“Songs of the Grateful Dead” by Jesse McReynolds & Friends with David Nelson & Stu Allen

Jesse McReynolds & Friends with David Nelson & Stu Allen
Songs of the Grateful Dead
Woodstock Records
4 stars (out of 5)

By Aaron Keith Harris

When Jesse McReynolds mentioned this project during his set with Bobby Osborne at IBMA Fanfest this fall, I immediately thought it was a bad idea. But I requested the project from the kind folks at Woodstock Records anyway and received one of the pleasant musical surprises of the year.

Subtitled “A Tribute to Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter,” the guitarist/vocalist and lyricist for the legendary touring band, respectively, the project actually makes a great deal of sense. After all, McReynolds and his brother Jim famously covered Chuck Berry on one of their bluegrass albums, and a lot of the Dead’s music lends itself well to the laid-back country-rock arrangements favored on this project.

The clear, bell-like tones of McReynolds’ mandolin kick off the album with “Black Muddy River.” Then comes his familiar, incomparable voice that, without its famous foil, sounds both mournful and optimistic. The result signaled that this endeavor was indeed a success.

McReynolds sings with real feeling—passionate on “Franklin’s Tower,” wistful on “Standing on the Moon,” defiant on “Loser”—in unfamiliar territory, and that famous mandolin navigates through several rock-style (as contrasted with more concise bluegrass breaks) solos with ease amid twisting electric guitars and understated drumming.

A yearning “Fire on the Mountain” (not the bluegrass fiddle tune) and a funky “Deep Elem Blues,” which features Buck White on piano, are standouts, as is the rockabilly “Alabama Getaway,” which recalls some of Jim & Jesse’s forays into that territory.

The album ends with “Day by Day,” a song written by McReynolds and Hunter especially for the project, bringing it to a close with the grace of a setting sun.

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“Strange New World” by Blue Moon Rising

Blue Moon Rising
Strange New World
Rural Rhythm Records
3.5 stars (out of 5)

By Aaron Keith Harris

Blue Moon Rising has had quite a bit of success the last few years, but a series of lineup changes has left them with (if my scorecard is correct) only talented singer, songwriter, guitarist and mandolinist Chris West in the band, but firmly at the helm. Brandon Bostic (mandolin, guitar) and Tony Mowell (bass) both have a softer, more tenor approach to lead singing than West’s booming, rich voice, and both are welcome additions. (However, the liner notes don’t say who sings lead on which track, so I’m at a loss on identifying the non-West lead vocals.) Owen Platt’s banjo, when featured, is strong.

Strange New World is heavy on well-written ballads of medium tempo, which all feature fine lead singing: “Hard Luck Joe,” “Stone by Stone,” “My Sittin’ Window” and “Second Best” among them.

“Never Happy Till I’m Full of Sorrow” is the song that has stuck with me most from this disc, with West at his best on a poor, pitiful me lyric delivered with authority over a simmering arrangement.

“Hearts to Stone,” “Time to Be Movin’ On,” Becky Buller’s “Ain’t No Way,” and “Barely Hangin’ On” are all well-executed, harder-driving bluegrass numbers.

“He’s All Around Us” eschews the bluegrass framework entirely with grating harmonica, drums and a sing-songy melody that carries the West-penned and -sung tale of the devil’s many temptations. West redeems himself though with “Living Water,” a simple hymn of the saving power of God, recorded with a chorus-like effect on the lead and harmony vocals.

“What a Helluva Way to Go” is another of the growing number of songs emerging that describe woes of the current Obama economy with West coming through with an understatedly emotive performance with a stark guitar-and-bass arrangement.

“Crash Course in the Blues” by Wildfire

Wildfire
Crash Course in the Blues
Lonesome Day Records
4 stars (out of 5)

By Aaron Keith Harris

The foremost thought in my mind whilst listening to the latest from Wildfire, a band that has been around about a decade by now, is what an underrated lead vocalist Robert Hale (guitar) is. His singing is both sensitive and sturdy, with a little bit of a classic rock edge to it, making it easy for him to put across the varied material selected for this 12-song, 39-minute effort.

The only other original member of this unit is (I believe) bassist Curt Chapman, who booms out the bottom end on each track, but the rest of the picking remains strong with Matt Despain (Dobro, vocals), Steve Thomas (mandolin, fiddle, vocals) and Johnny Lewis (banjo).

The title track takes us to the very un-bluegrass venue of Hollywood & Vine (and features Scott Vestal on banjo), but the troubles that ensue there are the same you could meet with in a beer joint in Hazard or Harlan. Hale’s “Lies That You Told” and the traditional “Paint This Town” are similarly hard-edged, with the hard-driving Lewis back in the driver’s seat. “She Burnt the Little Roadside Tavern Down” is also likely to get its share of airplay as it effectively straddles the line dividing honky tonk from modern bluegrass.

Vince Gill’s “I Wanna Know Your Name” has a Lynyrd Synyrd-like boogie beat that suits Hale just fine, and the band also does justice to Gill’s “Lifetime of Nighttime,” a ballad about the hardships of blindness.

Two more highlights are a wistful reading of Keith Whitley’s “Daddy Loved Trains,” a truly great bluegrass song, and a heartfelt turn on the gospel chestnut “When He Reached Down His Hand for Me,” with Hale injecting just the right amount of country soul.

“The Rounder Records Story” by Various Artists

Various Artists
The Rounder Records Story
Rounder Records
4.5 stars (out of 5)

By Aaron Keith Harris

I got bit by the bluegrass bug in November 1997 when I heard Bob Dylan sing the Stanley Brothers song “I’ll Not Be a Stranger” in concert in Columbus, Ohio. Less than two years later, I was training to take over the hosting job on Bluegrass Breakdown, a Saturday-night, four-hour live radio show on WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

In the interim I had been listening to host Steve Allen, whom I was to replace, been listening to CDs from the library and from the Borders Books & Music record section in which I worked, and had been reading up on bluegrass music, most notably Bluegrass Breakdown by Robert Cantwell and Bluegrass: A History by Neil V. Rosenberg. Allen was impressed at the amount of bluegrass history I had absorbed.

But when I took the helm of Bluegrass Breakdown in December 1999, I was still nervous about what songs to pick, fearful that more knowledgeable fans would bombard me with calls belittling my choices.

However, I had a plan for whenever I wasn’t sure what next to slide into the disc player: just pick a Rounder CD and cue it up to any sing title that sounded cool. It always worked, and I always grabbed more than a proportional share of those CDs with disctinctive, uniform spines when I was doing show prep. Other labels soon became trusted as well, but Rounder was always, as Jim Eanes would say, my old standby.

This four-disc, 87-track set, complete with exhaustive liner notes, shows not only that Rounder has been an impeccable source of bluegrass music for 40 years, but for all kinds of Americana, roots and even pop and rock music. From the old-time strains of George Pegram and Ed Haley, to the blues of Charles Brown and Gatemouth Brown, to the Cajun of Beausoleil and D.L Menard and the Louisiana Aces, to the rock of Robert Plant and Rush, Rounder has covered it all.

Rounder’s approach has been the opposite of labels from the past like Atlantic, Motown or Stax, which pumped out high-quality product that all bore the unmistakable stamp of their in-house studios, producers and songwriters. They instead have sought affiliations with uniquely individual artists and, for the most part, let them create.

The result is that this varied boxed set is a tossed salad of great music, each bite with a different combination of flavors, but great taste in every one. Some great, sometimes unexpected morsels for this taster include: “Killing the Blues” by Woodstock Mountains Revue, a perfect song picked up by Rounder artists Alison Krauss and Robert Plant for their album Raising Sand more than three decades later; “Jula Jekere,” a haunting groove from Alhaji Bai Konte; the yodeling bluegrass of Joe Val’s “Sparkling Brown Eyes;” the original version of “Mama’s Hand” from Hazel Dickens; Jimme Dale Gilmore’s mournful “One Endless Night;” and Linda Thompson’s lush “Versatile Heart.”

Del McCoury and his band, who recorded a handful of classic albums for Rounder in the 1990s, are absent from the collection for some reason, and I could have stood for more bluegrass on the later discs, but this set is a perfect gift for anyone who truly enjoys good music and will serve as a jumping-off point for many a fruitful explorations into a vast catalog of treasures.


“Rural Rhythm 55 Year Celebration” by Various Artists


Various Artists
Rural Rhythm 55 Year Celebration
Rural Rhythm Records

4½ stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

You never know what to expect out of a live recording, especially one made outside with a number of bands who are including guest performers.

From a technical standpoint, they did a good job. As you listen to the introduction by Kyle Cantrell (XM Radio, Channel 14) it’s obvious they are not in a studio, but the recording quality of the music is very good and who is going to complain if it’s not audiophile-perfect? This is the next best thing to being there.

The celebration was held at Graves Mountain, located 85 miles northwest of Richmond, Virginia as the crow flies (just a little farther as the RV goes), home of the well known Graves Mountain Festival of Music in June. The music was recorded on June 4, 2010, during the festival.

Kicking off the celebration is the Crowe Brothers doing “More Pretty Girls Than One.” If you think you hear a familiar voice on the verses, you’re on the money. Russell Moore (IIIrd Tyme Out) joins them as well as Sammy Shelor (Lonesome River Band) (banjo and vocals) and Mike Hartgrove (fiddle, LRB). They also do the Louvin Brothers 1955 hit, “When I Stop Dreaming” with Russell again singing tenor. Besides appearances by other LRB bandmembers Andy Ball, Mike Anglin and Brandon Rickman scattered through the CD, LRB contributes two songs. “Hold Whatcha Got” is an old Jimmy Martin song that’s been recorded by dozens of artists. Audie Blaylock (Audie Blaylock & Redline) helps them on this cut. LRB also does another old number, “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” with the Crowe Brothers helping out. At the risk of sounding like a bluegrass purist, I just don’t like the sound of Anglin’s Fender electric bass on these cuts or when I see them live. I wish they would find an old Kay to start carrying with them.

To make my point on basses, listen to the transition from “Hold Whatcha Got” to Christy Reid (Lou Reid & Carolina) on Carter Stanley’s “Lonesome River.” This is fabulous bluegrass music. The harmony on the choruses (Reid, Shannon Slaughter and Russell Moore) will send shivers up your spine. Listening to them sing together is worth the price of the CD by itself.

Audie is scattered all over the CD (much like Russell). From a rousing version of Lester Flatt’s “Get In Line Brother” including (guess who) Russell Moore and Carrie Hassler (Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain) to Bill Monroe’s “Old Dangerfield”, with Wayne Benson (IIIrd Tyme Out) helping out and a beautiful rendition of “Once More” with Russell Moore and Lou Reid singing harmony. I can still remember Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton singing this as the title song from their 1970 LP, but it’s rarely been done as well as these three do it here. In the introduction, Russell mentions they’ve never done this song together before. You’d never guess that by listening.

Carrie Hassler and Brandon Rickman team up with Brand New Strings for another popular Lester Flatt song, “Head Over Heels.” Also inlcuded are two more instrumentals, “Home Sweet Home” and Earl Scruggs’ “Ground Speed,” both well played with Sammy Shelor and Carl Jackson shaing banjo duties.

To pay tribute to their host, Graves Mountain, Carl Jackson wrote an ode that has eight verses and three choruses and is sung at one point or another by most of the stars on the show, plus the only appearance by Mark Newton. It’s interesting and Jackson should be applauded for accomplishing a difficult task (condensing 400 years of history into a doable song) but I doubt it becomes a bluegrass classic.

This is a very good CD that showcases some great names in bluegrass and demonstrates one of the fun parts of the genre: how artists can mix-and-match with each other with little or no advance preparation and still put on a great performance. The only downsides, for me, were the lack of liner notes to tell us something about Rural Rhythm – after all, this was a celebration of their anniversary; some sloppy editing of the printed material; and it seems a little short. There are only twelve vocal tracks (plus twelve short intros). For such an auspicious occasion it seems they could have used up a couple of sets at the festival and made a more inclusive CD.

But it is a great experience. In Russell Moore’s words, ENJOY!

“Sounds Like Heaven to Me” by Lou Reid & Carolina


Lou Reid & Carolina
Sounds Like Heaven To Me
Rural Rhythm Records
5 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

When Bill Monroe and others started playing this adaptation of music we call bluegrass, they kept it closely tied to their religious roots.

True, “How Mountain Girls Can Love” has no gospel under- or overtones, but it’s a rare record/CD or live performance that doesn’t include at least one gospel number. How many times have you watched as bandmembers remove their hats and step up to touch your heart with their songs of faith? And many of them are quick to mention that their faith is the foundation of their lives. Not many are as outspoken as Larry Sparks has become, or Ricky Skaggs, but few take pains to hide it.

Lou & Christy Reid are persons of faith and they have made a statement with this new CD. With Christy on bass guitar, Shannon Slaughter on guitar, Trevor Watson on banjo and, of course, Lou on mandolin, they are a solid group of musicians and singers. (Ron Stewart joins them on fiddle.) Their harmonies are tight with some very good bass singing included and the production values are excellent.

Lou Reid has been around. He played bass for Doyle Lawson, played with Ricky Skaggs, and has been with the Seldom Scene for many years, continuing with them now as well as fronting his own band. He and Christy have been married more than six years. She joined the band almost nine years ago.

Shannon has toured with some of the top bands in bluegrass, including Lost & Found, Larry Stephenson and the Lonesome River Band. Trevor has been playing since childhood, coming from a musical family and is an alumnus of the Carolina Opry.

“God’s Plan” is an uptempo song that underlines their faith. Covered in 2005 by Wildfire (Rattle of the Chains) and co-written by Harley Allen, the song is a litany of the problems we face but how they are all overcome as a part of His plan.Take a trip way back in time with Christy taking the lead on “Sweet By and By.” This is a good showcase for her, making the usual church version sound stodgy in comparison. Composed in thirty minutes back in 1868, the band demonstrates how old songs can have new life. They also demonstrate how a gospel number can have bluegrass drive with Shannon singing “Finally Made It Home.” Written by Stan Dailey (whose credits include Pickin’ On Def Leppard: A Bluegrass Tribute) this is a song that is as bluegrass as a song can be.

Nothing illustrates good harmony better than a cappella numbers and they bless us with two on this album. “Lord Have Mercy (On My Soul),” writen by Reid and bassist T. Michael Coleman, is an excellent quartet-style number with contrasting leads and a great background to Reid’s lead. “It’s Hard To Stumble (When You’re Down On Your Knees)” (co-written by Shannon) has some excellent bass singing with Christy’s tenor on the offbeat. Who needs instruments?

Another prevailing element in bluegrass music is mothers. Fathers are a mixed bag, as likely to be rounders as not, in prison or on the road, but mothers hold the families together. They manage to cover both. “Mama” is a beautiful if typical story about the mother who was the rock behind the wayward son, who “turned to Jesus when my ways were too much to bear.” This song is an excellent example of the power of the fiddle in bluegrass music and Ronnie Stewart is one of the best. “Daddy Tried” is the story of a humble man who tried to lead people to Jesus but couldn’t sway his son. By the time we hit mid-life, most men can look both back and ahead, remembering the times they disappointed their fathers while worrying about some of the choices their kids make.

After years of pain and heartache

He died old and tired and broke

And all he left me was a bible

Inside I found a note

It said, “Son, between these pages there’s a perfect father’s love

I did my best to be like Him, I just wasn’t good enough”

Son, I’m sorry …

Ouch.

Then there’s “Sunday’s Best,” the story of a drunkard’s funeral. It’s a song we all need to hear so we can think about things – and people – we take for granted now.

Good songs, very good musicians, timeless topics, great bluegrass gospel.

The Lonesome Road Review – Top 11 Bluegrass CDs of 2010

We’ve heard and reviewed lots of great bluegrass in 2010 here at LRR. Here are the 11 best:

1. The SteelDrivers—Reckless (Rounder)

2. Steve Gulley & Tim Stafford—Dogwood Winter (Rural Rhythm)

3. Dailey & Vincent—Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Presents: Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers (Rounder)

4. Balsam Range—Trains I Missed (Mountain Home/Crossroads)

5. The Boxcars—The Boxcars (Mountain Home/Crossroads)

6. The Darrell Webb Band—Bloodlines (Rural Rhythm)

7. Paul Williams—Just a Little Closer Home (Rebel)

8. The Infamous Stringdusters—Things That Fly (Sugar Hill)

9. The Grascals—The Famous Lefty Flynn’s (Rounder)

10. Don Rigsby & Midnight Call—The Voice of God (Rebel)

11. Chatham County Line—Wildwood (Yep Roc)

“Silent Night & Other Cowboy Songs” by Ox

Ox
Silent Night & Other Cowboy Songs
Cosmic Dave’s Record Factory
3.5 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

What happens when that slightly off-putting collection of shaggy musicians and ne’er-do-wells from down the block get a-hold of their grandparents Christmas albums?

When Mark Browning and his raggle taggle collection of lo-fi, alt.folk friends get together, creativity abounds. “White Christmas”, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, and “O Holy Night” and a half-dozen other seasonal classics are dismantled and reconstructed in a manner that is a bit off-putting but also strangely attractive.

Quite experimental, the set holds together well. On some songs, such as “Silent Night”, accompaniment is kept to a minimum and the song appears to be little more than a singer hunched over his guitar. Other tracks are more elaborately arranged, as on “Good King Wenceslas” with organ and other instruments seemingly multi-tracked around tape loops that hint at the familiar melody.

One admires their brass at taking a run at beloved tunes in the manner they do.

Listeners get a better understanding of the project when the original numbers are examined. Neither “Xmas in the Jailhouse” (“I spent Christmas in the drunk tank”) nor “Christmas with the Band” (“Wrapped up all the dope and tied with bows ready to smoke, Socks tied to the dashboard with bungee cord, got cookies, beer, and jam sandwiches”) are likely to become standards, but they do reveal the perspective of the group: the glorious Christmases of yesteryear, as magical as they appear in memory and movies, are not something that everyone can relate with.

This is made poignantly apparent in the decision to include “Arthur McBride”, a mid-19th century Irish folk tune centering on the likely fate of poor lads recruited into British army. The ballad, which I wasn’t previously familiar, is provided with a more than impressive performance, and will make it onto my annual Christmas compilation.

Folk? Roots? Indie Rock? Alt.country? Ox is a band- a collective- that defies categorization. Not always focused, with this set the band has created an inspiring and ambitious collection of modern alternative Christmas sounds. Endearing is Silent Night & Other Cowboy Songs. Seek it out.

“Master Sessions” by Eric Brace and Peter Cooper & “The Lloyd Green Album” by Peter Cooper

Eric Brace & Peter Cooper with Lloyd Green & Mike Auldridge
Master Sessions
Red Beet Records
5 out of 5

Peter Cooper
The Lloyd Green Album
Red Beet Records
5 out of 5

By Donald Teplyske

Eric Brace and Peter Cooper, as talented singers, musicians, and writers as they are, obviously know nothing about the music business. How else can one explain their continued inability to play by the rules governing their industry?

Their superb 2008 release You Don’t Have to Like Them Both featured the partnership collaborating on songs of their own creation while bringing diverse tunes from some of their favorite writers and performers. The idea of running dual, parallel careers—Brace with Last Train Home, Cooper as his own dang self—as distinct performers and as an engrained partnership runs counter to conventional thought in a business where a consistent identity is paramount.

Add to this their series of East Nashville: Music from the Other Side compilations, featuring artists who don’t even record for their label and the extravagance of their album packaging, which is as accomplished as anything one expects from a major label release, and you have a pair of fellows who run contrary to convention.

No surprise then that their latest, simultaneously released projects prominently feature an instrument that is heard less significantly within today’s country music, the pedal steel.

Master Sessions brings the finest purveyor of the bluegrass resophonic guitar Mike Auldridge (Seldom Scene, Darren Beachley, John Starling) together with the pedal steel legend that inspired him, Lloyd Green. What on paper may appear initially terribly inefficient—Why have pedal steel and reso playing off each other?—works exceptionally well within this balanced representation of artistry and performance.

Contemporary country music seldom sounds this inspired. Master Sessions seldom progresses beyond a mid-tempo shuffle, but rarely does such gentle music inspire such intense listening. This is music rooted in the sounds of Nashville of the 60s and 70s, times often disparaged today but which proved to be extremely popular at the time. Under the vigilant guidance of Brace and Cooper, the bevy of stringed instruments find a tasteful balance, with the overt lonesomeness of the Green’s pedal steel playing against the rhythmic mournfulness of Auldridge’s resophonic.

Classics from the country field (a staggering version of Herb Pedersen’s “Wait a Minute” and an equally impressive reading of Tom T. Hall’s “Í Flew Over Our House Last Night”) complement contemporary interpretations of similarly themed songs, including Jon Byrd’s song for all seasons, “Silent Night.” Every song is stronger for the contributions of Green and Auldridge.

Certainly no Brace and Cooper project would be complete without a handful of modern wonders from these always inspiring artists, and Master Sessions is no exception. “Suffer a Fool” out-Crowells Rodney as Cooper, working with Don Schlitz, captures the wonder many men feel for their partners. Brace (with Karl Straub) takes a different tract with “It Won’t Be Me,” as the singer realizes his woman will be better off with someone else.

Cooper’s “Nice Old Man” and John Hartford’s “I Wish We Had Our Time Again” mark the passage of time in entirely different ways and each is a wonder.  In its own way, each of the album’s eleven songs—like each delicately placed instrumental nuance—is a memorable and essential component of the greater project.

With ‘life on the road’ an overarching theme, Master Sessions is a fully realized hallmark of country music recording.

If Master Sessions sounds like something you need to check out, you are certain to appreciate Peter Cooper’s latest The Lloyd Green Album. If anything, the focus of this album is magnified due to the interplay of Cooper and Green.

In the album’s liner notes, Cooper writes, “I presented each of these songs to my favorite musician, steel guitar maestro Lloyd Green, as nearly blank canvases, shaded only by acoustic guitar and vocal. He drew the paintings, and then some of our friends came by and framed the whole deal.”

Like Kevin Welch (and his partner Kieran Kane, for that matter) one imagines that it takes a lot to get a rise out of Cooper. He approaches his singing and playing with such calm confidence and cool composure that the majesty of his music is magnified by this unassuming rectitude.

It is this artistic maturity and vision that allows Cooper to impose insightful heft to the lyrical hijinks composed by he and Todd Snider in “The Last Laugh.” In “Gospel Song” Cooper sings of staring at long-ago pictures while “living in penance for the sins I always denied.” “Champion of the World” balances things out a bit with an appreciation that much comes down to the vagaries of the dealt hand.

It isn’t enough for Cooper to be a master at his craft. He knows that those who came before him—be they Tom T. Hall or John Hiatt—crafted songs that capture emotions and images perhaps even better than he can. So when Cooper wants to explore the fate of the returning veteran or rambler, he turns to “Mama, Bake a Pie” and “Train to Birmingham,” songs that capture truth and honesty with unembellished lyrical richness.

As a partner in this creation, Green provides evocative support and emotional augmentation. At his disposal, the pedal steel is just that little more emotive, that slight touch more sincere in its contribution to the landscape created by Cooper.

By the way, those friends Cooper mentions in his notes include Richard Bennett (guitar), Jen Gunderman (keyboards and accordion), Pat McInerney (drums and percussion), and Julie Lee (harmony)—all of whom also show up on Master Sessions—as well as Kim Carnes, Pam Rose, Eric Brace, Fayssoux Starling McLean (all harmony vocals) and Rodney Crowell, who adds vocals to his own “Tulsa Queen.”

Peter Cooper is an underrated singer and songwriter. His proficiency is such that one hopes that the day is near when he is mentioned in the same conversations as those he some obviously admires. The Lloyd Green Album contains much which should, in a just world, move things in that direction.

But we know that fate and a multitude of other factors often gets in the way of recognition of capacity. Rather than worrying about the injustice of under-rewarded art, one should appreciate that which is so apparent. Both Master Sessions and The Lloyd Green Album are outstanding collections of contemporary Americana and stand as testament to the power and veracity of independence.

“I Wish Life Was Like Mayberry” by Rodney Dillard & The Dillard Band


Rodney Dillard & The Dillard Band
I Wish Life Was Like Mayberry
Rural Rhythm
3.5 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

Dolly Parton. Roy Rogers. Vincent Price. Ralph Stanley. Some names instantly fire images in your mind. Andy Griffith has enjoyed a varied career on TV and in movies, but many of us will always first think of Mayberry. Likewise, when I hear or see “Dillard” (even when it’s on a department store) I instantly think of The Darlings.

Rodney Dillard has enjoyed a varied career in bluegrass, TV, and other music-related endeavors, including working with the likes of The Byrds and Ricky Skaggs. Through it all, he has maintained indelible ties to his Mayberry roots (notwithstanding that the town Mayberry is patterned after is in North Carolina, Dillard is from Missouri and the show was filmed in California).

Obviously, he isn’t straying with this new CD. He’s not breaking any new trails in the snow, so if you like vintage Dillards material and/or The Darlings, you’re going to enjoy this CD. Many of the songs can be heard “live” by Googling the title with “YouTube” (without the quotes) appended to the end. The CD opens with a short homily about Mayberry and closes with five philosophical musings using dialog from the Andy Griffith Show as life lessons for today.

In between you’ll hear some bluegrass standards like “Doug’s Tune,” “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms,” “Dooley,” and “Salty Dogs Blues.” These are, by the way, all new recordings with Rodney singing lead. Vocally, Rodney is in the middle latitudes. He’s not a great crooner but he sings with confidence and can carry a tune on key.

“There Goes The Neighborhood” is a humorous take on the population shift to what used to be farmland:

They’re movin’ in a little more every day

Playin’ golf where we used to bale our hay

They don’t like our ping flamingoes or the outhouse when the wind blows

We’re startin’ to feel out of place

I can’t say I ever liked pink flamingoes and I don’t miss the outhouse, but I sure do appreciate what the song says.

“There Is A Time” is a very nice but abrupt change of pace. (Two interesting alternative takes that are worth your time to watch are a 1963 take featuring Charlene and another with Andy singing it as a ballad.). “Wicker Rocking Chair” is a nice, contemplative number but Dillard’s singing sounds strained as he works through it, lacking the greater ease he displays on “Dooley.”

The final cut of music is very good listening, but odd in this setting. Several song titles were mentioned on the Andy Griffith Show that were clearly for comedy, like “Never Hit Your Grandma With a Great Big Stick.” Rodney wrote a melody for “Wet Shoes In The Sunset,” and banjoist Steve Bush, along with Andrew Belling’s orchestration (it isn’t clear if Belling simply scored the music also conductedthe orchestra), bring it to life. Nice but strange.