Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Prescription Bluegrass Reviews: Holly Norman "Appalachian Angel"

PRESCRIPTION BLUEGRASS CD REVIEWPersonally, I enjoy a vocalist with a crystal clear voice and precise intonation, with a tonal character that makes it easy to understand every word.

Holly Norman’s seemingly effortless vocals showcase these characteristics on her brand new release, Appalachian Angel.

As an artistic offering, it is my view that Appalachian Angel, though supported almost entirely by traditional Bluegrass instrumentation, would not likely meet most purists’ criteria for ‘true’ Bluegrass, though it’s earthy, country-Americana flavor would hardly compel them to marginalize its merits. And, though it doesn’t quite have the ‘feel’ of traditional Bluegrass, it does have the heart.

The opening cut, “Free”, is both upbeat and catchy, with especially fine lead guitar and fiddle support. It is also an example of Holly’s talent as a lyricist. In fact, seven of the twelve cuts on this project were penned by Ms. Norman.

Some of my favorite tracks are cuts three, four and ten. On track three, “Rearranged,” Holly’s song writing skills shine, as does the quality of the arranging and production. Her voice on this cut is tonally reminiscent of Dolly Parton, with perhaps a slightly lower register and less excitability in her phrasing. Track four, “Back to Love,” another Norman original, is both beautiful and intricate and an excellent choice to illustrate her vocal attributes. It might be the cut most likely to be covered by other groups, though probably one of those pieces rarely covered as well as the original. 

Cut number ten, “Sweet Memories,” possesses a haunting quality that is both pleasant and effective with the feel almost slipping into a Middle-Eastern, Gypsy-like rhythm in a couple of places, which makes it particularly interesting. The blend of voice and instrumentation on this piece is especially beautiful, with stand-out performances on bass, acoustic guitar and fiddle.

Appalachian Angel is very well produced. From the mics, to the editing and mixing, to the instrumental support and arranging, this is a stellar CD. Ms. Norman’s voice is superb throughout with songs chosen that accentuate her style, tonal range and vocal appeal. Does it fit into our ‘prescribed’ Bluegrass recipes? Perhaps, if only on the periphery of the genre as a modern concoction. Should that matter to a Bluegrass audience? I don’t think so. Rather, I believe this is a CD that even the most jaded Bluegrass purist would enjoy. 

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