Review: Craig Harris – Bluegrass, Newgrass, Old-Time, and Americana Music

  Since Neil V. Rosenberg’s book Bluegrass: A History, we have seen relatively few attempts to bring a fresh and up-to-date reading about the musical genre. The approach with Craig Harris’ new book, based on a wide range of personal interviews, is also to link the bluegrass genre to our contemporary setting. Let’s be clear: most so-called “bluegrass” festivals these days don’t look like Bean Blossom, circa 1971. This book effectively reflects and documents many changes in the larger realm … Read More

Review: Bill & The Belles – DreamSongs, Etc.

Charming. Deeply charming. That is the essence of this full-length debut by Bill and the Belles, Dream Songs, Etc. Here is a disarming sweetness, a wistful recollection of a by-gone era, a sound that goes back to the earliest days of the 20th century (and even before). Bill and the Belles—a quartet consisting of Kris Truelsen on guitar, Kalia Yeagle on fiddle, Grace Van’t Hof on banjo, and Karl Zerfas on bass—evoke and create a unique form of American acoustic … Read More

Reviews: Cane Mill Road – 5 Speed & Gap to Gap

5 Speed I always hope to return from the summer bluegrass fests with one great new find; and this year I hit upon Cane Mill Road at the GreyFox Bluegrass Festival in the Catskills. Apparently I’m not the first to find them, as their debut CD 5 Speed hit #9 on the Billboard Bluegrass Album chart and they’ve been gaining lots of airplay. As if that’s not enough of attracting good attention, the IBMA chose them as one of 30 … Read More

Review: Jerry Wicentowski -Thanks Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman

As a long-time fan of Mac Wiseman (born Malcolm B. Wiseman, May 23, 1925 ), I looked forward (cautiously) to reviewing this CD, an album of 15 covers of Wiseman tunes, including a number of my favorites. For those who don’t know, Mac Wiseman is a Virginia boy, conservatory trained, having played with many of the best—Bill Monroe among others—at many venues, including the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall. He has the magic combination, sincerity and great bluegrass sound. So … Read More

Review: Balsam Range – Mountain Overture

Balsam Range’s new album, Mountain Overture, recorded with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble, only contains previously released tracks. Since it is a compilation of the group’s most popular songs from their previous six album releases, one may be tempted to give it a “greatest hits” or “best of “album title. I would prefer to label Mountain Overture as a concept album. Great bluegrass music enhanced by an orchestral background. If you are unfamiliar with Balsam Range, the original members have … Read More

The Roe Family Singers: Songs of the Mountains, Songs of the Plains

I do seem to get drawn to the roots and branches of bluegrass: old-time music, traditional bluegrass, new-grass, string band, Celtic, etc. This band would fit comfortably under the old-time umbrella, but carries plenty of folk, country, and Americana; aren’t they all related in some way? Imagine Woody Guthrie sitting down for a front porch jam session with Johnny Cash, throw in a couple of fiddles, a washboard, a clog dancer, and an occasional kazoo and you’re starting to get … Read More

Review: Hammertowne – Hillbilly Heroes

I’ve read another review that calls Hammertowne’s music “blue collar bluegrass.” If you take that to mean no-nonsense, straight up traditionally crafted bluegrass that honors the greats of bluegrass but stands on their own well-written tunes, well, you’re on the right track. Since the band hails from eastern Kentucky their bluegrass roots run deep, many of the band members growing up in extended, musically talented families. The band also crosses musical generations, with at least one member out playing in … Read More

Review: Peter Rowan – Carter Stanley’s Eyes

Peter Rowan’s new CD, Carter Stanley’s Eyes, his first release on Rebel Records, should be in everyone’s music collection. This is really good stuff. For any album to succeed, a number of things have to come together all at once: Good songs, good singing and good playing. None of those things have to be flashy. In fact, too much flash will usually detract from the parts that make the songs work. What’s most important is that the performers produce something … Read More

Review: Grascals – Before Breakfast

Some songs, like Tom T. Hall’s “I Love,” unintentionally straddle the line between sincerity and satire. Some people maybe find the song to be a simple presentation of a complex idea. Others, Bob Dylan among them, think of it derisively as the “little baby duck” song: I love little baby ducks, old pickup trucks Slow-movin’ trains And rain It was a hit on the country charts presumably because listeners related to the sentiment. Still, it would have been just as … Read More

Review: Wayne Erbsen – Easy 2-Chord Songs for Mandolin

If the sound of the mandolin catches your ear and you think you’d like to learn how to play then ‘Easy 2-Chord Songs for Mandolin’ by Wayne Erbsen from Native Ground Books & Music in Asheville, NC serves as an ideal introduction to the instrument. Wayne Erbsen is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist whose banjo and fiddle instructional videos appear on YouTube. Here he brings us an engaging and accessible volume written in a relaxed tone with an emphasis on enjoyment of … Read More

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