may 2008

4Sierra Hull - Secrets

The first we hear from 16-year-old Sierra Hull on her debut album is a quick pair of delicate, descending mandolin lines that run back up the neck before she enters asserting in a high, sweet, crystalline voice, “No one else will ever know/This is how these passions always grow…” in the Kevin McClung-penned title song. All of this is pure Sierra—the seamless, confident instrumental work, the uncommonly expressive voice of tender years suggesting a well of complex feelings about to overflow in an ache of classic dimensions.

7Phil Vassar - Prayer Of A Common Man

“Clarity, not charity” is Phil Vassar’s heated demand of a system he chronicles as having deserted the common man on his uncommonly angry, finely crafted new album. In the title track, “This Is My Life” and “The World Is a Mess” Vassar documents the carnage of an unhinged society and uncaring government, and even seems to suggest tearing it down and starting all over again. But in the ample moments of engaging balladry and boisterous, good-time celebrations of being alive herein, Phil still manages to smile, and finds that life is still worthwhile.

3Dave Evans & River Bend - The Best Of The Vetco Years

Dave Evans fully inhabits every song he sings, almost to a frightening point. He burrows so deep into sad songs that they threaten to collapse in on themselves, like musical black holes. But unlike the black holes in our galaxy, plenty of energy and light escapes from these musical counterparts, thanks to the ineluctable power of Evans’s deeply committed readings. He simply will not deny his listeners a chance to experience the full range of life described in the turmoil and exultation of his narratives. Having acquired the tapes of Evans’s first two albums, released in 1979 and 1980 on the long-defunct Cincinnati-based Vetco label, Rebel has repackaged a sampling of 15 cuts from those essential long players into one powerful single disc survey.

stairwellGet Off Your Money - The Stairwell Sisters

Together with the implicit empowerment aspect of their being an all-female band, Get Off Your Money adds up to quite a statement by the Stairwell Sisters—and the fact that you can stepdance to it, too…well, that just makes it all the more impressive, at least to this brother.

1Dierks Bentley - Greatest Hits/Every Mile A Memory 2003-2006

More so than many of his contemporaries who have risen to arena-level popularity, Dierks Bentley has never forgotten to take his cues from country first, and let the rock propulsion drive but not overshadow the content of his music. His is state-of-the-art mainstream country, with a generous helping of acoustic instruments and crying pedal steel supporting Bentley’s gritty, personable baritone. Like George Strait, he’s covered the waterfront of feelings, and done so credibly—enough to have notched 10 top 10 singles and five chart toppers in a mere five years. For his first of what will likely be many volumes of greatest hits, Bentley shows off what he brung to the dance.

2The Mashville Brigade - Bluegrass Smash Hits, Vol. 1

The Mashville Brigade quintet makes its album debut in exemplary fashion here, showing an ease and fluidity in its playing befitting its members’ impressive pedigrees. The emphasis is on upbeat tunes, but there are also moments of reflective, soulful introspection that whet a listener’s appetite for more of this outfit’s inquiries into the bluegrass canon.

5Larry Sparks - Bound To Ride: The Best Of Larry Sparks

Larry Sparks is one of the greatest bluegrass vocalists of all time, and this splendid 14-song overview does his artistry proud. This is as smart a "best of" package that's come down the pike in some time. As with any artist of Larry Sparks's stature, though, the good news to report is that there's a lot more where this comes from.

8Yonder Mountain String Band - Mountain Tracks: Volume 5

Continuing an ongoing documentation of its live shows, the Yonder Mountain String Band returns with Volume 5, two discs of live performances. A rousing good time ensues. The first is a frenetic show that has reached legendary proportions among YMSB faithful, being a July 21, 2007 performance in Columbus, OH, in which the quartet surpassed even its own high-energy standard. Disc 2 is a collection of the band members’ favorite live numbers from the past couple of years.

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