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 first page covering the letter "R"
Railroad Earth "Black Bear Sessions" (Bos Music, 2001)
Railroad Earth "Bird In A House" (Sugar Hill, 2002)
For those who really, truly, deeply feel that the Grateful Dead's Cumberland Blues album was just too damn short, comes this latter-day acoustic jam-band outing. Vocalist Todd Scheaffer has the plaintive, broken-voiced Jerry-soundalike thing down pat, particularly on the album's title track, which has a fragile, "Box Of Rain" appeal to it. This stuff is obviously not for the Dead-adverse or hippie-dippie impaired, but for it's good for what it is. Interesting crossover of bluegrass and poetic hippie folk.
Railroad Earth "The Good Life" (Sugar Hill, 2004)
Mellow music for grown-up hippiedelic tree-huggers. This super-cutesy, eclectic mix of bouncy folk, bluegrass and Celtic pop is tailormade soft-pop for the more sedate, Deadhead-ier end of the jam band spectrum, with long songs that dig deep into sugary acoustic grooves. I'll admit it's kinda goopy, and lead singer Todd Scheaffer is sounding even more like Arlo Guthrie with every passing day -- not just in tone, but also in temperament -- still, there are some songs on here that are kind of irresistible and catchy, and I can definitely see the appeal. Folks looking for a band that's a little twangy yet easy on the ears can find safe haven here.
Railroad Earth "Elko" (Sci Fidelity, 2006)
A 2-CD live album...
Railroad Earth "Amen Corner" (Sci Fidelity, 2008)
Missy Raines & Jim Hurst "Two" (Pinecastle, 2000)
Missy Raines "My Place In The Sun" (Mr. Records, 2008)
Missy Raines & The New Hip "Inside Out" (Compass, 2009)
(Produced by Missy Raines & Ben Surratt)
Not surprisingly, bluegrass bassist Missy Raines tilts towards the funky and melodic as a bandleader: there's probably no way to avoid it, since every bassist in America just has to learn the "Barney Miller" theme song when they start out, and that's a hard template to shake. This disc alternates between vocal numbers (which are very sweet; Raines has a lovely, inviting voice) and muzak-y instrumental numbers... The too-cute fusion instrumentals don't do much for me (I'd rather hear a few straight-ahead bluegrass breakdowns...) but fans of Bela Fleck, et. al. will dig it. The tracks where she sings are great, though, and fit in nicely with a wide variety of folk/Americana styles. Worth checking out.
The Rarely Herd "Midnight Loneliness" (Pinecastle, 1992)
The Rarely Herd "Heartbreak City" (Pinecastle, 1994)
The Rarely Herd "Pure Homemade Love" (Pinecastle, 1995)
Rarely Herd "What About Him" (Pinecastle, 1997)
This bluegrass gospel album is a little too folkie and polite for me... It's heartfelt as can be, but there's not enough of a high lonesome feel here for me to be drawn in. Still, for folks looking for new material, stuff that breaks out of the traditional country gospel canon, this may offer some inspiring original material.
The Rarely Herd "Coming Of Age" (Pinecastle, 1998)
The Rarely Herd "Part Of Growing Up" (Pinecastle, 2000)
Sweet, solid picking, although the songs are often a bit wordy and very much About Something (steel mills, historical events, nostalgia for golden days gone by, etc.) There are a few tracks on here where they lighten up a bit, though, notably on the excellent heart song, "Perfect Fool," and on a trio of fine instrumentals, but the gabbier numbers do creak and groan a little around the edges. Still, it's pretty much top-flight material overall.
The Rarely Herd "Return Journey" (2004)
Marty Raybon "Full Circle" (Doobie Shea, 2003)
Ricky Skaggs, much? A slick but soulful mix of bluegrass picking and country craftsmanship, ex-Shenandoah leader Marty Raybon's new album takes him into mountain music territory, starting off on a reasonably traditional tone, then quickly leaping into more ornate grass-fusion, ala Skaggs and Krauss. The thing is, he's pretty good at it. Since he's used to tackling overwritten, high-falutin' Nashville-style material, Raybon can still deliver the goods when the formula is transposed into a bluegrass context. This comes pretty close to sounding like straight-out Nashville schmaltz, but folks looking for a good set of sappy story-songs will probably be pleased with this disc. Worth checking out!
James Reams "Kentucky Songbird" (Leghorn, 1994)
James Reams "The Blackest Crow" (2000)
James Reams & Walter Hensley "The Barons Of Bluegrass" (Copper Creek, 2002)
James Reams & The Barnstormers "Barnstormin' " (Copper Creek, 2001)
An exaggerated twang and kinda clunky phrasing are the hallmarks of Reams's vocal style, but the understated accompaniment and healthy dips back into the musical traditions of the pre-recording era make this an oddly compelling album. Doesn't really knock your socks off, but it's charming and has some great old songs.
James Reams & The Barnstormers "Troubled Times" (Mountain Redbird, 2005)
Red Rector & Norman Blake "Norman Blake And Red Rector" (Country, 1976) (LP)
Red Clay Ramblers "Twisted Laurel" (Flying Fish, 1976)
The ever-versatile Red Clay Ramblers don't always fit perfectly into the "bluegrass" or "folk" boxes, what with with that confounded piano and the occasional kazoo; they don't stick strictly to the banjo-fiddle-mandolin template of Bill Monroe and his acolytes, but their mastery of Antebellum and Gilded Age pop places them squarely in the same sentimentalist traditions as the truegrass forefathers. The Ramblers reach back far into the American pop and folk legacies, drawing on sources that date back well before the 20th Century. Twisted Laurel ably showcases their diverse strengths: they pick and plunk along with the best of them, veer into vaudevillian vocal ditties, traditional tunes with a Stephen Foster lilt, as well as goofy original novelty tunes like "The Ace," which have a distinct air of Cheap Suit Seranaders zaniness. And, of course, a Carter Family tune or two, along with the Jimmie Rodgers classic, "Mississippi Delta Blues," which is completely in line with their old-timely leanings. Fun stuff, though certainly not your standard-issue stringband material.
Red Clay Ramblers "Merchants Lunch" (Flying Fish, 1977)
The Ramblers get more overtly stoner-y and goofy on this album, balancing jug band blues with old-timey breakdowns such as "Forked Deer" and Uncle Dave Macon's "Rabbit In The Peach Patch" with nutty novelty tunes like the title track. Another winner, if you ask me, although I can see why it would get on some folk's nerves.
Red Clay Ramblers "Meeting In The Air" (Flying Fish, 1980)
The Ramblers have put a lot of great records out, modernizing the old stringband sound in surprising and playful ways. This disc -- a beautiful tribute to the Carter Family -- is probably my favorite of all their albums, and one which hews most closely to the original, traditional feel of the music. The Ramblers capture perfectly the heartfelt sentimentality of the old Carter Family albums, and if anything, on the softer love songs such as "One Little Word" and "Are You Tired of Me My Darling?" they are able bring a greater resonance to the material than the ever-craggy Carters did in the original versions. Gentle and sublime.
The Red Fox Chasers "I'm Going Down To North Carolina -- The Complete Recordings Of The Red Fox Chasers: 1928-1931" (Tompkins Square, 2009)
The Red Mountain White Trash "Fire In The Dumpster" (Whoop It Up!, 1995)
The Red Mountain White Trash "Chickens Don't Roost Too High" (Whoop It Up!, 1999)
The Red Mountain White Trash "Sweet Bama" (Whoop It Up!, 2002)
Red, White & Blue(Grass) "Guaranteed" (GRC, 1973)
Ginger and Grant Boatwright originally hailed from Birmingham, Alabama, but when they moved up North to join the folk scene in Chicago, they morphed into RW&BG, one of the most experimental and commercially successful of the progressive 'grass bands in the early '70s. Their first album featured stellar picking by banjoist Dale Whitcomb and multi-instrumental whiz kid Norman Blake, who contributed plenty of hot licks and some sweet original songs as well, including his own "Ginseng Sullivan" (later recorded, in a much more satisfying version, by guitarist Tony Rice). Along with a few dazzling instrumentals, the album's musical highlight is a perky rendition of John Stewart's classic, "July, You're A Woman." More controversial were the band's stabs at a grass-classical fusion, heard in the oceanic orchestral prelude to the otherwise rootsy "Linda Ann," which features some fine vocals by Blake (despite an overall goopiness which makes the song seem a bit sluggish...) The CD reissue (also called Guaranteed) includes several bonus tracks which are listed as "previously unreleased," although I'm pretty sure I remember some of them, such as their lavish rendition of Stephen Stills' "Love The One You're With" coming from the band's second album, which I also owned as a kid... This album has its odd moments, but is definitely an honest document of its time, and has a lot of real charm to it. (See also: Ginger Boatright.)
Red, White & Blue(Grass) "Pickin' Up" (GRC, 1974)
(Produced by Larry Cox)
This was a fairly staid set, certainly not as dynamic or as crossover-oriented as their debut, but it's still a solid bluegrass album, kicking off with a couple of Bill Monroe oldies and moving into a set that includes a couple of Ginger Boatwright originals and a couple by banjoist Dale Whitcomb, a countrypolitan ballad ("The Last Day") by bassist Dave Sebolt, closing with fairly conservative reworkings of gospel standards such as "Amazing Grace" and "Will The Circle Be Unbroken." There are two great fiddlers on this album: Byron Berline joins Vassar Clements, playing both twin fiddles and solos... No more Norman Blake, but it's cool, since he went on to do such cool stuff as a solo artist. Overall, this is a pretty conservative, reserved record... probably the most interesting song is the jug band oldie, "Fixin' To Die" (which Clements brought to the band) where Boatwright gets into some really bluesy vocals. Maybe this was a bit of a letdown from their debut, but it's easy on the ears.
Reeltime Travelers "Reeltime Travelers" (Yodel-Ay-Hee, 2000)
Reeltime Travelers "Livin' Reeltime, Thinkin' Old-Time" (Yodel-Ay-Hee, 2002)
A pleasantly rugged, boisterous old-timey band, hailing from the outer reaches of Tennessee. With odd vocals and unusual rhythms galore, this is a disc worth checking out, if you're a confirmed old-timey fan. (For more info, the band can be reached at their website, www.reeltimetravelers.com.)
Lou Reid, Mike Auldridge & Michael Coleman "High Time" (Sugar Hill, 1990)
Lou Reid "When It Rains" (Sugar Hill, 1991)
Lou Reid, Terry Baucom & Carolina "Carolina Moon" (Sugar Hill, 1993)
Lou Reid "Lou Reid & Carolina" (Rebel, 1996)
Lou Reid & Carolina "Blue Heartache" (Rebel, 2000)
These folks are a little shaky around the edges, perhaps, but another nice, heartfelt truegrass ensemble. On his own, lead singer (and mandolinist) Reid sounds a little tremulous; add banjo plunker Gena Britt in as a harmony singer, and things start to warm up. The group tends to play in a relaxed style, which is nice in some ways, but also contributes to the sense that they are a little on the sleepy side. Still, if you tilt towards sentimental material, old heartsongs and the like, this might be a very fine choice to fill out your listening plans... Besides, anyone who covers songwriter Paul Craft (the title track) is alright by me.
Lou Reid & Carolina "Time" (Lonesome Day, 2005)
Lou Reid & Carolina "Carolina, I'm Coming Home" (LRC, 2003)
Lou Reid & Carolina "My Own Set Of Rules" (Rural Rhythm, 2009)
John Reischman "North Of The Border" (Rounder, 1993)
John Reischman "Up In The Woods" (Corvus, 2000)
A friendly, pleasant, more-traditional-than-not instrumental set, featuring bright fretwork work by West Coast mandolinist John Reischman, joined by high-power pals such as Rob Ickes, Kathy Kallick, Scott Nygaard and Todd Phillips... Not mindbending, but very pleasant.
John Reischman & John Miller "The Bumpy Road" (Corvus, 2002)
John Reischman & The Bluejays "The Road West" (Corvus, 2005)
John Reischman & The Bluejays "Stellar Jays" (Corvus, 2007)
Reno & Smiley "The Talk Of The Town" (Westside, 1999)
Banjo whiz Don Reno and guitarist Red Smiley were one of the most dynamic and bluegrass acts of the 1950s, singing zippy songs that framed Smiley's dense, deft fingerpicking and Reno's breathtaking banjo work. In the 1940s, Reno just barely missed out on a slot as the plunker in Bill Monroe's Blue Grass boys, so history pegs him as a following in the footsteps of the great Earl Scruggs, although in fact Reno had developed his similarly dazzling banjo style right around the same time as Scruggs had, and was no less amazing. When you hear these classic tracks from the duo's King Records days, Reno's three-finger style will make your jaw drop... This excellent UK import supplants various '70s LPs that covered the same turf, collecting hit songs such as "I'm Using My Bible For A Roadmap" and "I Know You're Married," as well as compact little instrumental H-bombs like "Crazy Finger Tune" and "Choking The Strings," and the hillbilly classic, "Country Boy Rock'n'Roll." It's all great stuff; if you can find this disc, don't hesitate to snap it up.
Reno & Smiley "A Variety Of Country Songs" (King/Highland, 1959/1987)
Throughout the vinyl years, from the 1960s, '70s and '80s, this disc, with its simple cover photo of a pile of old, dry leaves, was one of the standard-issue Reno & Smiley albums that one could regularly find floating about, in one version or another. It's fitting that it made it into the digital era as well, not just for the comfort of the familiar, but also because it's such a great album. Old-fashioned sentiment and rock-solid picking combine for an authoritative reading of this even dozen heartsongs, gospel tunes and Southern nostalgia. Highly recommended!
Reno & Smiley "16 Greatest Gospel Hits" (Highland, 1987)
Their gospel recordings on King/Gusto have always had a way of staying in print, or at least popping up with great regularity over the years. Which is just fine, since this is some of the best bluegrass gospel you're ever likely to hear. A very smooth, professional presentation, but also still soulful and heartfelt... These guys really knew their stuff. But, hey, don't just take my word for it: check it out for yourself!
Reno & Smiley "On The Air" (Copper Creek, 1996)
There's good old-fashioned work-the-crowd showmanship and hot picking galore on these brisk, brief radio appearances, from back when artists were typically slotted into fifteen-minute segments, and had to learn quick how to make the most of their on-air time. Reno & Smiley definitely mastered that art, and these 1957-60 airshots are packed with down-home charm and rip-roaring instrumetnal power. Young Ronnie Reno is button-cute singing his little heart out on " 'Lasses," at the tender age of ten, just one of many endearing moments on this fine disc, documenting a top bluegrass act at the height of its powers, at the tail end of the Golden Age. Recommended!
Reno & Smiley "Together Again" (Rebel, 1971/2006)
A welcome reissue of a bluegrass holy grail, the lone album recorded by Don Reno and Red Smiley following their early 1970s reunion. The famed duo -- one of the great acts of the 1950s "golden age" -- had amicably split up in 1964, with each man pursuing his own career while the once-bustling truegrass scene slowly ground to a halt by decade's end. Then, as the festival era began, they were reuinited onstage, which led to Don Reno and his new partner Bill Harrell asking Smiley to join their act. He did, and the new lineup of the Tennessee Cut-Ups (with Buck Ryan and Jerry McCoury rounding out the sound) recorded this solid, low-key LP for the Rome Records label. Smiley passed away a few months later, the health troubles that had dogged him for years finally laying him low, and the Reno-Harrell combo went on to become a mainstay of the early '70s scene. The album floated around for a while, but like many 'grass discs back then it was on a teeny indie label and soon fell out of print, later becoming highly prized by a small cadre of true-believer fans. Well, now it's back in print (thanks, Rebel...!) and all the rest of us can hear the disc in its full fidelity... and it's pretty darn good. It doesn't exactly have the same live-wire sizzle of some of the best Reno & Smiley classics, but it's a nice, solid set of standards and newer material, the work of assured craftsmen, traditionalists who knew what they were doing. Nice stuff!
Reno & Smiley "Tree Of Life" (BACM, 2005)
A mostly-gospel set... (Available through the British Archive of Country Music website.)
Don Reno & Bill Harrell "Home In The Mountains" (CMH, 1977) (LP)
(Produced by Arthur Smith)
A typically masterful CMH album, classic material recorded by calm, confident old pros. The picking isn't very flashy, but it doesn't need to be -- these are soulful performances, not throwdowns, and Don Reno certainly proved himself as a super-picker decades earlier, and doesn't need to prove anything to anybody. So, it's all about the songs, and they are all very fine, with rich, heartfelt performances. The younger generation is represented by Dale Reno on mandolin -- who would have been fifteen or sixteen at the time -- while Buck Ryan also adds some sweet fiddle licks. As far as the songs go, they're mostly pretty standard material (which, in this case means quite good) though one track stands out, mostly as a weird novelty number, Don Reno's "Booked In Advance," about a guy who doesn't have time for anything or anybody, 'cause his fate is already sealed... Another nice record from the Reno & Harrell band.
Don Reno & Eddie Adcock "Sensational Twin Banjos" (Rebel, 1992)
Don Reno "Fastest Five Strings Alive" (Hollywood, 1994)
Don Reno "The Golden Guitar Of Don Reno" (King, 1999)
These solo flatpicking pieces, which sat in the vaults since 1972, aren't electrifying in and of themselves, but they do show that Reno was still a master of his craft, even in the early days of the newgrass revival. Probably of more interest to guitar pickers than the average listener; technically solid, but a little lackluster in comparison to his best work. Considering that this was actually overdubbed in the 1990s with new, added instrumental backup before being released, it's a remarkably restrained album.
Don Reno "Founding Father Of The Bluegrass Banjo" (CMH, 2001)
Don Wayne Reno "Heroes" (Pinecastle, 1998)
Ronnie Reno "For The First Time" (MCA-Tally, 1975)
(Produced by Bill Compton & Jim Williamson)
In the mid-1970s, country superstar Merle Haggard presided over a corporate echo of Fuzzy Owens' old Tally label, using the imprint to put out a couple of albums featuring Haggard pals and proteges. In this case, it was the solo debut of bluegrass prodigy Ronnie Reno, who became a member of Haggard's band in '73 and stayed with him for the better part of a decade. Ronnie was the son of '50s truegrass legend Don Reno, and worked in his dad's band as a kid, then did a stint with the Osborne Brothers before giving Nashville a shot. At this point in his career, he was writing and pitching songs, some of which Haggard recorded, and here he crafts a pleasant if not totally amazing set of soft-toned '70s country, including three of his own originals and a couple of Hag's lesser-known numbers, as well as a countrypolitan cover of the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night." There's surprisingly little bluegrass influence here (none, really) which makes this album a curious footnote to a long career: Reno went back to the high lonesome sound, forming the Reno Brothers band with his younger siblings many years later.
Ronnie Reno "Portfolio" (Shell Point, 2002)
Ronnie Reno & The Reno Tradition "In Concert" (Shell Point, 2004)
Don Reno's son, leading a crackerjack bluegrass crew through a fun live set. The picking is strong and no-nonsense, the vocals are cheerful and inspired... these guys just sound like they were really enjoying themselves... What more can I say? If you enjoy good, strong truegrass albums where the band sounds like it's having a lot of fun, check this one out!
Bluegrass Albums - More Letter "R"
Hick Music Index