The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) airs its 2020 awards show on Circle TV on Monday (Jan. 18).
What better time to catch up with some of its winners, as well as other current hit makers in the genre?
The essential-listening tracks here belong to IBMA Entertainer of the Year winners Sister Sadie, as well as Donna Ulisse, Carolina Blue, Jerry Salley and our Disc of the Day winner, Rhonda Vincent.
The IBMA’s New Artist honorees Mile Twelve, also own this week’s DisCovery Award.
The award show is a pip, with performances by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Brooke Aldridge, Taj Mahal, the Del McCoury Band and dozens more. Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and Ronnie McCoury induct New Grass Revival, The Johnson Mountain Boys and The Station Inn’s J.T. Gray into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
SPECIAL CONSENSUS / “Chicago Barn Dance”
Writers: Becky Buller/Missy Raines/Alison Brown; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Alison Brown; Label: Compass
– This durable band is celebrating its 45th anniversary with a No. 1 bluegrass single and the IBMA’s Song of the Year winner. It’s a lyric celebrating the WLS National Barn Dance during the days of the Great Depression. The group members alternate lead vocals while the track dances with twin-fiddle work and lively mandolin and banjo breaks. A joy to hear.
CAROLINA BLUE / “Too Wet to Plow”
Writers: David Stewart; Publishers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Label: Billy Blue
– This band is currently No. 1 on the Bluegrass Unlimited chart with its Take Me Back CD. Its motto is “Traditional Yet Original,” and you can hear the band’s freshness on this quickly rising single. Between the youthful, yearning lead vocals, twinkling instrumental finesse and flawless harmony singing, this band has the future of the genre in its hands.
RHONDA VINCENT / “I Ain’t Been Nowhere”
Writers: Chuck Mead; Publishers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Label: Upper Management
– The Queen of Bluegrass returns with a sneak peak of her upcoming album, a riotously funny update of Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” explicitly written as a COVID ode to being quarantined. Previously popularized by its writer, Chuck Mead, this deserves massive airplay. Vincent will be inducted as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry cast on Feb. 6.
MILE TWELVE / “Jericho”
Writers: Catherine Anne Bowness, David Shelton Benedict, Nathaniel Benjamin Sabat, Evan James Murphy, Browyn; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Bryan Sutton; Label: Delores the Taurus Records
– This young Boston band won the New Artist award at the IBMA honors. Its current City on a Hill CD is a jewel, balancing brilliant acoustic playing with meaningful songs such as this intensely emotional account of a homeless veteran suffering from PTSD. For flash, check out the whiplash track “Cold Wind.” For another ear-opener, listen to the band’s bluegrass take on Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”
TINA ADAIR / “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”
Writers: Paul Nelson/Gene Nelson; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Adam Engelhardt/Glen Duncan; Label: Engelhardt Music Group
– New on the bluegrass chart this month is this gorgeous take on the 1988 Kathy Mattea goldie (a CMA Single of the Year winner then). Exemplary picking and the mountain-soprano vocal beauty we have come to expect from this artist.
SISTER SADIE / “900 Miles”
Writers: Dale Ann Bradley/Tina Adair/Deanie Richardson/Gena Britt; Publishers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Label: Pinecastle
– Tina Adair, Dale Ann Bradley, Gena Britt and Deanie Richardson comprise Sister Sadie, the first female band to win the IBMA Entertainer of the Year trophy. In addition, Sister Sadie claimed the 2020 Vocal Group of the Year bluegrass award, an honor also won in 2019. Richardson’s mournful fiddle paves the way on this minor-key Appalachian folk chestnut. Adair moans the vocal lead. Bradley chimes in on soprano harmony, and then Britt adds her stunning deep-alto part. A thrilling listening experience.
MERLE MONROE / “Hello Sunshine”
Writers: Tim Raybon; Publishers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Label: Pinecastle
– Happy, toe-tapping music of new love. Love these close-harmony, fleet-fingered guys. The single charges into the bluegrass top-10 this month.
VALERIE SMITH / “From a Distance”
Writers: Julie Gold; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Midnite Mike Pokalsky; Label: Bell Buckle
– First an international hit for Nanci Griffith (1988), then a pop giant by Bette Midler (1990), this awesome song now gets an acoustic bluegrass rendition with Claire Lynch and Irene Kelley in vocal support of Smith, the pride of Bell Buckle, TN. It’s as powerful and touching as ever.
THE GRASCALS / “Sleepy Little Town”
Writers: Jerry Salley/J.B. Rudd; Publishers: none listed; Producer: The Grascals; Label: Mountain Home
– This lilting lament for lost innocence makes its wistful debut on the charts this month. It’s a preview of this multiple award winning Nashville band’s next collection. The group is among the genre’s most dependable, and this does not disappoint.
DONNA ULISSE / “When I Go All Bluegrass On You”
Writers: Donna Ulisse/Rick Stanley; Publishers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Label: Billy Blue
– This is the most charming celebration of the joys of bluegrass I’ve ever heard. Every line is a delight, and so is every instrumental note. I particularly like the way the pickers “answer” her when she gives them a shout-out. A total smile.
JUNIOR SISK / “Hooked on Bluegrass”
Writers: J.R. Satterwhite; Publishers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Label: Mountain Home
– Bluegrass is “my drug of choice.” Because “I feel good when I hear it, so I use it as a crutch.” Addiction has never sounded merrier.
JERRY SALLEY / “Let Me Be the Bridge”
Writers: Jerry Salley/Jim Rushing; Publishers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Label: Very Jerry
– The man is so hillbilly-gifted he ought to be illegal. Not only one of the greatest hard-country writers still working today, he’s also a moving, natural singer. This barroom two-step will sway you across the dance floor while your heart rejoices that such a Country Music Great walks among us.