Fast Track – Engelhardt Music Group (2020)

Fast Track

This is the long awaited debut album of the new bluegrass supergroup Fast Track. The members of this all-star extravaganza are Dale Perry (banjo), Steve Day (fiddle), Ron Spears (bass), Jesse D. Brock (mandolin) and Duane Sparks (guitar). And as you read these names you know for yourself that each and every band member is providing vocals. One could say that this band is mostly “David Parmley & Cardinal Tradition“ without David Parmley, which was pretty amazing already, but wouldn't tell half the story. The different members of “Fast Track“ have played with Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Continental Divide, Larry Stephenson, Special Consensus, The James King Band, Ronnie Reno, Lonesome River Band, Gary Brewer, Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, Chris Jones and the Nightdrivers, Audie Blaylock and Redline, Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers and more. And Ron Spears had his own outfit as a band leader some years back with “Ron Spears and Within Tradition“. These guys have all been around but they never have lost their love for the music.. And this is exactly what makes this record so special. This is not one star beside another on stage – this is a true band. A band with so much experience and respect, making the band leader unnecessary.

Like the members of the band, the song selection is exquisite. Three originals by Ron Spears and the title track instrumental by Dale Perry. These four tracks pretty much set the tone for what this band is all about. Hard-driving traditional bluegrass with a love for melody and harmony. We also get songs from the record written by Brink Brinkman, David Stewart and more. It's needless to say but there is not one song that isn't worth being on this record.

I’ll kick off by mentioning my favorites. Check out the opener “Blue And Lonesome Again“ written by Ron Spears. It boasts a great rhythm, awesome melody and harmony vocals, and has a bluesy kind of feeling. Next, the bluegrass cover of country tune, “Play Me A Song I Can Cry To,“ written by Jerry Chesnut and originally recorded by “The Killer,“ Jerry Lee Lewis. Another great cover song is the 1989 “(I Wish I Had) A Heart Of Stone,“ by Baillie & the Boys, turned into an up-tempo bluegrass hit. And the thought provoking, “Ghost Of A Miner,“ about the hard working Appalachian people during the mining days. There is something unconditionally uplifting like “Come On Down“ with one of the most beautiful mandolin breaks I've heard yet. The CD closes with another great song from 'Brink' Brinkman, arranged and recorded in a stripped down folky style with a pleasant and surprising ‘walloon’ banjo and mandolin melody line.

I think you can get the picture: This is one of the BEST BLUEGRASS RECORDS I have heard this year! I say this not only because of the wide ranged, brilliant song selection, or the absolutely remarkable musicians and singers. But also because of the most perceptive recording, engineered by Adam Engelhardt and Glen Duncan of Engelhardt Music Group. Let's just hope that these guys stick together for many years of live shows and records to come.

September 2020

Any Fair Number – self released (2020)

Tugalo Holler

This is third record by Tugalo Holler and the first in twelve years. The six piece Tugalo Holler first started playing in 2001, in and around South Carolina and deliver now their first all self produced album. And let me tell you – it's good.

The band consists of Stephen Hudson – lead and harmony vocals, guitar, fiddle; Michael Hill – banjo; Michael 'Porkchop' Branch – bass; Dennis James – mandolin and Bradley Webb – guitar. And of course, Jessica Hudson providing lead and harmony vocals. I had not heard of them or their earlier releases before. I got to know the band because Michael 'Porkchop' Branch also played the bass for Wilson Banjo Co. and so it was inevitable that Melanie or Steve Wilson would draw my attention to them.

This lovingly recorded album includes eleven high-class tracks. All but one written by Stephen Hudson, surely the driving force behind this project. Well-crafted songs, skilled instrumentation and an amazing voice are all the gifts he is blessed with. Together with his wife Jessica, they provide singing and playing of modern bluegrass and gospel music, deeply rooted in tradition.

Try the opener “Mockingbird“ or track #4 “Go Sin No More“ and you'll hear what I mean right away. The fifth track “Between A Rock And A Hard Place“, written by 'Porkchop' presents a hard-driving bluegrass anthem. Followed by the sweet waltz “Road To Emmaus“ on which Hudson plays a stout fiddle. “Prince Of Peace,” carried by the rhythmic banjo of Michael Hill, Stephen Hudson's fiddle and the amazing voice of Jessica Hudson.

This record has all that we are longing for in this troubled year and time. It has warmth, heartfelt musicianship and uplifting lyrics. You can hear the love it was performed with. Tugalo Holler shows that they have played their share of live shows together. Their sound is new and fresh, yet wise and experienced at the same time. It's just a shame they’re not better known, because they surely have no reason to hide. This record will help to change that. I recommend purchasing it through the band's website or downloading from your favorite online distributor.

August 2020

Bill Monroe's Ol' Mandolin – Pinecastle Records (2020)

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road

This one's gonna be a hard one. Just because I wasn't quite sure where to start. Should I go from the great songs and songwriting or should I start naming the incredible line-up and the amazing musicianship that come together on this record. Right after receiving the sound files and having had my first listen, I had heard about the passing of Steve Gulley. This made me speechless and pause in grief. I reflected on the many great songs, records and people Steve has worked with and I've had the pleasure of listening to over the years. I believe that Steve would want us to go on, especially in these strange times. To go on celebrating life and music together – bluegrass music. And that's just what Lorraine Jordan does best once again, on this beautiful new album.

The record starts off with the title track and first single, “Bill Monroe's Ol' Mandolin“ written by David Stewart, featuring Allen Dyer on lead vocals. The song showcases a slow waltz celebrating Bill Monroe, and his heritage that we all were reminded of by the moment when Ricky Skaggs played Bill Monroe's mandolin at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum. For those who don't know this single by now: it's wonderful. Deep, heartfelt, traditional bluegrass. Quickly followed by another ode to bluegrass, is the banjo driven “They Call It Bluegrass“ with its great Earl Scruggs citations. Topped off by the unexpected cover of Crystal Gayle's “Ready For the Times To Get Better“ from 1976. Lorraine sings lead on this gem, and turns it into a high lonesome bluegrass song. And these are only the three first tracks of this well balanced bluegrass record. But like I said it's not only due to the song selection, but also the gathering of great musicians.

You’ll enjoy Allen Dyer – lead and harmony vocals; Randy Graham – lead and harmony vocals; Matt Hooper – fiddle; Beth Lawrence – bass; Joe Pessolano – bass, guitar, dobro, harmony vocals; Josh Goforth – guitar, fiddle, mandolin, harmony vocals, Jason Moore – bass; Ethan Burkhardt – bass; Randy Graham – guitar; Daniel Aldridge – mandolin; Skip Cherryholmes – guitar and Andy Leftwich – guitar, fiddle, mandolin. And maybe it's my thing with banjos, but really noticeable to me is the incomparable Ben Greene, playing banjo all over the record and also providing harmony vocals.

Year after year, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road provide us with solid and inspired bluegrass “born in Kentucky but raised in Caroline“. And they didn't disappoint us this time. One of the hardest working women in the bluegrass world and definitely one of the most remarkable voices, Lorraine Jordan once again sets the bar high for this year's releases.

August 2020

Starry Southern Nights – self released (2020)

Rock Hearts

This is an eight track debut record of a five piece band that I initially just kinda stumbled across on facebook. After making contact and asking if there was a CD available, the bass-player Rick Brodsky said he'd hook me up. To be honest, I didn't know what to expect at that point. Two weeks later I found it in my mailbox and couldn't wait to put it in my CD player. It took exactly 20 seconds to know that this was a good find. The banjo kicked off on the opening track and then brilliant fiddle work opened the door for the vocals. Amazing!

Alex MacLeod is playing the guitar, Joe Deetz plays the banjo, Danny Musher on fiddle, Billy Thibodeau is on the mandolin and the backbone of the project, a stout bass performance by Rick Brodsky. Stephen Mougin recorded and mixed the project and it was produced by Ned Luberecki – need I say more?

The opener '99 Year Blues' is followed by seven superb bluegrass tracks, including three original tunes. The banjo instrumental by Joe Deetz deserves honorable mention. It’s called Juxtaposed, and is followed by the elegant cover of Don't Take It Too Bad from Townes van Zandt.

Every song is well balanced and arranged with the right tempo and mood. Each band member adds just what is necessary to carry the songs and the great vocals and harmonies. This record is really...really good. There’s an element of fun and surprise that leaves you absolutely satisfied. The only negative… it's too short! After hearing the last track Stagger Lee, that showcases amazing mandolin support, you just want more. More Rock Hearts!

Ordinary Soul – Dark Shadow Recording (2020)

Stephen Mougin


A Stephen Mougin record is something to talk about. When I heard about it, I began my usual research, wondering how many other records he had released. Believe it or not - this seems to be the first record he has released under his own name.

I couldn't believe it – because this man has literally been all over the bluegrass plaza. He's a writer, a singer, a guitar player, a recorder, a producer, a teacher and now he is the engineer for his own record label Dark Shadow Recordings. He has been working together with so many of the bluegrass greats. Stephen has also written songs for many successful artists. So in the end, here it is: the first and therefore highly anticipated Stephen Mougin album called “Ordinary Soul."

I definitely want to mention the line-up of musicians that have worked with Stephen on this project. We have Ned Luberecki playing the banjo, Sam Bush and Cory Piatt on the mandolin, Becky Buller and Laura Orshaw playing the fiddle, Mike Bub, Todd Parks and Alan Bartram on bass, and Chris Brown playing the drums on five tracks. The list of singers on this album includes: Rick Faris, Jana Mougin, Alan Bartram, Melonie & Buddy Cannon and last but surely not least, The Gibson Brothers, Eric and Leigh. And of course the man himself playing guitar and singing lead.

Then there are the incredible songs. Ten out of twelve are originals, each written with great co-writers such as Jon D. Weisberger, Kristy Cox or Becky Buller – just to mention a few. A fantastic selection of tunes balanced by a Buck Owens cover of “Only You And You Alone“ and the Becky Buller song “Handful Of Dust“. Stephen Mougin has accomplished a recording with a broad variety and a high level of quality and sound.

We get good straight bluegrass with “New Beginnings“ and “Last Time For Everything“, and more progressive stuff with “Song That I Call Home“ and “I'm Gonna Ride." The latter with a great uplifting feeling to it. Then there are more country-like songs with “Color Me Lonely“ or the lovely “A Place For A Fool“, co-written and accompanied by the Gibson Brothers. Also a more breezy folk-song called “On The Riverside“ and even a solo number with only Stephen Mougin singing and playing the guitar. One of the highlights for me is “Play Me A Sad Song Again“, a beautiful country waltz with absolutely stunning vocals and amazing twin fiddles by Orshaw and Buller. And I'm a fool for “Handful Of Dust“ but just because I'm a fool for bluesy vocals and train-like banjos. It's got a great vibe.

I highly recommend you take a listen for yourself and then you decide if it's a brilliant solo debut record or an all-star collaborative album. Either way, it's GREAT.