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 the idea. Toss in a musical saw to add it's somewhat eerie flight among the other instruments and you're really on the right track. After all, when was the last time you saw a band with a saw-player sitting in? And you know, with that whole collection of players I almost forgot to mention the jug player.

Since they bill themselves as a "hillbilly old-time band" (even though they hail from Minnesota) I think they have all the bases covered!

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 bands long before other members were born, but they're all united in their love of bluegrass. The band is Chaston Carroll, Dave Carroll, Brent Pack, Bryan Russell, and Scott Tacket, and Hillbilly Heroes is their third album.

Maybe you’ve heard the one about the banjo player who always sits in a level spot so the tobacco juice will run out of both sides of his mouth. 

Or the guy who makes a perfect score by throwing a banjo in a dumpster without hitting the sides. He earned extra points for landing on top of an accordion. 

Or what has 16 legs and 3 teeth? The front row of a banjo concert.

Or what do you call a banjo player in a three-piece suit? A defendant. 

The fact is, people love making jokes about banjos and the people who play them. These banjo jokes have taken over where the moron, blond, lawyer and Polack jokes left off. For the heck of it, let’s try to figure out why people get such a kick out of picking on banjo players. What is it about the banjo that makes it the brunt of so many jokes? 

To answer this question we need to take a little trip back to 1843. At that time, minstrel music was just taking root, and it soon surged in popularity to became America’s first national musical obsession. Minstrel bands performed everywhere from concert stages in the north, to the gold fields of California, on the decks of Mississippi River boats, and in the camps of Civil War soldiers. At the core of minstrel music was the 5-string banjo. In time, the instrument itself came to symbolize an entire era of minstrel music.

Saturday, May 26 @ 7:30pm
Unitarian Fellowship
67 South Randolph Avenue, Poughkeepsie
Tickets: $15 at the door

Celia Woodsmith is a Grammy nominated performer and songwriter from Kittery, Maine. Lead singer of the highly acclaimed Bluegrass ensemble Della Mae, she has toured extensively all over the world. Described by The Boston Globe as "Unvarnished and intimate...but then sounds like she's about to part the Dead Sea" Woodsmith has opened for and played with artists such as Taj Mahal, Leon Russel, Peter Rowan and Amy Black of the Indigo Girls. You can find her performing in New England with Joe K. Walsh on Mandolin and also in her Rock and Roll project Say Darling.

Hailed by David Grisman as a “wonderful mandolin player,” the CBC-Newfoundland as “one of the best mandolinists of his generation” and by Vintage Guitar Magazine as “brilliant”, Boston based mandolin player Joe K. Walsh is known for his exceptional tone and taste, and his collaborations with acoustic music luminaries including legendary fiddler Darol Anger, banjo star Danny Barnes, flatpick guitar hero Scott Nygaard, folk star Jonathan Edwards, and pop/grass darlings Joy Kills Sorrow. He’s played with everyone from John Scofield to Bela Fleck to Emmylou Harris, and performed everywhere from festivals to laundromats to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. After a number of award-winning years as mandolinist with bluegrass stars the Gibson Brothers, Joe currently splits his time between an inventive string band called Mr Sun (featuring Darol Anger, Grant Gordy and Aidan O’Donnell) a duo with Grant Gordy, and his own band. An avid educator, Joe is a mandolin professor at the Berklee College of Music. He teaches regularly at music camps throughout North America and beyond, and teaches online through Peghead Nation.

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 popular if presented on Saturday Night Live, only for very different reasons. (Think Steve Martin's “King Tut,” which actually was a hit a few years after “I Love” was.)

This latest from the Grascals, Before Breakfast, finds the band right there, straddling the same line between profundity and parody. Bluegrass bands certainly don’t shirk from a cliché—who can get enough of a good Lester Flatt G-run?—but if there are limits, some of them are here. The songs chart all the heart ache, lost loves, and loneliness that bluegrass is famous for, with nary a wink. The narrator of “Demons” finds his nemesis lurking in a bottle, high-heel shoes, rolling papers, and blues songs. The narrator of “I’ve Been Redeemed” has committed a wealth of sin which sadly goes unnamed. We’re left wondering what it was that he did. Must have been pretty bad. Though, unlike the narrator of “Lonesome,” it hasn’t landed him in prison, at least not yet.

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 a listener will want to hear more than once, not just this month while it’s one of the newer CDs in the stack, but now and then over the years that follow. This is one of those.

When I first saw the title of this CD, I suspected it might be just a Stanley Brothers tribute album consisting of Clinch Mountain classics redone in Rowan’s high lonesome vocal style. That would have been a satisfying album, I’m sure, but this CD is much more than that.


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