Friday, October 31, 2014

CD Review - Phil Leadbetter - THE NEXT MOVE

Image635503292774561616In 2005, The IBMA named Phil Leadbetter it’s Dobro Player of the Year, and his album, “Slide Effects” was the IBMA Instrumental Album Of The Year. 2005 was a very good year for Phil! Jump to the present, and the IBMA again voted Phil Dobro Player of the Year for 2014…. AND, from the sound of his newest release, “The Next Move,” Phil has another hit record on his hands!

I’ll bet if you could steal Phil’s cell phone, there wouldn’t be a major bluegrass or country star in Tennessee that you couldn’t call……. Just by going over the list of famous names who participated in the recording of this CD, you’ve got the cream of the crop all adding hot licks and memorable vocals to “The Next Move.” AND… the songwriters who threw their best tunes into this project is pretty astounding, too. I’ve been a Phil Leadbetter fan for a long time, and it’s pretty obvious that Phil has a lot of other fans that really do love the man. They all showed up for this party!

Produced by Phil and Steve Thomas, recorded at Eagle Canyon Studios in Lebanon, Tenn. and engineered by Mr. Thomas and Dave Kirkey, eleven of the twelve tunes sparkle with a homey, warm and inspired pizzazz. The twelfth song, “Hole in the Earth,” was engineered and recorded at Steve Wariner’s Studio in Franklin, Tenn. This cut also has that same loving touch as the other eleven. Every song presented here is a winner.

My favorite track is the first one out of the chute. John Cowan has the most dynamic and recognizable voice I’ve ever heard, and on “I’m a Ramblin’ Rolling Stone,” written by Paula Breedlove and Brad Davis, John sings his ASS off! He holds the last note forever, it seems, and he nails the bass track down with syncopation and power. None other than Sam Bush, John’s old band mate in The Newgrass Revival, sings harmony and adds his mandolin licks. Steve Thomas, who’s no slouch himself in the vocal department, also sings harmony and plays fiddle. The song is filled out with Phil’s dobro, Cory Walker’s banjo and Jake Stargel’s guitar work. I love this song! The re-play button sure got a work out on this one. Somewhere, sometime, there will end up being a LIVE version of this song recorded……. I can already hear the energy that will set the stage on fire! To me, this is THE hit single off the recording.

There are four instrumentals here, and they all sizzle. “Just Joshin’,” by Josh Graves and Jake Tullock, features Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes playing dualin’ dobros with Phil, and the result is hot lick heaven! Cory Walker on banjo, Mike Bub on bass, Sierra Hull on mandolin, Kenny Smith on guitar and Tim Crouch on the fiddle tracks round this one out. Uncle Josh would be so proud of how his song is taken musically to a new level by this crew! Adding this ghost from the past to the song selection was a stroke of genius, and a wonderful tribute to a dobro legend.

On “Leadbelly,” which Phil wrote, he trades dobro solos with his son, Matt Leadbetter, and another generation of dobro stylists makes his mark as indelibly as his Dad has. How cool to get the chance to record with his own son……. and Matt puts his heart and soul into his solo. Steve Thomas on guitar, Mike Bub on bass, Tim Crouch on fiddles and Jarrod Walker on mandolin fill out the rest of the ensemble on this one.

“Sweet Georgia Brown,” features Bela Fleck on banjo and my favorite bluegrass piano player, the amazing Buck White, aiding and abetting Phil on this arrangement. This tune has always been a favorite of mine, (Can you imagine the Harlem Globetrotter’s playing without this song accompanying them??) and this is a dynamite version! Sierra Hull on mandolin, Steve Thomas on fiddle, Mike Bub on bass and Kenny Smith on guitar strut their stuff in fine fashion. Mike Bub’s bass is absolutely the engine motivating this tune, and Buck’s piano is just the personality this one needs. What a cool rendition of this old classic!

The last instrumental is just Phil and his guitar doing a heart melting and stellar version of “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” The strength, character and tenderness of Phil’s playing is what makes this one so good. He is playing it straight from his soul, and Steve Thomas and Dave Kirkey captured the moment, the feeling and the beauty of Phil’s touch and tone perfectly. To me, the dobro is the most emotive instrument in the world, and in the right hands, as is the case here, the dobro can reach one’s innermost feelings. As the last song, what a lovely way to end this CD.

Shawn Camp is one of my favorite song writers, and two of his compositions are included here. Shawn sings lead on both of them with that “one of a kind” voice of his, and both songs add to the strength of this CD. His “Pull The Trigger,” and “Jesus, My Old Dog and Me,” which he co-wrote with Will Nance and Steven Dean, add fire and fun to this project. On “Pull The Trigger,” Phil shows off hot licks galore, Steve Thomas plays a rousing guitar solo, Tim Crouch adds twin fiddles (or could those maybe be triple fiddles??) that will knock the socks off the listener. Charlie Cushman’s banjo drives like a freight train, Mike Bub’s bass is solid as a rock and Alan Bibey’s mandolin solo is super! AND….. Steve Gulley and Don Rigsby add harmony vocals to add to the luster. This song should also be considered for single release…… it’ll reach out and grab a radio audience in an instant! “Jesus, My Old Dog and Me” is an easily danceable two step that has lyrics that will pull at your heart strings. A great story line, with a more “Country” vibe to it, but a winner for sure. Steve Gulley again sings harmony, Phil’s dobro is pure sentimentality, Charlie Cushman plays a soft, single note sweet banjo solo, Steve Thomas shows his mandolin talents and Mike Bub holds it all together on upright bass. Tim Crouch plays viola and cello, and the orchestral warmth of his tracks are like a light, warm frosting on a fresh from the oven cake.

Steve Wariner is one of the most talented men in Nashville, and his contribution to this CD is called “Hole in the Earth,” which he co-wrote with Shane Keister. Steve engineered, sang the lead vocal on it, played guitar and recorded it at his own studio in Franklin, TN. Steve Gulley came in to add harmony vocals, as did Carl Jackson, who sang another harmony line and also played banjo on the tune. This one has Tim Dishman on bass, Steve Thomas on fiddle and mandolin and Enrico Pallazzo on percussion. Steve is one of those Nashville legends that can just do it all! He was signed to RCA by Chet Atkins and then he became one of only four men awarded Chet’s Certified Guitar Player (CGP) Award. This song adds another jewel to the treasure chest of music included on this CD. Mr. Wariner makes another guitar appearance on “I’ve Never Seen a Love that Wasn’t Blind,” written by Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford and sung by Steve Gulley and Dale Ann Bradley. Steve and Dale Ann have a way of singing together that can only be described as “heavenly,” and Phil’s dobro fits right in with that twosome like an Angel’s harp. With Steve Thomas’ fiddles, Tim Dishman’s bass, Cory Walker’s banjo and Jarrod Walker’s mandolin, the hits off this CD just keep comin’!

Con Hunley singing “Georgia on My Mind,” Ken Millons singing his own “I’m A Modern Day Interstate Gypsy” and Marty Raybon and Joe Diffie singing “Baptism,” by Mickey Cates, are the final three songs on the CD. Added to the rest, they make for an even dozen that Phil and his co-producer, Steve Thomas, should be very proud of! It’s obvious that a lot of hard work, dedication, intense focus and just plain ol’ love went into the making of this recording. For this many musicians to answer the call and step up to add their talents to an old friend’s project is a great representation of the heart and soul of Nashville’s finest. This CD represents so much more than good picker’s and singer’s being called for “just another recording session.” It’s all about friendship and admiration for Phil’s strength of character and his faith that all will be well under God’s blue skies.

I intentionally tried to make this review only about Phil Leadbetter’s music. Phil’s two year battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is well known in the bluegrass and country music communities, and in his liner notes he tells his story with an honesty and openness that you, the listener and reader, should only hear from him. At this writing, I understand that as the sessions for “The Next Move” were winding down, Phil’s cancer had returned and his battle with it began anew. All I can say to Phil is….. Thank YOU for this music, thank you for showing me what faith and strength are all about and, please know that you will be in my prayers.

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