This World Oft Can Be
4 stars (out of 5)
By Aaron Keith Harris
Della Mae is familiar name in bluegrass music— she’s the troublesome woman in the Osborne Brothers’ “Big Spike Hammer”—and now those in a wider audience are becoming familiar with the name not as a footnote, but as an all-female band taking their shot at the Americana market with some good songs and fine musicianship.
Fiddler Kimber Ludiker founded the band and recruited its members: singer Celia Woodsmith, guitarist Courtney Hartman, bassist Shelby Means, and mandolinist Jenni Lynn Gardner. Together, they make some great music, including hard-drivers like “Letter from Down the Road” and “Turtle Dove,” rustic hops like the title track and “Hounds,” and shimmering soft tunes like “Heaven’s Gate” and “Some Roads Lead On.”
There’s banjo (and it not Scruggs-style) on just a couple of tracks, but there are many fine instrumental breaks to keep us hard-core pickers entertained on what is very much a song-focused 42-minute effort.
Woodsmith, who wrote or cowrote eight of the dozen songs, is an engaging vocalist whose approach enriches each lyric without resorting to the angel’s breath whisper that many post-Allison acoustic singers try for, nor does she try the other extreme of a full-throated holler.
“Paper Prince” and “Empire” have distinctive melodies and arrangements which would appeal strongly to the Mumford/Avett constituency, while “Pine Tree,” an original gospel number sung by (I believe) Gardner, is likely to grab bluegrass listeners.
Bryan Sutton produces, and the instrumental mix under Woodsmith’s voice is beautiful. But I have one quibble: on all but a couple of the tracks, the harmony vocals supporting Woodsmith are just not mixed in right. I often have this complaint about acoustic records, so it may be just me, but I think I’m right in saying that clearer, more prominent harmonies would have made this good one even better.