6Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band
When you’ve been in bands with both Bill Monroe and Jerry Garcia, you end up as a bluegrass diplomat to all, appealing equally to grandmothers watching with their purses on their laps and to chicken-jigging hackeysack enthusiasts. But Uncle Pete has also, over the last decade, recorded some superior records, none better than Legacy, an album of 12 new original compositions. Backed by Rowan’s touring band of bluegrass vets, along with a couple of kindred cameos (Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs), Legacy is a delightful dose of ancient tones from a consummate P-Ro. But as gloriously tradition-steeped as the record is, the renegade in Rowan is never far below the surface, either lyrically (the intolerance-lampooning “Jailer Jailer”) or musically (the transcendentalist Dead-style drift of “Don’t Ask Me Why”).
US: 12 Jul 2010
UK: 12 Jul 2010
5Chatham County Line
The hardest choice this year was whether Chatham County Line belonged on a bluegrass list at all, or whether the North Carolina quartet had finally tipped the balance from bluegrass to alt-country enough to jump to the Americana list. However you classify Wildwood, an album this accomplished and satisfying has earned its place among the year’s best. There is some fairly straight-up bluegrass here, like the hot-stepping “Heart Attack”, and these boys long ago proved that they pick and harmonize with the best of them. For Wildwood, the band turned to ambrosial acoustic-guitar neo-traditional folk songs, featuring the idyllic texture of John Teer’s fiddle and mandolin and Chandler Holt’s banjo. In the end, though, Wildwood soars on singer/guitarist Dave Wilson’s shoulders—his gentle songs and twilight vocal delivery will keep you warm this winter.
The Famous Lefty Flynn’s
You like tight, fast bluegrass? The Grascals’ cover of the Osborne Brothers’ “Son of a Sawmill Man” from The Famous Lefty Flynn’s will flip your wig. But that’s just scratching the surface on a record of peaks of all kinds. Lead singer Jamie Johnson’s hillbilly whine keeps things good and country on express-train zingers like “Everytime” and choice covers like Steve Earle’s “My Old Friend the Blues”. And the rich keep getting richer: for this record, the Grascals added banjo superpicker Kristin Scott Benson, whose white-knuckle heroics on tunes like “Blue Rock Slide” add invigorating dynamism to the Grascals’ already-formidable lineup. It all adds up to another terrific recording from one of bluegrass’s most consistently fine acts.
Dailey & Vincent
Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers
US: 1 Feb 2010
3Dailey & Vincent
Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers
In 2010, the only way to buy Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers was while waiting for your chicken-fried steak at Cracker Barrel restaurants. The real gravy in that deal is the duo’s spot-on tribute to the Statlers’ four-part harmonies and lovable songs. It’s an album that provides more than just sweet nostalgia; it offers further proof that no act out there can match the integrity of Jamie and Darrin’s fastidious commitment to classic-bluegrass playing and singing. Hot licks? No problem. But the real focus here is on drum-tight vocal harmonies and pristine, tasteful arrangements on a dozen Statler classics. And what songs! All of your faves are here: “Elizabeth”, “I’ll Go to My Grave Loving You”, “Class of ‘57”, all in perfect apple-pie order. Oh, waitress?
The SteelDrivers’ sophomore release Reckless is so good that it can’t help but feel like both a treasure and a crying shame for bluegrass fans. After all, Chris Stapleton left the band after recording Reckless, and although they’ve replaced him with a capable singer, nobody can replicate Stapleton’s soulful chainsaw of a voice, which has unmistakably been the Drivers’ calling card. Check out “Where Rainbows Never Die”—Stapleton is Willie Nelson on the verses and Otis Redding on the chorus. Moreover, as well as fiddlin’ lass Tammy Rogers and banjoist Richard Bailey play, it’s Stapleton’s songs, the strongest set of original bluegrass tunes this year, that have made the SteelDrivers special. There isn’t a minute of filler on Reckless, but the grease-grass stank of “Good Corn Liquor” will get you where you need to be, as will Stapleton’s timber-rattling vocals on “The Price” or the perfectly-crafted slave narrative “Can You Run”.
Things That Fly
US: 20 Apr 2010
UK: 26 Apr 2010
1The Infamous Stringdusters
Things That Fly
With Things That Fly, their third album, the Infamous Stringdusters bound ahead of the pack with the meticulous craft of both their instrumental and vocal performances. Things That Fly finds the band tightening as musicians, writers, and record-makers on this unremittingly superb offering. The stirring chugger “Taking a Chance on the Truth”, the astounding instrumental “The Deputy”, the hillbilly toe-tapper “17 Cents”, the delicate neo-grass ballad “All the Same”, the hotshit ripper “Those Who’ve Gone On”, the cleverly arranged U2 cover “In God’s Country”—all part of a continuous display of highlights. The band boasts three first-rate lead singers, giving them wide flexibility and input, but if it’s picking you want, there are more wicked, expressive solos blazing every which way across Things That Fly than on any other record this year. Much of the group’s scopic sound comes from the fact that, at six members, they’ve made room for both full-time dobro (Andy Hall) and fiddle (Jeremy Garrett), on top of banjo (Chris Pandofi), mandolin (Jesse Cobb), guitar (Andy Falco), and bass (Travis Book), each of them staggeringly skillful musicians. It all adds up to a dynamic, deeply musical new set of songs, and all hail the vibrant production of Gary Paczosa. It should be the album that seals the deal on the ‘Dusters as the new standard who have raised the bar for everyone else.