Perhaps producer Don Dixon brought a nifty infusion of pop to Hay Mavis’ debut, Red Wine. But that didn’t deter Laurie Michelle Caner, Sarah Benn and Eddie Caner from remaining faithful to their strong bluegrass leanings on eleven self-penned tunes. The hugely melodic “Red Light” has an appealing low end sound that is reminiscent of the unforgettable double calf skin headed bass drum on T Bone Burnett’s “Power Of Love,” and the “da da da da – da da” refrain on “Second Chances” fairly shouts “girl group.” This all gives way to an overall high, lonesome ambience that culminates in the Jim-and-Jesse-Louvin Brothers-influenced vocals on “Tell Me Lover True.” And yet the hypnotic title track, with its delightfully eerie near-wailing, smacks of the best in alt-rock. Eddie Caner’s insistent fiddle literally propels “Knock Me Off My Feet” and the fun-filled “Jeans,” while inventive phrasings and unusual rhythms abound. A nice melding of disparate musical worlds. [www.heymavis.com]
—Ellen Geisel (Ballston Lake, NY)
There was a time when one turned to bluegrass bands from such far away places as Japan to hear a different twist on an authentic American musical idiom. Sometimes such recordings also had a bit of unintentional novelty appeal. In recent years, more and more Japanese and other “foreign” bluegrass artists could pass for indigenous Americans in a blindfold test. Some of them, such as Kazuhiro Inaba and Maro Kawabata, have achieved enough respectability as artists that they’ve had albums released on U.S. labels, like Copper Creek. Kawabata’s latest is on FGM, a label connected with Flatpicking Guitar Magazine, and Sunset Drive can indeed be recommended as a fine guitar album, with Kawabata sharing those duties with Wyatt Rice. However, apart from five instrumentals, there are also seven vocal tracks that feature Patty Mitchell, Don Rigsby and Andy Ball, although specific vocal credits aren’t provided. It is stated, however, that Richard Bennett is the singer on “The Hermit Miner” and that Kawabata sings A.P. Carter’s “Found Affection.” Sammy Shelor plays banjo, and Rickie Simpskins lends his considerable skills on fiddle (and viola on “Banks of the Ohio”). Sunset Drive may not stand out as being especially distinctive but it’s classy in its own unassuming way.
—Paul E. Comeau (Comeauville, NS, Canada)