The Duhks, “Beyond the Blue”

(KDHX) When the Duhks first came on the scene in 2001 they were, right off the mark, as challenging as they were entertaining, and as infectious as they were affecting. Jessee Havey’s voice was the band in a nutshell: soulful, though not typically so, and able to add depth to material that in other handsContinue reading “The Duhks, “Beyond the Blue””

Michael Cleveland, “On Down the Line”

(KDHX) Sometimes fiddle players can be hard to get a handle on, if only because it’s a kind of music making that we are less familiar with than, say, guitar. On this album as on all the albums Cleveland has made, it may not be obvious why he gets lead billing: he doesn’t sing, orContinue reading “Michael Cleveland, “On Down the Line””

Willie Watson, Folksinger

(Penguin Eggs issue #63) The jacket design of Willie Watson’s “Folk Singer Vol. 1” is pure pre-folk-boom camp: he’s got a pipe, and the presentation is sparse to look like a Lomax field recording from the period. “Vol. 1”(I actually think it’s a feint here, and I’ll be surprised if there is ever a Vol.Continue reading “Willie Watson, Folksinger”

Reading disability

(for CanChild Connect) It’s discouraging to think that, since the Wizard of Oz was released as a feature film, the foremost image in North Americans’ minds of dwarfism has been the lollipop kids. Comical, childish, awkward, short—it wasn’t wrong to cast those roles as the filmmakers did, rather it’s regrettable that no alternate images of achondroplasia haveContinue reading “Reading disability”

Is there such a thing as a perfect album?

(Penguin Eggs issue #63) Is there such a thing as a perfect album? Of course we don’t think of art in those terms, but it’s an interesting thought experiment. There are works of art that feel perfect, such as Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Greg Foley’s Thank You Bear, two children’s books that areContinue reading “Is there such a thing as a perfect album?”

Williams, Crowe, Lawson, “Standing Tall and Tough”

(for HVBA) In the liner notes to Standing Tall and Tough, Paul Williams notes “How amazing is it that three guys on Medicare can still be onstage performing this great American music called bluegrass?” It’s a comment, at least on the face of it, on the fact that they’re still standing, or some variant of that,Continue reading “Williams, Crowe, Lawson, “Standing Tall and Tough””

Michael Barnett’s “One Song Romance”

Michael Barnett is a fiddler who, while young, has done a lot. He’s a prodigy, more or less, becoming a sought after teacher and session musician at a very young age. He was a member of the David Grisman Sextet, and otherwise has turned the ear of a who’s who of acoustic music. The albumContinue reading “Michael Barnett’s “One Song Romance””

Mike Scott’s, “The Old Country Church”

(HVBA) Mike Scott is one of those guys who has a thousand-watt smile—his album covers look like ads for dental work—and always seem to be selling something. Indeed, what he is selling is himself and his ability to do so is prodigious. There are a lot of great banjo players out there, though of courseContinue reading “Mike Scott’s, “The Old Country Church””

Through this life, part 1

“When I left I had no idea whatsoever, no inkling at all, that anyone else would ever follow me. So when I said goodbye, it was goodbye forever.” That was 1954. Herbert Gerber was 19 years old and had inherited his father’s determination as well as his destination: Canada. It was English speaking, didn’t have a draft.Continue reading “Through this life, part 1”

Larry Sparks’ “Lonesome and Then Some”

One of the great things about bluegrass is that it has a memory. People who played then are celebrated now, and the music that was made then is still relevant now. And people like Larry Sparks provide some proof of that. His first real gig was playing guitar for Ralph Stanley in 1966 after theContinue reading “Larry Sparks’ “Lonesome and Then Some””

Nickel Creek’s “A Dotted Line”

(for KDHX) After seven years apart, Nickel Creek is back with “A Dotted Line.” As in the early part of their career together, Chris Thile, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins are doing things that no one else is doing while serving an audience that is interested in picking up the Nickel Creek story where itContinue reading “Nickel Creek’s “A Dotted Line””

Interview with Eric Gibson of the Gibson Brothers

I reached Eric by phone while he was on the road travelling south for a few dates in Florida. I asked him about his (relatively) new Henderson guitar, brother duets, and life on the road. Always gracious, Eric is as delightful off stage as he is on it. GH: How did you get turned onContinue reading “Interview with Eric Gibson of the Gibson Brothers”

A dissapointing disc from Volume 5

I saw Volume 5 at Merlefest and was immediately struck that I hadn’t of heard them before. Great musicians, very nice presentation, and some great story songs and ballads—a very complete package all around. But (you could sense this coming, couldn’t you) this album, The Day We Learn to Fly is a bit of a departure forContinue reading “A dissapointing disc from Volume 5”

“White Wave Chapel” from I Draw Slow

There is an interesting moment in a recent interview with Dave Holden, guitarist of the Irish band I Draw Slow, when he notes that in America their music is described as Irish, and in Ireland, it’s American. The problem might simply be in knowing too much; the band may be from Ireland, but this isContinue reading ““White Wave Chapel” from I Draw Slow”

Is children’s lit as good as it used to be?

(ParentsCanada; CBC) You might be forgiven for wondering what planet we’re living on when you read kids’ books today. Often it seems that excitement only comes from big things, big people and exotic places, which can make you long for the books of our youth: Harriet spying on the grocery clerks; Peter winning Dribble theContinue reading “Is children’s lit as good as it used to be?”

Marah presents Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania

(for Penguin Eggs magazine) Were you to hold a copy of this CD in your hands this is what you’d be thinking: What the $#$*% is this? And you’d be warranted in that thought. I’ll venture a provisional and entirely gracious answer: it’s a dog’s breakfast. If there is any interest in this recording atContinue reading “Marah presents Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania”

Bosom Buddies: How dads can bond with their babies

(for ParentsCanada) Moms and dads do a lot of things (ahem) differently, and when baby arrives, bonding and attachment are often the first two of them. And that’s a good thing. Not long after the birth of my second child, I took him to visit his great grandparents. When he got fussy, as newborns inevitably do, my grandmother said, wait for it, “Oh, he needs his mom!” Did you hear that? That tone?Continue reading “Bosom Buddies: How dads can bond with their babies”

Where old-time becomes new again

(for KDHX) Darol Anger is one of the most skilled fiddlers working today. He is interested in taking the instrument into new places, though he’s not interested in developing an entirely new vocabulary for the instrument, and I think that’s an important distinction. While some musicians find innovation in doing things that are drastically removedContinue reading “Where old-time becomes new again”

Revisiting the Fold

Carlene Carter, “Carter Girl” Rounder Records (for HVBA) I have an unerring fascination with the Carter Family—or more precisely the Original Carter Family—because everything about their professional lives as musicians (or “musicianers” as AP would say) is as exotic as it is unfathomable. We all know at least the outline of the story: AP hearsContinue reading “Revisiting the Fold”

Special Consensus, “Country Boy”

(For HVBA) About a year ago, a tribute album to John Denver was released which was, in a word, awful. I reviewed it for KDHX radio, which was kind of fun, actually, given that you rarely get the chance to review something that offers itself up so completely to unequivocal derision. I know that it’s notContinue reading “Special Consensus, “Country Boy””

Tony Trischka’s “Great Big World”

(For KDHX) I wanted to love this album, and I’m having a hard time with it even now, because saying something negative about it is akin to sacrilege. Trischka has always been the focus of a lot of praise, and the liner notes by Bela Fleck that accompany this disc continue in that vein. ForContinue reading “Tony Trischka’s “Great Big World””

Rhonda Vincent, “Only Me”

(For HVBA) I was once helping with a satellite feed of the Kruger Brothers early one morning at Merlefest—the local television station was airing live segments from a hill overlooking the festival grounds—and Rhonda Vincent was the next up. The only problem was that her bus driver had gotten lost and wasn’t answering the phone. AllContinue reading “Rhonda Vincent, “Only Me””

Blue Highway, “The Game”

(for KDHX) I think every bluegrass band could take a lesson from Blue Highway, and here’s why I think that is: they put the content, and the storytelling, before everything else. And, frankly, storytelling is what this kind of music, if not every kind of music, is really all about. At least I think so, andContinue reading “Blue Highway, “The Game””

The Grascals, “When I Get My Pay”

The Grascals are as capable as any bluegrass band out there these days. They know what they are doing, and they are doing it well. They were the IBMA emerging artists of the year in 2005, they’ve played the Opry, and otherwise spent their time polishing the ensemble and their writing. When I Get MyContinue reading “The Grascals, “When I Get My Pay””

O’Brien and Scott’s “Memories and Moments”

(for KDHX) The thing about Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott is that each project comes with the feeling that you’re joining a show already in progress. That’s true of their latest studio release, Memories and Moments, which comes a full decade after their first. Like everything they’ve done, it’s quirky, adept, interesting, intelligent and entirelyContinue reading “O’Brien and Scott’s “Memories and Moments””

Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe

(for KDHX) I’m just going to come right out and say it: I love everything about this album. The only way to make it any better would be to have it autographed. The art, the concept, the musicians, the arrangements, the production—in any way you care to look at it, Noam Pikelny’s latest release, NoamContinue reading “Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe”

Interview with James Alan Shelton

Update: When this piece was posted, Shelton emailed saying “I just wanted to say thank you so much for the wonderful story. It was one of the best I’ve ever had done about me and my music. I could tell from the interview that you were familiar with my guitar playing and I certainly appreciateContinue reading “Interview with James Alan Shelton”

The Definitive Doc Watson

(HVBA) You can be forgiven for thinking, “Do we really need another collection of Doc Watson recordings?” When I heard of this release, that’s what I thought. My initial impression was that Sugar Hill was just releasing something in order to drum up some sales in light of Watson’s passing in May of last year.Continue reading “The Definitive Doc Watson”

Second Time Around

(ParentsCanada; CBC) For most people looking down the barrel of retirement, the thought of having another baby isn’t one they’re willing to entertain. Yet when Steve Heming said “I do” three years ago, he also said “I will.” For wife Tammy, having kids was always in the cards. Sure enough, nine months later, Steve welcomedContinue reading “Second Time Around”

Don Rigsby’s “Doctor’s Orders”

(HVBA) Don Rigsby has been around a while, and as such he always seems to be there, not too far away. Many probably came across him for the first time in the movie Bluegrass Journey where he’s onstage with the Lonesome River band (in what some consider their best line up) at the IBMA’s andContinue reading “Don Rigsby’s “Doctor’s Orders””

Adam Steffey’s “New Primitive”

(HVBA) The first track on Adam Steffey’s new album New Primitive opens with a pop music flourish of a kind that you don’t typically find on oldtime albums. It’s a statement that this isn’t just another album of traditional tunes. And, certainly, it isn’t. It’s his third solo project and one that Steffey says he’sContinue reading “Adam Steffey’s “New Primitive””

Ron Block’s “Walking Song”

(HVBA) Listening to this disc, I wished that I had no idea who Ron Block is or any of the things he’s done in his career. By any measure, he’s done a lot, most notably as a member of Alison Krauss and Union Station for twenty years. On his own, he’s released two collections priorContinue reading “Ron Block’s “Walking Song””

“Tell the Ones I Love” by the Steep Canyon Rangers

(HVBA) Culturally, we seem to like the idea of the struggling artist, someone who suffers for their work and who’s work seems to benefit from the struggle that goes into it. Would we revere people like Hemingway, for example, if their lives were idyllic and the only drama was in the pages of their books.Continue reading ““Tell the Ones I Love” by the Steep Canyon Rangers”

The long journey of Doc Watson

(KDHX) It’s perhaps easy to underestimate the impact that Doc Watson has had over the course of his career, in part because of the ways we choose to express it. We like superlatives—first, longest, fastest, best. He’s credited as the first to play fiddle tunes on guitar, and certainly he’s been influential in that regard,Continue reading “The long journey of Doc Watson”

The Spinney Brothers’ “No Borders”

(HVBA) Dick Bowden recently wrote a compelling cover story about the Spinney Brothers for Bluegrass Unlimited. Titled “On the road with the Spinney Brothers” (April, 2013) Bowden gives an account of one leg of the Spinney Brothers’ summer 2012 tour, following the band from the moment they leave the Bluegrass in the Hills festival inContinue reading “The Spinney Brothers’ “No Borders””