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Retro Man

Retro Man

Review Mississippi Chris Sharp  8/24/21

CD: Retro Man

Artist: Jake Vaadeland CD

I had the pleasure to make the acquaintance of Jake Vaadeland (pronounced VOD-luhn) at the 2019 Monroe Mandolin Camp in Monteagle, Tennessee. He had the ’50s country look, from the clothes he wore, the string tie, the Lester Flatt thumb pick guitar strum, to the pomaded pompadour hair-cut. He cut a foppish figure and seemed to have stepped right off of a Greyhound Scenic Cruiser double-decker bus, fresh from the fertile plains of Saskatchewan, bound for Music City with a pocket full of songs, a guitar, and the dog-eared stub of a one-way ticket. Jake had just enough attitude to let you know that he wasn’t kidding, not that there was any disrespect or brashness; instead, he seemed to have a healthy dose of bravado and svelte, and a double dose of knowing who he was and where he wanted to go while working out for himself how to get there. These are all admirable traits. Whether Jake’s persona is a put-on invention for show business, or the real him, he wears it well and makes it credible. I admire that.

When I heard that Jake had an EP CD, Retro Man, which has six original songs, I knew I had to have it. I expected a lot, and I was rewarded with more than expected, which is what I long for in any music.

The six songs are:

  1. House and Pool
  2. Every Night I Have a Dream
  3. I’m in a Rush
  4. Be a Farmer or a Preacher
  5. Father’s Son
  6. Retro Man

Original music is far less safe than performing covers of songs everyone knows and loves. In any venue, while the band may have some objections to playing any one of a dozen well-worn but much-loved covers, “Rocky Top,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Wagon Wheel,” “Free Bird,” et. al., an animated crowd is liable to erupt in applause at the sound of the first chord of any of these songs. Original music, music the crowd has never heard before, is much riskier. The crowd has nothing to compare it to, and they have to listen. Sometimes listening requires effort. Effort may not be what the crowd has in mind.

Jake risked a lot with Retro Man, but risk carries with it the promise of the great reward that can never be achieved playing it safe. Congratulations, Jake. Rewards are inbound with their own one-way ticket.

How does one describe this music? It definitely falls in the rock-a-billy category, old (50’s) country, and Jake’s strong steeping in Bluegrass finds itself just below the surface. One could call this Americana, but in this case, Canadiana might be more appropriate. I hear Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, echoes of Earl Scruggs in Jake’s guitar playing, Johnny Horton, and, of course, Tommy Hunter; but the look is all Faron Young. At the Mandolin Camp, I dubbed him “Young Faron.” He liked that.

My favorites are “Retro Man,” “Father’s Son,” “Every Night I Have a Dream,” and the haunting “Be a Farmer or a Preacher,” which gave me goosebumps. Jake gives us a vision of growing up in rural Saskatchewan with “Father’s Son,” which no doubt makes his father, Gord, even prouder of him. The acorn, they say, falls not far from the tree. “Every Night I Have a Dream” would have been a perfect duet for Phil and Don, or Ira and Charlie.

“Retro Man” sums up Jake. It is his theme song, telling us a lot about himself, far more than I can relate with my words. He’s a Retro Man with a Retro Plan.

Justin Bloudoff’s steel guitar on “Be a Farmer or a Preacher” is riveting. The rest of the band lays the music in there, unadorned and uncomplicated, to compliment Jake’s songs and singing. Percussionist Ian Dickson manages to give us some great drums without beating on them: Salute!

Jake also has another CD called The Cabin in the Valley, recorded with his friend and music partner, Ira Amundson, whom I also met at the Mandolin Camp. That CD is straight ahead Bluegrass, and I am proud to have an autographed copy.

Retro Man is available on Spotify and through all major music outlets. You can find Jake and his band, The Sturgeon River Boys, on Facebook, where previews of his music can be heard, or at his website, jakevaadeland.com.

There is a lot of talent here, major talent. The future is bright for Jake Vaadeland, who just graduated from high school and turned eighteen this past spring. I wish all eighteen-year-olds could know their own mind. Jake sure does.

And he’s willing to risk it being himself.

Mississippi Chris Sharp




Emma John: A Wayfaring Stranger in Bluegrass

Emma John: A Wayfaring Stranger in Bluegrass

A Book Review by Richelle Putnam

“Our haphazard assembly of instruments produced a thick cloud of sound, from which emerged snatches of tune. The notes themselves seemed to move around our group like a swarm, settling for a short while on a banjo, next buzzing gently in the strings of a mandolin. I gripped the neck of my violin and willed them not to come my way. The music was flighty, cheerful, virtuosic; a thin, spectacled bassist kept the pace high. There were no chord sheets or pages of lyrics; everyone here knew the song, or at least knew how to follow along. Everyone except me.” (Emma John)

Emma John
Author

British author Emma John didn’t know what to expect when she set out for the U.S. Appalachian Mountains to explore the roots of bluegrass music. What she did know was that bluegrass music intrigued her and that for years her love had been strained for the violin on which she had been classically trained. She knew also that the sensation of Mumford & Sons and O Brother Where Art Thou? had shaken the world with enthusiastic ferocity. Incorporating a fiddle in the music mix became a new trend in London’s local bands.

“I had never heard a violin played like that before: fast and furious, in unpredictable and impenetrable patterns. This wasn’t music you could imitate, it was a secret code, its cleverness so complete that, without the key, all efforts were in vain. All the while its playfulness, its cocky swagger, tantalised the listener. Even the most explosive technical fireworks were handled with outrageous nonchalance. I’d never seen a violin player look so cool. And it tempted me, for the first time in a long time, to pick up my instrument again.” (John, 2019)

Emma John
Author

Knowing little to nothing about the Southern landscape and zero about where to go and where to stay (think Google Search), John sets out to excavate the roots of this mountain music called bluegrass and to rekindle her love for the violin. These become the subjects of her first book, Wayfaring Stranger: A Musical Journey in the American South. However, it is not her first “published” book. As John explained in her August 24, 2020, Rick Bayles interview in Americana UK, “music and travel genres don’t sell well,” therefore, neither agent nor publisher had any interest in the book. John’s first published book, Following On: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession and Terrible Cricket, covered another of the author’s obsessions: the 1990s England’s Cricket Team. Following On became the 2017 Wisden Book of The Year. We are grateful John returned to her first book and Weidenfeld & Nicolson released Wayfaring Stranger: A Musical Journey in the American South on May 30, 2019 (date on publisher’s site). Since then, (to the likely dismay of the agents and publishers who turned it down) John’s memoir became a Newsweek Travel Book of the Decade and the British Guild of Travel Writers’ Travel Book of the Year.

The song “The Wayfaring Stranger” or “The Poor Wayfaring Stranger” became well-known after singer and actor Jos Slovick sang it a Capello in the war movie 1917. The origins of the song remain unknown, but many believe it’s rooted in American folk and gospel music. It is listed as #3339 on the Roud Folk Index, probably the largest English-language folk song index in the world. “Wayfaring Stranger” evolved into a coveted cover for the likes of Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, and Burl Ives. Its poignant lyrics deftly molded into a haunting minor chord structure, clearly speak of death and leaving this world behind, but also relate to a reflective person on a journey through life. “Wayfaring Stranger” is absolutely the perfect title for this insightful memoir.

The 300+ pages pass by too quickly as we watch John bare all. She seems to trust her readers enough to share what most try desperately to hide—vulnerabilities, misconceptions, encounters, assumptions, and conclusions about unfamiliar people in a foreign culture we don’t understand. In one noteworthy moment, John exposes her unease:

“But right now, as I sat under an advert for snake repellent, inhaling dust and paint thinner, my foreignness had never seemed more acute. When I’d begun my journey, I had felt like an adventuress; now I felt like a fraud. A committed city girl, a lover of creature comforts and liberal politics, earning songs whose evocation of humble country living meant nothing to me, whose corniness and attitudes to women made my modern sensibilities cringe. Bluegrass music was suffused with its love of home, of mountain mamas and cabins in the woods – a sentimentality I couldn’t share, for a place I’d never lived. In a style I couldn’t even play. As the music hustled on and I stumbled behind, catching at its coattails, all I felt was the vast distance between me and everything it represented. And I wondered: why did I ever think this was a good idea?” (John, 2019)

Emma John
Author

John’s candidness allows readers to experience her angst, her insecurity, and even her English audacity in dropping herself into a Southern landscape that had only shown itself to her in movies like Deliverance and The Chainsaw Massacre. A Southerner might take offense to the author’s uncensored thoughts and assumptions, especially her political views, but if we are all honest with ourselves and recognize and admit to our own biases, we appreciate her ability and willingness to completely share herself without a protective covering, something most of us long to do. And if you take offense, you miss John’s whole purpose in her journey—and how so completely this Southern landscape filled with mountain people so unlike her and their music changed her:

“Fred and his wife, Doris, lived on a suburban street in a small town in the south of the state, not far from the city of Charlotte. Mailboxes stretched languorously down the road and each house nestled comfortably on a large apron-front of immaculately groomed, discreetly watered lawn. The longer I stayed with Fred and Doris, the less I wanted to leave. I took walks and drives in the North Carolina countryside; I joined in with the routines of their small-town life. The change of pace was an unexpected relief; my usual restlessness fell away; I embraced my unproductivity. Some days I got no further than the porch. In the still, heavy heat, the backyard throbbed with color – purple coneflowers, tangerine lilies – and an occasional breeze stirred up the scent of honeysuckle.” (John, 2019)

Emma John
Author

John does leave the lovely North Carolina home of Fred and Doris, but it is too late.  Bluegrass has beguiled her.  It was, in her own words, “music that showed off; it scratched an exhibitionist itch.” She had started violin lessons at age four, but by age 21, she was through with the instrument and had no interest in music …at all. Until bluegrass. Emma John returns to the Appalachian Mountains. And this time …she would become a fiddler.

Here, John’s transformation begins, in Boone, N.C., where this classical violinist and her 300-year-old violin learn the rules of bluegrass jamming, where she tosses sheet music and learns how to improvise by ear, where she spends nights at bluegrass jams, and travels to bluegrass festivals and events in North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia, and Tennessee. Alongside John, readers from around the world learn about bluegrass music and the legends—Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Flatt & Scruggs, Jim and Jesse—who first brought the harmonic lyrics of cheatin’, drinkin’, killin’, the homeplace, and trains to our ears.

John’s emotive portrayal of the Southern landscape and its people urge us to remove our heavily guarded walls with which we so fiercely protect our proud Southern culture and …listen. If you do, you’ll admire this well-educated, independent, successful writer, and sassy Briton who exposes without shame her self-doubt and musical ineptness against those improvising bluegrass jammers who thrive effortlessly on every lightning note. Like John in her bluegrass journey, you will enter these pages as a stranger, but you’ll leave as Emma John’s old friend.

In short, we highly recommend Wayfaring Stranger: A Musical Journey in the American South, not only for your reading pleasure but for a journey you will likely never forget.

Reference:

Quotes from: John, E. Wayfaring Stranger: A Musical Journey in the American South. 2019, May 30. Weidenfeld & Nicholson, Publisher

Emma John photo by Justin John Doherty




Cup of Loneliness: David Peterson and 1946

CD Review

CD: Cup of Loneliness

Artist: David Peterson and 1946

Website: www.1946band.com

Reviewer: Mississippi Chris Sharp

email: mississippichris@bellsouth.net

David Peterson is a Bluegrass veteran who does things his way. He regularly posted on social media about progress on his new bluegrass recording, his eighth, which is a substantial body of work. When the recording was finished along with the thousand details that needed to be completed and it was ready to release, I sent my money along with everyone else. I got my autographed copy in the mail, wrestled with the plastic wrapper (Is it just me, or is the plastic a lot tougher than it used to be?), broke the jewel case (I never liked jewel cases, but what else is there?), and to soothe me after the mechanical vexations, I jumped right to attention at the sound of triple fiddles, and a high, piercing tenor: an uncompromising, unapologetic tenor, reaching for orbit it seemed, and getting there. It was as remarkable as it was startling.

David Peterson and 1946 has brought to us sixteen lonely songs with stellar musicianship and vocals. Fiddlers Stuart Duncan, Aubrey Haynie, Shad Cobb, and Tim Crouch in various combinations give us triple fiddles that raises the hair on the back of my neck, reminding me of my young self sitting at the foot of the stage at Bean Blossom and peering up at Kenny Baker, Joe Stuart, Tater Tate, Curly Ray Cline, Enoch Sullivan, Byron Berline, Blaine Sprouse, and whoever else was handy playing triple fiddles in the midweek shows. The memory of past witnessed excellence jumps out at me right now as I listen to “Nashville Blues”, the only instrumental on Cup of Loneliness, a foreboding tune that has its own banjo-ic loneliness, and some fine banjo work by Brent Lamons.

Right off the bat, David gives us a taste of his powerful vocals with “Prisoner’s Song” where he startles with his dynamics and range. One minute he croons like Perry Como, the next, he blows the top of the mountain off, erupting like a Caribbean island volcano sitting astride subducting tectonic plates, except in this case venting the pressure in the form of music with a power that cannot be ignored.

“Short Life of Trouble,” “Memories of You,” “Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road,” “Cup of Loneliness” and “Kentucky Waltz” are about as lonely as any songs I ever heard. “Short Life of Trouble” is one of my favorite songs and I like to hear it in any iteration or interpretation. I can hardly think of anything more lonely than a short life of trouble. Yet David delivered. On all these songs David delivered. I bought a CD and David delivered a fabulous Bluegrass band right into my studio. I’d say that’s a bargain. And, I was just about transported to another realm by “Kentucky Waltz,” which was just marvelous, until the band modulated to a higher key, which was unexpected, and where its marvelousness had superseded loneliness, it found itself superseded by sublimity. That was as far as I made it before dialing the number and getting David on the phone.

“So, tell me,” I said, “Just how many overdubs on this CD?”

“There aren’t any,” he replied. “I am determined to keep everything in the realm of human performance. It was all recorded live in the studio, no click tracks, no headphones, no overdubs.”

I asked him about “Kentucky Waltz,” and its modulation. “It was the first song we cut for the record, and what you hear on it is the unedited first take.” I was astonished. I listened to it again and again. David’s high tenor shot forth like a bullet from a 30-06, breaking into a falsetto that would make Bill Monroe smile.

I could hear it. I could hear the music breathe, as alive on the record as it was in the magic instant it was created. It was not confined, nor constrained. It was not merely competent journeymen executing the songs; it was far beyond that. Everything I heard was a performance, not an execution. An execution plays it safe. An execution’s reward is its own competence. Cup of Loneliness? It was reaching for something much higher, and reaching far enough to take the risk of falling, yet it never fell. It reached and grabbed the brass ring. If you like Bluegrass, Cup of Loneliness is for you. If you like it live, throbbing with loneliness and loss, this is it.

“Run Mountain” I had not heard in a long time and was glad to hear it here. My foot could not help but pat. “Lost in This World” is always a joy, and done here with remarkable vocal and fiddle harmony, a sense of timing that lures you in, and an archaic natural chord where modernity demands a minor adds tremendous tension. The banjo work of Eric Ellis on this song was particularly enjoyable.

We get a triple dose of Hank Williams with “My Sweet Love Ain’t Around,” the dark, dark, dark “Alone and Forsaken,” and “My Heart Would Know.” I had to look out to the sky while listening to “Alone and Forsaken” to make sure that storm clouds weren’t gathering. The verses were mournfully tortuous, and the chorus was a lamentation, a Jeremiad, and the a capella chorus at the end delivered all of the loneliness and loss the protagonist of the song was feeling, just what David said was his goal. The person praying to The Lord in the song is in the midst of living loneliness and loss. To make us feel his pain, to make us lament with him, is the work of an artist. What has been delivered was more than the order required. Lagniappe, the folks in Louisiana call it. Lagniappe. A lagniappe of loneliness. Lots of lagniappe in Cup of Loneliness, but it is a big cup.

Then there’s “Old Southern Skies,” “The First Whippoorwill,” “Lost to a Stranger,” where, again, the natural chord adds tension, and “Lonesome Wind.”

The triple fiddles kick in like a hornet-stung mule heading back to the barn. Mickey Boles’ tenor harmony to David’s lead definitely has the sound of experience, as they sing and phrase together like brothers. Sometimes, it’s Mike Compton giving us his great, percussive mandolin chops, and sometimes it’s Boles. There are three banjoists on this record. Brent Lamons, Jeremy Stephens, and Eric Ellis. I enjoyed every note I heard. The indefatigable Kent Blanton (Superman) at times thumps the bass and at others walks it like a man commanding a half-dozen leashed hounds.

In the liner notes, Jim Beaver noted that “The recordings have the right amount of natural imperfection to be perfect.” I might have heard one uhoh, yet when I listened again, it seemed like the uhoh was intentional. A few more listens, and the uhoh seemed to my memory to have been in every cover of the song I ever heard, as if spinto adagio andiamo was penciled in Italian right on the original score and the uhoh-less covers are the pretenders. Live music can do that to you. I don’t hear any uhohs anymore. I don’t think I ever heard one. Now, I just hear a superlative performance.

This recording satisfies. It is unhurried, unrushed. It has drive without the pressure of speed, thus sounding faster to our ears that it really is. It is easy to mistake drive for speed, yet the two have no connection. Cup of Loneliness is Grammy material. It is remarkably well done, and done in just the way David Peterson wanted to do it. That’s the only way he does things. I respect that. I admire it and want more of it. And if that is what gets us performance excellence, then I want a bigger Cup of Loneliness.

I’m not sure it can get any bigger.




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 Minor Motion Picture Soundtrack

The Mountain Minor Motion Picture Soundtrack

CD: The Mountain Minor Motion Picture Soundtrack

Artist: Various

Label: Alt452 Records

The Bluegrass Standard published an in-depth article about the film The Mountain Minor. (See The Bluegrass Standard Vol. 4 Issue 5 – The Mountain Minor) I have not seen the film, but I have listened to the soundtrack several times now. The Mountain Minor 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 Minor. 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 Minor 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