october 2008

williamsPaul Williams & The Victory Trio, WHAT A JOURNEY
Bluegrass gospel on an exalted plane, Paul Williams & The Victory Trio's What a Journey is a stirring message of faith and salvation with a pronounced uplifting spirit about it. That is to say, the album's 13 songs seem to have been selected with an eye towards making a statement about the beauty of life on earth and the promise of greater rewards in the afterlife. Williams, his keening tenor at its most expressive here, sings not of death approaching as a thief in the night, but rather as a matter of fact, a necessary step on the road to gloryland that necessitates neither fearful warnings nor melancholic resignation.

smithValerie Smith & Becky Buller, HERE'S A LITTLE SONG
Unassuming and inspired, Here's a Little Song brings two gifted women of different generations together in song, and they proceed to make sure you don't forget that they passed through your life. The principals are the exemplary veteran bluegrass/country vocalist Valerie Smith and one of the outstanding young bluegrass/country songwriters and fiddlers of the day, Becky Buller, the latter being a member of Smith's group Liberty Pike, whose members join them here along with a stellar cast of guest pickers from bands such as IIIrd Tyme Out and Special Consensus.

brombergDavid Bromberg Quartet, LIVE NEW YORK CITY 1982
No mere relic of an earlier time by a younger artist at his peak, the David Bromberg Quartet's Live New York City 1982 previously available only years ago in a limited edition, has been remastered to a brilliant, pristine clarity by Marc Moss, the better to serve an evening of instrumental virtuosity alternately incendiary and sensitive, and soulful vocal meditations in blues and country.

redRedd Volkaert, REDDHEAD
You expect the Master of the Telecaster to dazzle you with some exciting fretwork, and he doesn't disappoint. What was less predictable was that Redd would prove to be such an effective singer. And who woulda taken him for a philosopher king-in-song? Reddhead packs a punch that hurts so good.

mad buffaloMad Buffalo, WILDERNESS
You know a record's got something going for it when it has two cuts with James Burton on guitar, and it doesn't even need him to be compelling. Wilderness springs from the environmentally conscious, musically rich interior landscape that defines the singular voice and viewpoint of Randy Riviere (pronounced Ri-veer), whose interesting wanderings have found him occupying a variety of blue collar jobs, serving a stint in the U.S. Army, undertaking an education that's earned him a master's degree in wildlife biology, toiling in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, leading an effort to preserve more than 40,000 acres as permanent wildlife conservation easements and earning awards for his environmental efforts. This in part helps explain why the intriguing songs on the aptly titled Wilderness bear such a strong sense of place, a connection to the physical geography of the land and the psychological contours of a restless soul in pursuit of some degree of grace and definition.

frankDenice Frank, GULF COAST BLUE
Inspired by the current of life and characters in her native Galveston, TX, Denice Frank's Gulf Coast Blue is as unerring in its sense of place as it is colorful and piercing in its depictions of the forces tugging at people making their way across landscapes measured both in literal and metaphysical miles. Singing in a husky, smoky voice that has some of the color of Joni Mitchell's and a lot of the sultriness of Bobbie Gentry's, Franke brings her original songs to vivid life in taut tales following a less-is-more pattern of employing a few well-chosen instruments to add compelling textures to what are essentially short stories disguised as folk and blues ballads.

darrellDarrell Scott, MODERN HYMNS
When last we heard from Darrrell Scott the solo artist, it was 2006 and in The Invisible Man he was contemplating some weighty existential questions spurred by the death of his friend Stuart Adamson, founder and voice of the formidable Scottish rock band Big Country, and he had enlisted Dan Dugmore, Richard Bennett, Sam Bush, John Cowan and other titans of our times to assist him on his journey. On Modern Hymns he's not exactly dispensed with his existential angst, but rather is exploring its manifestations in the songs of some of his favorite artists, attended by a supporting cast every bit as formidable as that encountered on his previous long player.

smithKenny and Amanda Smith Band, LIVE AND LEARN
Returning to largely secular terrain following their Grammy nominated 2007 long player, Tell Someone, Kenny and Amanda Smith, along with bandmates Zachary McLamb (bass) and Aaron Williams (mandolin), with Ron Stewart providing a memorable assist sitting in on fiddle and banjo, give as much of themselves to the corporeal world as they do to the spiritual one in polishing this particular gem. Given the long shadow it casts in the gospel world, be advised that the band hardly dispenses with its spiritual focus here.



With some sizzling live performances filmed on board his 2006 "Sandy Beaches" cruise supplemented by a wealth of vintage photos, footage and reminiscences of his early scuffling days and a trying, 50-years-plus journey to solvency and sobriety, Delbert McClinton recounts his life and times in vivid, highly entertaining fashion in this documentary, which was awarded Best Documentary 2007 at the Woods Hole Film Festival. Interspersed amongst some riotous tales of Delbert and his band's misfortunes back in the day (as related by Delbert and some of those stellar bandmates) are some powerhouse musical interludes by the likes of Rodney Crowell, Marcia Ball, Jimmy Hall, Wayne Toups, Al Anderson, Buddy Miller, Jeffrey Steele, and not least of all, Delbert himself.


Originally released in 1993, Steve Gebhardt's Bill Monroe: The Father of Bluegrass remains the definitive film document of this American innovator's life and career. A fascinating 90-minute journey, the story is vividly recalled by Monroe himself (ably interrogated by John Hartford), members of his Bluegrass Boys band (Chubby Wise steals the show), and redoubtable musician/historians Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, Peter Rowan and Emmylou Harris. In one of his final interviews, Roy Acuff speaks eloquently to the topic of why Monroe ranks in the top tier of the American music pantheon. Bill Monroe's art and style continue to exert a profound influence on bluegrass musicians, from the youngest to the oldest generations. Why that is so is answered in this intelligently conceived, admirably executed, invaluable video portrait.

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