“Weapons of Grass Destruction” by Hayseed Dixie

Hayseed Dixie
Weapons of Grass Destruction
Cooking Vinyl Records
3 stars (out of 5)

Hayseed Dixie is made up of four strange and possibly brilliant men: Barley Scotch (guitar/vocals/fiddle), Reverend Don Wayne Reno (banjo), Deacon Dale Reno (mandolin) and Jake Bakeshake Byers (bass). Hayseed Dixie is awful, but in a wonderful way.

With the cunning use of what can only be called a rockgrass sensibility, Hayseed Dixie makes a living covering songs from such artists as the Sex Pistols, Scissor Sisters, Cliff Richard, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and their original inspiration, AC/DC.

They’re all great instrumentalists playing to the tune of a different radio frequency…or brain wave. Reverend Don Wayne Reno’s banjo sings through the band’s excellent arrangement of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” If only Barley would try and imitate the tone of the original rather than going for his Valley boy vocal technique. “Paint it Black” is an excellent arrangement of the Rolling Stones original. “The Rider Song” is sure to give any musician a laugh, especially if you’ve ever been on tour.

At the end of this record I came to the conclusion that the members of Hayseed Dixie are trailblazers of bluegrass music.  They challenge bluegrass authority, playing into the harsh face of traditionalism while using their banjos to smack the face of social propriety.  Hayseed Dixie, I may not quite be willing pay $15 for your CD, but I would definitely pay $10 to see you at the Station Inn!

by Erin Faith

“Gaining Wisdom” by Donna Hughes

Donna Hughes
Gaining Wisdom
Rounder Records
3.5 stars (out of 5)

There are no presumptions or theatrics in Donna Hughes’ voice, but her vocals are anything but dull. What sets her apart from any other blonde with a guitar is the sincerity in her voice, and ultimately, her lyrics. Her songs are a conversation with the listener, speaking straight to our hearts with her wisdom gained.

“One More Time” and “Not Anymore” are good examples of Hughes’ honest delivery. These songs delve into such life experiences as love, loss and the pain resulting from both. Her cover of Tim Stafford’s song, “Find Me Out on a Mountain Top” utilizes the minor chord as an understated blessing, a pattern repeated elsewhere on the album.

The winding piano melody in “Father Time” provides an excellent image of Father Time’s infallible pocket watch. Hughes acknowledges our powerlessness to stop the clock, but whispers a melancholy “Carpe Diem,” reminding us to take advantage of the moments we have, lest a time come when we remember the leaps we failed to make.

What really sets this album apart is the plethora of musical cameos in the band. Instrumentalists like Sam Bush, Ron Stewart, Tim Stafford, Rob Ickes and of course Tony Rice, help make this recording a stroll down the bluegrass red carpet. With background vocals from Alison Krauss and Sonya Isaacs as well as Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Donna will be hard pressed to find a better crew. Tony Rice obviously put his heart into helping make this record possible. His guitar expertise compliments Donna’s record in the same way a good book is complimented by rain upon the window and an excellent cup of coffee.

Despite the impression that the emotional dexterity in Hughes’ voice may not match the strength of her lyrics, her music is still powerful because of its honesty. As Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Truth can be really powerful stuff; you’re not expecting it.”

by Erin Faith