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 page covers the letter "V"
Joe Val "One Morning In May" (Rounder, 1972)
Joe Val "...And The New England Bluegrass Boys" (Rounder, 1974)
Joe Val "Not A Word From Home" (Rounder, 1977) (LP)
Joe Val "Bound To Ride" (Rounder, 1979) (LP)
Joe Val "Live In Holland" (Strictly Country, 1981)
Joe Val "Sparkling Brown Eyes" (Rounder, 1983) (LP)
Joe Val "Cold Wind" (Rounder, 1983) (LP)
Joe Val "Diamond Joe" (Rounder, 1995)
An outstanding collection of the best material from five albums recorded on Rounder by Joe Val and The New England Bluegrass Boys -- the lineups changed, but one thing remained constant, Joe Val's pure, bedrock high lonesome vocal sound, and the rock solid picking that anchored every tune. This is about as fine as the style gets... mighty nice stuff!
Jim Van Cleve "No Apologies" (Rural Rhythm, 2006)
...And none needed! This is a solid, self-produced bluegrass set from fiddler Jim Van Cleve, a founding member of Mountain Heart, one of the more commercially successful 'grass groups in recent years. This is a fine album, a little on the too-perfect side for me, with nary a note out of place, but still pretty vigorous and forceful, with an emphasis on relatively traditional material. Ronnie Bowman and Sonya Isaacs contribute vocals on a couple of songs, and guest pickers include folks such as Bryan Sutton and Rob Ickes, as well as mandolinist Adam Steffey... Van Cleve, it must be said, does not emerge here as the strongest of singers, but his fiddling can't be faulted, nor his choice of material. It should be noted that this set is made up of mostly original material, which is impressive in and of itself... I wouldn't mind hearing him loosen up some and get a little sloppier, but folks who like their bluegrass concise and tightly sculpted will find this a pretty satisfying album.
Sally Van Meter "All In Good Time" (Sugar Hill, 1991)
Fine picking from dobro virtuoso Sally Van Meter, and a passle of pals who include Todd Phillips, Scott Nygard, Tony Furtado and other newgrass usual suspects. Van Meter plays it both ways on here -- there are a couple of good hoedown-y truegrass tunes, and a few nice vocal numbers, but a hefty chunk of this disc is taken up by softer, somewhat easy listening-ish instrumentals. Still, she has such a great tone and expressive, soulful delivery that most fans probably won't mind. Nice performances throughout, and only a few tunes that are simply too syrupy. It'd be great to hear Van Meter sing more often: she has a really lovely voice.
April Verch "Springtime Fiddle" (Self-released, 1992)
April Verch "Fiddle Talk" (Self-released, 1995)
April Verch "Fiddelicious" (1998)
April Verch "Verchuousity" (Rounder, 2001)
April Verch "From Where I Stand" (Rounder, 2003)
April Verch "Take Me Back" (Rounder, 2006)
An extraordinarily pleasant, appealing record -- one of my favorite folk/country/Americana albums of '06 -- and one that, for some reason, I just can't seem to get out of my CD player. Canadian fiddler April Verch moves masterfully from style to style, including sizzling breakdowns, funky Celtic reels and slip jigs, a bit of slinky, bluesy jazz ("Monarch") and several achingly beautiful vocal numbers, including the title track (which was written by Buddy and Julie Miller), the poppy "All In A Night," the abject yet incandescent "I Still Cry," and Verch's own unusual portrait of a gal who takes up a nun's habit, "Bride Of Jesus." From start to finish, this is a bright, compelling record, one that should open more than a few ears to this up-and-coming young player. Highly recommended!
April Verch "Steal The Blue" (Slab Town, 2008)
Vern & Ray "San Francisco: 1968" (Arhoolie, 2006)
A stunning live set that captures the influential West Coast truegrass duo of Vern Williams and Ray Park, with their band playing at its peak, appearing at the San Francisco Folk Festival, back during the height of the hippie years. This is a rock-solid traditional set, with plenty of standards, gospel tunes and revamped country songs, framed by delightfully old-fashioned stage patter, stuff straight out of the folk revival handbook. These guys are so earnest -- and so good -- you can't help but see why in-the-know fans latched onto them, and still hold them in such high regard. And check it out: there's a young Herb Pedersen plunkin' the banjo and singing along, just before he got swallowed up in the LA-based country-rock scene. It's great stuff. If you like your bluegrass plain and simple, heartfelt with no frills, then this set is definitely for you.
Vern & Ray "Sounds From The Ozarks" (Old Homestead, 1974)
The final fare-thee-well from the traditionally oriented duo of Vern Williams and Ray Park, gathering two early 'Seventies sessions, including one with longtime sideman Herb Peterson... Later Williams would go solo, leading the California based Vern Williams Band, local legends on the West Coast bluegrass scene.
Wanda Vick "Bluegrass Girl" (Spring Hill, 2007)
Mandolinist Wanda Vick plays host to several vocalists on this syrupy though roots-oriented set... Includes are Dale Ann Bradley, Sonya Isaacs, Cheryl White and Kourtney Wilson.
The Frank Vignola Quintet "Kong Man" (VM Entertainment, 2008)
Guitarist Frank Vignola leads a compact yet funky acoustic fivesome, playing in the style of David Grisman, though perhaps crossed with a bit of Medeski Martin & Wood, as well as swingster Bucky Pizzarelli (who Vignola has worked with over the years) Fans of acoustic swing will find a lot to enjoy here... (Available through www.frankvignola.com)
Rhonda Vincent "A Dream Come True" (Rebel, 1990)
Rhonda Vincent & The Sally Mountain Show "Bound For Gloryland" (Rebel, 1991)
Rhonda Vincent "New Dreams And Sunshine" (Rebel, 1991)
Rhonda Vincent "Timeless And True Love" (Rebel, 1991)
Rhonda Vincent "Written In The Stars" (Giant, 1993)
Rhonda Vincent "Trouble Free" (Warner Brothers, 1996)
Rhonda Vincent "Back Home Again" (Rounder, 2000)
An absolutely outstanding traditionalist bluegrass album! Soulful, restrained picking, great vocals, and a killer song selection! What more could you ask for? After several years trying to make it as a Nashville-r, Vincent has come into the acoustic fold, and the results are quite nice. Most of all, this album nails the feeling of live-wire immediacy that made the best old bluegrass so compelling. Includes an excellent version of Dolly Parton's greatest song ("Jolene"), along with material by Wayne Raney, Jimmy Martin and the Louvin Brothers. Believe me, this is a class act.
Rhonda Vincent "The Storm Still Rages" (Rounder, 2001)
Another doozy from this bluegrass powerhouse! Vincent has really got the goods -- this disc doesn't slow down or cheese out even once; it's just one really good, really authentic song after another, with solid picking that's as heartfelt as it is flawless. Banjoist Tom Adams holds down the floor, while Vincent's mandolin work is a melodic delight. If it sounds like I'm gushing, well... I am. This album is one of the strongest I've heard in years, with great song selection, soulful vocals and picking that can't be beat. Includes a nice tribute to Bill Monroe ("Is The Grass Any Bluer?"), a breakneck cover of Ernest Tubb's "Nails In My Coffin," and an insightful gospel number called "You Don't Love God (If You Don't Love Your Neighbor"). Highly recommended.
Rhonda Vincent "One Step Ahead" (Rounder, 2003)
Her mix of brisk truegrass picking and sentimental, crossover love songs still holds true, with perhaps a slight tilt towards the less rugged stuff. But Vincent fans will not be disappointed here, particularly as she's stepped up to the plate as a songwriter, composing or co-writing about half the songs on here, augmenting these with a well-selected set of cover tunes and favorites. Maybe not as dazzling or as rootsy as earlier albums, but still pretty darn fine.
Rhonda Vincent "Ragin' Live" (Rounder, 2005)
Rhonda Vincent "Ragin' Live" (DVD) (Rounder, 2005)
Rhonda Vincent "All American Bluegrass Girl" (Rounder, 2006)
Another rock-solid truegrass outing from bandleader Rhonda Vincent, who gracefully moves from the keeping-the-flame-alive proclamations of the title tune into the mournful patriotism of "Till They Came Home," which traces several generations of war veterans and their families, from WWII to Iraq, along with an equally topical "God Bless The Soldier." The real emotional core of this album is its gospel-drenched ending, which features several top-flight harmony tunes, notably "Jesus Built A Bridge To Heaven" and "Precious Jewel." The secular heartsongs suffer by comparison: they feel a bit restrained, whereas there's a powerful wellspring of feeling bubbling under the religious tunes. All in all, though, this is a top-flight album, every bit as sharp and lively as you'd expect from Ms. Vincent. Nice stuff!
Rhonda Vincent "Beautiful Star: A Christmas Collection" (Rounder, 2006)
Rhonda Vincent "Good Thing Going" (Rounder, 2008)
Another rock-solid outing for truegrass innovator, singer-mandolinist Rhonda Vincent... She taps into the current wave of contemporary adult-pop-folk while simultaneously delivering a slam-bang dose of first-rate lightning-flash acoustic picking... The mix includes stright trad-grass, including covers of songs like Jimmy Martin's "Hit Parade Of Love" and a paean to the on-the-road-again traditions set by old-time artists who toured with the patronage of the Martha White Flour company, as well as softer, more modern material, including a duet with Top 40 country star Keith Urban, on a slightly syrupy version of the old Scottish standard, "The Water Is Wide" (which contemporary Celtic fans will love). Sadly, the copy I got doesn't include real liner notes, so I can't comment on the musicians or songwriters -- but you get the idea. It's another great record by one of the finest bluegrass bandleaders around. Recommended!
Rhonda Vincent "Destination Life" (Rounder, 2009)
Rhonda Vincent "Taken" (Upper Management, 2010)
Rhonda Vincent & Gene Watson "Your Money And My Good Looks" (Upper Management, 2011)
(Produced by Herb Sandker)
Like many bluegrassers, singer Rhonda Vincent has one foot in the country tradition, and can sing as sad a heartsong as anyone. Here; she pairs up with Gene Watson, one of the finest honkytonk balladeers of the 1970s and '80s, a former chart-topper who went indie in the new millennium and is still crafting some of the finest country music around. They first sang together on an spur-of-the-moment Grand Ole Opry performance, and discovered that they really clicked. This excellent set of soulful duets recalls the energy and good humor of the early-1970's Charlie Louvin/Melba Montgomery team as well as the pathos and heartache of the George Jones/Tammy Wynette juggernaut. The musicianship is first-rate, with bluegrass fiddler Stuart Duncan chiming in alongside a solid Nashville studio crew... The repertoire includes several oldies - tunes by Hank Williams and Nat Stuckey, as well as a nice cover of Gary Stewart's "Out Of Hand," and a trio of Rhonda Vincent originals. The whole album is great, the sort of record that just gets better and better the more you delve into it -- highlights include the mournful "Till The End" and the robust honkytonker, "It Ain't Nothing New," about staying in love for the long haul. Duet singing is something of a lost art in the contemporary country scene, but this album evokes the style's glory days, and should thrill folks who yearn for the sweet sounds of yesteryear... Let's hope that this is the first of many such records from this pair!
Rhonda Vincent "Sunday Mornin' Singin' " (Upper Management, 2012)
Rhonda Vincent "My Blue Tears" (Rebel, 2002)
A best-of set covering her Rebel years...
VW Boys "Big Fat Earl" (Fat Dog)
One of the more strained of the VW Boys efforts... Songs are evenly interspersed with too-long, staged "man on the street" spoken word skits, wherein bandmembers Larry McPeak, Dave Vaught and Tim White take turns "interviewing" one another on in-joke topics of interest mainly to diehard bluegrass loyalists ("Pardon me, sir -- have you ever heard of bluegrass music?") Some of the songs are played for laughs as well, such as the fart-jokey title tune (a parody of Jimmy Dean's "Big John"), although some songs, like a sizzling instrumental version of "Dixie Breakdown," confirm that these guys are, indeed, just goofing around on the rest of the album. Overall, the comedy schtick just doesn't do much for me... it's more of a Doodles Weaver comedy album than a Homer & Jethro-style gem...
The VW Boys "Snappy Lunch" (Fat Dog, 2003)
Tim White produces and plunks the banjo; Larry McPeak plays the bass, and Dave Vaught strums the guitar -- a nice mix of straight-up, amiable bluegrass oldies and more comedic numbers; even though a series of chatty shout-outs interrupt the flow of the album, this is less goofy than other VWB releases... Practically musical, even! The inclusion of an old Sheb Wooley song ("I Just Don't Look Naked Anymore"), complete with canned laughter, gives a nice nod in the right direction -- a lot of this material sounds forced, but for those who are comedically inclined, it might be kinda fun. A couple of contemporary political references are also notable, especially the Iraq-oriented update of the old Zeke Clements war tune, "Smoke On The Water."
The VW Boys "Greatest Hits" (Fat Dog, 2010)
Bluegrass Albums - Letter "W"
Hick Music Index