“The Sacred Shakers Live” by the Sacred Shakers

The Sacred Shakers
The Sacred Shakers Live
Signature Sounds

3½ stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

Through the years I’ve attended a number of happenings—church services, jams, shows with local performers—where the singers are untrained. That doesn’t necessarily mean bad, off-key, or off-time, just no cultured vowel sounds or beautiful diction. These are people who enjoy singing and don’t keep a scorecard on perfection.

Meet the Sacred Shakers. They combine a variety of related music styles, including old-time, bluegrass, country, and rockabilly to serve up their own brand of spiritual music, performed by a group that includes musicians who are Christian, agnostic and Jewish. It’s clear this isn’t your usual gospel offering. “Take Me In Your Lifeboat” has been performed and recorded by a long list of bands, but you may have never heard this particular combination of banjo, electric guitar, driving upright bass and drums. Guitarist Jerry Miller released his own CD (reviewed here) a year ago and is an ace instrumentalist in band of top-notch players.

The leader of the Shakers is Eilen Jewell. She has a good voice with a timbre that sets her apart from most female vocalists. Her version of “All Night, All Day” has a swinging, bluesy feel, with a good break by Miller and an a cappella ending that showcases the harmony singing of the group. Her rendition of Hazel Dickens’ “Won’t You Come and Sing For Me” is reminiscent in tone with Dickens’ version but more relaxed, with blues influences.

“Little Black Train,” a song done by Woody Guthrie and the Carter Family, has a dark feel to it with the banjo playing a repeating riff and some haunting minor chords from other instruments in the background. The fiddle music of Daniel Kellar plays an important role on this number, but on some tracks he must be trying for an old-timey sound as he comes across a bit scratchy. The band takes a different approach to “Lord, I Am the True Vine” with a rock-and-roll kick and then singing it like a gospel revival, drawing a picture of everyone waving their hands and swaying to the music. “Run On” shows off their harmony singing with the background singers responding to the lead.

This is a CD of contrasts, recorded live with an enthusiastic reaction from the crowd. Banjo balanced against rock and country electric guitar, rockabilly bass, a drummer who knows how to drum, very good harmonies, a fiddler that is sometimes impressive and sometimes not, and enthusiastic vocalists. This is music with religious roots but not producing a religious atmosphere, played for enjoyment, not conviction. If for no other reason, you need to listen to it because of Miller’s guitar work throughout.

th

About these ads

“I’d Do It All Over Again” by the Easter Brothers

The Easter Brothers
I’d Do It All Over Again
Pisgah Ridge Records
4½ stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

“I’d Do It All Over Again”—the Easter Brothers version, not Crystal Gayle’s lost love lament—is a song about years of labor for God, years of serving through music. Their faith is still strong and they’d do it again if they had the chance. This is the kind of message that you don’t sell without some history (like a singer belting out “I Did It My Way” before his thirtieth birthday) The Easter Brothers have sixty years of history in the business. You may have seen them on a Gaither show and people in the gospel world will make a connection because of Jeff and Sheri Easter, popular gospel performers and members of the Gaither troupe. Jeff is James Easter’s son and they recorded a video in the church James’ father started in 1963.

The musicians include a drummer (Steve Schramm) and pianist Les Butler. Butler is a very active, multi-instrumentalist in gospel music while Schramm is the bass player for The Easter Family, the only non-Easter member of this group of Russell Easter’s grandchildren. The other musicians are familiar names, all top-drawer musicians: Byron House (bass), Cody Kilby (guitar), Andy Leftwich (fiddle, mandolin) and Justin Moses (banjo, Dobro). Numbers like “Let The Hallelujahs Roll” are a fusion of bluegrass instrumentation and gospel styling with brothers trading vocal leads on the chorus. It would be hard to find a bluegrass or gospel crowd that didn’t like this music.

“The Lost Sheep” is one of many numbers written by the brothers. This number, the story of a man who had lost his way in life, features narration in a voice just a bit used by age, the perfect setting for a story of trials and tribulations. Time takes its toll on vocal cords and we’ve heard it in many voices: Johhny Cash, some of the performers on Country’s Family Reunion, some of the bluegrass legends still on the circuit. These changes in voice seem to make no matter to the fans and the Easter Brothers do remarkably well with their singing. Their voices havechanged some with the years but are as good as ever. “Old Fashion Talk With The Lord” is another number where they swap leads and fill the choruses with their dead-on, excellent harmony. This song has a clear and unquestionable message:

Do you feel all alone, with burdens and sorrows

And is your heart heavy, too?

And it looks like the Savior is a million miles away

It’s not the Lord that’s drifting, it’s you

Their message of being changed by faith and a life devoted to faith sounds in song after song. “I Didn’t Leave Like I Came” is a fast-moving number that is a message of change and happens to be excellent bluegrass. “The Crossing” touches the inevitable we all face and the promise of salvation. I’m writing the words down to sing this one in my church.

Great singing and harmony, excellent musicians, the good message. What more could you want?

MI0003713305

“Gathering” by Aaron Ramsey

Aaron Ramsey
Gathering
Omni Artists Productions

5 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Stephens submitted this review in July 2013, but I must have hit the wrong button after I edited it, which caused it not to post publicly. I’m very sorry for this error, especially over such a fine project. —AKH

Aaron Ramsey is an excellent mandolin player. He debuted in a family band with his father, Michael, but by his early twenties he was (and is) playing with Mountain Heart, taking the spot vacated by Adam Steffey. Making the transition from being a band member to leading a project isn’t always easy, but Ramsey has made the leap to Gathering in fine style.

He can sing as good as he plays the mandolin. The only familiar song that he sings lead on is “John Henry Blues,” an old Osborne Brothers song. He tears into it along with a distinguished group of accompanists, including bandmates Jason Moore on bass and James Van Cleve on fiddle, Patton Wages (banjo, Volume Five) and the great Tony Rice on guitar. There are two other familiar songs on the CD, “One Tear,” another Osborne Brothers song with Mountain Heart leader Barry Abernathy guesting as lead vocalist, and Bob Dylan’s “Fare Thee Well,” featuring Ricky Wasson (American Drive, New South) singing lead and including Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Jeff Partin (resophonic guitar, Volume Five), Rice and Brian (banjo) and Maggie (bass) Stephens.

Ramsey sings lead on the other cuts, several of them written by his father, Michael. Religious themes figure heavily in some of Michael Ramsey’s songs, including “The Healer” and “Seek Out the Lost” (featuring Ron Block [banjo], Randy Kohrs [resophonic guitar] and Tim Stafford [guitar]). But father can write and son can sell a good love-gone-wrong song like “Dark Days and Desperation.” “No Ones Found Her Yet” (Aaron Ramsey and Josh Miller) is a great mystery song, a woman disappeared and the man that loves her going crazy with loss while her killer runs loose. “The Streets of Abilene” strikes off in a different direction, telling the story of Marshal Tom Smith. The song, claiming Smith never used a gun, is slightly at odds with the Wikipedia version and fails to mention how he eventually lost his head, but it still makes a good story.

This CD underscores Ramsey’s strengths in songwriting, singing and on the mandolin, but it’s also a display of his versatility. On various numbers he plays sweep guitar, bouzouki (a mandolin cousin), upright bass, guitar, banjo and resophonic guitar in addition to mandolin. Listen to “The Souls of Pioneers” and you’ll discover he’s no slouch on any instrument he picks up.

This is a great CD by an impressive young musician. He needs to be in front of the mic and in the studio often.

rr-aaron-ramsey

“Fruits of My Labor” by Aaron Burdett

Aaron Burdett
Fruits Of My Labor
Organic Records
4 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

I’ve been a fan of Bob Seger for decades, even though I can only sing along to snatches of his music. He manages to put more words into a phrase than I can wrap my tongue around.

When I heard Aaron Burdett’s first number, “Something Out Of Nothing” my first thought was how much he reminds me of Seger. His phrasing, the lyrics, even the melody could be a Seger song. Then I’m wondering what market niche he might find. It’s not bluegrass despite Andy Pond’s banjo and Casey Driessen’s fiddle in the background; it’s not classic country, and not hot new country (I like it too much to be HNC); it’s on the fringes of rock. I suppose that makes it Americana, though that’s really a useless classification. “Something Out Of Nothing” is a love song, reflections of a love that’s grown to make something out of nothing. “Harmon Den,” another track sporting a banjo (Brian Swenk of Big Daddy Love) is grassier, the story of a man who has tried the world but needs to go back home to Harmon Den. It seems to be a reference to the days of the CCC, fitting for an Americana CD. All the numbers were composed by Burdett and it’s obvious he has some range in his work.

“The Love We’ve Got” is quieter, a love song with some good pedal steel work by Matt Smith. It’s appealing with minimal instrumentation, Smith, Burdett (guitars), Will Jernigan on bass, and Billy Seawell adding percussion. Josh Goforth plays banjo, mandolin and fiddle on “Going Home To Carolina,” a song about a man’s life that could easily be adapted to bluegrass. The title number, including Smith’s steel and adding Tony Creasman on drums and percussion, is another good number about a man’s life that is very Seger-like. The more I listen, the more I like this music.

Burdett’s music is reflective, descriptions of life, but he manages to change the subjects of his scrutiny to avoid getting bogged down with sameness. The supporting musicians are excellent—Burdett himself does some neat guitar break in “Water In The Well”—and the drums, often an object of my scorn, are tastefully played instead of beating your ears until they bleed.

I liked it the first time I heard it. I like it better with each play. This one’s going into my play-on-the-road collection.

1392656069_AaronBurdettFruitsLaborBigCov

“Nothing to Lose” by Dave Adkins

Dave Adkins
Nothing To Lose
Mountain Fever Records
4½ stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

Dave Adkins is a bluegrass and country singer. He has the type of voice that could probably be nothing else. He’s in the Junior Sisk camp. not the high lonesome sound of Monroe or Stephenson. This new CD, while aimed at the bluegrass market, has some strong country numbers in it.

“Silence is Golden,” a sentiment most married couples, especially if they have children, can agree with, is a popular song title. If you love classic rock you’ll remember the big hit Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons had, as well as the Tremeloes. Bobby Bare had a different song out with lyrics by Jackson Browne. And then there’s the Lynn Anderson song. Adkins does the “Silence is Golden” written and recorded by Trey Ward and it’s the kind of song that stops me in my tracks to say, “that’s country.”

“Pretty Little Liar” is another good country number. Co-written by Adkins and Edgar Loudermilk, it tells the oft-repeated story of love outside the bounds of marriage. The man places the blame on the woman, telling us how he lost his wife and family, which is, of course, half the story. This one has a strange twist, telling how she hasn’t been seen in years but it’s hard to find her where we left her in the ground. Bluegrassers love their murder songs. (“We” left her in the ground is a subtle twist, since the rest of the song is from the perspective of only the man. We can now debate who his partner in the deed was.) Loudermilk is a good vocalist and plays bass on the CD. He took Ray Deaton’s place in IIIrd Tyme Out before leaving last fall to form a partnership with Adkins.

Studio musicians were used on the CD. Jeff Autry (Lynn Morris Band) plays guitar, Jason Davis from Junior Sisk’s band plays banjo and IIIrd Tyme Out bandmates Wayne Benson and Justen Haynes play mandolin and fiddle. These are some of the best musicians in the business, so you know the CD is going to be some great music. Bluegrass isn’t all about speed, but a hot song does show of the licks of an instrumentalist. “At Least It Wasn’t Life,” one of two prison songs on the CD, moves at a clip that makes rhythm guitarists sweat. “Pike County Jail,” one of several songs composed by Adkins, is a great bluegrass number that includes moonshine, prison, and wanting to get out and start over with a wife and family. This is the story of life for some folks, as is “Moonshine in Moonlight,” with daddy running shine at night because times are poor while mama and the kids tend to the farm and garden in the daytime. Looking back at the end of his days, the singer reckons life was pretty good back then even if times were poor.

Adkins includes an excellent gospel number that’s been recorded in three genre and was sung a lot the past year or so by Marty Raybon. “I Can’t Even Walk (Without You Holding My Hand)” should be recognized as one of the great gospel numbers in bluegrass and country. And, speaking of great songs, what country music lover hasn’t heard George Jones sing “Tennessee Whiskey?” Adkins turns in an excellent performance, one I like better than David Allen Coe’s 1981 version.

Adkins makes a good mark on bluegrass with this release and we should see some good things out of his partnership with Edgar Loudermilk.

dave-adkins-nothingtolose-300x300

“Memories of Mine” by Charlsey Etheridge

Charlsey Etheridge
Memories of Mine
self-released
4 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

There is some fine singing and playing on this CD, and very good song selection. I’m guessing most people who hear it will be satisfied with that, but some are going to be puzzled at how it all ties together.

“Wayfaring Stranger” is familiar to anyone who has been around bluegrass or country music. This arrangement is entrancing, and Etheridge has a great voice for it. Effects have been used to give it a large, concert hall sound and the background support of Randy Kohrs on the Dobro and Aaron Till on the fiddle and mandolin are as good as I’ve ever heard on this song. A different approach is used on “Land of Beulah.” The backing music is kept at a minimum with guitars, fiddle and mandolin. Etheridge has added herself on a harmony track along with Kohrs. This is an effective, beautiful way of doing this old song.

Etheridge has a top supporting cast on this album. In addition to Kohrs and Till, you’ll hear Cody Kilby on guitar, Buddy Greene playing harmonica, Shad Cobb playing banjo, Jeremy Abshire (fiddle), and Tim Crouch (viola and mandolin). It’s no surprise that the instrumental support is excellent.

In addition to the two songs already mentioned, she includes three other gospel numbers: “Take My Hand Precious Lord,” done slow and with feeling, just her vocals and a piano; “Amazing Grace,” also done slowly with a chord progression that goes beyond the standard three chords and only a rhythm guitar, viola and mandolin behind her; and “The Old Rugged Cross,” with a cello included in the instruments, but done at a faster, workmanlike tempo.

“Tennessee Waltz” is another done with minimal instrumental support and she sings it well, but throws a curve, at least for me. I’ve heard and played this countless times as a verse and a chorus. That’s the way its composers (Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart) did it as well as Patti Page. I somehow missed the Emmylou Harris version but according to another site there was originally a second verse and chorus with a new second verse added by Leonard Cohen – more or less the Emmylou Harris and now Ehteridge version. People have been revising songs forever (usually just forgetting the lyrics) and Etheridge gives a good performance regardless of the lyrics used.

Rounding out the CD, she does the first swing version of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” that I recall as well as the first blues version of “In The Pines.” Different, but they work if you’re not tied to tradition. Another surprise is “Filipino Baby,” a World War II song that I haven’t heard on a new recording for decades, giving a slower, more feeling version than Cowboy Copas’ hit version.

So, with all this good singing, what’s so puzzling?

Etheridge comes out of nowhere with a CD sent out for reviews. A fair inference is the CD is targeted for commercial success, but she has only covered songs well known to most everyone and recorded (perhaps excepting “Filipino Baby”) dozens, maybe hundreds of times. It’s a strange mix of songs in some unusual styles and the CD leads off with two gospel numbers. It feels like just what she says it is: memories dedicated to her parents and grandparents. She isn’t following the usual road map for a commercial album, but I hope people prove there’s more than one path to success. If you buy it, you’ll enjoy it.

512Rcs-OI+L._SL500_AA280_

“Ash Breeze” by Ash Breeze

Ash Breeze
Ash Breeze
Mountain Fever Records
4½ stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

Young people with stunning talent are no doubt playing in most genres, but they seem so visible in bluegrass. If you go to a multi-day festival with camping on the grounds, all you need do is stroll around to see and listen to them picking around the campfires. These are not musicians stumbling around the various fingerboards, trying to find their way; these are musicians on fire, picking the strings off their instruments. There are stumbling blocks on the way to national prominence, personal and professional, but some of them will make it.

Ash Breeze seems to be on the way. This is a family band, formerly the Smith Family Band, and they’ve been playing bluegrass since 2010. They are anchored by Allen, their father, who plays bass. (Bass on the CD is provided by producer Aaron Ramsey and Zeb Snyder.) They are not new to music, though, for they received classical training before making the switch to bluegrass. IIIrd Tyme Out’s Wayne Benson (one of their teachers) calls them mature, saying: “… you’ll hear a very musical, lyrical approach that focuses on maintaining the integrity of the songs, rather than showing off (which is a pitfall for so many young musicians).”

They kick off the CD with an instrumental, “Category Five,” one of six numbers composed by Corey Smith (guitar and vocals), some co-composed with his father. This is a fast, interesting number that has some nice complexities in the arrangement. Brothers Eli (mandolin and vocals) and Luke (banjo) join with sister Nellie (fiddle, lead vocals) to round out the band. They take a back seat to no one when it comes to picking.

“Blue Skies and Cloudy Days” is a song with a religious theme. This isn’t what you would typically describe as a gospel number, but it maintains a theme of how God works in our lives. Nellie Smith has a very good voice and the brothers blend well when they sing harmony. Sometimes it’s difficult to clearly hear her lyrics because the vocalists seem to be in the mix with the instrumentalists instead of setting on top of them. That doesn’t make the music less enjoyable, just has me straining for the words.

“Backyard Swing” is true to its title, swinging along at a good pace and showcasing the pickers. This one was composed by brother Eli. “Storm Coming” is a sultry song handled by Nellie Smith quite well and features the Dobro work of Gavin Largent. It’s more up-tempo but reminds me of the mood of Doc Watson doing “Summertime.” “Little Dreamer,” another instrumental, shows the power of creative arrangement. This is something that too many bands overlook. There’s more than one way to use the bass, to use the banjo as a supporting instrument. This number has a lilting feel with just a hint of mystery in its chord progression. “When Fall Comes To New England” paints a picture of that season there in the northeast. It also illustrates my comment about the mix and Nellie Smith’s vocals. The instruments are mixed back and that allows us to appreciate her vocals more.

They go cross-genre and include James Taylor’s “Carolina On My Mind.” They certainly do this great song justice.

You’d have to work at not liking this CD. It may be a step away from some of the early bluegrass music, but it sure sounds like bluegrass to me, with tasteful arrangements, beautiful singing and masterful musicianship. This is a winner.

ash-breeze-artwork

“Double or Nothing” by the Rigneys

The Rigneys
Double or Nothing
Dark Shadow Recordings
4 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

“The Rigney Family Band evokes some comparisons to a better known name, the Cherryholmes …” That was my description in 2011 when I reviewed their third release, Familiar Paths. That hasn’t changed and has evolved in at least one direction. The Cherryholmes were not one hundred percent traditional with their music but, as the kids got older, their music took on an even more contemporary sound. That’s just another way of saying it didn’t sound as much like bluegrass to some of us. My wife, whose love for bluegrass warms a few degrees each year, liked it. I didn’t.

And so it goes with the Rigneys. The title number is a traditional bluegrass number. Mark Rigney (the father) provides some good banjo though it’s not as important in the mix as you’d hear in straight-up bluegrass. Overall, banjo is not a primary instrument in their music. “Last Stop On The Line,” a troubled-love number that sounds like Jim Croce had some influence (though they describe it as “Johnny Cash like”), is another good, rocking number but, again, the banjo takes a back seat to the other instruments. They stay true to form with “Lowdown,” (this and the last number composed by Rick Lang and Ted DeMille). “Bluegrass Band” is another good bluegrass number. Their band includes father Mark (banjo, vocals), mother Melissa (bass) and brothers Andrew (guitar, vocals) and Grant (mandolin, fiddle, vocals). They are all accomplished musicians, and it shows on their instrumental, “Truck Rust and Tobacco Barns.”

Then there’s the “contemporary bluegrass” path they take. I suppose that’s a label you can apply but these numbers sound like acoustic soft rock more than bluegrass to my ears. “Bridges” is a good description of the way our lives sometimes evolve, but it’s a good example of taking that different fork in the music road, as Cherryholmes started doing. This change of direction didn’t hurt their (Cherryholmes) popularity overall, maybe even drew in a much larger following which is good commercially. “Bridges” isn’t bad music but it isn’t bluegrass to me no matter what adjective you put in front of it. “Something Old, Something New” is in that same mode even though it does have the banjo making a faint contribution.

“Bring Him Home” is a good number about life when the father is off to war; it will play well to bluegrass crowds. The most interesting vocal arrangement is in the contemporary phase of the CD. The vocalists trade parts from verse to verse, weaving together a melody as they come in and drop out on “Finally Going Home,” a quasi-sacred number (no mention of God but they did take a turn down a sinner’s highway).

They’ve made a name change since 2011 (Rigney Family Bluegrass morphed to the Rigneys) and they seem committed to a contemporary sound with the sons out in front and the parents playing supporting roles. It certainly isn’t Jimmy Martin’s music, but it is good stuff if you like that style.

rigneys-doubleornothingtour-30

“Coal Miner’s Prayer” by JD Messer & Sanctified

JD Messer & Sanctified
Coal Miner’s Prayer
Kindred Records
4½ stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

I’ve been hearing a lot of CD projects aimed at bluegrass listeners that cause me to waffle around about their bluegrass sound. I like traditional bluegrass but I’m open to including country and other genres as long as they still tick the bluegrass switch in my mind. A lot of people seem to be heading toward a “modern” sound to attract more listeners but leaving some bald spots in the ‘grass.

There’s no searching for a description for JD Messer’s music. It’s bluegrass. Messer has one of those voices made for bluegrass music and his band provides a solid foundation for the singers. Their passion is gospel music and they do it well. Messer wrote all but two of the songs (co-writers on two) and he’s a fine songwriter. “I’ve Been Waiting” features good harmony singing and an interesting banjo arrangement. The banjo player, Brent Amburgey, seems to wander off a time or two but it’s a great way to use the banjo on a song like this. “Peter Stepped Out” retells the story of Peter stepping into the water on the Sea of Galilee. It has a solo fiddle intro that has an old-timey sound before the banjo kicks in. The band again offers some very good harmony vocals.

Bluegrass has plenty of stories of despair and “When Mama Talks To The Man” goes as deep as you can go, but tells us about the power of prayer when mamas pray. The message may be hard for non-believers to embrace but no one can argue about how good the music is. And on the topic of sadness and loss, “Lunch Box Letter” tells the story of a miner who has a letter from his wife every night in his lunchbox. He dies after an explosion, but he leaves a lunchbox letter to his wife before he goes. Traditional music, traditional themes.

“Rain,” an old gospel number, is done a cappella and you get to clearly hear bass player Kayla Amburgey’s harmony vocals. She also sings lead on “Solomon,” a story of the biblical king. A plus if you hear a song you want to learn is the lyrics included inside the package. Other musicians are Kenny Stanley (guitar), Albon Clevenger (fiddle) and Jerry Sturgell (Dobro) with Messer playing mandolin. Sturgell sings lead on “When I Step Out” and he’s okay to listen to but hard to understand.

From “Road Less Traveled,” with it’s eerie story of a life saved by an angel and interesting chord progression, to the driving sounds if “I Don’t Deserve,” Messer and Sanctified make good bluegrass music. This one definitely goes onto my stack of play-them-often.

JDMesserCoalMinersPrayerCvr

“Living for the Moment” by Kristy Cox

Kristy Cox
Living for the Moment
Pisgah Ridge Records
5 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

Living For The Moment is an impressive CD from a newcomer to US music, Kristy Cox. She hails from Australia and is an experienced, award winning performer there, including the 2013 Capital News Australian Independent Female Vocalist of the Year Award and several Victorian & National Country Music Awards. Her focus in the US seems to be “acoustic country” despite signing with Pisgah, known best as a bluegrass label. Her press release mentions “This” as “touching on modern country,” which gives me pause since there’s not much I like about modern country, and describes “Something In The Way” as “contemporary” and “destined for mainstream success.”

If “This” is the new sound of modern country I may become a fan. It’s a love song with some very good harmony from producer Jerry Salley, mandolin player Darren Nicholson and Jennifer Nicholson. Other musicians on the CD include Mike Bub (bass), Steve Sutton (banjo), David Johnson (fiddle and resonator guitar) and Stephen Mougin (guitar). This is starting to sound like bluegrass. While “This” doesn’t fit the mold of traditionalists like Jimmy Martin, it’s as ‘grassy as many of the CDs I’m hearing that are outspokenly pointed at the bluegrass market. I lean towards the traditional sound but I like this song, I like this singer.

The verses of “Something In The Way,” another love song, are close to a country sound but the chorus is more genre neutral between country and bluegrass. This music is going to appeal to many bluegrass fans, especially the way the musicians are included, playing real breaks not just riffs (and, hey, there are no drums, tastefully played or otherwise). I’m sure she will be happy if these songs make the US country charts (and the CD is in the top 20′s on Australia’s country charts) but the songs don’t sound much like what I hear the rare times I see country’s version of MTV or turn on the radio to get a traffic report. That’s a plus for bluegrass fans who, for the most part, are also fans of classic country.

“Love Builds The Bridges (Pride Builds The Walls)” (a Patty Loveless hit composed by Salley and Jim McBride) is pure classic country. This is the kind of song that will stop me in my tracks to listen and whisper “now, that’s country music.” “Widow’s Whiskey” is a sad song about the repercussions of loss and is another country number (also co-composed by Salley). Staying in the classic country realm, Salley and Cox co-wrote “When It Comes To You” and trade vocals on the number.

I have trouble picturing her on stage with Garth Brooks in Central Park and ten thousand fans waving their bright-faced iPhones in the dark, but I hope she plays a bluegrass show somewhere that I can be in the crowd. Tack any label on it that you want, this is good listening.

Cox