“Let the Ride Begin” by The Circuit Riders

The Circuit Riders
Let the Ride Begin
Pinecastle Records
2.5 Stars (out of 5)

The album title denotes a debut, while the band name reveals veteran familiarity with the road. Indeed, Let the Ride Begin is the inaugural effort from journeyman Greg Luck and four former Country Gentlemen.

Much like the Gents, the Circuit Riders’ material casts a wide net, with originals, collaborations, and covers culled from past affiliations (Acoustic Syndicate and the Bass Mountain Boys) and beyond. Standout originals include Luck’s leadoff chiller “Lonesome Wind” and Jaret Carter’s emotive instrumental “Pickett’s Charge.” The quintet hits the mark on Earl’s “Foggy Mountain Special,” but it misfires on a gassed-up, grassed-up version of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger.”

Nevertheless, the latter sparks more intrigue than fallbacks like mama, a house that isn’t a home, and a former farmer and his farm. However, Greg Corbett’s beautiful banjo, Darin Aldridge’s’ nimble mandolin, and Billy Gee’s bass work are more than enough to take them back to “Old Kentucky,” and Charlie Waller surely is smiling over the harmonies on “In the Master’s Glory.”

Sounding more like a kickoff than a closer, the driving “Cold Wind” indicates in no uncertain terms the launch of this talented collective. The Circuit Riders certainly are capable of separating themselves from the pack, but whether they’ll do so remains to be seen.

by Tim Walsh

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“I Declare” by Heidi Clare

Heidi Clare
I Declare
Self-released
4 Stars (out of 5)

Heidi Clare Lambert is the former Heidi Andrade and the former fiddler of the former Reeltime Travelers. There’s nothing “former” about her fiddling, however. It’s in tip-top form on her debut solo release.

I Declare showcases the virtuosity that frequently kept Reeltime Travelers fans focusing stage left. Heidi Clare dazzles with speed and precision on “Rye Straw” and “Shortnin’ Bread” and soul on the solemn “Three Forks of Cheat.” She maintains her “groove” on two originals – the ebullient “Chelle’s Dance” and the sweet and mournful “Farewell to Thurber.”

What we rarely heard with the Travelers was Heidi Clare’s organic vocals. Four tracks find her channeling ballad and blues singers past, particularly on stirring versions of “Oil in My Vessel” and “Old Corn Liquor.” Her singing reveals a dimension that should aid her transition to center stage.

Will that transition transpire? The album’s stellar backers – Chris Sharp, Ed
Snodderly, former fellow Reeltime Travelers Roy Andrade and Brandon Story, and Dry Branch Fire Squad’s Ron Thomason – have their own careers. I Declare is a lovely collection. Hopefully, it’s also a declaration of a new beginning for a terrific yet still largely untapped talent.

by Tim Walsh

“Quartet” by Peter Rowan and Tony Rice

Peter Rowan and Tony Rice
Quartet
Rounder Records
4.5 stars (out of 5)

Following the excellent You Were There for Me (2004), Quartet is the second album collaboration from Rice and Rowan, two of the most distinctive stylists in the history of bluegrass and acoustic music. With Bryn Davies on bass and Sharon Gilchrist on mandolin completing the quartet, the resulting sound is elegant and rich.

Rowan’s quavering, full-throated tenor is the lead vocal on all but one of the 11 tracks. It has aged well, so well that versions of “Walls of Time,” “Dust Bowl Children,” “Let the Harvest Go to Seed” and a sublime seven-minute “Midnight Moonlight” are stronger than ever, the latter ornamented by a brilliant extended guitar break from Rice.

Throughout the disc’s 52 minutes, it is Rice’s 1935 D-28 Martin guitar at the center of everything. In addition to firing off trademark Rice solos, it sets the rhythm while dropping in one perfect fill after another.

Gilchrist and Davies deftly handle the duties of backing the two masters, and they shine when stepping into the spotlight. Gilchrist’s harmony vocal on “Midnight Moonlight” and Davies’ tasteful, inventive bass solo on a dark instrumental arrangement of “Shady Grove” are the kind of contributions that make this disc stand out from the pack.

“Sunny Side of the Mountain” and a haunting “Rain and Snow” are apt nods to the quartet’s love for straight bluegrass.

And if all that weren’t enough, Rowan gives us two tasty lagniappes: Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live is To Fly” and a waltz of Patti Smith’s “Trespasses,” whose chorus ends with a melody line taken from the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” which Rowan famously sang with Old & In the Way.

Attractively packaged and with liner notes from Tony Trischka, this one is a must.

by Aaron Keith Harris

 

“Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain” by Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain

Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain

Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain

Rural Rhythm RHY-1028

3 Stars (out of 5)

 

Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain’s Rain and Shine (2004) bore the promise of a regional band ready for a national stage. The band’s sophomore, self-titled release delivers on that promise, but which stage remains a question.
 

Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain is crisp contemporary bluegrass and country that often finds Hassler heading for or from a heartache. Her gentle lead maintains conviction from the urgent opener “Restless State of Mind” to the hopeful single “Seven Miles to Wichita” and the farewell “Leaving You Behind.” By the time “Hard Rain” falls, it’s unclear where Hassler’s bound, but one’s compelled to strap in and find out.

 
Safety belts are almost needed to harness Hard Rain’s (the band’s) high energy and hot licks. Young guns Travis Anderson (bass), Keith McKinnon (guitar), Kevin McKinnon (mandolin), Josh Miller (banjo), and Josh Swift (Dobro) are fueled by producer/fiddler Jim Van Cleve and Mountain Heart mates Clay Jones and Adam Steffey. Before it charges through “Sensabaugh Tunnel” the musical locomotive almost overwhelms Hassler on “Leaving on the Next Train,” but the eleven tracks avoid any derailments.

 
Excellent versions of “Our Last Goodbye” and “Leavin’ on Your Mind” balance bluegrass and country with a contemporary edge. The blistering “Business is Good” punctuates preference for the bluegrass circuit, but “Now That She’s Gone” makes its way towards Music Row. Time will tell, but whether it’s bluegrass or country, Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain have the talent to succeed. 

 

by Tim Walsh