Old Road New Again

CD: Old Road New Again

Artist: The Dillards

Label: Pinecastle Recording Company

Artist Website: RodneyDillard.tv

Label Website: pinecastlemusic.com



  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



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



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




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


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


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.

Daryl Mosley: The Secret of Life

The Secret of Life

CD: The Secret of Life

Artist: Daryl Mosley

Record Label: Pinecastle Recording Company

Artist Website: www.darylmosely.com

Label website: www.pinecastlemusic.com

Release Date: May 22, 2020


  1. A Few Years Ago
  2. The Secret of Life
  3. In a Country Town
  4. Hands in Wood
  5. It Never Gets Old
  6. Do What the Good Book Says
  7. All the Way Home
  8. Piece at a Time
  9. The Deal
  10. I’d Write You
  11. Heartaches Moving In

I am presented with far more CDs than I can review, even presented with more CDs than I can listen to. I am even presented with CDs I have listened to but either could not make it through, or having made it through, never want to hear again: forgotten, tedious, mundane, run-of-the-mill, predictable, none of which are adjectives one wants applied to their CD. The Secret of Life is none of those things.

I admire songwriting, and simply thrill when songwriters spread their skills across the whole spectrum of a CD.  Daryl Mosley’s skill is evident upon the first listen. A promo sheet sent to me by his publicist listed many awards for songwriting. His songwriting is not a fluke. It has been tried and tested, and with The Secret of Life, we are presented with an entire portfolio of his work. Of the eleven songs in The Secret of Life, nine were penned outright by Mosley, with another two sharing co-writer credits, one with Rick Lang and other with The Grascal’s Danny Roberts.

Mosely has some serious word-weaving skills to bring out a story in song, particularly in the title cut, The Secret of Life, and In a Country Town, Hands in Wood, and A Piece at a Time. The Secret of Life is a feel good song advising the listener that life is just where you find it. In a Country Town captures the feeling of life in the rural route and all the things those who choose such a life see as blessings which some perceive as drawbacks. Hands in Wood is an outstanding treatise on making a living with your hands and forging out a life for yourself and your family by the skills you bring to your work.

I liked all the songs on the CD. The Deal was a little dark for me, but others may find in it their own Secret of Life. My toe was fairly well tapping as I got to In a Country Town. The recording, mixing, and mastering were so smooth, I took the CD out of my laptop and hustled over to my studio PC. I fired it up loud on my Mackie HR824 monitors. If there was any harshness, those monitors would reveal it. I smiled because there was none. I turned it up louder and louder, until the walls were shaking: just smooth. That’s the way I like it. I tip my hat to producers Mosely and Roberts, Gorilla’s Nest Studio, in Ashland City, TN, , and Audio Engineer Chris Latham. A couple of times I thought the fiddle was a bit too far back in the mix, but that is a matter of personal taste. All in all, it is a great piece of work.

The CD does not list a banjo player, but two mandolin players, co-producer Danny Roberts being one, and Aaron McDaris being the other. I scrambled around to find out who the banjoist was, and saw on the promo sheet sent to me that it was McDaris. I do not know if McDaris also played the mandolin on this CD, but I enjoyed it (Roberts?) I particularly enjoyed the banjo playing. While there is the school in Bluegrass music that subscribes to the concept of the constantly driving banjo, I did not attend that school. While McDaris drove right on through a couple of tunes, he does so impeccably. I thoroughly enjoyed his work. I also enjoyed the backup runs on Tony Wray’s guitar. The sound of the guitar and the dobro, together, on It Never Gets Old had a delightful understated strength. Understated strength is a good thing since it lets our own minds inhabit the music and pull from our own experiences, which makes for a song that touches us personally. I think It Never Gets Old is my favorite song on the CD; the close duet harmonies are just perfect. I’d Write You is a hot-on-its-heels second.

Do What the Good Book Says just re-queued itself on my CD player. My toe is tapping. 

I like that. Congratulations, Pinecastle and Daryl Mosely!

Mississippi Chris Sharp

Stillhouse Junkies: Calamity

Stillhouse Junkies: Calamity

by Mississippi Chris Sharp

Artist: Stillhouse Junkies

CD: Calamity

Artist Website: www.stillhousejunkies.com

Back in June, 2018, Stillhouse Junkie bassist Cody Tinnin sent me their new CD, Over the Pass. I was excited enough by what I heard that I wrote a review which I published in my blog (Stillhouse Junkies – Over the Pass) It was fresh, dynamic music. You’ll note that I was captivated.

I saw that their new CD, CALAMITY, was just released. Thinking it would be hard for them to top the fresh originality of Over the Pass, I asked Tinnin to send me a link so I could review it for The Bluegrass Standard. Before I listened, I asked Tinnin what his thoughts on their new album were. His reply was,

“This is our finest work yet for sure. Fred’s songwriting is really great on this record and we accomplished what we set out to do which is to record a truly unique album.” 

My initial thoughts were that Cody might be a little hasty. I was sure they couldn’t top Over the Pass. They did. And they did it admirably.

The Bluegrass Standard offers traditional and progressive Bluegrass, Americana, and roots music. We’ll place this firmly in the progressive acoustic Americana category. It sure ain’t Bill Monroe. It was not intended to be. Good music is just that, and my how I love to sit down and listen to a full album that has a theme. This album is like a good cigar; it takes time. Don’t to bother spin it up unless you have the time to be absorbed and transported to a different place. There’s no two minute breakdowns here. With several songs going over six minutes, they weren’t worried about air-play, but getting the point of their music across in their own way. I’d say mission accomplished.

The Stillhouse Junkies aren’t another jam band. Calamity is complex, with tight arrangements, stunning segues between musical sections, a fabulous trio sounding like a much bigger band, and stellar songwriting. From the wings, one might hazard the idea that their music is experimental, bringing to mind Led Zepplin, The Allman Brothers, The Hot Club of France, music from Mark O’Connor’s new age phase, David Grisman, the Newgrass Revival, with the occasional and welcomed Celtic twist.

If new and fresh music is their goal, then they clearly see a pathway to creating it. Fred Kosak’s songwriting is wonderfully poetic and complex. A few lines just grabbed me: “But the truth I hear is what you make it, and that was forty years ago, when I gambled everything I had in the mountains of New Mexico”, “Stay if you must, chasing rust from your pipe dreams”, “Nothing waiting at the end but all the miles left to go”, and “Giving up on your mission is as good as giving in. Do you spend a lifetime wishing for a fight you can’t win?” This is painful but glorious songwriting.

Those last three lines come from the Shackelton Suite: three songs, three parts, telling the story of Sir Ernest Shackelton and the tragic yet triumphant voyage of the Endurance to Antarctica. No one seems to bother writing and performing thematic albums, though there certainly did at one time. You rock music fans might recall King Crimson, Yes, The Moody Blues and a few others, who had entire albums with a theme. Those may not have been the most commercially successful records, as they did not contain short, catchy songs, but they are still fresh and relevant as works of art. While Shackelton and his story may not be fresh, the triumphs and despairs of the human spirit are always relevant. I salute The Stillhouse Junkies for tackling music in this way.

I really like the inclusion of a snippet of the “Mission Impossible” theme song in Burn it Down. Roll it Home is high energy acoustic rock. Mountains of New Mexico  has delightful melodic punctuation and interaction in the band. No Deal channels the Hot Club of France and Grapelli. Coraline, about love gone wrong, just flies at 160+ BPM. A Hundred Days was recycled from their previous CD and captures the spirit of Lewis and Clark in a Led Zepplinesque sort of way; apparently the artist is not through with this song and its story. I went back and looked, and this is the second time I hear wisps of Led Zeppelin. Then the Shackelton Suite has it’s own operatic quality, as intense as a Handel Oratorio. And My Own Hands echoes the Newgrass Revival with great instrumental transitions between musical sections and ethereal fiddle harmonics.

Cody Tinnin (bass/vocals), Alissa Wolf (fiddle/vocals), and Fred Kosak (guitar/mandolin/vocals) have the synergy to sound like a much larger band, which is what happens when the music is in the pocket. I am looking forward to seeing them soon. Congratulations, Stillhouse Junkies, on being original all the way. This music is art, through and through. Outstanding.

Bluegrass Headquarters

CD Review


CD: Bluegrass Headquarters

Artist: Jussi Syren and The Groundbreakers

Artist Website: www.syren.fi

Label: Bluelight Records

Label Website: N/A

Reviewer: Mississippi Chris Sharp


Finland is said to be the world’s happiest country. That may be, as the Nordic countries have long found out how to make the best out of their lives in lands of short summers and long winters. With that in mind, I found myself wishing for a plate of Poronkäristys or sautéed reindeer, one of the national dishes of Finland, as I listened to Jussi Syren and the Groundbreaker‘s CD, Bluegrass Headquarters. This CD starts and hardly stops for a breather. The first head-turner was the title cut, Bluegrass Headquarters, whereas the band was burning it up, some extremely hot fiddling had me reaching for the label to identify the fiddler. Mike Cleveland, it read. No wonder it turned my head.


I like that of the eleven songs on this CD, seven were penned by Syren, including the poignant Okinawa Waltz, which I enjoyed, which, along with The Ballad of the White Death, were about the only two songs in which one could catch one’s breath. The instrumentals Drop C Ride, written by Groundbreaker’s banjoist, Tauri Oksala, and the bluesy/modal Road to Tammelund, composed by Syren, were particularly enjoyable, with beautiful fiddle work by Cleveland and clear mandolin work by Syren. It reminded me of Monroe’s Last Days on Earth, though I’ll bet a dollar to a dime Monroe never had a plate of Poronkäristys.


Syren’s gospel tune, Put the Bible Back in School Rooms, was as Stanley-esque as anything I ever heard, while the Ode to Bluegrass Mandolin worked in a medley of tunes between the verses. The rest of the CD put me in remembrance of Jimmy Martin in speed and drive, other than the traditional Walking in Jerusalem Just Like John, which had me thinking of The Sullivan Family.


Included in the mix of tunes was Billy Joe Shaver’s I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train. I counted it several times, and this song was played just at 180 beats per minute, which is about as fast as a train can go in Georgia. Apparently, they can go faster in Finland. It was blistering. If it had been any faster, I don’t know if my hearing could have kept up. Let no one say that the Finns cannot play as fast as the North Carolinians, both of whom can play faster than this Mississippian. Never mind me; just pass the Poronkäristys.


I particularly liked the Bob and Joe Tanner song Bitter Tears.


Bluegrass is alive and well in Finland. Served up with some fresh sautéed reindeer, Finnish Bluegrass would be just the thing to go with on this cold, Mississippi, February night. I expect a February night is much colder in Finland. Maybe Jussi and me will retreat to our saunas, the biggest difference being that I have no snowbank to plunge into after I come out. Maybe we’ll both take a ride to our Gulf Coasts: me to the Gulf of Mexico, he to the Gulf of Bothnia. No matter how cold, we’ll both have some hot bluegrass to warm us up.


The liner notes indicated that this CD was recorded live in the studio with the exception of Cleveland’s fiddle and the dobro overdubs. I enjoyed the natural room reverb or the excellent plate reverb that the recording engineer used. To my ear, many of the tracks could have benefited from a little more separation and less bleed-over. Other than that. I’ll say nicely done.


Jussi Syren and the GroundbreakersBluegrass Headquarters is straight ahead bluegrass brought to you from the world’s happiest country. It made me happy just to listen.



Mississippi Chris Sharp