Hi, there... This page is part of the Slipcue guide to various bluegrass artists, which is part of a much larger Hick Music website. This "guide" is not meant to be comprehensive or authoritative, just a quick look at a few records I've heard recently, as well as some old favorites. Comments or corrections are invited... and recommendations are always welcome!
This is the second page covering the letter "C"
One of those wonderfully relaxed sessions that the best bluegrassers can create, when they just settle down and get into the mellow, front porch vibe. Mandolinists Mike Compton, a founding member of the Nashville Bluegrass Band and David Long, of the Wildwood Mountain Boys, are both truegrassers who get into the old-school mode and know how to keep things sweet and simple. This is quite a nice record, with both pickers trading lyrics and licks while working through a bunch of their favorite songs... Another one of those lovely "little" records that producer David Grisman has the class and good taste to release on disc. Recommended!
A pleasantly understated album, by one of the sweeter and more low-key bluegrass outfits. Connie & Babe are longtime fans of mine, a lesser-known, loosely-knit outfit that dates back to the 'Fifties, but who thankfully were "rediscovered" by Rounder, back in the '70s. This album was their first new one in over twenty years, and it was well worth the wait, with Connie Gately and Babe Lofton in fine form, with plenty of talented cohorts along for the ride. Sweet stuff - recommended!
Fab, back-to-basics, country'n'folk-tinged truegrass. Although he's hardly a household name, Jack Cooke has been a mainstay of the traditional bluegrass scene for decades -- he played rhythm guitar in the Stanley Brothers band before a four-year stint as lead vocalist in Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, and rejoined Ralph Stanley in 1970, sticking with the Clinch Mountain crew ever since. His debt to Dr. Ralph is readily apparent -- when he wants to, he sounds just like him, although he also has a Jimmy Martin-ish bluesy drawl that he can turn to as well. This is a fine album, with Cooke working his way through a solid set of twangy oldies -- "Walking The Dog," "Little Georgia Rose," "Sugar Coated Love," Dark Hollow," "North To Alaska..." -- stuff that he obviously loves to sing, and that his sidemen enjoy pickin' on as well... And, man -- what a talented crew! Ralph Stanley and his son Ralph II are there, as well as Del McCoury and his clan, with an appearance by David Grisman, and a few tunes that feature the album's producer, Jim Lauderdale. Lauderdale also contributes a new song, "That's How The Cookie Crumbles," which fits just perfectly in with the album's cheerfully nostalgic vibe. If you like your bluegrass straight up and straightforward, you might wanna check this one out.
Larry Cordle & Glenn Duncan "...& Lonesome Standard Time" (Sugar Hill, 1992)
Larry Cordle/Carl Jackson/Jerry Salley "Against The Grain" (1999)
Larry Cordle/Carl Jackson/Jerry Salley "Lonesome Cafe" (2001)
Rock-solid melodic bluegrass from an old-timer with an established track record as a Nashville songwriter. Cordle's ties to the world of Garth Brooks and John Michael Montgomery doesn't seem to have tainted his love of good, old-fashioned mountain music... This is a nice, straightforward twangfest, with a few loose nuts and bolts rattling around to keep things sounding real. The guitars owe a healthy debt to Tony Rice's bent-note style, but there's also an pleasantly aggressive rock'n'roll tinge to the proceedings, a spunkiness that's always nice to hear in an era when bluegrass seems to keep getting ever smoother and more perfect. Nice song selection, including a bunch of Cordle's original material, a fine version of Bob McDill's "I'm Not That Good At Goodbye," an interesting take on "Can't Let Go," (best known from Lucinda Williams' version) and even a song co-written by the great Melba Montgomery, who apparently is one of Cordle's buddies. All in all, a swell record, worth checking out if you're a fan of independently produced artists. (See also: Lonesome Standard Time, and check out his website: http://www.larrycordle.com.)
Gimmicky, but good. I'm not really that into the current trend towards novelty-oriented bluegrass covers of rock tunes, and I was never a huge Skynyrd fan, either, but I do think Larry Cordle is a great musician, and was actually a little surprised to see him making one of these records. The good news is -- it ain't bad! He makes the most out of these old Southern Rock classics, taking them seriously and not just playing them acoustic for laughs. Occasionally he sounds a bit too much like the Skynyrd originals (as on "Saturday Night Special") but for the most part, he takes these songs and makes 'em sound fresh and new. Sounds pretty good, really!
Country Gazette "Don't Give Up Your Day Job" (Liberty/BGO, 1973)
Hippie-era newgrass doesn't get more genial or good-natured than this lively outfit, which featured banjo whiz Alan Munde, fiddler Byron Berline, bassist Rober Bush and singer Kenny Wertz, along with an amorphous cast of high-powered pals such as Clarence White, Herb Pedersen and Al Perkins. The band was an on-again, off-again project that got squeezed in between the demands that various bands such as the Dillards, Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers placed on the Gazette members... Although lumped in with the whole early-'70s country-rock scene, Country Gazette were clearly more traditionally and bluegrass oriented in musical terms, even if their song selection ranged from the Louvin Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs to Steven Stills and Elton John. Fortunately for us, they managed to eke out these two fine major-label albums, which radiate a keen sense of humor, a flair for showmanship and a profound understanding of musical history which keeps these recordings sounding fresh as can be, decades down the line. A great prelude to their later indie-label works... highly recommended!
The first album by the Country Gentlemen -- Eddie Adcock, John Duffey, Tom Gray and Charlie Waller -- firmly established them as leading lights of the East Coast's "progressive" bluegrass revival. In retrospect, these earnest performances of old standards such as "Train 45," "Little Bessie," and "Prison Walls Of Love" sound a bit callow, the work of a young band approaching an old-world canon with great reverence and an impressive depth of knowledge, yet still a little wet behind the ears. On the other hand, John Duffey's original compositions, including "Victim To The Tomb" and "Wear A Red Rose," are impressive pieces of work, and show him as a master, not merely a student of the style. They've all become standards over the years, and these early versions are quite nice. The thing about the Gentlemen, though, is that they only got better and more soulful as time went on. From this promising debut to their decades together and working solo, none of these guys ever hit a false note.
Country Gentlemen "Country Songs Old & New" (Folkways, 1961)
Live recordings made as the Gentlemen cut a swath through the booming '60s Folk scene. The sound quality is okay -- everything is clear, although there's a bit of echo from the large halls they were in, and almost every solo elicits an earnest round of applause from the appreciative fans. Nice chance to hear these guys in action, and they were pretty darn good. The CD reissue adds about a half dozen tracks that weren't on the original LP version.
Hmmm. Well, I will say this: John Cowan has a remarkably youthful voice. It would be easy to mistake this veteran newgrasser's earnest, anguished tones for those of a twenty-year-old jam-band rocker, as well as the enthusiasm he brings to what are often rather dorky, gangly tunes. The novelty-oriented title track is a disaster, a complete, manic misfire, but the rest of the songs have some pleasant surprises. Cowan adds his voice to the chorus of folkie elders who are recording songs that are either obliquely critical of or reflective about the disasterous consequences of the Iraq War. Like many of these songs, Cowan's "With A Memory Like Mine," which deals with a father's grief when his son is killed abroad, doesn't tackle the event head on, preferring instead to keep the lyrics more generalized, and thus more timeless. Still, we all know what these guys are singing about... Like many of the tracks on this disc, though, the song is played at a breakneck speed, and I suppose that it's this exhausting pace which keeps me from getting into this album... The material is good, but there's a uniformity to the approach that got on my nerves... Still, it's in keeping with Cowan's long history as a bluegrass'n'country modernizer... Longtime fans will want to check it out...
Slick as they are, the Coxes are also quite soulful. This is a nice, solid set of country-drenched bluegrass vocal tunes, with a harmony style reminiscent of the Judds, or (by implication) the Dolly Parton/Emmylou Harris/Linda Ronstadt "Trio" albums. Good song selection, a nice mix of sacred and secular material, oldies by folks such as Bill Clifton, Jim & Jesse, and fine originals written by Sidney and Suzanne Cox. Recommended!
The Cox Family "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow" (Rounder, 1994)
The title refers to a trip out to the country, as in "country music," with the Coxes recording several obscure oldies originally waxed by the folks the like of Webb Pierce, Tanya Tucker and Ronnie Milsap, as well as a few originals by papa Sidney Cox. Ron Block, Rob Ickes, Dan Tyminski and others from the Union Station axis join producer Alison Krauss to give the disc a sleek, full sound. Overall, I found this to be a bit sleepy -- guess I prefer when they're more 'grassy -- but it's still pretty rich and packed with plenty o' sweet harmonies. Also includes a nice, demo-y version of "Broken Engagement" that an early Cox Family line-up recorded back in 1974(!) with a nice slice of twang to it. It's very cool to hear what they sounded 'way back then...!
Bluegrass Albums - More Letter "C"
Hick Music Index