Review: Rock Hearts – Starry Southern Nights

Here’s a brand new CD of fresh traditional-style bluegrass music from Rock Hearts , a fine 5-piece New England band. It was officially released last Friday, Oct. 30.

Rock Hearts named themselves after a great old Jimmy Martin recording from 1958 (“Rock hearts will break – believe it my dear”). The band comprises Alex MacLeod – guitar, Joe Deetz – banjo, Billy Thibodeau – mandolin, Danny Musher – fiddle, and Rick Brodsky – bass fiddle. The project is beautifully produced and recorded by Ned Luberecki and Stephen Mougin at Dark Shadows Recording. The 8 cuts “have it all”. Good writing, arranging, picking and singing. Definitely makes you want MORE! Throughout these songs, there is plenty of strong vocal harmony. All the picking is solidly traditional and expert. No “jamgrass”, “mashgrass” or thrashing here; these aren’t kids.

“99 Year Blues” is a terrific, brisk, pure bluegrass number written by Maineiac Ted DeMille, who played in a band with Billy Thibodeau years ago. “Don’t Let Smokey Mountain Smoke Get in Your Eyes” was an Osborne Brothers record decades ago, and it’s a good bouncy number with vocals slightly reminiscent of the Gibson Brothers. “Starry Southern Nights” is an emotional, slow original from Alex MacLeod featuring nice guitar picking and fiddle. “Whispering Waters” is a driving tune from Billy, previously recorded by Audie Blaylock and Redline. Joe Deetz provides his new banjo instrumental “Juxtaposed”. Townes Van Zandt wrote “Don’t Take It Too Hard” and the boys do it in a relaxed, country-ish feel. An old Maine friend of mine, the late Bill Smith, another ex-band mate of Billy T, wrote the clever tune “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee” that chides a wild gal who is “runnin’ round with Lester and Earl”. The CD closes out with the old folk/blues tunes “Stagger Lee” turned into uptempo bluegrass.

Many HVBA members have encountered Rick Brodsky (from Connecticut) playing bluegrass in our area – a fine fellow. Banjoist Joe Deetz of Massachusetts played banjo with Joe Val and the New England Bluegrass Boys. (Big Reveal – Joe was the very first banjo player with The Old Time Bluegrass Singers.) This boy can really put the thumb to ‘er! Billy Thibodeau comes from a famous bluegrass family spread over the decades from Maine to Rhode, and he’s a veteran bluegrass performer. Alex MacLeod is an experienced band front-man (including Northern Lights). He lives in Rhode Island. Fiddler Danny Musher lives in Oregon. Oregon! HVBA members may have encountered Danny with the band Chasing Blue.

The CD is nicely packaged in the slim paperboard “non-plastic” type that I prefer (the package won’t break). Photography nicely supports the “Starry Southern Nights” theme. Liner notes include thoughts from Chris Warner who played banjo with Jimmy Martin in the 1960s – very fitting; and also from producer Ned Luberecki (Sirius/XM Bluegrass Junction and the Becky Buller Band).

Rock Hearts and Dark Shadows Recording have released a wonderful video of “99 Years” to support the CD.

They’re looking forward to hitting the road with their music when the plague situation moderates. If you want to see and hear some “new” music done in a solidly traditional style, you will be glad when you make contact with Rock Hearts. Let’s hope they can perform for an HVBA audience.

Learn more at the band website.

Dick Bowden

Dick Bowden recently retired after a 45 year career in the paper industry, and moved from Connecticut to Big Indian NY (Ulster County) where he ekes out a precarious existence as a groundskeeper. Dick has been performing bluegrass music on banjo and guitar since 1966 in his home state of Maine, throughout New England, and internationally with The Case Brothers - Martin & Gibson. He has performed for HVBA with the Old Time Bluegrass Singers, and also sent in a squadron of Dick Bowden's Flying Circus. Most recently Dick has played Dobro (tm) with the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Dick has written many articles for Bluegrass Unlimited, Bluegrass Today, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass magazine) and HVBA.

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