april 2008

shawAmanda Shaw - Pretty Runs Out

16-year old Amanda Shaw writes with a wisdom befitting a more worldly lass, attacks the fiddle with a fluid, historically resonant style and sings in a husky, pixie-ish voice that is at once innocent and earthy, sort of a cross between Kasey Chambers and Deana Carter. She’s arrived, and she belongs.

waybacksThe Waybacks - Loaded
The Waybacks’ primary musical touchstones remain bluegrass and country, but the band’s soul belongs to the San Francisco Bay Area it calls home. Consequently, Loaded’s idiomatic range embraces Commander Cody–esque honky tonk and Asleep at the Wheel-ish western swing and meanders as far afield as Gypsy jazz and Celtic sea shanties.

carterCarlene Carter - Stronger

Carlene Carter has survived it all and emerged with new purpose. Stronger, her first album of new material since 1995, is a mission statement that unflinchingly acknowledges the past while moving Carter into a dynamic present tense.

antebellumLady Antebellum

A powerhouse trio comprised of Hillary Scott, Charley Kelley and Dave Haywood, Lady Antebellum is charging out of the box with not only the strongest country debut of this young year but a record that could become a mainstream classic.

longviewLongview - Deep In The Mountain

Retooled and re-energized, the bluegrass supergroup Longview hits a tape-measure blast in its first at-bat since 2002's exemplary Lessons in Stone long player. Good to have you back, fellas. Feels like the first time.

blue highwayBlue Highway - Through The Window Of A Train

Not that Blue Highway hasn't been working on a higher plane all along, but on Through The Window Of a Train the quintet outdoes itself. Produced by the band at Maggard Sound in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, the album resonates with a contemporary backwoods feel coupled to an urgency born of strong original material flush with social consciousness. It's compelling as both literature and music, a memorable achievement in every respect.

straitGeorge Strait - Troubadour

George Strait's getting older. The years are creeping up on his once unlined, matinee idol face and in his graying hair. He leads off his new album with the title song, an unabashedly winsome ballad reflecting on the passing of time that sounds torn from a page in his diary, replete as it is with its acknowledgments of insecurities, the contrast between perception and reality when it comes to image and an embrace of the truth about himself: "I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song/I'll be an old troubadour when I'm gone." Strait has never been so frankly personal on record before, but having opened a door into his inner sanctum he proceeds to guide visitors through its various chambers in the same unflinching manner he's adopted at the outset.

gibsonThe Gibson Brothers - Iron & Diamonds

Who knew that Tom Petty could write a bluegrass come-on song? Eric and Leigh Gibson, that's who. The ever-more-impressive brother duo opens its fourth album with a feisty treatment of Petty's "Cabin Down Below.” The Gibsons are making a habit of finding first-rate material to cover, yet their own original songs, eight on this album, stand toe-to-toe with good work from others' pens.

vincentRhonda Vincent - Good Thing Going

By now it should be obvious that Rhonda Vincent is simply incapable of making anything but good albums. Even by her own lofty standards, though, Good Thing Going is something special—a fully realized bluegrass beauty in which all the elements of songwriting, musicianship, arrangements and production are state of the art, almost impossible to conceive as being any better than they are.

vincentDailey & Vincent

Bluegrass veterans Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent could have drawn from a deep well of treasured songs for their much anticipated debut album. Instead, they decided to dig a new well and fill it with contemporary songs worthy of comparison to the ancient tones. On their debut, the duo punches their ticket for a long ride. People get ready.

partonDolly Parton - Backwoods Barbie

Following an incredibly fruitful three-album tenure with Sugar Hill, Dolly Parton makes a much-ballyhooed, and ultimately successful, return to the country mainstream with Backwoods Barbie, but on her own terms, writing and largely producing the album for her own newly formed label. Well, here's looking at you, kid. Typical of her best work, Parton here delivers meaningful songs with panache, conviction and commanding style. A strong streak of vulnerability surfaces throughout, via some piercing heartbreakers where the lush production touches and Dolly's soaring, aching vocals lend a visceral punch to her accounts of a heart bruised, battered, betrayed and broken.

Bluegrass Chamber Music


Tim O'Brien - Chameleon / Gaudreau & Klein - 2:10 Train

Tim O’Brien (Chameleon) and the veteran duo of Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein (2:10 Train) offer bluegrass meditations in intimate, introspective, intensely personal settings.

merritTift Merritt - Another Country

Weary from the road after two acclaimed albums, Tift Merritt retreated to Paris, to a rented apartment with a view and a piano. There, in the City of Lights, she was renewed. Hence Another Country, a departure so pronounced from her justly heralded Tambourine and Bramble Rose albums that it might even be termed "radical." Emanating from new ground musically and philosophically, Another Country comes to grips with the romantic and spiritual aporia pervading the artist's previous installments, an evolution limned by music less defined by its old-school fury and drive than by its quiet, folkish introspection.

hensleyTim Hensley - Long Monday

A sought after sideman (for, among others, Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless and his co-producer here, Kenny Chesney), Tim Hensley steps out of those shadows with a compelling debut effort comprised of traditional songs, well-chosen covers and a couple of his own originals set in a decidedly rootsy, all-acoustic framework.

driversThe Steeldrivers

Coming on the heels of Rhonda Vincent’s exhilarating Good Thing Going, the Steeldrivers’ surprising debut made January a banner month for bluegrass. The wow factor for this album is off the scales, whetting the appetite for more—much more.

bluegrassBest Loved Bluegrass

Although it isn't sequenced as such, Rebel's exemplary Best Loved Bluegrass: 20 All-Time Favorites is something of a crash course in bluegrass history. Pioneering artists such as the Stanley Brothers (and Ralph Stanley solo), Mac Wiseman and Don Reno & Red Smiley lay the foundation for the progressive representatives of the '60s and '70s (such as the Country Gentleman, via their definitive, close-harmonized ghost story, "Bringing Mary Home," and the towering Seldom Scene with a brooding version of the tragic ballad, "Darling Corey"), with modern-day progressive/traditional practitioners filling out the roster.

Recent Issues

(For all back issues go to the Archive)


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024