Tuesday, December 8, 2015

CD Review - The FREE Rangers

Image635851091428099749      It’s amazing the power that music has to bring old memories from the deepest parts of your mind back to the here and now. The new CD just released by The FREE Rangers, from the Richmond, Virginia area, has been doing that to me for a couple of weeks now….. 

     Just for a little history, this music has been in the developmental stages since 1979, when the core of the band started out as a duo called “The Stable Hands,” in Flagstaff, AZ. I’ve had the pleasure to see it blossom since the very beginning, thirty six years ago…… It was special then, and it’s only grown stronger, more pleasant and personally endearing with time.

       “The Stable Hands” consisted of Debbe Peck on vocals and rhythm guitar, and her husband, Steve Peck, on vocals, bass and some pretty fancy yodeling. They had great harmonies, a personable stage presence and a song list that covered country, bluegrass and Western tunes that gave them their own, one-of-a-kind sound. And did I mention that Debbe and Steve were, and still are, two of the dearest friends my wife, Mary Ann, and I have ever had? Maybe that’s why I’ll hear a certain inflection in one of their voices, or a specific harmony line and another good old time from way back then surprises me by coming back to light. There has been a lot of reflection going on in my head lately thanks to this new CD!

Friday, December 4, 2015

CD Review - The Grascals - AND THEN THERE'S THIS...

Image635848084432686140Hit the play button and you will immediately hear a sneaky Brown County Breakdown inspired intro to The Grascals first release since 2013. Right away you know that you are going to have to hang on tight. And what a ride it is. “and then there's this...” is worth the wait.

The choice of music and the order in which they are rattled off will keep you and your bluegrass soaked brain guessing. I Know Better, a straight-up hard driving bluegrass tune is followed by the mellow, fingerpicked guitar, gentle on my mind-esque, Road of Life, perfectly placed. And so it goes.

Monday, November 30, 2015

CD Review - Tammy Jones Robinette & The Drive

Ed. Note:   We have two reviews of Tammy's latest album to present.  First from Marty Warburton and then from Mark Raborn.

Image635843925827430293The first cut of this CD would certainly be worthy of Country radio air-play, that is if Country radio played true Country music. We'll address that concept another time. Right now I want to bring you up to speed on Tammy Jones Robinette and how the Southern Gospel mainstay has rolled up her sleeves and decided to take a stab at Bluegrass Music for a change. Stabbed through the heart I'd say. Tammy tackles a variety of tempos and timings in this recording. The themes found in Southern Gospel naturally rise to the top. Having written one fourth of the songs found here, you will quickly find that Tammy has this music running through her blood. The evidence is found in her rich well metered alto voice. She's done this before.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

CD Review - Rick Ednie -WHITE TURTLE DOVE

Image635840661529526816Homegrown to be sure. WHITE TURTLE DOVE is a compilation of all original music from Rick Ednie. 

Rick was born in Philadelphia, but was raised west of the city in the dairy and corn fields of eastern PA. He began playing music "by ear" on his mother's piano spending many hours playing and singing with records from artists such as The Everly Brothers, John Denver, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, Cat Stevens and others, including Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd, Judas Priest, and others .

After moving to the central coast of California in the mid 1990's, Rick's guitar playing shifted from Texas electric blues to acoustic and was bitten by the Bluegrass Bug after attending a pre-Strawberry Music Festival party.

Friday, November 20, 2015

CD Review - The Hamilton County Ramblers !


by: Mark Raborn       

The debut, self-titled CD by the Hamilton County Ramblers features eleven cuts with material as varied as Stephen Foster’s, Hard Times, James Taylor’s Copperline, and I Hear Ya Talkin’, penned by cowgirl, country song-writer, Cindy Walker. With that said there is still enough traditional, Bluegrass-type material to satisfy all but the most persistent and jaded Bluegrass purists.

"From the first few listening moments, it is clear that this project benefits from first rate production counsel."

Though the material draws from several genres, the overall feel of the project falls comfortably under the ‘bluegrass’ umbrella, especially if one is willing to concede the single Old-time cut, Old Chattanooga (distinguished from the others by banjoist Jim Pankey’s clawhammer-style playing and performed as a duet with fiddler, John Boulware), and the aforementioned a cappella, Stephen Foster piece, Hard Times and the very cool and swingy, I Hear Ya Talkin’. All cuts use traditional ‘bluegrass’ instruments—no drums, harmonicas, accordions, pianos, triangles or bugles here, though they squeeze in a tastefully appropriate blues guitar solo on I Hear Ya Talkin’

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Review - Dappled Grays - LAST NIGHT, TOMORROW!


This project should serve as a catalyst to advance The Dappled Grays to becoming a more nationally recognized Bluegrass/Americana group!

- Prescription Bluegrass Reviewer, Mark Raborn

The Dappled Grays latest CD, Last Night, Tomorrow, is predominantly an original work with eight of the cuts penned by members of the group. All tracks feature their formidable instrumental mastery, as well as their compositional, production and vocal savvy. If one must assign labels, the overall feel of the project is clearly ‘progressive’ Bluegrass, with jazz, folk and country influences; though some of the material, such as “Stayin Blues” and “Gone, But Not Forgotten”, is modern traditional Bluegrass.

From the intro of the opening cut, "Wild Things", (written by Leah Calvert and Michael Smith) one gets the sense they are about to hear something extraordinary. Leah Calvert begins with a percussive violin pattern surrounded by rolling guitar lines that is both a creative and effective introduction to her fabulous voice.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

CD Review - The Stetson Family - TRUE NORTH

Image635743572845620180The Stetson Family are a band based in Australia, and it should be said that in spite of their name, they are not a 'family band' in the sense that we usually understand, but through their music, they are indeed a family in the sense of unity of purpose.

It's probably also only fair to say that they are not hardcore Bluegrass either, at least in the way we understand the term today, but this is quality stuff none-the-less. I think 'folk' might be a more honest description, though they do tackle a 'grass classic in the Stanleys', "How Mountain Girls Can Love", and a Dylan outlaw song, "Billy".

But it's with their originals that this band shines. "Every Second Beat of My Heart", "Run Daddy Run", "Let It Ride" and "Lover Where You Going", all composed by members of the band, are all songs that have the potential to become classics, and I would not be surprised to see at least some of these being included in the sets of other performers.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Image635713772694983308THE MUSCLE SHOALS RECORDINGS the new release from The SteelDrivers, can pretty much be summed up in one line from song #10, “Too Much”. Written by Gary Nichols and Donnie Lowery, it says, and I quote: “Too much music it all sound the same.” And therein lies the problem……

If The SteelDrivers had hopes that recording this CD in Muscle Shoals would make it better, more exciting, more dramatic or more interesting, they were wrong. They missed it by a mile….. Singer, Gary Nichols, who lives in Muscle Shoals, may have been the driving force in the recording re-location. Even though this band has nothing but A-List musicians, singers and song writers in its membership, “…it all sound the same”. That patented SteelDrivers “SoulGrass” sound is still there in spades, and the requisite minor key songs are present and accounted for, but, there is no life in the resulting product.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

CD Review - St. Beaufort - Germany

 CD Review by:  Niall Toner 
St.Beaufort are a three-piece Acoustic Band based in Germany, whose members are from Canada, Germany and the USA, and who share a strong common interest in string band and folk music, and who concentrate on their own original compositions.
This, as far as I'm aware, is their debut Album, and with twelve original Songs, it's an ambitious project, to say the least.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

CD Review - European Band HATFUL of RAIN - Way Up On The Hill

By: Niall Toner

When it comes to naming a Band, folks seem to be getting more and more creative, and this group of fine Musicians from Brighton in England, are certainly no exception. 

Hatful Of Rain are a four piece outfit who perform Old Time style Music, for the most part composed by the Band themselves, and to a very high standard indeed. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

CD Review of Springfield Exit—THAT WAS THEN

Image635670036044847754That Was Then is the latest release by the Virginia based Bluegrass group, Springfield Exit. This offering consists of fourteen cuts with all but one of those (the Bob Dylan jam chestnut, You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere) feature the lead vocal talents of Linda Lay.

This project features Ms. Lay so much that the group could actually be called Linda Lay and Springfield Exit and that is not a bad thing. Her singing is ‘spot on’ with regard to pitch, tone and good taste. Her vocals are easy to listen to and, at least on this CD, she doesn’t attempt material that is ill suited for her vocal range or out of step with her artistic persona (no head-banging or rich, syrupy lyrics). Linda’s material, here, is largely thematic, laid-back and allegorical.

Ms. Lay is accompanied by her husband, David, on guitar and vocals; Tom Adams on banjo; David McLaughlin on mandolin, banjo, fiddle, guitar and vocals and Marshall Wilborn on bass. All are seasoned musicians and their performances here are nothing short of excellent.

CD Review of Hillwilliams—HILL YEAH

Image635670037127319667Hillwilliams is a Bluegrass group from the Portland, Oregon area. Their release of Hill Yeah consists of ten cuts, of which seven are original compositions and three are instrumentals. The cast for this production was Rich Landar on Mandolin and vocals. He also engineered and produced the CD. Matt Franzen plays banjo and sings. Jeffree White plays acoustic guitar and also does vocals. David Gerow plays fiddle and Bernardo Gomez plays upright bass.

The overall feel of the project is homemade, original and within the general parameters that most folk would call Bluegrass. They combine to create some nice work, making good use of their strengths, which is arranging and composing. Rose City Waltz, composed by fiddler, David Gerow, is quite an intricate piece that I can imagine being a fine contest fiddle selection. Mr. Gerow also wrote another of the other instrumentals, Ratty Old Hat, which has an upbeat, swing feel and quite a number of chord changes. Banjoist Matt Franzen plays a strong break on this one, as does bassist, Gomez.


Image635670022972920082Previous to this listening experience, I had never heard Pokey LaFarge’s music, though I have ‘Bluegrass friends’ that strongly favor his work. Something in the Water offers up twelve cuts, about half of which are original compositions from Mr. LaFarge. It is superbly produced and professionally tracked. Balance and tone are exceptional and the overall sound quality is warm and comfortable.

First off, it think it would be fair to say that nothing on this CD remotely resembles Bluegrass music, even by the most liberal artistic standards. It is roughly a blend of Blues, Dixieland Jazz, Swing and Folk music performed with hardly any instruments that might traditionally be associated with Bluegrass. No five-string banjos, fiddles or mandolins, that I could detect, though it sounded like Pokey used an upright bass and acoustic guitar on at least some of the cuts. There are brass horns, tenor banjo, electric guitars, lap steel and a host of other instruments that even the most drug-crazed Bluegrass aficionado would reject as incapable of making a contribution to Bluegrass music.

Monday, February 9, 2015

CD REVIEW - Robert Earl Keen - HAPPY PRISONER, The Bluegrass Sessions!

Image635587453910335219     God bless Robert Earl Keen for restoring my faith in artistic integrity!  This is a dooooozy of a CD, and it’s as real as dirt under your fingernails. It’s bluegrass, it’s old timey, it’s honest, straight from the heart, Mother Earth music and Robert Earl has done the world a favor recording this tribute to the music he loves and grew up listening to.

    Robert Earl Keen had come to Durango, CO. a while back for two nights of concerts, which were both sold out, and I managed to be out of town and miss ‘em both!  Friends had informed me that he had also been interviewed on KSUT, the local PBS station, and had mentioned he had a bluegrass CD coming out soon.  I couldn’t help myself, my first thought was: “Just what we need, another country/pop/rock/reality star going BLUEGRASS to try to make some money.”  Call me a grumpy old pessimist, but that’s exactly what has been happening….  Janie Fricke going “bluegrass” was nothing more that her old country hits re-done with some acoustic instruments added. Her intent was like a neon sign….. Let’s call it “bluegrass” and cash in! I passed on reviewing it.  And Dolly…. she had a grand total of four bluegrass tunes on her last CD, and immediately the bluegrass media was called to help promote her “bluegrass” CD. I passed on Dolly, too.  Needless to say, I wasn’t sure what to make of Mr. Keen’s new bluegrass CD when it arrived….. fool me once and all that old curmudgeonly crap! As a fan of Mr. Keen’s music, I knew that I had to give ol’ Robert a listen, and maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t get fooled again. Well, I guess the third time was THE charm!!!

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