Dale Ann Bradley, the accomplished bluegrass singer from The Bluegrass State, released earlier this year her first LP since saying sayonara to Sister Sadie, the popular all female vocal group. “We’ve been together for between seven and eight years and I think it was probably time,” she told one interviewer.
The solo album entitled Things She Couldn’t Get Over, features Bradley’s consistently pure and sure voice, born and bred in Kentucky, and a new backup band, MoonRunner, with dobro ace Matt Leadbetter, son of the legendary dobro man Phil Leadbetter, stepping up as the go-to soloist. They sound almost like Alison Krauss and Union Station at times, delivering songs with intimate, conversational lyrics, pop-leaning arrangements, and choruses with delicate vocal harmonies.
The recording was done last summer, amid the pandemic, socially distanced, and her song choices hit the right notes for these uncertain times, grappling with grief, suffering and mental illness.
The title track, written by Bradley, was inspired by her memories of a misfit high school classmate who wandered the halls all day, unable to follow rules or sit still, and whose difficult life was cut short by breast cancer. “During COVID I had been working on the album and writing stuff and that one kind of found me,” Bradley said in a press release promoting the album. “People like her were misunderstood,” she said of her classmate, and then she noted how the pandemic seems to make the art of understanding more urgent. “If we recognize things, and maybe help somebody find some place that they can get some help, I think that’s going to be a must in our future,” she said.
Another song, “Lynwood,” a touching reflection on the suffering of a broken down Vietnam-era combat vet, seems outdated but may be an important story to share today, especially considering how post traumatic stress continues to bedevil those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, to be sure, in intensive care units around the country.
She also covers a Ken McDuffie song, “Yellow Creek,” previously recorded by John Anderson, which laments the mass suffering caused by the U.S. government’s eviction nearly 200 years ago of tens of thousands of Cherokee men, women and children from their homes in Tennessee and several other southern states. They walked hundreds of miles to land west of the Mississippi River, in a brutal forced migration along what’s now known as the “trail of tears.”
While Bradley does not avoid the darker roads on the American journey, she also, thankfully, seeks and finds some well-lighted rest areas. “After While” is an old gem from the public domain, encouraging us to keep on the sunny side of life.
“Living on the Edge,” the opening track, which she co-wrote with Aaron Bibelhauser, is a feisty declaration of independence from those who would try to put her down.
Bradley’s acclaimed voice, is, for sure, strong, expressive and all her own. But if pressed to compare I’d say she’s more Reba McEntire than Alison Krauss, coming at the listener in a manner that seems to say “come and set a spell, and I’ll give you a good talking to.”
Bradley has been performing for more than 30 years, working her way up, and up, and up, to where she is now well established as one of the bluegrass community’s stars. It was nearly 25 years ago when Sonny Osborne of the Osborne Brothers produced her first solo album, East Kentucky Morning, which was a hit within the niche.
In 2015, a self-produced LP entitled Pocket Full of KeysM, earned her a Grammy nomination and she has garnered five IBMA vocalist of the year awards over the years. The Sister Sadie project, a collaboration with Tina Adair and several others, resulted last year in the act becoming the first female vocal group named IBMA Entertainer of the Year. Sister Sadie’s self-titled 2019 album was nominated for a Grammy in the bluegrass category.
With the release this year of a new solo record, Bradley’s fans should be glad to see she is not resting on those laurels, which include induction three years ago into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, an honor she shares with Sam Bush, Sonny Osborne, and Bill Monroe, to name a few.