Steve Ludwig and the Casual Hobos

Steve Ludwig and the Casual Hobos

CD: Deepest Shade of Blue

Artist: Steve Ludwig and the Casual Hobos

Label: n/a

Artist Website: none listed.

It’s 3:30 in the morning and there is no one to call even if I had a phone number. I’m not one who makes a call when reviewing a CD, but in this case, I’d make an exception. Even if I had a phone number, no one wants to chat at 3:30AM, and a looming deadline tables the motion to call later because by the time later gets here, I’ll be through with this review. Google reveals no web site. There is no label information on the CD jacket. I don’t know anything about Steve Ludwig and the Casual Hobos other than what is revealed on the CD jacket, which is little other than the names and duties of the participants. Is it me? Am I missing something? There is something to be said for making things easy for the reviewer.

Here’s what was revealed on the CD Jacket. There are eight original songs penned by Steve Ludwig, who is a BMI affiliated artist. The musicians are Steve Ludwig, lead vocals and guitar; Trish Imbragno, bass on all tracks but one; Jason Ericsson, banjo; Marina Pendleton, fiddle, and mandolin on songs 1, 5, and 6; Stephanie Green, fiddle on songs 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8; and Sam Stuckey, tenor vocals and bass on song 6. Stuckey also recorded, mixed, and mastered this CD; the CD photos are attributed to one Kristinite, and a train logo on the back cover is attributed to one Kel-Kel.

The songs are:

Good Thing I Like Falling Too

Down in the Deepest Shade of Blue

The Old Place

When Your Love Triangle Turns to Square

Again in My Dreams

Don’t Leave Early from the Party

I’m So Dumb That I’m Happy

Just a Friend

I was able to discern quite a bit more by listening to the CD four times straight through, three on a trip to town yesterday, which was easy enough because it is a thirty-minute drive to town and I took a rambling, circuitous route home (a COVID side effect: a ramble through the countryside just because I can), and one more time this morning. The CD is cued up and playing as I write this. By the time I’m finished writing, it’ll be five times through. That really says more than the sparse writing, since most CDs that pass my way can’t make it through five listens.

My favorite songs are The Old Place, which had me smiling and recalling the sound of The Whitstein Brothers, which is a powerfully good thing; the country ballad When Your Love Triangle Turns to Square which features Ludwig’s voice-breaking, yodel-esque tenor, reminiscent of Hank Senior, or Emmett Miller, depending on how far one’s musical tastes venture back;  Again in My Dreams; Don’t Leave Early from the Party; and I’m So Dumb That I’m Happy, another love gone wrong country ballad.

In a hand-written note to the publisher, Ludwig stated that they “drew inspiration from Reno and Smiley, Flatt & Scruggs, and many, many more.” I hear those influences, including the many, many more. More than one song on this CD had me recalling the Flatt & Scruggs song Why Did You Wander, which is testimony to their influence. I particularly enjoyed Jason Ericsson’s outstanding banjo playing: tone, timbre, attack, timing, and taste; the banjo break on Just a Friend thumped from start to finish. I found Marina Pendleton’s fiddle work particularly enjoyable.

I completely understand budget constraints of the recording and manufacturing of a CD, but I think the overall CD would have benefited from an unconnected mastering step. By the time one gets to the mastering phase, the recording and mixing engineer can become too close to the music to objectively hear the overall sound. This is the exact place where the ears of the mastering engineer are the most beneficial. It was enjoyable, still, though it had me scrambling for the EQ.

Steve Ludwig is on the right track. I admire original music, which enables one to develop their own sound even through their multiple influences. Original music is risky and so is venturing out to create one’s own sound. The risk is worth the reward. Keep risking, Steve Ludwig. I’m liking what I’m hearing.

Mississippi Chris Sharp

missippichris@yahoo.com

1/27/21




The Mountain Miner Motion Picture Soundtrack

The Mountain Miner Motion Picture Soundtrack

CD: The Mountain Miner Motion Picture Soundtrack

Artist: Various

Label: Alt452 Records

The Bluegrass Standard published an in-depth article about the film The Mountain Miner. (See The Bluegrass Standard Vol. 4 Issue 5 – The Mountain Miner) I have not seen the film, but I have listened to the soundtrack several times now. The Mountain Miner Motion Picture Soundtrack is a significant collection and recording of folk music. There are thirty-nine tracks of closely recorded unadorned Appalachian folk music for one to enjoy. Some tunes are so closely recorded, one can hear the groans and vocalizations of the fiddle box and its uh-uh-uh with every stroke of the bow (as in Brushy Fork of John’s Creek). At times, one can hear the friction of the bow hair grabbing the fiddle strings in addition to the notes. One can hear the fingernails on the banjo strings and the percussive explosion of the notes from a loose, twelve-inch skinhead (as in Ever Been to Ohio?). That is close. It makes for some mighty enjoyable fiddle and banjo music, or so it does to my ears. When these types of sounds are heard, it is an indication of how close one is to the music. Close is good.

The singing is straightforward, durable, timeless. The tunes, mostly traditional with a smattering of new originals, are as timeless as the performance model. “Old-timey,” some might shrug and say. Yes, it is old-timey. But it is also uncomplicated music, music playable on the front porch as indeed some of the soundtrack’s tunes are indicated so in the song list. I like porch music. I like funky-tuned fiddles. I like funky-tuned slack-key open-back fretless banjos. I like modal ballads, unconventional modal melodies and harmonies, modal fiddles, mixed modalities, and a good smattering of modal madness. This soundtrack will provide some welcome relief for one who craves a daily Mixolydian fix; maybe there aren’t so many of us, but it is a powerful addiction.

The Soundtrack, taken as a whole, is an old-time Appalachian journey in and of itself. While I haven’t seen the movie, I am pleased with the journey afforded by the soundtrack. The images evoked by the music are my own, not those suggested by the filmmaker. I am not able to adequately convey the images coaxed forth by Kingdom Come (part 2), with the DDAD fiddle and the slack, fretless banjo’s bass notes. It is powerful, joyful, mournful, dark, light, foreboding, forbidding, yielding, and welcoming all at the same time, which is a remarkable achievement. Across the Ohio is a beautiful, simple tune, sang in wonderful unadorned harmony. Coming from the Ball made Uncle Dave Macon proud; he’d gleefully slice off a slab of his last country ham and pass his final still-house jug around to get to hear that one more time.

Favorites: Old Jim Sutton (porch), Sugar Baby, Short Time Here Long Time Gone, Darlin’ Corey (porch), Glory in the Meeting House, Little Birdie (part 1), Fireflies (and its haunting funky slack-tuned banjo), Kingdom Come (part 1), Pay Them No Mind, Shakin’ Down the Acorns, I’m Going to a City (Where the Roses Never Fade), Ever Been to Ohio?, Little Birdie (part 2), Rye Straw, Brushy Fork of John’s Creek, The Day Is Past and Gone, Kingdom Come (part 2) [my favorite!!!], Across the Ohio, and Coming from the Ball (Don’t Get Weary Children)

I salute everyone associated with this soundtrack: The producers, the ones who selected the music, the ones who performed the music, and those who recorded the music. Having been taken on a journey by the soundtrack, I now need to see how much further I can be carried by hearing the soundtrack as part of the film. I expect it will be much further. We’ll see. Based on the soundtrack, alone, everyone should plan on seeing The Mountain Miner. The various artists are too many to mention here, but each one I heard gave me a place of joy and respite, which is a thing every artist hopes to achieve.

The Mountain Miner Motion Picture Soundtrack, download, streaming, or CD, is available through all major music outlets.

Mississippi Chris Sharp

mississippichris@bellsouth.net




By Your Side

 

CD: By Your Side

Artist: Brograss

Label: Crozier Farm

Artist Website: http://www.brograssmusic.com

Songs:

  1. Sunday Morning
  2. Fortunate Son
  3. Powderfinger
  4. Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right
  5. Standing By Your Side
  6. Lay Down Your Weary Tune
  7. Mockingbird
  8. The Cypress Hills
  9. Turn Your Radio On
  10. Hard Steel Mill
  11. Road To Columbus
  12. Saint John’s Train
  13. Don’t Give Your Heart To A Rambler

 

By Your Side, by Brograss (brothers Tashi and Kaj Litch), just kept turning up on top of my CD stack in spite of having set it aside several times. It apparently turned up the right number of times for me to pop it in the CD player. I had to warm up to this CD, but my motor is still running. The more I listened, the more I liked its sibling harmony, fresh interpretations of cover songs, and young voices on the edge of maturity. Beautiful octave mandolinic musings from Pacific Northwest old-time powerhouse entertainer Caleb Klauder didn’t hurt, either. If this is the way young acoustic musicians sound in the Pacific Northwest, I’m ready for some more.

This is folk/Americana/Bluegrass(y) music. Favorites songs are John Fogerty’s Fortunate Son; Neil Young’s Powderfinger; Lay Down Your Weary Tune, a Dylan song rarely heard; Turn Your Radio On; Hard Steel Mill; and a rousing rendition Kenny Baker’s Road to Columbus. The brothers do an admirable duet cover of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, injecting some chutzpah and keeping it away from the assignation of tedious, freshened by their remarkable harmonies. Don’t Think Twice is a fun song for live, but hard to pull off on an album. Salute!

The songs run from poignant, soulful, reflective, inspirational, and just plain fun. All in all, it enjoyable from start to finish, which leaves me wondering why I had to warm up to it. Sometimes its the albums you have to warm up to that stick with you. I think this one stuck.

The aforementioned Caleb Klauder shared a producer credit along with the Litch brothers. The CD was recorded and mixed by Henri Bredouw. Mastering was done by Nettleingham Audio, all of whom, in my opinion, did a fine job. I mention this because some CDs, unlike this one, are simply not pleasant to listen to.

I’d like to hear the Litch Brothers and the full Brograss lineup live sometime. Until then, I’ll keep By Your Side by my side. Having warmed up to it, I’ve been warmed by it.

Mississippi Chris Sharp




Old Road New Again

CD: Old Road New Again

Artist: The Dillards

Label: Pinecastle Recording Company

Artist Website: RodneyDillard.tv

Label Website: pinecastlemusic.com

 

Songs:

  1. Earthman
  2. Save the Last Dance for Me
  3. Common Man
  4. Always Gonna Be You
  5. Funky Ole Hen
  6. Sweet Companion
  7. The Whole World Round
  8. Tearing Our Liberty Down
  9. My Last Sunset
  10. Old Road New Again
  11. Take Me Along for the Ride

I’m mot exactly sure when The Dillards’ Old Road New Again arrived in my mailbox, but it languished around my desk for a couple of weeks before I gave it a listen. I’m not sure what I expected, but no doubt I expected something. The Dillards have been part of the Americana music scene for a long time, first coming to my memory as The Darlins on The Andy Griffith Show. Later on, their collaboration with John Hartford on the Dillard Hartford Dillard album Glittergrass from the Nashwood Hollyville Strings (1977) was the first real Dillard experience I had, and to this day is still one of my favorites albums. So, I had some expectations, but not really sure what they might be since the passing of Doug Dillard in 2012. Though Doug had had his own band and solo career, I never thought of Rodney without thinking of Doug and vice versa.

On the first listen, my expectations were exceeded. On the second listen, my now much higher expectations were again exceeded. This is a very enjoyable album, musically and lyrically. It has a depth in communication that is rare and refreshing. An all star cast of guest artists doesn’t hurt a thing, either: Don Henley (The Eagles), Ricky Skaggs, Herb Pedersen (Desert Rose Band, among others), Sharon and Cheryl White (The Whites), Bearnie Leadon (The Eagles), and Sam Bush.

Favorite songs are Earthman; a surprisingly sporty rendering of The Drifters’ Save The Last Dance For Me, arranged perfectly as a bluegrass song, featuring some fine slap bass; the soulful Common Man, with another nod to the bassist Gary Smith; Always Gonna Be You, and Beverly Dillard’s beautiful clawhammer banjo, Andy Leftwich’s poignant fiddle, Gary Smith’s bowed bass, and Don Henley’s harmony vocals…it gave me a bad case of chicken skin!!; Sweet Companion, a sweet foot-patting duet featuring Rodney and Beverley; My Last Sunset, again with Rodney and Henley teaming up for this powerful folk-rock song; and the title cut, Old Road New Again, with Bernie Leadon’s banjo work. That’s seven favorites out of eleven songs, remarkable considering the other four songs would all make honorable mention.

Salute to veteran producer Bil VornDick, who also engineered and mixed this recording; just perfect!

Mississippi Chris Sharp




Bridges and Backroads

CD: Bridges and Backroads

Artist: Jerry Salley

Label: Very Jerry Records

Artist Website: JerrySalley.com

Jerry Salley is a powerful songwriter and performer. On Bridges and Backroads, he gives us twelve of his songs, all penned with a variety of co-writers. He also manages to assemble an impressive band, including everyone’s favorite bassist, Mike Bub. The background vocalists are an all-star cast: Carl Jackson, Val Storey, Larry Cordle, Rhonda Vincent, and others.

Jerry is at the top of Nashville’s songwriting royalty, and he gives us quite a treat on this CD. The song list is:

  • 1. Miss My Miss in Mississippi
  • 2. Let Me Be the Bridge
  • 3. I Take the Backroads
  • 4. Waltz Through the Ages
  • 5. You Can’t Hear a Heartbreak
  • 6. How I Want to Be Remembered
  • 7. A Memory Like Mine
  • 8. Be Better to Your Neighbor
  • 9. Dyin’ To Hold Her Again
  • 10. Hillbilly Lilly
  • 11. Without Forgiveness
  • 12. Life To My Days

I listened to this several times (no kidding!), with the CD starting out big and getting bigger with each listen, until I now find myself humming the tunes and bursting out loud in a chorus or two of my favorites. This does not happen to me much, anymore; I am thankful this CD brought it out of me.

My favorites:

Of course, the uptempo Miss My Miss in Mississippi, the first song, was destined to be one of my faves. How could I not like it? Every landmark mentioned, every road, every thought of getting home to my own Mississippi Miss might as well have come from my own life. I enjoyed the Osborne Brothers-esque vocal flourish at the end.

I Take The Backroads also tapped into my psyche. Backroads give every bit as much in views and memories as what they cost in travel time. I particularly enjoyed the banjo work of Greg “Papaw” Davis. Davis’ banjo had just what I like in syncopated notes and fat tone.

Waltz Through The Ages, a beautiful duet with Rhonda Vincent, will bring a joyful tear to a glass eye.

You Can’t Hear A Heartbreak would be a good selection for a single release. It is a medium tempo Bluegrass ballad that should smoothly transition to other genres. Once again, “Papaw” Davis’ banjo got my attention, along with some beautiful fiddle work from Jason Roller.

A Memory Like Mine, co-written with my friend Jim McBride, is a dark ballad of pain and hurt. Some memories are painful, but inescapable. The background vocals are beautifully haunting. “The truth never changes and the past never dies, when you’ve got a memory lie mine.” I know a good line when I hear one.

Be Better To Your Neighbor is a straight ahead bluegrass tune, and calls to mind the Louvin’s If You Don’t Love Your Neighbor Then You Don’t Love God; that is a good thing. You want better neighbors? Be a better neighbor. The banjo playing of Aaron McDaris got my attention this time; his tone and touch had me thinking Sonny Osborne, which should make any banjo player smile a big smile.

Hillbilly Lilly, had to grow on me, but it grew and grew until I think now it might just be my overall favorite song on the CD. At first, I found it downright disturbing. I don’t know what changed other than I acquired a taste for its musical complexity. Hillbilly Lilly the person is as complex as the arrangement. There are great instrumental segues on this song. I find myself “Hey”, “Ho”, and “Yeahing” as I walk up the path from my studio to the house, as I bush-hog through overgrown pastures on hot August days, even as I write this. It is a powerful song. If it seems too in-your-face at first listen, give it another. I did. It won me over.

I first heard Without Forgiveness when my niece’s husband, Jason Davidson, recorded it for his own remarkable Gospel/Contemporary Christian CD, He Came Searching For Me, in 2017. I liked it then, I still like it now. This is a powerful song. When Jason played the song for me prior to the CD release, I asked him who wrote it. When he told me, I said, “That’s some powerful songwriting talent.” That was not an overstatement.

Life To My Days is the song I most find myself singing, for a variety of reasons. Jerry Salley may have saved the best for last.

Hmmm. That’s nine favorites out of twelve songs. I like the other three, too. I reckon the thing to say is that this is a fine piece of work, including the engineering, recording, mixing, and mastering. As is my habit, I put it on to play loud through my studio monitors just to see if I could find audio anomaly I could complain about. There were no complaints from me; none. My wife has her own stained glass studio in the same building as me, separated by a dog run bay in between us. My Mississippi Miss complained that I had the music way too loud.

Spoil Sport.

Mississippi Chris Sharp

8/22/20

mississippichris@bellsouth.net




Ordinary Soul

CD: Ordinary Soul

Artist: Stephen Mougin

Label: Dark Shadow Recording

Artist Website: stephenmougin.com

Label Website: darkshadowrecording.com

Songwriter, singer, guitarist, producer, and Sam Bush Band stalwart, Stephen Mougin has released a new CD, Ordinary Soul through his Dark Shadow Recording label. Ordinary Soul has ten Mougin original songs, ranging from hot bluegrass to poignant country ballads, featuring an all star band. The stellar songwriting and singing of Mougin, and contributions from banjoist Ned Luberecki, fiddlers Laura Orshaw and Becky Buller, and the mandolin and fiddle of the instantly recognizable Sam Bush bring some heavyweight power to this CD.

Twelve well produced songs give one a lot of listening for their money. The song selection is as follows:

  • (1) New Beginnings
  • (2) Color Me Lonely
  • (3) The Song That I call Home
  • (4) Railroad Man
  • (5) A Place for a Fool
  • (6) On the Riverside
  • (7) Play Me a Sad Song Again
  • (8) Last Time for Everything
  • (9) Only You and You Alone
  • (10) Handful of Dust
  • (11) You Only Like Old Things
  • (12) I’m Gonna Ride

Favorites are New Beginnings; Railroad Man, a real thumper where the overall vibe and the fiddling of Sam Bush put me in mind of the original Newgrass Revival; the country shuffle A Place for a Fool with Mike Bub’s delightful walking bass, On the Riverside with its delightful harmonies; the waltz-time dirge, Play Me A Sad Song Again; Last Time for Everything, with Ned Luberecki’s hot  banjo work and a particularly enjoyable mandolin break from Cory Piatt (and if I spelled that wrong, sorry Cory. My ears are better than my eyes and I had to get out the magnifying glass to read the extremely small type); the forbodingly dark Handful of Dust, penned by Becky Buller; and perhaps my favorite favorite, You Only Like Old Things, featuring just Mougin and his guitar. There’s nothing like one voice and one guitar. The line “Will I ever be part of your sepia tone world” just grabbed this songwriter. I admire a good line when I hear it. This is a good one.

That’s seven favorites out a twelve song selection. That says a lot. I had the opportunity to work the Alabama Folk School with Mougin a few years ago. I enjoyed him and his guitar all alone on the stage. I now enjoy Ordinary Soul, from an extraordinary musician. I listened to this CD all the way through six times. It starts out good and gets better with every listen.

That’s the way it should be.

Mississippi Chris Sharp

8/22/20

mississippichris@bellsouth.net




Freedom, Love And The Open Road

CD: Freedom, Love And The Open Road

Artist: Lindley Creek

Label: Pinecastle Recording Company

Artist Website: lindleycreek.com

Label Website: www.pinecastlemusic.com

One can’t know everything. I didn’t know about Lindley Creek. I can’t say that anymore. Freedom, Love, And The Open Road caught me unaware and unprepared. It started out delightful and got better with every listen. The band is delightful, helped along by some stellar musicians in the studio. At times I heard echoes of the heavenly vocals of Sarah MacLachlan, Bonnie Raitt, or Loreena McKennitt, or the musicians at times suggesting instrumental whispers of The Beatles, The Band, all interspersed with Duane Allman and Ry Cooder. This isn’t Bluegrass, but it is good music, even transporting at times.

The Songs are:

  • 1. I Gotta Go
  • 2. The Mockingbird’s Voice
  • 3. Right Back Where I Started
  • 4. Words Last Forever
  • 5. Four Men Walkin’ Around
  • 6. Home To You
  • 7. I’m Gonna Take That Mountain
  • 8. Old Soul
  • 9. Forever Young
  • 10. Grounded
  • 11. Sunshine Song

I liked every cut on this CD. There is no filler here.

There are two songs that are even more outstanding than the rest of the outstanding songs to my ear: Old Soul and Forever Young. On both cuts, veteran bassist Todd Phillips, who clearly understands the magnificence of a fretless bass, puts his talents to work. The lap steel work of David Spires on Old Soul is outstanding, simply outstanding. Same for the guitar of Seth Taylor. Rob Ickes’ (“He’s a good boy”) Dobro on Forever Young is delightful. Old Soul devolves into a the most delightful musical roundabout at the end.

It’s not always easy to pull off a Bob Dylan cover, particularly one like Forever Young, but this just may be my favorite ever, even more than my own, and perhaps more than the version in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, which is stellar all the way around, if only for it’s legendary all-star line-up, though I would daresay one can hardly call that one a cover of a Bob Dylan song since it’s got Bob Dylan in it.

Grounded is one of the two songs on the CD penned by the band’s Katherine Greer. I really liked this song and would like to hear more songs that come from the hand of Greer. The band seems to focus on the vocals, at least on this CD, even though they are shown holding instruments on the CD cover. The vocals are outstanding, and if the label insisted on having studio musicians for this recording, let me commend them on the musicians that were chosen. I was digging the bass before I knew it was Todd Phillips. I was enjoying the dobro before I knew it was Rob Ickes. The band is so good, I am compelled to name the rest of them: Aaron Ramsey on mandolin, Jim Vancleve on fiddle, and the aforementioned Seth Taylor on guitar. There are a couple of other musicians, but the small print has exhausted me. Sorry. The band was awesome! I can’t help but wonder what a Lindley Creek CD would sound like with the band playing all the instruments. This particular sound may be hard to reproduce on the road, but as Lindley Creek are working, traveling musicians, I expect they will sound just fine.

The production, engineering, recording, overdubbing, and mastering are all professionally done, which always helps make any CD an enjoyable listen.

This CD will stay in my regular rotation.

Mississippi Chris Sharp

8/22/20

mississippichris@bellsouth.net

 




Randy Wood: The Lore of the Luthier

Title: Randy Wood: The Lore of the Luthier

Author: Daniel Wile

Publisher: The University of Tennessee Press,  Charles K. Wolfe Music Series, Knoxville, TN

ISBN: 9781621905530

Modern luthiery is in the midst of a renaissance. While marvelous violin and guitar luthiers have always been with us, the modern making of fine, custom mandolins, and the restoration of fine vintage instruments have been significantly impacted by the contributions of one man, Randy Wood. Author Daniel Wile explores these contributions Wood made, and is still making now, from his shop in Bloomington, Georgia.

Wile delves deeply into Wood’s career, and his contributions not only to modern mandolin luthiery, but to Bluegrass music in general through his Old Time Picking Parlor, a Nashville institution for many years and a place where many budding musicians refined their chops. Wile gives us a thorough glimpse of how Wood arrived at where he is today, and allows us accompany him on his journey in a very readable way. Once I started reading, I could not put the book down. It was enjoyable all the way through, never boring.

There are few mandolin luthiers who would not admit to the influence of Randy Wood, and few Nashville musicians coming of age in the ’70s who would not admit of some Wood influence on their career, since Wood’s commitment to live music was as strong as his commitment to vintage and hand-made instruments. Not only was Wood’s influence great in instrument building, but he, George Gruhn (Gruhn Guitars), and the late Tut Taylor helped to create a market for vintage and custom instruments, thus bringing them into the hands of thousands of talented musicians.

This book is an important work, scholarly but entirely readable. It helps bring a significant part of the history or modern luthiery and its connection with Bluegrass music to many who may not have otherwise had a chance to know it. Congratulations to my friend, Daniel Wile for the hard work on the book, and to my friend, Randy Wood, for the inspiration behind it. This book should certainly be up for an IBMA print media award.

Also, I must make mention Daniel Wile’s acknowledgment in the book to author and Bluegrass Standard managing editor Richelle Putnam for her encouragement.

Randy Wood: The Lore of the Luthier is available through all major book outlets, and through Amazon at this link: Daniel WIle/Randy Wood/Amazon. I am pleased to call both Daniel Wile and Randy Wood my influential friends. I am also pleased to have read this book.




Curios: Scroggins and Rose

CD REVIEW – CURIOS

by Mississippi Chris Sharp

Artist: Scroggins and Rose

Label: none listed

Artist Website:       scrogginsandrose.com            tristanscroggins.com

I was asked to review the new Scroggins and Rose CD, Curios, from mandolin virtuoso Tristan Scroggins and violinist Alisa Rose. They did not make it easy for me to review this new CD, which was scheduled for release on June 20, 2020. I stayed with it though, and thoroughly enjoyed wading through the mandolin and violin duets I heard from a streaming site. This all-instrumental CD feature just the mandolin and the violin, each instrument in the hands of masterful players, each instrument lending its assets to the overall sound, from the percussive chops on the mandolin, to the smooth legato of the violin. I don’t know where all the tunes come from, but the Soundcloud page from which I streamed the music credited six songs to Scroggins. Salute, Tristan, on a job well done.

The interplay between the mandolin and the fiddle was fabulous. This is not Bluegrass, but it is delightful acoustic music. Rose’s fiddle sojourns to dizzying heights while notes just explode from the mandolin. There is a lot of music happening from a duo, which when done right, as this is, makes it sound like a full band. This music is complex at times, rhythmically and sonically, making me think that the artists are either extremely well-rehearsed, or reading music from standard notation, or both, which is likely. At other times, the music is soft, lyrical without lyrics (a remarkable achievement), and gentle.

Several tunes can be called favorites, but hands down my favorite is Anxiety Jig, where the soft mandolin and the pizzicato violin interlude is simply outstanding. This is a pleasurable listen from start to finish, definitely scoring high on my want-to-hear-it-again-meter.

A note forwarded from the publicist stated: “Combining two lifetimes of commitment to craft, technique, and stylistic integrity, Scroggins, a mandolinist and second generation Bluegrass virtuoso, and Rose, a Grammy-nominated violinist, create creative contemporary roots music with the expression and detail of classical music, the ebullient drive of fiddle music, and the thrilling virtuosity of both traditions,” which is not an overstatement, and a sentence of fifty words that I admire, but not nearly so much as the music. 

Credits include Producer Wes Corbett (Sam Bush Band), Engineer Dave Sinko, and artwork by Grace Van’t Hof. The recording and mastering are superb. I would have liked to have seen more of the artwork from the CD, and the liner notes, but they were not available to me. I looked and looked and finally found the cover art for the CD on a website where it could be pre-ordered; nothing was shown on the artist’s websites, which is unfortunate.




Gary Brewer & The Kentucky Ramblers

Gary Brewer & The Kentucky Ramblers

by Mississippi Chris Sharp

CD: 40th Anniversary Celebration

Artist: Gary Brewer & The Kentucky Ramblers

Label: Stretch Grass Music

Artist Website: www.brewgrass.com

Gary Brewer has released an all-star extravaganza of all original songs with his Gary Brewer & The Kentucky Ramblers 40th Anniversary Celebration. No doubt many of the songs, if not all, have appeared on some Brewer’s previous fifty releases, but they were all new to me. The song list is as follows:

Going up Shell Creek

Johnson City Blues

Daddy and the Old Oak Tree

The Rain is Coming Down

Blues Down in Kentucky

I Don’t Know What’s Become of Me

Down Home Memories

Home Ain’t the Way it Used to Be

Girl from the Mountain

Money to Ride the Train

Love in the Mountains

I Can’t Run off with You Darling

Big Train

Sally-O

This is all straight ahead Bluegrass. My favorites songs are Johnson City Blues, Daddy and the Old Oak Tree (with Dale Ann Bradley), The Rain is Coming Down, Home Ain’t the Way it Used to Be, Money to Ride the Train (with T. Graham Brown), I Can’t Run off with You Darling, Big Train, and Sally-O: some driving Bluegrass, some poignant and reflective, and some just downright fun, like Sally-O. All done just right. All are Bluegrass in the Pocket.

The lineup other than the regular Kentucky Ramblers is Ron Stewart, Ronnie McCoury, Jason Carter, Dale Ann Bradley, Russell Moore, Sam Bush, Ashton Sheperd, T. Graham Brown, Ralph Stanley II, and Doug Phelps.  Gary Brewer shares the lead vocal duties with several of his guest artists. Money to Ride the Train was reminiscent of the Louvin’s Cash on the Barrel-head, which is a good thing. The train doesn’t run for free, which is a good life lesson.

I enjoyed this from start to finish: the music, the songs themselves, the artwork, and the liner notes. I tip my hat to Gary Brewer’s original music, to all the The Kentucky Ramblers, and am anxious to hear more.