Rural Rhythm Records
4 stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
The last time I saw Carrie Hassler in concert she seemed to be intent on a bluegrass career along with her band, Hard Rain. But, things change. In May 2010 her management company, Hope River Entertainment, announced that “… beginning 2011, [Carrie] would take a little time off to focus on her family and pursue several exciting new possibilities in regards to her career.” and that the rest of 2010 she would be sans Hard Rain (who continued on as Still-House).
2012 finds her still without a band but a new CD. The Distance seems like an indication that she’s looking for more of a country music sound. The CD is labeled as country (when you play it in something like Media Player) and some reviewers are calling it country.
The list of session musicians is impressive. With no criticism intended, having great session musicians may mean you had the money to hire them (they record their tracks for overdubbing and move on to the next gig), or it may indicate support of the star of the CD, an intent to help (in this case) her music. Most of the time, at least in bluegrass (or quasi-bluegrass) it’s some mixture of both. Steve Gulley’s name is all over the CD (producer, co-engineer, co-mixer, harmony vocals, composer) and he’s a great one to have behind you. Other well known bluegrass names include Tim Stafford (guitar) [Blue Highway], Ron Stewart (banjo, fiddle) [The Boxcars], Mark Fain (bass), Alan Bibey (mandolin) [Grasstowne], Justin Moses (dobro, fiddle) [Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder] and Gulley’s new musical partner Dale Ann Bradley (vocals).
The presence of these bluegrass artisans makes a “pure country” label suspect.
But, on the pure country side is “Catch My Breath.” This is the kind of song that mainstream country music radio just won’t play these days. If you’re a fan of singers like Tammy Wynette and Dottie West, like I am, you’ll love it. When I hear a song like this it stops me in my tracks and passersby can hear me muttering, “now that’s country.”
“Luxury Liner,” the title song from Emmylou Harris’ 1977 #1 album, written by her friend and mentor Gram Parsons, is a fast paced number that plays well in either genre and here it’s banjo-backed bluegrass. “The Distance” is a quiet country ballad that tells the story of a woman who has to move on from a love affair and put distance between herself and her lover. It’s a good song that will touch a lot of hearts. “Eugene and Diane” (Carl Jackson) is another love song, sung by Carrie and Steve, but this time it’s unrequited love, two people who just don’t take the step towards each other that they should have.
The songs tend to be quiet and reflective rather than hard driving bluegrass, more country-like love (or unloved) songs with acoustic backing. “All I Have To Do Is Breathe” fits squarely in that category, a well written song by Gulley and Stafford, as does another Gulley song, “Keep Your Memory Warm.”
This CD follows the recent minor trend we’ve been noticing of being less than what most people consider a full album. There are eight songs and no instrumentals, a usual staple of bluegrass CDs but understandable when only session musicians are used. A smaller CD usually means a smaller price, and you can find this one for $9 to $11 and buy track-by-track on Amazon.
I like CDs and stage shows that move me from one state to another. Too many slow, sentimental songs and I get sleepy; too many breakneck banjo displays and I get worn out. I would enjoy another “Catch My Breath” or two on the CD. She does take me way down the sentimental path, though, with “Give My Love.” This is a story of a married couple, the wife passing first, and what they shared. It’s especially touching for me because it reminds me of my in-laws. They worked side-by-side on their farm for decades, a simple life, kind people. In his later years, Robert wasn’t comfortable going to sleep unless Ruth was there by his side, and just before he fell to sleep each night he touched her hand and said, “good night, old pal.” Two years ago we sat by his side as he faded away and her last words to him were “goodbye, old pal.” “Give My Love” is that kind of story.