Have you hugged a bluegrass musician today?
This style of country music has been hit particularly hard during the pandemic, because it is so heavily dependent on the roughly 500 bluegrass festivals that re-popularize it each year. No live performance, no bluegrass.
The genre’s “bible,” Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, has been struggling so mightily (no festivals, no ads) that its publication is being taken over by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).
Nevertheless, bluegrass endures. Our roundup of current sounds today includes a Disc of the Day performance by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and a DisCovery Award for Daryl Mosley.
Writer: Harley Allen; Producer: The Grascals; Publisher: Coburn, BMI; Mountain Home
– This is nominated as Song of the Year at this year’s (Sirius/XM-streamed) IBMA Awards, and the group’s four-time winner Kristin Scott Benson is again nominated as Banjo Player of the Year. I ask you, how can go you wrong with a heart-melting lyric about a stray puppy named Haggard?
DARYL MOSLEY/A Few Years Ago
Writer: Daryl Mosley; Producers: Mosley/Danny Roberts; Publisher: Songs of Daryl, ASCAP; Pinecastle
– Mosley bowed with this on the Bluegrass Unlimited chart this past month. It’s now at No. 21, and his album entered the album chart last week at No. 15. This thoughtful, nostalgic and lilting meditation kicks off the CD. A gentle-voiced tenor and superb songwriter, Mosley began his career entertaining at Loretta Lynn’s Dude Ranch. He is a veteran of the award-winning bands New Tradition and The Farm Hands. His debut solo album, The Secret of Life, is entirely self-written.
LARRY SPARKS/Down In Union County
Writer: Roy Acuff; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Rebel
– This lively remake of a Roy Acuff chestnut is presently at No. 3 on the bluegrass chart, having spent almost an entire year climbing it. Durable veteran Sparks takes a lickety-split guitar run in the tune that’s quite impressive. He is nominated as Male Vocalist of the Year and his New Moon Over My Shoulder is up for Album of the Year.
BRADLEY & ADAIR/Oh Darlin’
Writers: J. O’Hara/K. Kane; Producers: Tim Adair & Dale Ann Bradley; Publisher: Sony/ATV Cross Key, ASCAP; Pinecastle
– Dale Ann Bradley and Tina Adair are individually two of the finest female voices in contemporary bluegrass. Together, they are dynamite on this title track of their debut duet CD. It’s a remake of the 1986 hit by The O’Kanes that the women give a delightfully bluesy, saucy hue. The scintillating performance has apparently taken up semi-permanent residence in the No. 1 position on the bluegrass chart. By the way, both women are in the all-female band Sister Sadie, which is nominated as IBMA Entertainer of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year.
GARY BREWER & THE KENTUCKY RAMBLERS/Goin’ Up Shell Creek
Writer: Gary Brewer; Producer: Vince Emmett; Publisher: Stretch Grass, BMI; SGM
– The CD 40th Anniversary Celebration is packed with guest stars. On this lead-off track, Brewer and band are joined by The Travelin’ McCourys. The cascading instrumental notes and tight vocal harmonies are classic. Elsewhere on the collection are contributions from T. Graham Brown, Ashton Shepherd, Ralph Stanley II, Dale Ann Bradley, Sam Bush, Russell Moore and Doug Phelps (of The Kentucky HeadHunters).
LORRAINE JORDAN & CAROLINA ROAD/Bill Monroe’s Ol’ Mandolin
Writer: David Stewart; Producer: Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road; Publisher: Sony/ATV/In The Wings, BMI; Pinecastle
– It’s a remembrance of Bill Monroe’s funeral where Ricky Skaggs played Monroe’s mandolin. It’s a big hit, currently standing at No. 4, but it’s all a bit sappy/maudlin for my taste. The album contains an oldie remake that suddenly seems super timely, Crystal Gayle’s “Ready for the Times to Get Better.” By the way, Crystal has a banner on the lawn outside her Music Row office quoting Allen Reynolds’ song lyrics, “It’s been too long a time with no peace of mind, and I’m ready for the times to get better.” Amen to that, pandemic people.
JB & JAMIE DAILEY/Nobody’s Darlin’ But Mine
Writer: Jimmie Davis; Producer: Jamie Dailey; Publisher: Songs of Universal, no PRO listed; Pinecastle
– Dailey & Vincent bluegrass star Jamie Dailey teams with his father on the CD Step Back in Time. It’s a collection of goldies by the likes of The Blue Sky Boys, Roy Acuff, Johnnie & Jack and, in this case, Jimmie Davis. His 1934 recording of this song was one of the biggest hits of the Great Depression. The Daileys step up the tempo a little with JB taking the lead and his son offering his usual stunning high-tenor harmony. This whole sweet album is super listening.
STEVE GULLEY & NEW PINNACLE/Leaning Toward Leaving
Writers: Tim Stafford/Steve Gulley; Producer: Steve Gulley; Publisher: Daniel House/Gulley’s Curve, BMI; Rural Rhythm
– The picking is hot and the tune hops. Still, the whole outing sounds par for the course, largely because the band lacks a charismatic vocalist.
ELIZA MEYER/Hello Stranger
Writer: A.P. Carter; Producer: Cathy Fink & Liam Purcell; Publisher: peermusic, no performance rights listed; EM
– This teenage North Carolinian’s debut album is a warm, old-time music outing. She’s a fiddler, banjoist, guitarist and vocalist who offers mountain-soprano renditions of such timeless gems as “When I Stop Dreaming,” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” “Darling Corey,” “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” and “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On.” What better way to announce your artistry than with the Carter Family classic that kicks off and provides the album’s title tune? Her tremulous, somewhat tenuous, tender voice is joined by harmony singer Sam Gleaves.
DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER/Living Like There’s No Tomorrow
Writers: Jim McBride/Roger Murrah; Producer: Doyle Lawson; Publisher: Universal Careers/EMI April, BMI/ASCAP; Billy Blue
– Bluegrass Hall of Famer Lawson’s always stellar harmony group has another hit with this top-10 bluegrass success. An IBMA nominee for Song of the Year, it is drawn from Live in Prague, Czech Republic, nominated as Album of the Year. Penned by two Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame members, the slow waltz of regret is a thrilling showcase for the group’s spectacular new tenor, Jake Vanover. It will come as no surprise that the group is again nominated for Entertainer of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year (which it has won eight previous times).
FIRESIDE COLLECTIVE/Winding Road
Writers: Jesse Laquinto; Producers: Travis Book & Fireside Collective; Publisher: Fireside Collective, ASCAP; Mountain Home
– This North Carolina quintet combines elements of folk and jam-band into its progressive bluegrass sound. The poor guys scheduled the release of their Elements CD at exactly the same time as the shelter-in-place orders came down. The planned celebratory shows were scuttled. The set kicks off and concludes with this upbeat ode to their musical journey. Sit tight in Asheville, fellows: We’ll see you when this pandemic passes.
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