Missy Raines, “Royal Traveller”

Women in bluegrass—unfortunately, sadly—get short shrift. Ask about the greats, and you’ll open the floodgates for a lot of testosterone. That said, women have long been doing great work and, while often enough, have actually been acclaimed for it. Much of what we think of as bluegrass guitar—a rhythm with a melody picked within it—is derived from the Carter Scratch, named for Mother Maybell Carter. She learned to play that way because men wouldn’t play with her, so she had to do both herself, and changed the world of acoustic guitar forever. Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard would also top the list, though part of an unbroken chain, one that brings us to Missy Raines, who has made an indelible mark in what some might unfairly see as a man’s world. All of that is prologue to this beautifully crafted and conceived album, “Royal Traveller.” The album title references a label on a cosmetics case that Raines once had with her, and which caught her eye one night, while on the road. There’s an irony there that she brings forward on the song of the same name. The song “Swept Away,” will—and should—get more attention, and this is why: all five who sing and play on it are, like Raines herself, the first women to win IBMA player of the year awards for their respective instruments (Raines, Sierra Hull, Becky Buller, Molly Tuttle, and Alison Brown). Raines, for her part, has gone on to win 7 times. That backstory adds a lovely dimension to the music. The rest of the album follows in kind. It’s more approachable than some of the work Raines is better known for, that being her albums and tours with the jazz-inflected New Hip. There are lots of other guests here, too, and all as welcome as old friends. Tim O’Brien features in a delightful duet with Raines on “Fearless Love,” as the Steel Wheel’s Trent Wagler does on “Goodbye Virginia.” The string arrangement of Ola Belle Reed’s “I’ve Endured” is as poignant as the sentiment. And on it goes. There’s only one name on the cover, but there’s a welcome crowd participating in the tracks. This album will very rightly feature on lots of best of the year lists come Christmas time—it’s simply one of the best things you’ll hear this year.

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