DISClaimer: Sister Sadie, Appalachian Road Show Top Bluegrass Offerings

Let’s have a quick look today at what’s going on in the bluegrass world.

The stack of platters boasts two excellent live collections, one from Hot Rize and one from The Earls of Leicester. NewTown and Balsam Range have both returned with dandy sets.

The Disc of the Day award goes to the all-female group Sister Sadie, now marketing its second collection.

One of the most consistently enjoyable discs came from Appalachian Road Show, which earns it a DisCovery Award.

Writers: David Stewart; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Pinecastle (track)
– This has been sitting at No. 1 on the Bluegrass Unlimited chart for months. It is unadulterated ‘grass, stacked with high-lonesome harmonies and stately picking. The head-scratching premise of the song is that “Murder on Music Row” now extends to the bluegrass sound. You see, they’ve killed country music, and now they’re killing bluegrass, too. That’s news to me.

HIGH FIDELITY/The Hills and Home
Writer: John Duffy; Producers: Jeremy Stephens, Corrina Rose Logston Stephens and Brad Benge; Publisher: Fort Knox/Trio;BMI; Rebel
– This band’s debut CD has yielded a tune that’s at No. 5 on the bluegrass chart this month and is rising fast. The highlights are splendid runs on mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar and banjo. The group’s vocal blend is smooth and a trifle bland. More excitement, please.

SISTER SADIE/Losing You Blues
Writers: Tina Adair/Doug Barlett; Producer: Sister Sadie; Publisher: Tina Adair, BMI; Pinecastle
-This band has an all-star female lineup — Dale Ann Bradley, Deanie Richardson, Tina Adair, Gena Britt and Beth Lawrence. Tina takes a fiery lead vocal on the CD’s lead-off tune, which is rising rapidly on the bluegrass chart at No. 12. Deanie’s fiddle sizzles throughout this minor-key gem about rising above a heartbreak. Essential.

Writers: L. Cordle/L. Shell; Producer: Larry Cordle; Publisher: Wandachord/Not Her Money, BMI; Mighty Cord (track)
– This Nashville songwriting treasure has just entered the Bluegrass Unlimited top-20 with this lively ode to pecking chickens. The album is titled Tales From East Kentucky. Like everything Cordle does, it’s a keeper.

Writers: B. Cooper/J. Cooper/S. Miller; Producers: Barry Abernathy, Darrell Webb, Ben Isaacs; Billy Blue
– Clocking in at No. 20 on the bluegrass hit parade is this scampering, ear-opening acoustic treatment of a Steve Miller Band rock tune. The cornerstones of this group are lead singers Barry Abernathy (banjo in Mountain Heart, Doyle Lawson’s Quicksilver, IIIrd Tyme Out) and Darrell Webb (mandolin in Lonesome River Band, J.D. Crowe’s New South, Rhonda Vincent’s Rage). Also doing outstanding work here is fiddler Jim VanCleve. The track comes from a highly diverse and immensely enjoyable collection. Buy and believe.

Writers: Walt Wilkins/Jim McBride/Jon Randall Stewart; Producer: Balsam Range; Publishers: Curb Congregation/Reynsong/Rightfield/Songs of Daniel/Tanasi Island/Wha Ya Say/Rezemblance, SESAC/BMI; Mountain Home
– Entering the bluegrass chart this month at No. 25 is this travelin’-man ditty. The lickety-split tempo and ultra cool song craftsmanship are the calling cards here. Balsam Range is the reigning IBMA Entertainer of the Year, and its new Aeonic CD is a clear demonstration why. The set, due on Jan. 4, also includes its proven hit, “The Girl Who Invented the Wheel” and a breakneck-speed cover of The Beatles’ “If I Needed Someone.”

Writers: traditional; Producer: Jerry Douglas; Publisher: public domain; Rounder
– This all-star band’s goal is to keep the classic sound of Flatt & Scruggs alive. Its debut in-concert CD is Live at the CMA Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame, recorded over a two-night stand last February. Its lead single gives Jerry Douglas’s dobro, Charlie Cushman’s banjo and Johnny Warren’s fiddle room to dazzle the ears. Shawn Camp’s guitar and voice set the pace. This band totally rules.

NEWTOWN/Heart of Stone
Writer: Tyler Childers; Producer: Barry Bales; Publishers: Hickman Holler/BMI; Mountain HOme
-NewTown prides itself in painting a little outside the bluegrass lines. Drawing from the catalog of Americana/country sensation Tyler Childers for three of the tunes on its Old World CD is one illustration of this. The tart/sweet lead voice of fiddler Kati Penn takes us through the haunting melody of his hillbilly heartache lament about a wicked temptress. Highly listenable, as is the entire collection.

HOT RIZE/Wichita Lineman
Writer: Jimmy Webb: Producer: none listed; Publisher: Universal PolyGram International, ASCAP; Ten In Hand
– The band celebrated its 40th anniversary this year with a bash in Boulder that featured such celeb guests as Sam Bush, Stuart Duncan and Jerry Douglas. For a bluegrass group (heck, any group) to endure that long is practically unheard of. Even more impressive is the fact that Hot Rize still sounds so scintillating. This cover of the 1968 Glen Campbell classic is just one of many super moments on this outstanding, 26-track live recording. Amazing band. Enduring love from this longtime listener.

TELLICO/Courage For The Morning
Writers: Anya Hinkle; Producer: John Doyle; Publishers: none listed, BMI; Organic
– Released last month, this group’s Woven Waters CD leads off with this inspirational tune about perseverance and strength of character. Anya Hinkle’s slightly bluesy, behind-the-beat phrasing is quite ear catching. The dobro accents by the group’s Aaron Ballance are nifty, too. Don’t have a cow, but there’s an electric guitar in the mix.


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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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