july 2009

She tweats, she chats, she webcasts, she takes advantage of all technology has to offer to keep direct lines open to her fans, but when it came time to cut a new album, the queen of bluegrass, RHONDA VINCENT, went back to basics in the studio with two new members of her band the Rage on board and voila! Another classic, Destination Life. We've got all the particulars in this month's cover story.

A tribute to murdered Iranian protester NEDA AGHA-SOLTAN, who is further remembered in a new poem by the 'Lioness of Iran,' Iranian national poet SIMIN BEHBAHANI, reprinted here after being introduced on National Public Radio.

By David McGee

ROAD'S END: STACEY EARLE & MARK STUART are winding down as a musical duo, will move on to new challenges next year as solo artists. They discuss their plans in an exclusive interview with TheBluegrassSpecial.com
By David McGee

Former Nickel Creek guitarist SEAN WATKINS has launched a new musical endeavor with his sister Sara, and an all-star lineup of supporting musicians with impeccable resumes in roots and rock 'n' roll music. The first album from this collaboration calling itself Works Progress Administration (WPA) is due September 15. We have the whys and wherefores of Watkins's latest journey.

One of the finest songwriters of our time, RADNEY FOSTER, is coming back in a big way in September a new album, Revival, chock full of what Foster calls "close to the bone" songs, all written or co-written by Foster and with a "big guitar sound" and even a touch of bluegrass among its rocking and gospelized tracks. Details herein.

Mark August 25 on the calendar as the release date for WILLIE NELSON's new American Classic album. Recording for Blue Note, which is helmed by Bruce Lundvall, who as a CBS Records executive signed Nelson to the label in the '70s and was most vocal in encouraging Willie to record Stardust, his now classic album of standards from the Great American Songbook. American Classic returns him to that bottomless and timeless catalogue, this time with multiple Grammy winning producer Tommy LiPuma behind the board and with arrangements courtesy Johnny Mandel, plus duets with Diana Krall and Norah Jones.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS by LAURA FISSINGER: This month, our columnist considers the impressive new album from Canadian singer-songwriter CATHERINE MACLELLAN, who seems to have a lot of Minnesota in her. Read on.

The Man Who Put The Wail In 'Jump, Jive An' Wail': BILLY ALTMAN remembers SAM BUTERA

THE GOSPEL SET: 'It's All About Love In My Book'
Undaunted and optimistic, NAOMI SHELTON brings the Word to the world. It's a message 60 years in the making. Plus, A GOSPEL TRIBUTE TO BARACK OBAMA.
By David McGee



*The Blues As Life's Mission: KOKO TAYLOR, Queen Of the Blues

*'The Bear' With The Tender Heart: BARRY BECKETT

*'Nobody Loved His Life More Than Stephen': STEPHEN BRUTON


By Billy Altman

While 18-year-old SARAH JAROSZ's precociousness is certainly a significant part of what makes this truly maiden effort so impressive, I'd much prefer you simply heard her for yourself, and only then, after you've been (more than likely) bowled over by her undeniable talents, start to reflect on the fact that someone so young already sounds so accomplished.

ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: STEVE EARLE, Townes by Christopher Hill—I'm not interested in chronicling self-destructive behavior but the subject does suggest itself when you're talking about a collaboration between two men whose lives encompassed such spectacular disasters.


THE BELLEVILLE OUTFIT, Time to Stand— There's every reason to like the Belleville Outfit, the swinging sextet whose 2008 self-released debut scored big with Americana fans.

TOMMY WEBB, Heartland— Produced by Ron Stewart (currently a member of Dan Tyminski's band, with a hitch in J.D. Crowe's band on his resume as well), Heartland, so aptly named, finds Tommy Webb, on his third album, demonstrating a command of vocal nuance more common to a seasoned veteran, in addition to simply asserting his sturdy presence on each song through the depth of feeling he imparts.

MAC WISEMAN, Bluegrass Hits And Heartsongs— Originally recorded for and released on Cincinnati's Vetco label in the mid-'70s, this compelling 14-song collection finds the great Mac Wiseman revisiting a body of work dating from early 1952 to late 1954, peak years for Wiseman when he was recording for the Dot label.

DAVID GRIER, Evocative—When you listen to Evocative you'll be transported somewhere else for a bit, where memory summons a whole range of feelings that are the stuff of life. Look inward, and there you'll find David Grier's instrumental music speaking a truth that needs no words to get its transformative message across.

BRYAN CLARK, Gossip, Inspiration And Slander—An artist who gracefully-and seemingly effortlessly—bridges the traditional and progressive, Bryan Clark makes a bold statement here. A double-CD set, its first disc is all acoustic, the second all-electric, but that's not to say the most intense energy is collected on the latter.

DADDY, For A Second Time—What do you get when you take two exceptionally talented Nashville-based singer/songwriter/guitarists who've been around the ranch long enough to know that any music not immediately suitable for marketing-propelled pigeonholing is likely best created and shared more for the joy than the jingle? You get Daddy, the rollicking new (addled) brainchild of Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack,


CHILDSPLAY, Waiting For the Dawn & MARK O'CONNOR, String Quartets No.'s 2 & 3— Spirited, ruminative, daring, challenging, beautiful-all these adjectives and more describe the exhilarating new albums from the musical collective Childsplay and Mark O'Connor's dazzling string quartet. More to the point, history resonates in both works, history both American and, in the cases of Bob Childs and Mark O'Connor, deeply personal.

MAURA O'CONNELL, Naked With FriendsWhen you're one of the best singers in the world, you can take certain liberties. For one, you can tell those who play an instrument other than their voice to stay home, for once. Moreover, you can tell one of the finest ever to play his instrument of choice that he's free to show up, but only with the instrument hardly anyone has ever heard him use, meaning his voice. You then proceed to present a collection of songs from mostly contemporary sources in such a haunting fashion, and with such stark, otherworldly grandeur emanating solely from the human spirit infusing your every uttered syllable, that the entire exercise begins to take on the aspect of the sort of bone chilling premonition as might be encountered in a Shakespearean soliloquy. Is this a dagger I see before me? No, but it is your true love gallivanting with someone else.

TAS CRU, Grizzle N' Bone—If you're a fool for the blues, you've come to the right place if you've cued up Tas Cru's raw, righteous Grizzle N' Bone, yet another Tas outing extending his proclivity for advancing a food metaphor in his album titles. But take note: amidst the gritty, raw blues 'n' soul herein are some tender-hearted moments that give the album a life-affirming sheen.

DAVE DOUGLAS & BRASS ECSTASY, Spirit Moves—Imagine a forlorn, muted trumpet, searching bereft through the melody of Hank Williams's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," finding untapped seams of heartache without uttering a single word. Or a sputtering, funky discourse and variation Otis Redding's "Mr. Pitiful," complete with a tuba burping away in the background. Or a high-stepping strut through "Bowie," a tribute to Lester Bowie with four horns coming at you from different directions, juking and sparring, before twice breaking into unison howls of "Hot Time In the Old Town Tonight." Welcome to Spirit Moves.


Because we love them so much, we pay tribute this month to SISTER ROSETTA THARPE and The Little Sparrow, EDITH PIAF, in a Video File that also includes interludes with MARVIN GAYE, THE BEATLES, MARY HOPKIN and AMADOU ET MIRIAM.

DUNCE'S CORNER: In which we urge Gov. Mark Sanford to take a hike and get good and get fed up with Chuck D's uninformed bloviating.

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