Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CD Reviews - Sam Bush, Josh Grider, Up The Chain

We recently received a copy of Sam Bush's latest effort - Circles Around Me - and I appreciate this composition more every time I listen to it. Its a collection of contemporary songs written or arranged by Bush as well as a few oldies - some made famous by Bill Monroe. As many already know, Sam Bush is a Grammy Award winning artist and last year received an Americana Music Association (AMA) Lifetime Achievement Award. His supporting band is also outstanding: Scott Vestal, Stephen Mougin, Byron House and Chris Brown. If that wasn't enough the CD includes guest appearances by several well known artists: Del McCoury, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas. It even includes an old recording, "Apple Blossom", between Bush and New Grass Revival co-founder Courtney Johnson, who sadly passed away over 20 years ago.

My favorite songs were the instruments - just Bush and his band. These are just easy to listened to songs - particularly "The Old North Woods". Love the addition of strings. Del McCoury sings vocals and plays guitar on two Bill Monroe songs, "Roll On Buddy, Roll On" and 'Midnight on the Stormy Deep". His tenor in the latter is classic McCoury. Jerry Douglas contributes with the dobro on "Gold Heart Locket" and this was a real treat - a song with meaning with a nice hook. Douglas and Edgar Meyer also participate in "Junior Heywood" in which Meyer co-wrote with Bush. Another great instrumental. We don't want to overlook the title track as well. Vestal's banjo makes this song, soft and subtle. Make sure you listen to the end - "Whisper My name" is all Bush - jammin' on the mandolin. This CD shows that even with 30 years making music, Bush is still very much relevant. Can't wait to see him at Merlefest again next year.

We first heard of Josh Grider a couple years ago after listening to a few tracks from Million Miles to Go. This CD showed Grider's roots - alt country Texas music. "Crazy Like You" got most of the publicity - but there were other worthy songs on that CD as well. Now, Grider has expanded into the Josh Grider Trio by adding Chris Grady on the upright bass and Jeff Botta on percussion. He is also trying to expand his fan base by venturing into a more contemporary sound.

His song writing is powerful and the harmonies are real tight, but I'm not completely sold on the new sound. The first track, "Here With Me" was my favorite and anyone who has to travel away from their family can appreciate this song - whether a consultant stationed in a distant city or a musician touring across the country. You get lonely - I know. I can appreciate him venturing into other directions - like with "Sometimes" mimicking a funky John Butler Trio - but it jsut didn't do it for me. It wasn't until "Love Went Wrong" that reminded me why I liked Million Miles to Go: edgy, alt-country - but his time with a little jazz flair. That was a nice touch. "Halfway There" was one contemporary style that worked for me - part Bob Schneider-ish, with extra harmonies. He continues with a more county-ish sound with "They Ain't Found Us Yet", "watch me Now", and "Again". The latter was my second favorite track - and I think this is where Grider excels - letting his songwriting and voice take center stage. In sum, we liked the CD, but still prefer Million Miles to Go.

At the Dewey Beach Music Conference, one of the first acts I saw was a solo act by Reed Kendall from Up the Chain. He was really impressive musically and evidently very serious professionally. He followed up after the conference by sending me two CDs, an EP and Live @ Milkboy, a live CD from recorded over several nights at the Milkboy in Ardmore PA. This recording consists of the entire Up the Chain band - with trumpet, bass, keyboard, and drums - a completely different sound than as a solo performer. This assembly played out well in the first track, "It's Not Alright", where the trumpet is evident the entire song as well as a nice keyboard solo. There's also a nice blending of the acoustic and electric guitars in "My Wings" - plus more trumpet. I tell you, adding a horn section makes this CD completely different from many equivalent singer-songwriter genre bands. The next several tracks portray Kendell's talent s a singer songwriter and were close to his performance in Dewey Beach. In these songs, the rest of the band blends well together in the background - with the trumpet once again adding a nice touch. "Snap a G-String Jam" is a groovy jazz selection and "Then I Started Questioning" is an interesting song of self-introspection. "Silver Stone" - contained on both CDs - is my favorite. Once again, a nice syncing of the entire band. Reed Kendall and Up the Chain play through the east coast - they are worth a closer look.

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