“Home from the Mills” by Jimmy Gaudreau & Moondi Klein

Jimmy Gaudreau & Moondi Klein
Home From the Mills
Rebel Records
4.5 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein may not record very often, but when they do, they produce Americana magic.

Not bluegrass, not country, not folk, and not alt.anything either; rather, these veterans of the Country Gentlemen, the Tony Rice Unit, the Seldom Scene, Chesapeake, and probably twenty other bands and a thousand picking parties create an uncluttered vocal and instrumental blend that encompasses essentials of all of these while bringing their own creativity to the fore. The result is devastatingly honest and pure. So true are the performances that each note, every song appears to have been lived by the duo, augmented this time by Moondi’s daughter Lauren.

As they did on 2008’s equally excellent 2:10 Train, Gaudreau and Klein have selected songs carefully.

Again they visit Australian Scotsman Eric Bogle, this time choosing to cover his “Leaving Nancy.” Instead of Tom Paxton—whose “The Last Thing on My Mind” they recorded last time out—they visit the Eric Anderson (“Close the Door Lightly When You Go”) and Gordon Lightfoot (“Shadows”) catalogs for familiar folk offerings. The traditional instrumentals this time out are “Whiskey Before Breakfast”/“Red Haired Boy” and “Fisher’s Hornpipe.” And there is, once more, a Hot Rize connection—whereas before they covered the essential “Colleen Malone,” this time two Tim O’Brien tunes are included, “Bending Blades” and “Rod McNeil.”

Home From the Mills is nearly without fault, with their selection of Alpha Rev’s “New Morning” the only tune that doesn’t do much for me. But even here, they make the song infinitely more interesting than the original.

Aside from the previously mentioned song highlights, it needs to be mentioned that Klein’s voice, which always sounds dynamic and strong, and which may be tribute to his background in opera, has seldom sounded better. There are times, as on “C&O Canal” and “If I Needed You” that one wonders if Klein isn’t simply a marvel that improves with time. Take the title track, for instance. I believe it may have been on this song, which kicked off Chesapeake’s 1996 Full Sail album, that I first heard Klein’s voice. And while that performance was memorable and quite outstanding, on Home From the Mills the effect is even more impressive.

Really, all the superlatives aside, that should be the final word on this album: impressive.

“Trouble with the Grey” by Too Blue

Too Blue
Trouble With the Grey
4½ stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

This is swing-grass (a description shared by mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff)—or maybe jazz-grass, there’s just no other description. There are strong elements of Bob Wills in their music along with some jazz influences, all packaged together with bluegrass overtones. If you’ve been around awhile (a nice way of saying you have some years on you) then you’ll hear some of the melodies of famous sister acts of the past, like the McGuire Sisters. Listen to Too Blue’s “Face the Music” and then to “Sugartime”.

Their instrumental work is very good, smooth and flowing. Betsy Rome may not be Tony Rice clone but she does a strong job on her breaks. Joan Harrison turns in a good performance on banjo. Michael Sassano plays mandolin and Jamie Doris is a star on the upright; his break on “I Fall To Pieces” is a good example. Multi-instrumentalist Rob Hecht makes several guest appearances on fiddle.

Most of the songs are originals by the band members. They don’t sound much like bluegrass but bluegrass is ancillary to their repertoire, not their main point in musical life. If you have a family member who goes to bluegrass festivals with you but listens to something else on their iPod when you’re not looking, play this CD for them.

“Grace’s Fancy/Murphy’s Rag” is a good listen and I find it interesting because it’s a juxtaposition of two numbers by Sassano. Most examples of paired songs I’ve seen are traditional numbers, not newly (as compared to a traditional tune) composed tunes. “Turnpike Reel” is another song moving at a good clip and showcasing their picking talents. “Twister,” by Sassano, features a lot of trade-offs between the band members and again showcases their talents. And if you want to hear some tough upright bass just listen to “How Long Must I Wait For You.” Jamie is working overtime and Hecht adds a jazzy fiddle break in between verses by the McGuire Sisters Joan and Betsy.

The title song is a fusion of jazz and blues at breakneck speed (and listen to that bass!). Close your eyes and you can picture couples jitterbugging or some other dance I could never do. The most recognizable song is “I Fall To Pieces.” Instead of the sultry, blues-laden Patsy Cline version they give us Asleep At The Wheel. It’s a good conversion, though those of us who have listened to the original for a few decades likely won’t be converts. Closing out is yet another speedster, “Mice In The Camper.” (A pervasive problem, but that’s another story.) This is yet another illustration of their picking skills.

Call it jazz-grass or swing-grass, it’s all good.

“Country Side of Bluegrass” by Janie Fricke

Country Side of Bluegrass
Janie Fricke
New Music Deals
2 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

I’ve always liked Janie Fricke’s music, her duets and background vocals a little more than her solo career. If you’ve followed her career through the years then there will be no surprises when you hear this CD because it’s really a greatest hits CD with a Dobro instead of a steel guitar. Therein lies the problem.

I’m flying into the wind here. Daryl Addison (GAC) likes it. Jim Moulton says, “Now she is singing an excellent bluegrass style …” and one site’s headline says, “Country star Janie Fricke discusses her new Country Side of Bluegrass CD.” On her website it says, “Country singer Janie Fricke’s new album was just released on Tuesday, but it’s already earned rave advance notices from critics.” Still another site says, “Now, decades after her last big hits, Fricke has moved into bluegrass territory, rearranging some of her best-known music on the album Country Side of Bluegrass. She’s still singing hits like ‘Down to My Broken Heart,’ but now there’s fiddle and banjo behind it.”

But this isn’t a new album. Oh, it has a new name and new art, but check out CD Universe. Yes, folks, it’s the same CD, only called The Bluegrass Sessions then. Pop it in a player that shows album details and you’ll see the imbedded album name wasn’t even changed and it still shows the original cover art. Someplace out on the Internet is the review I wrote back then and I didn’t like it any better in 2004 than I do now – as a bluegrass album. So why are all these people talking about her “new” CD? I don’t think a new wrapper on an old package makes it new.

Another issue I have is putting “bluegrass” in the title. I’m not a purist and there are many songs that bounce between country artists and bluegrass artists that fit either style because they are styled to fit. So she changed the style of the songs a little, but having heard them all as country songs, now hearing a banjo riff behind “Goodbye Broken Heart,” and a flattop instead of an electic guitar, I just don’t hear bluegrass.

It seems opportunistic. To be sure, the music business is one of opportunity but this re-branding effort just doesn’t sit well with me. The first Marty Raybon bluegrass CD sounded muchthe same, a bunch of Shenandoah songs with acoustic instruments. But Marty went on to break new ground in his bluegrass career. He’s made the rounds at the festivals. See him in person and you’ll know he loves bluegrass music. He doesn’t re-package old albums with new art.

Included here is “Faithless Love,” a JD Souther composition that may be the prettiest song on the CD. “You Don’t Know Love,” “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy,” “He’s A Heartache,” and “Tell Me A Lie” are remakes from 1983’s It Ain’t Easy album. “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby” and “Do Me With Love” first appeared on 1982’s Sleeping With Your Memory album. “She’s Single Again” was out in 1985 (Somebody Else’s Fire) while “Down To My Last Broken Heart” dates to 1980 and “I’ll Need Someone To Hold Me When I Cry” to 1981 (I’ll Need Someone To Hold Me When I Cry). Even the old Hank Locklin (1960) standard, “Please Help Me I’m Falling,” is a re-release from 1978 (Singer of Songs). “Ring of Fire,” one of Johnny Cash’s signature songs, was released by her in 2003 (Tributes To My Heroes), the album that included “Faithless Love” (a 1974 song from Linda Ronstadt that also included a banjo) and “Goodbye Broken Heart.” Old material, new instruments: they are not bad listening, just not a lot of ‘grass there when she’s singing.

Take out the vocals and you can appreciate some excellent instrumental work. Mark Fain, Randy Kohrs, Luke Bulla, Andy Leftwich and Glen Duncan are some of the fine musicians on this CD.

Mark it down as good listening but disappointing because there’s nothing new, it has a bluegrass label only because there are banjo and Dobro tracks, it’s a reissue of an old CD in the guise of a new one. Did I mention there’s nothing new?