Monday, October 28, 2013

CD Review: Della Mae - This World Oft Can Be

Over the past couple of years I've seen Della Mae perform at a couple festivals, but it was their performances at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion which finally sparked a desire to really start following this quintet - first by purchasing their latest CD: This World Oft Can Be. The release was produced by esteemed Bryan Sutton and recorded at Cash Cabin Studio, Johnny Cash's former recording base in Hendersonville, Tennessee.  Just as their live performances reflect, the CD is filled with dazzling vocals and harmonies; some mighty fine picking; and traditional American music. Della Mae was founded by fiddler Kimber Ludiker, who assembled a cast of young but proficient players in vocalist and guitarist Celia Woodsmith, mandolinst Jenni Lyn Gardner, bassist Shelby Means, and lead guitarist Courtney Hartman. Ludiker is a two time national fiddle champion and her fiddle is prevalent throughout the CD - particularly on the long solo on the first track.  My favorite tracks are the fast paced Empire, Hounds (maybe because of my affection for greyhounds), and Like Bones - just concentrate on the vocals and guitar. They even cover one of my favorite Sarah Siskind tracks Pine Tree and the last track, Some Roads Lead On, is a beauty. For their show this Saturday November 2nd at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown Maryland, pair with Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard Comus.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

CD Review: Melody Walker & Jacob Groopman: We Made it Home

Sometime in the past, I was fortunate that my email address entered the mail listing for Hearth Music, for they have provided me with some awesome music - including Melody Walker and her CD Gold Rush Goddess. Recently they sent me Walker's latest collaboration with partner Jacob Groopman -- We Made it Home -- which is also produced by folk icon Laurie Lewis.  The result is pure entertainment. There's great guitar picking (such as in the title track, Retinue, and Little Blue Caboose); beautiful harmonies (Retinue again and Black Grace); and great balance between songs lead by Walker and then Groopman. His Come on Mule and Sweet Sunny South may be my favorites - both with Levon Helm-ish qualities. There's also a moving song about "Billy the Champ" and two unique covers: Paul Simon's Graceland and Mississippi Moon from Peter Rowan.  This duo has shown that winning the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest was no fluke.  Pair with a 21st Amendment Bitter American. Cheer.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Apparently Not-So-Farewell Dr. Ralph Stanley Farewell Tour

Since I started following the bluegrass scene on a fairly regular basis, it's been a personal goal to see perhaps the last living founder of old time mountain music, Dr. Ralph Stanley perform live. And when the good doctor stated that this was his farewell tour I targeted their show on October 20th at The Birchmere. In order to prepare for the evening I watched the Clinch Mountain Boys perform the previous week at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Over multiple viewings of the festival archives I saw that the band was extremely tight and fronted effortlessly by Stanley's 21 year old grandson Nathan Stanley.  While the youngest Stanley sings lead on many songs; there are plenty of vocals and harmonies from his grandfather as well as most of the Clinch Mountain Boys.

And this was very close to what we saw at The Birchmere; Dr. Ralph was in great form, the band was tight, and as a bonus former frontman, and son, Ralph Stanley II joined in for a few songs. They played old Stanley Brother's songs, popular songs such as Orange Blossom Special, and requests from the audience as if they were planted. This is one professional outfit. We even got to hear fiddler Dewey Brown play the Shofar - a biblical horn instrument made from a ram's horn. Pretty impressive. But the evening was all Dr. Ralph as he sung O Death, Man of Constant Sorrow, and Angel Band - repeating the verses for the last two multiple times as the crowd cheered him on.  Although he seemed to tire on occasion, he is 86 after all, he hung tough the entire evening and stated at the end that he's not done yet. He told us that at the time he announced his farewell tour he meant it; but now, he aims to keep performing as long as the good Lord allows. Thus, we hope to see the entire Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys next year; same place, same time. Or perhaps earlier at the Stanley conclave for the 44rd Annual Memorial Bluegrass Festival held Memorial Weekend and a new version slated for Labor Day weekend. We also plan on catching Ralph II and his band at the Lucketts Community Center December 7th. Cheers to a great night of old time mountain music.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Album Review: Up The Chain - Seeds & Thorns

I first saw Reed Kendall of Philly's Up the Chain perform solo at a distant Dewey Beach Music Conference and immediately added him to my follow list. Vocals, interesting lyrics, rockn' guitar and that's what you get from their debut CD "Holy, Open, Drying Road" and the just released Seeds & Thorns. This latter is more soulful than rock based and a bit more sophisticated for the palette. It's starts with the clever tune Seasick Sailers but the mid-palette is the CD's strength - songs like A Ground, The Horse's Course, and Something New. This is a good listen - pair with anything from  Chaddsford Winery, Philadelphia Distilling, or Triumph Brewing Company. Cheers.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Album Review: Michelle Malone - Day 2

I've always liked Guitar World's description of Michelle Malone "equal parts badass guitar slinger and sweet songstress"; and you get both of these qualities in the first two tracks of her latest release: Day 2. The first track, Other Girls, is badass guitar whereas the titel track is sweet songstress. The entire CD oscillates between these extremes including some clever lyrics. favorite tracks are particularly in  Immigration Game, St. Peter, and Chicken Lickin Boogie for some good ole blues. Pair with a snifter of Thirteenth Colony Distilleries Southern Corn Whiskey. Cheers.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Chris Smither - 2013 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

Here's a clip of Chris Smither at the 2013 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. If you are unfamiliar with Smither he is an excellent blues guitarist and songwriter. His latest CD, Hundred Dollar Valentine is worth a listen.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Blair Crimmins and The Hookers "It Don't Have To Rain" during a Rainy 2013 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

One of the coolest acts we stumbled upon at the 2013 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion was Blair Crimmins and The Hookers, an old-time jazz outfit based out of Atlanta, Georgia. In fact, Crimmins is so beloved in the Atlanta area, he was just named Best Songwriter by Creative Loafing, this after being voted onto the same outlet's Lustiest list. So what makes Crimmins and the Hookers this popular? Could it be that the 1920's ragtime, blues, and jazz are timeless, particularly when given a little rockn' edge?  Could it be that people are tiring of simple pop melodies? Or could it be that Crimmins and the Hookers are extremely entertaining. Probably all of the above.

For me, what makes their music more impressive is that, as the award above suggests, is all original music - just wrapped in an old time theme. Crimmins can concoct some clever lyrics indeed - "Cause it don’t have to rain to be a rainy day" - "Talking off each others heads while I’m just sitting here stuck in mine" - or the entire Roll Over Bessie.  This is good stuff so check out their newly released CD Sing-a-Longs or our four, rather poorly shot, videos from BRR. Here's their song, "It Don't Have To Rain" in the midst of a rainy afternoon in Bristol. Cheers.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Paul Thorn Rocks the 2013 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

Perhaps one of the best performances given at the 2013 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. was by Paul Thorn as he performed songs from throughout his portfolio and then waded into the crowd on his closing number. I first heard Thorn many years ago when XM Radio played his song 800 LB Jesus. Like many, I was attracted to his folksy and disarming demeanor. But in the end, his songs are heartfelt, meaningful, clever, and always a good listen.   

Thorn will be in the D.C. area November 21st as he opens for Joe Ely at The Birchmere. And here are two videos from the festival, the first of 800 LB Jesus and the second, of Thorn working the crowd. Cheers.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Album Review: Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line - Carnival

I first crossed paths with Nora Jane Struthers when sent her self titled CD a few years back and quickly realized this was one artist who was on the rise. Since then I've followed her at a distance, as see joined and fronted the now defunct bluegrass outfit Bearfoot and then struck out with her own band Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line. And I finally was able to see her live and in person at this year's Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion plus purchase a copy of her latest CD Carnival.

What a treat. Carnival is all original music, straight out of the old style country-Americana tradition. And with the assistance of The Party Line - P. J. George, Joe Overton, Aaron Jonah Lewis, and Drew Lawhorn - their sound is like a fine wine: a fresh nose, structure, a little earthy dirt, and a long finish. My favorite tracks are a few they played at the festival: The Bakers Boys, Carnival, Bike Ride, and my ultimate favorite, Travelin On. Percussionist Laworn displays some major skills maintaining rhythm with his hands, thighs, and beatbox. Pretty cool. Check out this CD or see the band on tour now. I'll be at their D.C. stop at Gypsy Sally's on October 15th. Cheers.