Monday, February 17, 2014

Prescription Bluegrass Reviews: Irene Kelley - PENNSYLVANIA COAL

PRESCRIPTION BLUEGRASS IMAGE“Pennsylvania Coal” is a refreshing gathering of music and musicians alike.

It has been 10 years since veteran Nashville songwriter and small town Pennsylvania native Irene Kelley released a collection of original songs. As a tribute to her coal mining grandfather, there are 12 new original songs on “Pennsylvania Coal”, all of which were either written or co-written by Kelley.

Repeated listenings of “Pennsylvania Coal” pay off with discoveries of tasteful lead instrumental work and layered harmonies. Read the liner notes and you will see why*. Irene Kelley has assembled a dream-team of A- list bluegrass musicians for this project. This in a way is a double edged sword , meaning it makes for a prolific studio recording, but at the same time assures that chances are you will never hear this ensemble in a live setting. Dang.

Different tracks summon different vibes. It is fun to hear the variety of instruments that have snuck their way onto a bluegrass album. You will hear Bryan Sutton on clawhammer banjo (who knew?) as well as the “dojo,” a cross between a Dobro and a banjo. You will hear accordion on“Things We Never Did,” hammered dulcimer on “Garden of Dreams” and Irene's own autoharp on “My Flower”.

That being said, it is puzzling that drums were used in the recording of this project. In the early days of the Newgrass Revival Sam Bush was asked in an interview why there was no drummer in the band. With mandolin in hand he answered “ I Am The Drummer !” To be clear, the percussion work on this CD is tasteful and not overdone, but when there is a mandolin player like Adam Steffey on the clock drums are not really necessary and sometimes muddle the off beat, especially when “Pennsylvania Coal” is referred to as a “bluegrass record” in the liner notes.

It is comforting to be reminded that artists such as Irene Kelley are not only out there, but have the ambition, talent, drive and resources to render an album of this caliber. The combination of her crystal clear voice and song writing ability is a gift to all. I can say with confidence that Irene Kelley's grandfather is somewhere grinning from ear to ear.

*Stuart Duncan, Adam Steffey, Bryan Sutton, Dale Ann Bradley, Steve Gulley, Claire Lynch, Darrin Vincent, Carl Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, Rhonda Vincent.


1 comment:

  1. Good review, I found this CD as an all in all winner, a bit more traditional than today's bluegrass releases.


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