Tuesday, April 10, 2012

CD REVIEW - Bluegrass Martins – World of Our Own

By W.J. Hallock

Bluegrass Martins – World of Our Own

Released:  2011

With the passing of Earl Scruggs, another of the legends of traditional bluegrass music is gone. But, the legacy of all that Earl did for acoustic music in general, and the banjo in particular, is alive, well and prospering.

One listen to “World Of Our Own,” the new CD by The Bluegrass Martins, of Jefferson City, MO, is a testament to what an influence the old “Masters” have been on today’s younger generation of musicians. This family band is doing it’s very best to keep traditional bluegrass music their main focus.

Tunes recorded here by A.P. and Maybelle Carter, the Delmores and Flatt and Scruggs, show how much the Martins revere their heroes, but they seem to be able to wrap their special sound around just about any song they attempt. Remember the O’Kanes song “Just Lovin’ You,” from top 40 country radio back in the late 80’s? The Martins do a knock out version of it here. And any folk music fan from the 60’s is going to immediately recognize the old Tom Paxton song “Ramblin’ Boy.” It, too, fits right into the Martins sound and repertoire. 

Not one mistake was made when choosing the fourteen songs presented here. A lot of care and concern was put forth to pick the best songs possible that would also fit their musical identity. 

With Dad, Elvin, on upright bass, son Dale on guitar, and daughters Jeana, Janice and Larita on fiddle, banjo and dobro respectively, all the necessary instrumentation for a bluegrass band are represented very well. Except for the mandolin…… NO mandolin? By going to the Martins website, it appears that younger brother Lee is waiting in the wings and will soon(if he hasn’t already!) fill that void. With this CD being recorded at their own Martins Studio, they seem to take self sufficiency AND self containment very seriously! Good for them! 

Instrumentally, its obvious they have spent a lot of hours honing their craft. Each has all the licks and chops it takes to play successfully, and they are also able to apply all their talents to the recording process. They all seem to have that innate sense that “less is more” when it comes time to go into the studio. And the best part seems to be that they can all play together so tightly. Its got to be a “family” thing….. and its an asset that other bands don’t have. Capitalize on it!

Vocally, its another story entirely…… this is where the Martins need to focus their attentions. Sometimes, all it takes for a song to sound stronger is a key change. Dale’s voice doesn’t have a lot of oomph in his lower register when he’s singing lead. Capo up one or two frets and that may be all the fix that’s needed. He could add lots of power easily. On the songs he sings a little higher, he does much better. And it seems that the girls could bring some of their lead vocals down a step and they wouldn’t have to strain quite so hard for the high notes. 

As good as they all are instrumentally, changing some of the keys shouldn’t be a problem. Dale, Janice and Jeana sing good three part harmony, and if they spent time singing without their instruments and really honing their vocals, they could get to the point where they would be singing GREAT harmony. If they all would find the sweet spot or key where their voices sound the best, it would make a big difference. Doing that would also help in the studio…… there are so many ways to improve weak spots with microphones and tech savvy. They have the studio, experiment! 

They also have a secret weapon in Jeana’s husband, Eddie Faris. He mixed this CD….. AND he plays guitar, mandolin and sings with Ricky Skaggs in Kentucky Thunder. He wouldn’t have that job if he wasn’t a first class singer and musician! Use him to bounce ideas and problems off of. 

Often, the only problem that a family band has is deciding just WHO is going to crack the whip! What needs to happen is for all of them to push each other vocally to be better. 

“Big Black Train” and “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” are two more of my favorites. For traditional bluegrass fans, there is a lot to like on this CD. The Martins have all the ingredients to make a long and successful career happen….. they just need to give it 150% vocally and shoot for the moon.


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