Brennen Ernst – Had a Big Time Today

Brennen Ernst is a multi-instrumental multi-genre musical daredevil. In this project he focuses on some of his favorite banjo pieces.

Contributing to the hot licks and mellow moments are members of the popular band Five Mile Mountain ​Road—Billy Hurt on fiddle and Steven Dowdy on bass—along with Jeremy Stephens playing solid rhythm guitar throughout. Add to the mix such recognized talents as fiddlers Casey Driscoll and Corrina Rose Logston, Danny Knicely on mandolin and guitar, Chris Hill on vocals, and you know you’re in for a great listen.

The title number, Had a Big Time Today, brings back the good old days when girls wore bonnets and came to town on the steamboat, followed by a neatly joined showcase of classic banjo tunes called Old Time Song Medley. Back Home in Indiana is a cheerful offering from the Great American Songbook; the stunning Golden Rocket has tongue-twisting lyrics brilliantly handled by Stephens and Logston; Greasy Wagon is an evocative, loping waltz from the 1920s; Ashland Breakdown by “father of bluegrass” Bill Monroe highlights some fine triple fiddling, while The Old Home will take you to that place where “the sweet waters flow and the wild flowers grow.” Banjo standard Lonesome Road Blues is ​next; then the powerful voice of Hurt and a hot Travis-style guitar break from Stephens combine on the honkytonk entry Walking the Dog. Ernst takes up lead guitar in a Flat-Picking Medley paying tribute to his heroes Clark Kessinger and Doc Watson. Back on banjo, he offers a crisp, lightning-fast rendition of the old time classic Shortnin’ Bread. For a contrast in mood, Hill and Ernst join in singing Wall Around Your Heart, a musical reminder from Reno and Smiley that love stories don’t always have a happy ending. Buckeye, a composition by legendary Georgia fiddler Frank Maloy, showcases Ernst at his banjo best along with fluent fiddling from Hurt, Logston and Driscoll. This stellar collection finishes off with Mac Wiseman’s I’m a Stranger—​it starts with Kniceley’s hard-core mandolin kick ​and moves on to plaintive lyrics led by Stephens with Ernst on tenor and Tom Mindte on baritone, adding a final, true touch of lonesome.

A word of advice: If you plan to take this music on your morning stroll, better tape in your earbuds and be prepared to do some foot-tappin’, foot-stompin’ and flat-footin’ – just sayin’.

Barbara Bamberger Scott

Gareth Owen – Rolling By

AT 81 YEARS OF AGE, PRIZE-WINNING POET, NOVELIST, BBC BROADCASTER AND PLAYWRIGHT, ISSUES ALBUM OF HIS OWN COUNTRY SONGS.

GARETH OWEN has published some seven volumes of poetry, of which over a hundred have appeared in various anthologies. For a number of years he was the popular presenter of the BBC’s long-running ‘Poetry Please!’

He was playing ‘Othello’ in Birmingham when he met the 16 year-old Ruby Turner in the theatre, and for a time managed her career. Reading The New Musical Express one day, looking for angles to help her career, he came across an article about the Country singer, Tom T. Hall and was sufficiently intrigued to buy his album; became a convert to Country music and began writing songs, mostly until now unheard except by close friends. Many years later, Ed Begley, the M.D. of Shakespeare miscellany he was part of, heard the songs and was impressed enough to put together a band and get Gareth into a studio to record them   

Rolling by is the happy result. It’s pure Americana, with Owen’s poetic talents and his gift for a catchy tune, lifting the varied story-songs in a novel and beguiling fashion.

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The Price Sisters – A Heart Never Knows

Recorded last summer in Nashville, A Heart Never Knows combines The Price Sisters’ talents with producer Bil VornDick and performances from a group of notable musicians including Bryan Sutton, Charlie Cushman, Mike Bub, Dennis Crouch, Alan Bartram, Ruth McLain, and Justin Moses. The album offers a satisfying mix of obscure gems from pioneers such as the Carter Family and the Delmore Brothers, coupled with stunning new songs from some of today’s top songwriters.

At just twenty-three years old, twin sisters Lauren and Leanna Price are poised to become the torchbearers for traditional bluegrass as it enters its eighth decade. While their playing is thoroughly rooted in the classic style of Bill Monroe, their smooth, polished sibling vocal harmonies infuse the music with a fresh, contemporary appeal.

With well-chosen songs, creative arrangements, impeccable musicianship and stellar vocal harmonies, A Heart Never Knows confirms that The Price Sisters have arrived, and that the future of bluegrass is in good hands!

Mary Marecek – Cotton Flowers

Bluegrass and gospel songs that capture the beauty of the farm life.
Album Notes
These original songs from the heart serve to share my love of God and the farm life through song. The farm and ranch life provides a great environment for writing music. I feel close to God when I’m surrounded by the land. My songs were written while driving the tractor or sitting on the porch in the evening. My hope is that these songs will uplift and inspire the listener.
“Rockin’ in The Cradle” is a song about driving the tractor
“I Love It When He Prays” captures the beauty of prayer in families.
“My Tractor’s Got A Soul” reached out to all romantics and classic tractor enthusiasts
“I Love To Pray” is a catchy gospel song that is good for church services.
“Love Letter” is written for a very special little girl named Carolinie who was and lost her adopted Mommy to heart failure when she was just 6 years old. My hope and prayer is that this song will restore the souls of all listeners.
“Hold Me In Your Heart” came to me one morning as a prayer put to song.
“Prayer Is Just A Song Away” is a gospel medley with an original chorus that is a hand-clapping, foot-stomper.
“Cotton Flowers” is an intimate song about a woman reaching out to God in song her desire to live the farm life.
“Wonderful Morning” is about a married couple’s appreciation of each other on a rainy morning. 

Catherine Thompson – Western Serenade

Western classics featuring vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, classical guitar, bass, harmonica and piano by Catherine Thomposon, mandolin by Chris Firebaugh and percussion by Neal Anderson.

Scotty McCreery – Seasons Change

 

It took a long time for Scotty McCreery to get to his third record, Seasons Change. Five years to be precise, a half-decade that saw the American Idol finalist undergo some major life changes, chief among them a departure from his post-Idol record label Mercury Nashville. The imprint dropped him following “Southern Belle” — a 2015 single that didn’t crack the Top 40 — and he resurfaced in 2018 on Triple Tigers with Seasons Change, a record whose very title acknowledges that he’s no longer the eager, bright-eyed kid he was at the dawn of the decade.

The change isn’t just superficial. For the first time, McCreery co-writes every one of the songs on an album, teaming with a host of professional Nashville songwriters, including Jessi Alexander, who co-wrote Lee Brice‘s tear-jerker “I Drive Your Truck” and David Lee Murphy, who had a hit back in 1994 with “Dust on the Bottle.” Many other writers are involved on Seasons Change, but those two indicate the tenor and tone of the album: It’s an album whose heart belongs in a different era, one that feels much older than McCreery‘s 24 years. Despite a few surface affectations, such as the faintest hint of a drum loop on the ballad “This Is It,” the retro-soul groove of “Barefootin’,” and a feint toward hip-hop cadence on “Move It on Out,” there’s nary a trace of the R&B influence that’s so fashionable in the late 2010s, nor is there anything resembling the bro-country of the early 2010s. This is an album firmly and proudly rooted in the tuneful mainstream country of the ’90s. Frankly, this is a good fit for McCreery. A singer who always sounded a fair bit older than his years, he feels comfortable with the throwback sensibility of Seasons Change, as if he’s finally found a home. There’s a charm to his light touch, but that wouldn’t be enough to make Seasons Change as ingratiating as it is. That’s all down to all the smartly constructed commercial cuts, given a handsome polish by producers Frank RogersDerek Wells, and Aaron Eshuis. When combined with the singer’s ease, these elements turn Seasons Change into McCreery‘s best album yet.

Tennessee Jed – Pimpgrass

Lest anyone dare forget, bluegrass music has a soul of its own. Granted, it differs from what’s normally associated with the standard rhythm n’ blues, although the same fervor can be found in the sweep and strum of banjos, fiddles and mandolin, along with the high harmonies that wail above the fray.

Tennessee Jed knows that all too well, and on Pimpgrass, his fifth album to date, he shares those sentiments in ways that are both expected and beyond the norm. The soaring sentiments of the album opener, Over the Mountain, offers the initial indication, a wistful ballad expressing the draw of home and the weariness of the road. The heartfelt lament, Can’t Get There From Here, continues on that tack, fully affirming Jed’s genuine sense of longing for those things that often lie just beyond our reach, just as the gritty work song, Sunup ‘Til Sundown,emphasizes the struggles of everyday existence. Despite his unruly-looking demeanor — the back photo of the CD cover shows him about to smash his guitar against an abandoned bus — his soulful spirit is never in doubt.

If that was the only hint of sentiment, it would definitely be enough. Yet along with the ramble and rumble of high lonesome ballads like The Train for to Carry Me Home, the driving sounds of Soul-Country Pimpgrass, and the astute and assertive instrumental, Opie’s Intermezzo, Jed adds some surprising cover songs that further assert his soulful stance. One wouldn’t expect to hear the Isley Brothers classic Shout parlayed by a group of professional pickers, but here it isn’t out of place, its exuberant exhortations fully fleshed out by bluegrass regalia. Likewise, when Jed and company tackle Kiss, the remarkable barnburner from Prince, the fusion of two genres stays surprisingly in sync. To his credit however, Jed doesn’t feel inclined to share his soul merely through the efforts of others; when he sings in his upper register on his own original offering, Cells, he soars like a man well able to rely on a faithful falsetto.

Credit too a reliable backing band that’s easily able to navigate those shifts in style. By now, Tennessee Jed’s reputation is such that he’s able to attract an exceptional group of players, among them Scott Vestal on banjo, Todd Parks on bass, fiddler and backing vocalist Luke Bulla, Josh Shilling of Mountain Heart playing keys, Andy Hall of the Infamous Stringdusters contributing dobro, and three members of the Daily & Vincent band fleshing out the rest. It’s an exceptional ensemble, and one well equipped to operate in Jed’s jurisdiction.

Now more than ever, breaking down barriers is of prime importance. Credit Tennessee Jed with journeying to those unlikely realms and finding a fit once he arrives.

Jerry Jeff Walker – It’s About Time

Throat cancer nearly felled Jerry Jeff Walker last year as he wrapped recording for It’s About Time. That brush with mortality now adds a reflective tinge to the progressive country stalwart’s first album in nearly a decade. Even as his voice settles into a lower key, Walker continues spinning gorgeously easy melodies and true narratives on a life now more front porch than rowdy bars. “It took me years to give it up, but I felt I might lose her love, or myself,” Walker acknowledges on sobriety ode “Rain Song,” reeling hard-earned epiphanies. Opening trifecta “That’s Why I Play,” “California Song,” and “Because of You” all gracefully take stock of what matters, as does a turn on Guy Clark’s “My Favorite Picture of You.” Walker maintains an ear for others’ songs, most notably on dusky ballad “South Coast” and barrel piano roll “Ballad of Honest Sam,” while his son Django’s “Somethin’ Bout a Boat” – covered by Jimmy Buffett – gets a Seventies Hill Country makeover.

 

The Vagaband – Something Wicked This Way Comes

Based in Norwich, The Vagaband are a nine-piece crew whose punning name aptly sums up their wandering musical pathways. The politically satirical title track gets things rolling, an uptempo fiddle-driven slice of Laurel Canyon close harmony folk rock that calls CS&N. Hanging around the same era, once past the intro,  Bright Are The Stars, which features The Arlenes on harmonies, recalls the melody line of The Byrds     I Am A Pilgrim. And then there   s One For The Road which evokes the same queasy narcotic disorientation of Three Dog Night   s Mama Told Me Not To Come. That was, of course, written by Randy Newman and the same influence can be heard on the lazy New Orleans piano rag and brass styled Spiritual Man.

Then, that   s surely Dylan circa Desire underpinning the scuffling Not My Day To Die while, featuring Morganway   s Yve Mary Barwood on vocals,  the bluesy An Eye For An Eye flirts with spaghetti western moods with its tolling bells and desert parched guitar twang, even if the line about getting back to the garden is clearly pinched from Joni   s Woodstock.

In contrast, things come closer to home with the strummed guitar ballad Through The Back Doors which sails close to Lennon   s Jealous Guy and There   ll Only Be One Elvis (Costello not Presley) has a touch of Oasis lurking behind its Americana sway. However, it   s back to swampier climes for the low key sung, Mexicana doped and dobro shaped Black Eyed Sally.

Musical echoes of Lennon   s I Heard The News Today in evidence, it finally ends with the nostalgia-themed Zoetrope. Frontman Jos    McGill says the album   s about    American cultural imperialism on our own turf   , acknowledging the irony that much of their music appropriates this while still planting its feet in British roots rock soil. Wickedly good.

Andrea Colburn & Mud Moseley – Easy, Sleazy and Greazy

Debut album from the self-proclaimed King & Queen of the Hillbilly Underground featuring a carefully selected group of tunes incorporating Honky Tonk, Blues, Rockabilly, Garage Rock and Surf music. Like Doc Watson and the Cramps had a love child.