Uncommon Sky – Dark Shadow Recording (2023)

Rick Faris

Rick Faris is back!  Although, he was never really gone. So with great consistency,  he presents us with his next solo album, ‘Uncommon Sky.’ The third project from the house of Jana and Stephen Mougin over at Dark Shadow Recording.  He succeeds at evolving and stays true to himself at the same time.  I think that's exactly what makes great artists.

His song choice just right for the album, and so is having the opportunity to be backed by an incredible crew of musicians.  They include; Laura Orshaw, Zac McLamb, Luke Munday, Harry Clark, and Eddie Faris. As if this crew wasn't enough already, they are accompanied by Jerry Douglas, Del and Ronnie McCoury, Dani Flowers, Ben James and Russ Carson. All of these names speak for themselves, and for the quality of this project.

Rick Faris did the songwriting on this one, with the co-writing help of songwriting legend Rick Lang. Two songs are co-written with Evan Dickerson, one being the amazing opening track, “Don't Hold Back.” This track is one of my favorites out of this project. And I have to mention, there is an outstanding adaption of the famous “The Power Of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. This was the first single. If you didn't stumble upon this one by now you’ve got to go check it out. Rick just nails it. It has all the power and energy of the original, but adds the drive and energy of a great bluegrass song all at the same time. It is 'Back To The Future' in the best sense. It brings back memories from 1985, and is a contemporary bluegrass highlight. You just got to love it!

But like I said before, the opener “Don't Hold Back” is definitely a highlight. As well as the song about his grandfather’s farm, “Kansas Cornfields”.  If these three songs don't convince you then just try, “Too Lonely, Way Too Long,” recorded with Jerry Douglas and Del McCoury. Also an original, but sounds and feels like a standard. This is a song that will be heard very often in the future, in my prediction. Every young band should try and cover it to sharpen their teeth on it. It has attitude, it has swing, it has humor, it's just timeless bluegrass. And so far one of the best vocal tracks of this year.

You will definitely want to check out the mandolin and the fiddle on “Hellfire Club,” - ‘just sayin'.

This record marks Rick Faris as one of the most important current acts in the bluegrass scene. We can only hope that he continues his journey after his releases in 2019 (‘Breaking in Lonesome’), and 2021 (‘The Next Mountain’), and now 2023, ‘Uncommon Sky.’

Reviewed by:
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
September  2023

Here Within My Heart – Engelhardt Music Group (2023)


The last few months have been eventful and very busy, moving review writing to the back of my priority list. But one thing that sure helped me through is some good, heartfelt bluegrass music. I'm sure that the followers of Uncut Grass know exactly what I mean. This new record was definitely one that kept my spirits up. So without further ado let me share my thoughts on Tina Adair's “Here Within My Heart.”

Adair performs ten impeccable and insightful songs about the different conditions of the heart and all the faces that love can take on. And trust me, there's not one weak track. She had some great writers contributing songs, along with some great covers and a soulful version of 'Lonesome Valley'. But let me start with the two original songs that she co-wrote with her producer team Glen Duncan and Adam Engelhardt, 'Bad Intentions' and 'Bridge You're Gonna Burn'. The latter is the opening track and it raises the bar for the entire collection. It kicks off with a hard-driving banjo and an up-tempo beat that leaves nothing to be desired for a bluegrass fan. Such a strong song. It really has it all: great banjo performance by Scott Vestal, solid rhythm with Cody Kilby and Pat McGrath on guitar and Dennis Crouch playing the bass, superb dobro fills by Rob Ickes, fluorescent mandolin work by Jesse Brock and a fiddle soaring in and around it all like a bird, performed by Tim Crouch.

With a crew of musicians like that and producers like Adam Engelhardt and Glen Duncan you almost can't go wrong. The next song I'd like to point out is the latest single 'Bad Intentions', also an original. With a more modern and bluesy approach this song is still as bluegrass as can be because of the lyrics. A great song about not letting go even though you know better. Then finally drawing the consequences. A great example for Tina's writing skills but even more for her soulful, powerful and most expressive vocal delivery.

The second track 'Some Things You Can't Undo' is worth mentioning alone for its beautiful intro by the fiddle and banjo. I would also like to mention track number seven: 'Seasons Of Love' by Glen Duncan, Adam Engelhardt, Don McAfee and Eddie Sanders. A sweet and easy going banjo driven bluegrass gem about how love starts and ends just like the seasons.

Tina closes this undeniable hit album with an awesome rendition of the classic 'Lonesome Valley'. One of the songs that never gets old and add in the brilliance of Tina Adair and it takes on yet another exciting life. A very heartfelt version sitting comfortably between blues, gospel, soul and bluegrass. And the perfect end complement for this album all about the depths of the heart. Thank you Tina Adair, and thank you Engelhardt Music Group.

Reviewed by:
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
July  2023

Wanderlust – 615 Hideaway Records (2023)

Rock Hearts

So, here it is… the long awaited sophomore album by New England Bluegrass Band, Rock Hearts. Forming a decade ago, these guys had enough time to evolve their unique sound with modern day bluegrass. Since their first album in 2020 (Starry Southern Nights),  Billy Thibodeau on mandolin and Austin Scelzo on fiddle have joined the band. They are great additions to the founding members Alex MacLeod (guitar), Rick Brodsky (bass) and Joe Deetz (banjo).

This new album, “Wanderlust” has it all! Hard-driving banjo licks, heartfelt fiddle melodies, dynamic mandolin playing, stunning harmony vocals, and superb arrangements in a fine selection of songs. All with a rock solid rhythm and bass foundation. If all that wasn't good enough, we get some guest appearances by none other than, Michael Cleveland on the title track 'Wanderlust'. The great Dale Ann Bradley also adds vocals on 'Driving Nails'. And last but not least, Alex MacLeod is joined by Jonathan Edwards on his song, 'Don't Cry Blue'.

The song selection is remarkable. The band managed to form an album of ten tracks that are very consistent. These tracks in the sequence given draw and intertwine an elaborate picture all together with your own imagination, which makes the album even more enjoyable. They're not after the quick success of the first ten seconds on Spotify. Not just a random selection of songs, but a real album.

I think you’ll agree, just try the title track 'Wanderlust' by Alex McLeod and you'll get an up-tempo, hard-driving bluegrass song with great vocal arrangements. Or take, 'Cotton, Corn and Hay' by Thomm Jutz and Tom Minner. This one is a laid back tune about life on a farm with a bluesy feel. There’s also a very nicely done Merle Haggard cover, 'Today I Started Loving You Again'. The Rock Hearts definitely make it their own and fit it into the whole picture of this album, along with the instrumental, 'Butter In The Mustache' by Bill Smith.

Of course bluegrass music is a to be performed live and spontaneous in front of an audience. From the stage, the music unfolds the dynamics and drive from this genre we know and love. But still, there is something about a great and well thought out studio album. And this is exactly what these guys have managed to deliver. With the help of Stephen Mougin and Ned Luberecki and the Dark Shadow crew they have recorded a solid and conclusive album which is pure joy to listen to, straight from the first note to the last.



Railroad Town – Mountain Fever Records (2022)

Jr. Williams

I have followed Jr. Williams since NewFound Road and lately he's been out playing with the magnificent Tim Shelton Syndicate. So, the joy is big as I'm holding Jr’s new solo project in my hands. Railroad Town was released at the end of last year by Mountain Fever Records.

The lineup includes Jr Williams on lead vocals and banjo; Adam Steffey on mandolin; Aaron Ramsey on guitar, upright bass, mandolin, & harmony vocals; Jacob Burleson on guitar; Nathan Aldridge on fiddle; Jeff Partin on resophonic guitar, bass, & harmony vocals; Junior Sisk on vocals, and Amanda Cook and Zach Arnold on harmony vocals.

The man can sing. Opening up with 'Gonna Settle Down' by Lester Flatt he nails it right off the bat. Homespun, straight rolling banjo intro and really incredible singing. Next highlight is 'Railroad Town Without A Train' by none other than Tim Stafford and Thomm Jutz. Followed by 'Let Me Walk, Lord, By Your Side' by Carter Stanley, that never gets old. Really smooth and authentic and with another outstanding vocal, this time by Junior Sisk.

Besides the Stafford & Jutz tunes, another personal favorite is the last track: Caleb Lauder's 'Can I Go Home With You'. Caleb Klauder is a great musician by himself and a great songwriter as well. Loved this song the first time I heard it and love it still. Jr. Williams made it his own together with great fiddle playing by Nathan Aldridge.

This new project showcases Jr. Williams as a gifted singer. It doesn’t hurt to have Jason Burleson playing rhythm guitar for you to add to his rock solid banjo skills either!

Great job!

Reviewed by:
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
May 2023

CLOSE HARMONY - Self-Released (2023)

Bibelhauser Brothers

The Bibelhauser Brothers are back in a very impressive way. Adam and Aaron have picked ten classic country and bluegrass songs comprised of brother harmonies and laid them down in a soulful manner that it is a real feast to listen. Of course we are familiar with most of the songs as you can find Bill Monroe's 'What Would You Give', the Louvin Brothers' 'When I Stop Dreaming', or the great 'Do You Wonder' by Roy Acuff. Other tunes include 'Banks Of The Rio Grande' by the Delmore Brothers, 'Night Rider's Kament' by Michael Burton, and 'Let Me Rest' by Ralph Stanley.

All these songs have been treated so respectfully and with invigoration at the same time. Aaron and Adam are not only skillful singers, but also come together to form some impressive arrangements. Not only brothers, but also twins, their harmonies are as up close and personal as harmony vocals can be. Not to mention brilliant multi-instrumentalist Aaron who played guitar, dobro, banjo, pedal-steel and piano on this record. Brother Adam, also an adept picker at many instruments, played the bass and they had help from Michael Cleveland on mandolin and fiddle, Jeff Gurnsey playing fiddle, Steve Cooley on banjo and Jesse Hall on drums. 

This beautiful album has a great selection of songs recorded and performed by two amazing singers and musicians. Check out the opener 'Do You Wonder' or the closing track 'Let Me Rest' and you'll know what I mean. And everything else you wish for you'll find between these two songs.

Reviewed by:
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
March 2023

Long Hill To Climb - Self-Released (2023)

Wolfpen Branch

Alongside the remarkable release of The Bibelhauser Brothers' album, 'Close Harmony', we now are gifted with Aaron Bibelhauser's latest "band" project, with the Kentucky super group, Wolfpen Branch. While 'Close Harmony' was a tribute to brother harmony and vocal band tradition, this album is a band project that arose from members of Kentucky's own 23 String Band, The Wooks and Relic. The band is made up of Arthur Hancock (guitar, vocals), Chris Shouse (mandolin, vocals), Aaron Bibelhauser (banjo, vocals), Roddy Puckett (bass, vocals) and Jeff Guernsey (fiddle). A tight bunch of highly motivated and skilled musicians have come together and produced an album like an alchemist and have succeeded in bringing forth pure gold. So, first of all: thank you for this record!

'Long Hill To Climb' is an eleven track album with that ranges from traditional songs over original tracks to cover songs by Tyler Childers and Tom Petty. This clearly shows not only the ambition, but also the skills and influences this band is deriving from.

The record starts off with a banjo lick by Aaron Bibelhauser to open with his original song 'Long Hill To Climb'. Being the title track it also lends itself to being the title track of the album with a fast bluegrass pace, hard-driving banjo, great melody and compelling harmonies. And of course, Bibelhauser's very own style of songwriting and singing: “So hard to tell what's on your mind – You call me yours, I'll call you mine – Just when we find ourselves, wrecking out of our shells – Loving so hard to find – But it's a long hill to climb.”

This incredible song is followed by Tyler Childers', 'Born Again', from his 2017 album Purgatory. A great song and this new band does him justice by giving him a bluegrass flair – stunning. Next is another original song. This time by mandolin player, Chris Shouse, of the 23 String Band. This song has a great steady rolling, kind of… swamp rock feeling. Take a listen for yourself and see what you think. Also included are originals by Arthur Hancock, founding member of The Wooks.

Last, but certainly not least, I would like to pick out 'Square One', written by Tom Petty for the 2005 soundtrack 'Elizabethtown', later to be released on Petty's album 'Highway Companion'. The guys really make this song their own while still finding a way to stay true to the original roots. The fiddle playing and outstanding harmony really work together to create an incredible dynamic. Let's put it this way: This record is great all the way up to the last track, the everlasting 'Darling Corey'. In a more modern and progressive arrangement it makes for the perfect ending to this inspiring bluegrass album with a southern rock attitude. I seriously hope that this outfit stays together for more records. Oh, and catch them live if you get the chance.

Reviewed by:
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
March 2023