Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Image635513873334338051The first time I ever saw the name Tim Stafford in print was in the liner notes of a 1990 holiday CD that my good friend Butch Baldassari had produced and recorded.

The title was “Evergreen – Mandolin Music for Christmas.” Evergreen was made famous by none other than The Weather Channel. During the holiday seasons of those early 90's, Evergreen was the background music as graphics for your local weather scrolled across the screen.

It was a perfect fit. Soothing acoustic Christmas music on a winters day. Cold weather sold a lot of copies of that now classic recording, and the deft guitar work of Tim Stafford was exposed.

1990 was a big year for Tim. Not only could you hear him playing “Away in a Manger” while checking the weather forecast, but a band he helped form, Dusty Miller, was named SPBGMA Bluegrass Band Champions in '90. Later that same year Tim became a member of a band with some fiddle player gal named Alison. That band was named IBMA Entertainer of the Year in 1991. Alison Krauss and Union Station went on to win a Grammy in January of 1993 for “Every Time You Say Goodbye” with Tim Stafford on guitar and vocals.

In 1994 the bluegrass landscape changed when Tim pieced together his current band Blue Highway. It's hard to believe that 20 years has flown by that quickly, but the easy style and writing abilities of that band make those twenty years a wonderful ride.

It's no secret that today's “what is and what isn't bluegrass” argument is at a pinnacle. I can safely say that Blue Highway's product is beyond reproach in these Image635513894095575526ongoing debates. True to form, staying within the unwritten guidelines of bluegrass for the enlightened listener. Blue Highway continues to produce top quality bluegrass music year after year as songwriters and performers. Their fan base now reaches worldwide. Thanks in no small part to the efforts and talents of Tim Stafford.

Tim's description of each of the fourteen cuts and how they where chosen for this project is heartfelt. Perhaps this album is giving us a peek of what really rattles around inside the mind of a man who eats, sleeps and breathes bluegrass music. The evidence will show that Tim took occasion to clean out, or at least tidy up, the contents of his song writing drawer.

Inspiration for songs come at strange times in strange places. Rarely does one sit at a table for the resolute purpose of writing a song. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but more often than not you are just noodling on a guitar, maybe looking at old photographs or simply trying to go to sleep when an idea for a song creeps in. These are the tidbits, the scraps of paper, the lyrics scribbled on the back of a Burger King receipt or melody line hummed into your cellphone that eventually evolve into the cuts on a recorded project such as this. The end justifies the means.

Of the fourteen cuts on “Just to Hear the Whistle Blow”, almost all were written or co-written by Tim, including the title track. Understandably, not all of the inspired songs and melodies will fall into the pigeon hole of one specific genre. A wealth of bluegrass style offerings are to be found on this CD, but I am pleased to say that it is hardly strictly all bluegrass.

Tim himself describes one of his tunes, “Poodle on a Dashboard” as “...sorta bluesy, sorta slippery.” Listening to “Dimes” on track 8 gave me the idea that Tim may have been influenced by the great James Taylor. “Hideaway Hotel” on track 10 convinced me of it. So adept at infusing a certain feel for each cut, Hideaway Hotel makes me want to go wash my hands and change the sheets every time I hear it. John Gardner, Barry Bales and Stuart Duncan provide “the slinky backup” that drives the vibe of this song about a rundown, sleazy motel.

Mr. Stafford predicts in the liner notes that we will be hearing more about Beth Snapp, a regional Tennessean singer songwriter that joins with Tim in singing “It Ain't the Mountain.”

I hope his prediction is accurate. She is wonderful. When you get a copy of this CD, listen how tracks 12 and 13 are blended together. “Morgan's Way”, a cool DADGAD guitar and clawhammer banjo tune, flows seamlessly into “Isaac Morton's Revenge”, the album's requisite murder song, in which also lies a unique foreboding feel. Cut 14, “Back In The Day” defies categorization, that is unless you file it under the heading of: Just Good Music.

I have nothing but good things to report here. On this album you will hear Adam Steffey, Barry Bales, Ron Stewart, Stuart Duncan, John Gardner, Steve Gulley, Beth Snapp and Marty Raybon. You can't miss. I have great respect for Tim Stafford's brand of music. From Evergreen to Just to Hear the Whistle Blow and all he has done in between. Plus he scores high on the all around good guy scale. Ten long years have passed since the release of Tim's first solo project ( Endless Line). Hopefully he'll take a few more stabs at getting that songwriting drawer cleaned out, but I hope he doesn't make us wait another 10 years. Evergreen- Mandolin Music for Christmas is available at

Reviewed for Prescription Bluegrass by Marty Warburton /

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