Corn Nut Creek, “Feels Like Travelling Home”

This isn’t a perfect album, and one of the problems with it is that it’s too short. We’re used to albums being a certain length, and while shorter collections are fine, they’re not optimal. There’s not enough time or breadth to really settle in, assuming that you still listen to recordings as albums rather thanContinue reading “Corn Nut Creek, “Feels Like Travelling Home””

Erynn Marhshall and Carl Jones, “Old Tin”

Will Carter, the founder of Clifftop, perhaps the premiere old-time festival in the world, has said that old-time music is about “that tradition of participating in the art. It’s not about a stage.” Of course, there is a stage at Clifftop, though, true to the concept, it’s the participation that people go for—dozens of circlesContinue reading “Erynn Marhshall and Carl Jones, “Old Tin””

If you haven’t heard Twisted Pine’s “Right Now,” here’s why you need to

There has always been a streak of rebellion running through the musical world, with artists seeking to be new and different. Bill Monroe was one of those, and frankly, so was Mozart, though it’s perhaps hard to see from our vantage point. Some are angry different, like Jimi Hendrix shredding the US national anthem atContinue reading “If you haven’t heard Twisted Pine’s “Right Now,” here’s why you need to”

Willard Gayheart and Friends, “At Home in the Blue Ridge”

A few years ago, when Dori Freeman released her debut, self-titled album, it seemed that she had sprung, fully formed, from the head of Zeus. Well, this album, on which she participates, fills in the blanks. Willard Gayheart is her grandfather. As the titled of the album suggests, they’re at home, just hanging and picking.Continue reading “Willard Gayheart and Friends, “At Home in the Blue Ridge””

Caroline Herring, “Verse by Verse”

Throughout her career Caroline Herring has regularly looked to literary sources for her writing. Her companion discs of 2010, “Silver Apples of the Moon” and “Golden Apples of the Sun,” gain their titles from a Yeats poem, “The Song of Wandering Aengus.” In 2011 she released an album of songs retelling a children’s story, “TheContinue reading “Caroline Herring, “Verse by Verse””

Che Apalache’s, “Rearrange My Heart”

Joe Troop was born and raised in North Carolina, where he learned bluegrass; he later moved to Argentina, where he taught it. With three of his students he formed Che Apalache: Pau Barjau (banjo), Franco Martino (guitar) and Martin Bobrik (mandolin). They play bluegrass spectacularly, and clearly know the traditions backward and forward and backContinue reading “Che Apalache’s, “Rearrange My Heart””

Checking in with the Foghorn Stringband

The Foghorn Stringband was founded more than 15 years ago, and their origin story is as charming and unexpected as the music that they play. Sammy Lind is from Minnesota, and Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms are from Washington state, one from the farmland in the east, the other from the coast. They started playing AppalachianContinue reading “Checking in with the Foghorn Stringband”

Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton

While there have been other recordings that document Doc Watson’s early years as a performing musician, they tend to shine a light more directly on him as a stage performer, which of course is what he became. This recording, Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton, distinguishes itself in some key ways. It’s earlier, for one—it’s Watson’sContinue reading “Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton”

Jake Blount, “Spider Tales”

One of the reasons that the Harry Smith anthology of American Folk Music was such a sensation when it was released in 1952 was that it demonstrated that, to a nation watching “I Love Lucy” and listening to Jack Benny, there were more voices out there than they perhaps realised. That, in essence, it wasContinue reading “Jake Blount, “Spider Tales””

The Special Consensus, “Chicago Barn Dance”

“The good thing about playing music,” says Greg Cahill, “is that you feel good a lot of the time, because you get to play music, and make a lot of great friends, and meet a lot of nice, really good people.” Cahill founded The Special Consensus in 1975, and if there is a guiding principleContinue reading “The Special Consensus, “Chicago Barn Dance””

Natalie MacMaster, “Sketches”

Natalie MacMaster is one of those artists that is described from time to time as a national treasure. She is that, but she’s a local treasure, too. There’s a video online of her going to play at Glencoe Mills Hall on Cape Breton with Bela Fleck in tow. The music, of course, is fantastic, thoughContinue reading “Natalie MacMaster, “Sketches””

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”

Gee’s Bend Quilters, “Boykin, Alabama: Sacred Spirituals of Gee’s Bend”

For Penguin Eggs Everything about this album is an absolute, unqualified, unbridled delight. It’s four women who live in Boykin, Alabama, and take part in a quilting tradition that began in the 19th century. They sing while they quilt, and the songs are polished just as the needles are, through endless passes through the fabricContinue reading “Gee’s Bend Quilters, “Boykin, Alabama: Sacred Spirituals of Gee’s Bend””

Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, “If You Can’t Stand the Heat”

For Penguin Eggs Frank Solivan spent much of his youth in Alaska, which perhaps accounts for his range of talents. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a poet. He plays guitar, violin, and mandolin. He writes songs, sings, and is the leader of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, the IBMA band of the year inContinue reading “Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, “If You Can’t Stand the Heat””

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—isContinue reading “Missy Raines, “Royal Traveller””

NICK HORNBUCKLE: Twelve by Two (Plus or Minus One)

For Sing Out! On 12 X 2 (+/-1) – pronounced “Twelve by Two (plus or minus one)” – Nick Hornbuckle takes up a dozen old-time tunes and makes a lovely bit of magic. The title refers to the number of the tunes, each played as a duet, more or less. Hornbuckle is joined by five kindred spiritsContinue reading “NICK HORNBUCKLE: Twelve by Two (Plus or Minus One)”

DANIEL KOULACK and KARNNEL SAWITSKY Fiddle and Banjo: Tunes from the North, Songs from the South

For Sing Out! I adore this album. The title says exactly what it is, fiddle and banjo, and Koulack and Sawitsky apply them to a handful of wonderful tunes and sparkling performances. There are some voices, too, and lots of energy, as on a great, rousing arrangement of “Little Birdie.” But there are lots ofContinue reading “DANIEL KOULACK and KARNNEL SAWITSKY Fiddle and Banjo: Tunes from the North, Songs from the South”

David Benedict’s “The Golden Angle”

There is no piece of music, and for that matter no musician, that exists alone. Music, by its very nature, is call and response, each person adding their voice to an ongoing conversation. Some people can see a bit further down the road, or skip a couple rhetorical steps, and those are the people weContinue reading “David Benedict’s “The Golden Angle””

Balsam Range, “Mountain Overture”

It’s easy to wonder about the attraction bluegrass bands have to working with orchestras, but it’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be dying anytime soon. Cherryholmes, Daily and Vincent, Michael Cleveland—the cynic might feel that it’s a desire to grant respectability, and what better way to do it than to sit in front ofContinue reading “Balsam Range, “Mountain Overture””

Chris Coole, “The Road to the River”

(Penguin Eggs, Nov 2018) In the world of magic there are the big stage illusions—cutting a person in half, making an elephant disappear—and there is table magic—cards, coins, cups and balls. The two are both thought of equally as magic, but they are of such different orders as to be different undertakings entirely. To theContinue reading “Chris Coole, “The Road to the River””

Clay Parker and Jodi James, “The Lonesomest Sound that Can Sound” 

I’m not sure why I love this recording so much. We like to talk in superlatives whenever given a chance, and it’s not the best of anything, or the most skilled, or the most telling. It’s just, well, lovely. The voices are beautiful, the thoughts quietly moving. The playing doesn’t jump out at you, butContinue reading “Clay Parker and Jodi James, “The Lonesomest Sound that Can Sound” “

Brunch with the Lonesome Ace Stringband

(Penguin Eggs, May 2018) Chris Coole often comments during shows that the Lonesome Ace Stringband—a trio that includes John Showman (fiddle) and Max Heineman (bass)—formed out of a brunch gig. There’s some tongue-in-cheek in that, though there’s some truth in there as well. The three did actually start playing formally together for a brunch gigContinue reading “Brunch with the Lonesome Ace Stringband”

The Grascals, “Before Breakfast”

(For HVbluegrass.org) Some songs, like Tom T. Hall’s “I Love,” unintentionally demonstrate that there’s a fine line between sincerity and satire. Some people maybe find the song to be a simple presentation of a complex idea. Others, Bob Dylan among them, think of it derisively as the “little baby duck” song:  I love little babyContinue reading “The Grascals, “Before Breakfast””

The Wailin Jennys, “Fifteen”

The Wailin Jennys is one of those groups that causes lots of people to fall all over themselves with praise. And they’re absolutely right to. Truly, you can’t say enough good things about them. It starts here: “One Voice.” Their latest release will cause lots of praise too, just as it should. When I heardContinue reading “The Wailin Jennys, “Fifteen””

Andy Hall and Roosevelt Collier, “Let the Steel Play”

Remember Josh Graves? How about Tut Taylor? Or Paul Franklin? For anyone other than guitar geeks the names conjure something like memories, if not quite formed enough to warrant the term. They are all steel guitar players, meaning they played guitars with a piece of steel. Slide players. Which means that they were side players,Continue reading “Andy Hall and Roosevelt Collier, “Let the Steel Play””

Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn, “Echo in the Valley”

One of the delightful moments is this recording is in the 5th track, when both segue into a lovely take on Bela Fleck’s “Big Country.” It’s a tune he’s presented himself a lot, most notably within the “Live from the Quick” release. It’s not as challenging as some of the things he does, which makesContinue reading “Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn, “Echo in the Valley””

Volume Five, “Milestones”

When people who are really into wine talk about wine they don’t tend to speak in generalities, but rather a whole range of specifics. They talk about the hints of this and that, the various notes of such and such. Seeing people talk about these things on TV, it seems it’s not just descriptors. TheyContinue reading “Volume Five, “Milestones””

Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur, “Penny’s Farm”

You’ll be forgiven if you groan a bit when you see the track listing of this new release from Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur, “Penny’s Farm.” Like right there. Did you breathe out a bit, an almost imperceptible sigh, just then when I typed “Penny’s Farm”? Did you have flashbacks of John Cohen talking aboutContinue reading “Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur, “Penny’s Farm””

Courtney Marie Andrews’ “Honest Life”

This is a brilliant release in all kinds of ways. Musicianship, arrangement, recording. Each one of those is wonderfully on display. It’s there in the details, such as the strings entering on “Only in My Mind,” and then the pizzicato, or the way she sings the word “Barcelona.” There are harmonies added to isolated phrasesContinue reading “Courtney Marie Andrews’ “Honest Life””

Sam Bush’s, “Storyman”

(Published by Hudson Valley Bluegrass) Sam Bush is such a perennial of Americana music, from first gaining lots of attention with Newgrass Revival, going on to be the King of Telluride, and he’s just kept on going. Through it all, subtle is not something that anyone might readily claim of him, what with his mulletContinue reading “Sam Bush’s, “Storyman””

Arnie Naiman’s, “My Lucky Stars”

Published in Penguin Eggs, Issue #71, Fall 2016 You’ve got to love this album, and I’ll tell you why. Look at the liner notes. Each song lists the people that join Naiman, adding their stuff to his. Chris Coole’s there pretty much on every one. Love that. Naiman is credited on every track, less becauseContinue reading “Arnie Naiman’s, “My Lucky Stars””

Dave Pomfret’s, A Devil’s Urge

I’m forever being impressed with the level, variety, and quality of music coming out of Hamilton. The city doesn’t have the reputation of Cape Breton or Nashville, New Orleans or Muscle Shoals, and one reason might be because there isn’t just one genre of music being produced, but so many. So, too, that the bluesContinue reading “Dave Pomfret’s, A Devil’s Urge”

Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro, “Live at Southern Ground”

  This isn’t a live album in the way that you think: it’s live in the sense of two musicians playing together, no overdubs or added tracks. There’s less audience noise than you’d expect from a live album, as in none at all. There’s more effect than we’d expect to hear on a live album,Continue reading “Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro, “Live at Southern Ground””

Joe Ely, “Panhandle Rambler”

  The panhandle of the title is the Texan one, not the Floridian, and the album comprises a something of a tour of the writers and the styles that we associate with the singer/songwriter culture of Texas. All but two of the songs are written by Ely, though they reference many others, including Roy Orbison,Continue reading “Joe Ely, “Panhandle Rambler””

Sierra Hull’s “Weighted Mind”

Innovation has long been an important part of the musical endeavour, and it’s often the first person to happen upon a new idea—rather than the people who refine it—that remains foremost in our minds. That’s certainly true in bluegrass, and Bill Monroe will remain the king of the genre even when a majority of theContinue reading “Sierra Hull’s “Weighted Mind””

The Steep Canyon Rangers, “Radio”

Since they began, there has been a goofy quality to the Steep Canyon Rangers, though in a good way. They were five young people with good hygiene, great senses of humor, and good chops out to have some fun. When they caught the ear of Steve Martin at a party in rural North Carolina—his wifeContinue reading “The Steep Canyon Rangers, “Radio””

The Steeldrivers, “The Muscle Shoals Recordings”

Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is the place that musicians have travelled to when they wanted to change, to sound different. Aretha Franklin went to Muscle Shoals as an unknown pop singer who had recently been released from a recording contract. When she came back, she was Aretha Franklin, the one that we know today. The recordingContinue reading “The Steeldrivers, “The Muscle Shoals Recordings””

Alive! In Concert! with Dailey and Vincent!

(for HVBA) It’s hard to be a Dailey and Vincent fan because they can be so unabashedly shameless. Where other bluegrass musicians grew up wanting to be like Bill, or Earl, or Doc, these guys grew up wanting to be the Statler Brothers. When I first saw them live I was turned off pretty muchContinue reading “Alive! In Concert! with Dailey and Vincent!”

The Honey Dewdrops’ “Tangled Country”

(Penguin Eggs, issue #66) The Honey Dewdrops (Laura Wortman and Kagey Parris) have been around for a while now, perhaps flying a bit below the radar. In that time, Laura’s cut her hair, Kagey’s grown his beard, and they’ve otherwise built their skills, their confidence, their attention to detail, and this year might just beContinue reading “The Honey Dewdrops’ “Tangled Country””

Le vent du nord

(For Sing Out! magazine) I suspect that the Quebecois band Le Vent du Nord is unfamiliar to many in the English-speaking world. Which is too bad, because they are exceptionally skilled, exceptionally experienced, and exceptionally entertaining. Since they formed in 2002, the band has been breathing new life into the traditional music of Quebec, oftenContinue reading “Le vent du nord”

Being there: Norman Blake on a new recording and a long career

(published in Penguin Eggs magazine, issue #65) “It’s kind of a downer if you listen to the words,” says Norman Blake about his new album, titled Wood, Wire and Words. He’s having a bit of fun—he laughed as he said that—and when pressed he admits that it’s just that, throughout his career, he’s been lessContinue reading “Being there: Norman Blake on a new recording and a long career”

Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, “The Travelling Kind”

by Glen Herbert   (For KDHX radio) There’s a scene in the first season of Nashville where Rayna James approaches a young rock producer to make her next album. She’s only written one song toward the project, but nevertheless, she’s more interested in her sound. She gets drunk, cuts a track at the hipster’s studio,Continue reading “Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, “The Travelling Kind””

Classic American Ballads from Smithsonian Folkways

Update: Since I posted the review below, Jeff Place, an archivist at Smithsonian Folkways, was in touch to note that I’m confusing the Library of Congress Collections with those of the Smithsonian. “All the Lomax etc collections are at LOC, I drew from the much smaller Rinzler Archives at the Smithsonian, which is really FolkwaysContinue reading “Classic American Ballads from Smithsonian Folkways”

Jayme Stone and The Lomax Project

(For Sing Out!) There is a recording of John Hartford in the studio giving direction to the musicians he’s gathered there. Whatever the song they were prepping – it may have been “Madison Tennessee” – he says, “this is not going to be a showstopper. I want to do this like it was ‘Brushy ForkContinue reading “Jayme Stone and The Lomax Project”