Jack, where’s the bluegrass?
Hey, Jack, when are you going to post the bluegrass?
You’ve posted Old-Time, Celtic, Afro pop, jazz, and more, but where’s the bluegrass?
It’s here! Today!
Well, let’s be fair, there’s always a twist here at Driftwood. Today’s entries still contain some genre-crossing surprises.
[Spruce and Maple CD 2005 (2009)]
After nearly a decade of bluegrass and duo albums, Laurie Lewis’s Blossoms sees her returning to the singer/songwriter format, blending sensitive and playful originals with some inspired covers. The disc opens with a lush a cappella version of “How Can I Keep From Singing” sung by Lewis, Kathy Kallick, and longtime partner Tom Rozum. Kate MacLeod’s wistful “Lark in the Morning” is a natural for Lewis to cover; it features an interesting blend of banjo, violin, mandola and cello. Other covers include a faithful rendition of Kate Wolf’s “Unfinished Life” and a rocking version of Johnny Cash’s “Train of Love” that features Roy Rogers on slide guitar. Lewis’ strong suit has always been writing about relationships. Here, she revisits lost love with “Chains of Letters,” reflects on a partnership filled with challenges in “The Roughest Road,” and considers the impermanence of life in “Here Today,” which she penned with Scott Huffman. She ventures into vocal jazz with the playful “Cool Your Jets,” which features the Burns sisters and a cameo by NPR’s Tom and Ray Magliozzi. The lush disc closer, “Sirens,” finds Lewis working with a combo that includes piano, trombone, and saxophone. The disc’s most elegant piece is “Burley Coulter’s Song for Kate Helen Branch,” a Wendell Berry poem that Lewis fitted to a brisk melody and a stirring fiddle riff. Several years in the making, Blossoms was well worth the wait.
—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)
Hedy West & Bill Clifton
Getting Folk Out of the Country
[Bear Family Records BCD 16754 (2010)]
Recorded in 1972 but released for distribution in 1974 on the Folk Variety label, Getting Folk Out of the Country combines the astonishing talents of two gifted singer-songwriters, Hedy West on banjo and guitar and Bill Clifton on guitar and autoharp. Clifton, who formed the successful bluegrass band The Dixie Mountain Boys and was later inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in Nashville, got together in London, England with Hedy West to record mostly traditional “folk” songs in a country style. With voices and instrumentation which blend perfectly, West and Clifton’s “Getting Folk Out of the Country” is now considered in country music circles to be a forerunner of Roots and Americana music with songs like “S-A-V-E-D,” “Maid on the Shore,” “Whitehouse Blues,” “Blow Ye Gentle Winds,” and “Little Sadie.”
—TJ McGrath (Woodbridge, CT)
Dale Ann Bradley
Don’t Turn Your Back
[Compass Records (2009)]
Compass Records owner and bluegrass banjoist Alison Brown has produced this handsome package of twelve tracks for IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year for the last three years, Dale Ann Bradley. Brown’s brought together the cream of the crop of Nashville bluegrass artists: Stuart Duncan on fiddle and banjo, Mike Bub on bass, Alison Brown on banjo, Darrin Vincent, Jamie Dailey, Claire Lynch and Steve Gulley on vocals, Deanie Richardson on fiddle, Gena Britt on banjo and Tim Laughlin on mandolin. It’s such a pleasure to hear this ace-group of artists back a lead vocalist and bring out the best in the songs and in the singer.
A former Coon Creek Girl and performer at Kentucky’s Renfro Valley Barn Dance, Bradley’s been winning awards for years. Growing up in Kentucky as a Primitive Baptist preacher’s daughter where no musical instruments were allowed, she was “saved” from a non-musical fate by an uncle who brought recorded music to the family on visits. She began playing her guitar and singing at school functions and realized her love of music.
The songs on this album are various and varied, most with a theme of heart and spirit. She includes bluegrass versions of Fleetwood Mac’s “Over My Head” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”, and adds the traditional mountain ballad “Blue Eyed Boy” in an updated and full-throttled arrangement (by Bradley). Her one original “Music City Queen” is a contemporary-sounding country tune about meeting your destiny “at the corner of Broadway and tomorrow.” She gives full and gospel-ly feel to the Carter family standard “Fifty Miles of Elbow Room,” the humorous “Rusty Old Halo” and the traditional “Heaven” featuring the smooth and lustrous duet singing by Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent. Louisa Branscomb contributes the title cut, a great introduction to the fine musical ensemble that entertains throughout this album. Bradley’s vocals are a smooth blend of old and new—contemporary in styling but traditional country in repertoire and intention, a satisfying sound for pure bluegrass audiences and newcomers alike.
—Susie Glaze (Los Angeles, CA)
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