Review: The Kody Norris Show and new CD “Rhinestone Revival”

This is a combination review of the Kody Norris Show’s new CD Rhinestone Revival (Rebel CD 1878) and their June 4 live show at the West Kortright Center in East Meredith NY (Delaware County). Man! Is this ever a polished presentation of the showiest old time traditional bluegrass style from the 1950s and 1960s! The Jimmy Martin influence is oozing from their pores. Jimmy wasn’t known as the “King of Bluegrass” for nothing. The Kody Norris has picked up that torch and is carrying it held high! There hasn’t been a traditional bluegrass band pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down like this since the Johnson Mountain Boys.

First, the CD. Rhinestone Revival is a perfect title. This band is dressed to the nines like Marty Stewart’s Fabulous Superlatives, Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys, or Riders in the Sky. “Resplendent” is a good word for their appearance! Their music is super traditional whether the songs are new or old. Their show is TIGHT without being “stiff.” SPBGMA recently awarded the Kody Norris Show “Entertainer of the Year”, and they’ve earned it.

Kody emcees the show, sings most of the lead and plays a HOT bluegrass guitar (both rhythm and lead). His talented wife Mary Rachel sings and plays fiddle and mandolin. Her playing is BASIC – a great example to jammers learning to play. Although her choice of notes and licks is firmly grounded, she has all the skills of a master entertainer – great taste, pitch, power and a happy visage. She enjoys what she’s doing. I can’t recommend her enough as an antidote to today’s “too hot” fiddlers and mandolin players. And when she sings! She BELTS it out! The banjo picker Josiah Tyree is an all-around connoisseur of 5-string styles, from JD Crowe to Ralph Stanley to Doug Dillard and Don Stover (clawhammer included). He sings tenor and an occasional lead. Bass player Charlie Lowman is the only non-Tennessean, hailing from the bluegrass Meccca of Chicago. He’s a good old-fashioned jokester, singer and bass slapper, and plays what I think of as old time but ADVANCED Nashville bass licks.

The 12 songs on the CD are a mix of originals and old timers that have been lovingly dusted off. I first heard “Mountain Rosalie” by Reno & Smiley. It’s playing on SiriusXM Bluegrass Junction quite a bit. Kody wrote “Baltimore I’m Leaving” on the familiar theme of the mountain boy aching to leave the city. “Looking at the World Through A Windshield” is an old country music truck driving song delivered with the band’s preferred light but fast clip. “Please Tell Me Why” is Kody’s own slow, plum pitiful song about love on the rocks. “Otto Wood” comes from the 1960s repertoire of Doc Watson and includes some plaintive blues harmonica by Josiah. “Gotta Get My Baby Back” is taken at an absolutely ripping speed, yet under complete control. “I Call Her Sunshine” is another cut in rotation on Bluegrass Junction where Josiah sings the lead. Mary Rachel sings a fine, plaintive lead on “Endless Highway” supported by Kody and Josiah in the trio chorus. The sprightliest number on the CD, in my opinion, is the provocative “Let All the Girls Know You’re a Cowboy” which comes from the Lester Flatt show of the 1970s, with double entendre lyrics and a tight trio chorus. I haven’t heard this delightful tune in decades. “Rhinestone Revival” is a treat for those who love or want to explore the older style of bluegrass presentation.

Producer Darin Aldridge and Rebel Records did a great job recording and presenting this project. The packaging features the band in FULL COLOR!! That’s really the only way to fully experience them!

Their live show both lives up to the CD and supports it and advances it all at the same time. I only learned about this appearance from an offhand purchase of the Catskills weekly paper “The Mountain Eagle.” They had driven to Delaware County and the West Kortright Center (which is known more for folkie or “world” music presentations) from a bluegrass festival last weekend in Tunkhannock PA, southwest of Scranton. And they’re on their way to a tour of Ireland. The first set was smooth but seemed a bit restrained, based on what little I knew about them. I honestly believe they and the nice audience were feeling each other out. Additionally, both band and audience had just enjoyed a big BBQ on the grounds and were perhaps a bit overstuffed. Kody broke the ice commenting about the fine food but saying he was sweating and couldn’t even breathe ’cause he ate too much!

photo by Gayle Yeomans

As the first set went on everybody warmed up to the “good time” atmosphere and the strong performances.

photo by Dick Bowden

After a good meet-and-greet during the intermission, I guess the band decided the audience could handle a “full on” Jimmy Martin style show. They answered some requests from the few bluegrassers in the audience. The second set was louder, more boisterous, funnier and more relaxed. They earned an encore and two standing ovations. Kody promptly went to the exit and shook hands with everyone leaving. I just wish all the bluegrass fans born after the Baby Boom could see this show to experience how much fun traditional bluegrass can be. I can only imagine the hit they will make in Ireland.

The Kody Norris Show will be playing the Picking in the Pasture festival in Lodi NY later this summer. They’re well worth a road trip. The Kody Norris Show is an ATTRACTION, not just a bluegrass concert. The CD Rhinestone Revival is highly recommended. I also picked up a copy of Josiah Tyree’s fine CD Smith County Five String which is also a great listen for banjo players learning the basics of great playing in a variety of styles.

photo by Dick Bowden
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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