A Review of David Parmley and Continental Divide’s “3 Silver Dollars”

by Tom Thorpe

Since the early days of California’s landmark bluegrass band, The Bluegrass Cardinals, David Parmley has been setting his mark as one of the best singers, songwriters and band leaders in the business.  His smooth-as-velvet baritone voice is easy to identify amidst the scores of tenors out there today.  On “3 Silver Dollars,” he again reminds bluegrass fans everywhere that he has still got it!

While his band, Continental Divide, has seen some changes over the years, the lineup for this recording project was: David on guitar and vocals, Dale Perry on banjo and finger picked guitar, Kyle Perkins on bass, and Ron Spears on mandolin and tenor vocals.   I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting any of the other members on this group, but I have met Ron Spears on several occasions and jammed with him at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass in Nashville.  Ron, formerly of Special Consensus, is a wonderful singer, songwriter and talented mandolin player.

“3 Silver Dollars” leads off with the title song, on which David demonstrates his ability to drive a quick-tempo bluegrass song.  In fact, he makes it sound easy in his mellow, deep voice.  When you first hear it, you don’t realize how fast this one moves along, but try picking along!  David reminds me of Lester Flatt, who also could deliver a hot bluegrass tune in this way.

“What You Can See from Your Knees,” the second cut on the album, is a well-written, waltz tempo song from Leslie Ann Wynn that could easily be a million dollar George Jones country tune.  Ronnie Stewart guests on an outstanding fiddle lead on this one.

“Refill of Your Love” is an outstanding bluegrass tune that has the potential to be a standard that will be around for a long time to come.  Dale Perry, formerly of Quicksilver, plays a great banjo on this one that will certainly get you moving your feet and dancing in the kitchen.

My favorite tune on the entire CD, however, is “Winsborough Cotton Mill Blues.”  This traditional number was originally recorded by Mike Seeger, but probably written by one of the mill workers in the legendary Winsborough Cotton Mill.  A group that David’s dad, Don Parmley, was once in called The Hillmen had a hit recording of this standard.   By the way, other members of that legendary group included Chris Hillman and Vern Gosdin!

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“Winsborough Cotton Mill Blues”

What’s a great bluegrass project without a good murder song, though?  Well, “She’s Lying in the Cold, Cold Ground” certainly fits the bill here.  David and Ron sing the pants off this song and Dale’s banjo brings that lonesome, mountain sound to it.   Ronnie Stewart’s fiddle is great on this one, too.

You really have to rank David Parmley among the great Gospel singers in bluegrass, as well.  “3 Silver Dollars” has several great sacred numbers on it, but my favorite is “Meadow on the Mountain” on which Rhonda Vincent sings beautiful harmony and where Dale Perry’s outstanding bass voice, which once graced Quicksilver, can be heard beautifully. 

“That’s Just Me” is a song chosen for the album that fits David’s voice and style perfectly.   It has a catchy lyric that will have you singing along with the band. 

“God Reached Down” opens with some fancy 3-finger picking guitar work from Dale Perry on what sounds like an old Martin D-28.  It’s a great final song that wraps up the album with the class and quality that is present throughout the entire project.

I loved this CD, but have to admit that after listening to Ron Spears singing lead on “Carolina Rain” I find myself hoping that someday Ron assembles his own band, so we can all hear him in the driver’s seat.  This is not meant in anyway to be a criticism of Continental Divide or this project; but after you hear Ron sing you just find yourself wanting to hear more from this outstandingly talented man from Utah. 

“3 Silver Dollars” is a lovely recording project that is well balanced with hot traditional bluegrass sounding tunes, easy listening ballads and reverent sacred songs.   It is masterly engineered and mixed by Dale Perry.  Liner notes, however, are really sparse and had me running to my Google to learn more about the songs, writers and artists.   Because Continental Divide is based out of California, we don’t get many opportunities to hear David Parmley and his wonderful group.  So, if you see them on a festival lineup or concert schedule near you, take it.  You won’t be disappointed! In the meantime, go get this CD.


Pinecastle Records

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