Two reviews, two CDs, two bands, and twice the great music!
The Colton House Sessionsband is Chris Brashear (vocals, guitar), Peter McLaughlin (vocals, guitar), Todd Phillips (harmony vocals and bass), Guests: Charlie McCoy, Al Perkins, Charlie Cushman.
The Piedmont Melody Makers band is Chris Brashear (vocals, fiddle, mandolin, guitar), Alice Gerrard (vocals, guitar, banjo, piano), Cliff Hale (vocals, guitar, bass), Jim Watson (vocals, guitar, bass, mandolin).
First, you’ll notice Chris Brashear in common between the two bands, and if the name sounds familiar he’s one of the HVBA’s hardest working music reviewers. (Chris, I’ve read some of your great reviews, with all their attention to musical details – I’m just a music lover with no musical talent, so I can’t give your bands the detailed attention they deserve, but I can tell everybody what I like!).
Luck of the draw I happened to put on The Colton House Sessions first; Songs For The Southwest was written and produced during a songwriting residency at the Museum of Northern Arizona. A short note on the CD jacket sums the album up brilliantly – “An acoustic music celebration inspired by the history and wonder of the southwest and the Colorado Plateau.”
It’s going to sound like a cliché, but my very first thought as the album started playing was “Sweet!” – Sweet playing, sweet vocals, sweet songwriting… if this album doesn’t take you to the southwest, well, you’re just not listening!
Listening further I thought that Chris’ vocal stylings in particular reminded me of Tim O’Brien, and that much of the songwriting is in the same vein as Tim’s, I guess you would call it “folk-bluegrass” and this music very much fits into that style. You could well imagine Tim happily sitting in on this set.
Pick out a favorite tune? This album hangs together so well that’s almost impossible, but I will tell you about “Silverbell Mine;” this one is a timeless piece of Americana that could have been written yesterday or a hundred years ago. A wonderfully written story-telling song with Charlie McCoy sitting in to add the perfect southwestern atmosphere with his harmonica, this would be a joy to hear live, around a campfire, with the beverage of your choice in hand.
The Piedmont Melody Makers hit the player next: A Wonderful World Outside isn’t really bluegrass, but I mean that in the best possible way – the album evokes the Carter Family (“Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “Poor Little Orphaned Boy”), old Country (Hank Williams’ “Six More Miles”), some old time music…roots music indeed, these are the roots of bluegrass. Oh! And the title tune on the album, “Wonderful World Outside” is from a couple of guys called the Stanley Brothers. Mixed in among the wonderful covers are songs written by Chris (“One and Only,” “Little Boy Loser,” “Buhler’s March”) and Alice (“Kentucky Home,” “Sweeter Day”) that stand right up there with the classics.
“Wonderful World Outside”
The guys vocal leads and harmonies really shine, they nail all the right notes between old-time and old-country… but Alice… maybe being the only woman in the group makes her vocals stand out from the crowd, she has the harmonies down perfect, but when she takes the lead you’re going to sit up and pay attention! She had a perfect voice that really fits the bands old-country sound, “Sweeter Day” is a stripped down tune with banjo, guitar, and pedal steel that showcases her vocals and also the bands sweet harmonies.
For the guys “Little Boy Loser” showcases Chris’ song writing and lead vocals, and “Six More Miles” puts Cliff out front with Jim on tenor vocals.
Again I’d have a hard time picking out a favorite tune, Chris and his friends don’t let any slackers in the bands and no fillers on the albums! But there’s something about “Six More Miles” that really shows the band up. And it’s hard to argue with a Hank Williams tune!