline Rag,” “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy Anymore” and “Sin City.”
THE INFAMOUS STRINGDUSTERS/What’s Going On
Writers: Brooks/Cleveland/Gaye; Producers: James Tuttle & Jon Gold; Publishers: none listed
– Marvin Gaye goes bluegrass? I’m afraid so, complete with a dazzling acoustic instrumental jam in mid song. These hot-picking crazies are in the midst of a series of cover recordings of rock classics. The current batch also includes tunes by My Morning Jacket, The Allman Brothers, Daft Punk and The Cure.
SHANNON SLAUGHTER/That Old Country Road
Writers: Rusey Hendrix/Shannon Slaughter; Producers: Wes Easter, Randy Kohrs & Shannon Slaughter; Publishers: Sonic Hill/Elite Circuit, no performance rights listed
– Slaughter is perhaps best known in bluegrass circles as a songwriter for Blue Highway, Lonesome River Band, IIIrd Tyme Out, Lou Reid, Larry Stephenson and others. His second solo CD, Never Standing Still, illustrates that he’s a fine interpreter of his own stuff. His homespun tenor conveys loads of warmth on this jaunty romantic ditty.
FLATT LONESOME/All My Life
Writers: Paul Harrigill/Tim Stafford; Producers: Flatt Lonesome & Danny Roberts; Publishers: Truegrass/Daniel House, BMI
– With two consecutive IBMA Vocal Group of the Year honors under its belt, Flatt Lonesome is flying high. It’s a measure of how great these six musicians are that this somber yet uptempo hit single isn’t even the strongest track on its CD Silence In These Walls. The absolutely jaw dropping gospel ballad “Draw Me Near,” the heart-tugging, lovelorn “It’s Just Sad” and the soaring, contemplative “Where Do You Go” are just three other standouts on an album that has brilliance around every corner. You won’t find better country picking and singing anywhere on this planet.
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