“Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Presents: Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers” by Dailey & Vincent

Dailey & Vincent
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Presents: Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers
Rounder Records
5 stars (out of 5)

It’s hard to imagine anything involving Dailey & Vincent, the Statler Brothers and Cracker Barrel being anything less than a whole mess of Southern goodness, and this  project certainly doesn’t disappoint. In fact, as I write, this 12-track, 34-minute masterpiece—priced to move at $11.99—is out of stock at the Cracker Barrel Web site.

Bluegrass music’s most electrifying and honored act since 2008, Dailey & Vincent covered the Statlers’ “Years Ago” on 2009’s Brothers from Different Mothers to great effect, and their love for the material made popular by the Southern Gospel-influenced quartet is as evident as their aptitude for it. So much so that one friend of mine old enough to know the original versions well heard this disc and thought it was the Statlers.

But the vocal blend achieved by Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent—along with mandolinist Jeff Parker, banjoist Joe Dean and Jeff Pearls—is something special, from the opening jauntiness of “Flowers on the Wall,” to the solemn nostalgia of “Class of ’57,” to the playfulness of “Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart,” “Do You Know You Are My Sunshine,” “The Brave Apostles Twelve” and “Thank You World.”

“Too Much on My Heart,” “Elizabeth,” “Bed of Rose’s,” and “My Only Love” get the full-on emotional ballad treatment, featuring fabulously baroque endings and Dailey’s clear and high tenor sounding as good as it ever has.

The slightly bawdy “Susan When She Tried” and “I’ll Go to My Grave Lovin’ You” are particular highlights, showing the sheer power and beauty that a well-oiled quartet can achieve.

Fiddlers Andy Leftwich and Stuart Duncan, guitarist Bryan Sutton, banjoist Scott Vestal, resonator guitarists Andy Hall and Randy Kohrs all add a bluegrass feel to what is essentially a country album. Legendary pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins sits in as well.

by Aaron Keith Harris

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“The Earl Brothers” by the Earl Brothers

The Earl Brothers
The Earl Brothers
Self-released
4 stars (out of 5)

Grant Alden once wrote that when encountering bluegrass you, “either run from the sound, or be changed forever.” Place the impact of the Earl Brothers in the latter category.

San Francisco’s Earl Brothers have their roots in the South, and favor twisted, dark experiences that peel skin from flesh. Left-coast zip codes notwithstanding, the Earl Brothers are mountain music, no doubt.

For their fourth album, the Earl Brothers have made transitions while remaining true to their roots and audience. The band’s sound is fuller, more refined—certainly not slick or lacking spunk—but simply further along on an evolutionary journey. With fiddle introduced to the five-piece lineup, the rough-hewn, hardscrabble lead vocals and harmonies remain. In adding Tom Lucas’s fiddle, the band has confidently moved toward (but definitely not into) the bluegrass mainstream.

Those fretting that Robert Earl Davis has abandoned his subject matter or distinctive style need not worry—no primary school, storybook romances here; Davis knows his audience expects things to be harshly lonesome. His protagonists remain rounders, ramblers, and broken-hearted fools fessin’ up to messin’ up with hard women and raw whiskey.

Of course, bluegrass requires that come Sunday morning some testifying be considered so that band takes a “Walk in the Light” singing in the “Sweet Bye and Bye.”

Since 2005’s Women, Whiskey, & Death, the Earl Brothers have consistently released recordings containing bright banjo-picking and unique vocals from Robert Earl Davis. In Danny Morris, Davis has a guitarist and vocal foil to provide tenor accenting his unconventional singing, while the mandolin of Larry Hughes washes over every song.

The band and this album aren’t for everyone, and we’ve heard people praise and damn the band in equal measure. Compared to many receiving satellite airplay and label support, the Earl Brothers are progressive to the point of being traditional. They are the anti-corporate bluegrass band, those air-brushed (pictorially and musically) to the point of being unrecognizable while performing songs seemingly written with the aid of a couplet Wheel of Fortune and a committee of advisors. Simply put, there is nothing polished or contrived about The Earl Brothers.

With this new self-titled album, they have again demonstrated that they are confidently unwilling to compromise vision or execution.

by Donald Teplyske

“Quicksand” by Randy Kohrs

Randy Kohrs
Quicksand
Rural Rhythm Records
3.5 stars (out of 5)

Resonator guitarist bandleaders are thin on the ground, even in Nashville, but Randy Kohrs seems to be doing just fine in just that role, clearly confident in his estimable instrumental skills and his impassioned lead vocals.

He kicks off the 13-track, 43-minute Quicksand with a blistering break at the beginning of “Devil of the Trail,” a track about moving West toward uncertain opportunity that aptly captures the adventurous nature of this disc that works spectacularly in some places but not as well in others.

The bad news first: “Time and Time Again” is a bluegrass burner with great instrumental interplay between Kohrs and Aaron Ramsey on mandolin, but the track is bogged down by extraneous percussion. So is the honky-tonk bounce of Webb Pierce’s “It’s Been So Long,” the pleasing lyricism of “Cumberland,” and the drive of Tom T. Hall’s “More About John Henry,” which contains some nice rock’n’roll-style backing vocals.

All of these fine tracks would be much finer had Kohrs, also the record’s producer, relied on the naturally percussive combination achieved by the combination of banjo, guitar and mandolin instead of adding clutter. However, this reviewer, whose opinion in the matter is motivated by a desire for artistic concision rather than an old-fashioned streak, realizes his opinion might well be in the minority here.

Added percussion works well on the more modern country sounding tracks, like the alcohol-soaked morality-tale trio of “Die on the Vine,” “Quicksand” and “This Must Be the Bottom,” the spooky-woodsman ballad “The Ghost of Jack McCline,” the nostalgic “Sunday Clothes” and “Truman’s Vision,” an anti-eminent domain rocker.

Kohrs’ performance and production truly shine when he takes the biggest risks, namely on “Down Around Clarksville” and “If You Think It’s Hot Here,” the former a Friday-night juke-joint jumper and the latter a gospel shouter that simmers with brimstone. Both feature Kohrs’ vocals at their bluesy best and black gospel backing vocals over swampy grooves spiced up by biting mandolin from Adam Steffey. Both are truly breathtaking tracks that show what can happen when a bluegrass or acoustic artist is willing to step out past the confines of the prevailing Nashville sound.

by Aaron Keith Harris