(For all back issues go to the Archive)
MICHAEL CLEVELAND & FLAMEKEEPER, Fired Up-- Fired Up is indeed fired up, on multiple levels, and yet another powerhouse statement from one of most formidable bluegrass outfits on the scene.
THE GIBSON BROTHERS, Help My Brother-- For want of a single comma, the greater purpose of the Gibson Brothers’ fine new album might be misunderstood. For this is an exercise in one-on-one connecting, with one better off reaching out to another in distress and trying to bring some solace to a troubled soul. An explanation is in order.
CHARLIE SIZEMORE, Heartache Looking For a Home--With this, his seventh album, it is past time to speak of Charlie Sizemore unconditionally as a great bluegrass vocalist. A man who spent a large amount of time between his fine 2002 Tom T. Hall tribute album (Story Is The Songs of Tom T. Hall) and his 2007 Rounder debut (Good News) making most of his money from lawyering, Sizemore returns with a formidable knockout punch in Heartache Looking For a Home.
JOSH SLONE & COALTOWN-- Hailing from east Kentucky, Josh Slone & CoalTown come by traditional bluegrass naturally, which accounts in part for the group’s Rural Rhythm debut sounding so seasoned, so assured, and so deeply invested in the genre’s enduring themes. (A few years back the band self-released its first album proper, Appalachian Blues.) Cue this up for a stranger to the music, and he/she will get the idea.
RALPH STANLEY, A Mother’s Prayer-- Any new communication from Dr. Ralph Stanley is most welcome, and in A Mother’s Prayer he makes his latest appearance ever more meaningful by focusing on the gospel messages closest to his heart. No less benevolent in song than he is in his personal life, Dr. Stanley reaches across oceans of time for his material, not caring whether the sources are too old to be dated or come by way of a current mainstream contemporary country star--the good doctor is about spreading the good news of Christ’s death on the cross as atonement for humankind’s sins and the glorious promise of salvation inherent in the triumph of the cross.
JOSH WILLIAMS, Down Home-- Among many thoughts that spring to mind when considering Josh Williams’s superb Down Home album is how young but how seasoned he sounds all at once. He has a lived-in voice, but one free of ragged edges—you’ll have a hard time not thinking early Randy Travis when he sings, especially when he eases into a tender country love song such as “Dream of Me” with its loping pace, aching harmonies and strong backwoods flavor supplied by tart, to-the-point fiddle and banjo solos by, respectively, Jason Carter and Aaron McDaris.
YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND, Show-- In its most ambitious outing yet, the Yonder Mountain String Band marshals all its strength and fluid melding of styles into a rousing album-length statement of fine songwriting and inspired musicianship.