Call Home – Heilo Records (2022)

Buster Sledge

Buster Sledge is a three-piece acoustic band from Norway. Mikael Jonassen playing banjo, Jakob Folke Ossum playing guitar and the American Michael Barrett Donovan playing fiddle. They have all come a far way from traditional folk music, classical music and some fusion and jazz. What brings them together is their love and curiosity toward bluegrass music. They've all studied their Earl Scruggs, John Hartford, Norman Blake, Tim O'Brien as well as the Punch Brothers. The first result of this musical collaboration was the album 'Spirit' from 2020 which already showed promise. Now, two years later, they have released their second album 'Call Home' recorded in the new Globus Studio of Sjur Lyseid, another Norwegian folk musician. His touch and experience enhanced this new recording project.

We have a well-balanced record of eleven original tracks and an exhilarating journey through all kinds of acoustic music in the shape of bluegrass. These guys have been around and they love playing with all the musical skills and ingredients that they have picked up during their development. The opener 'The Wind' is kind of a folk song with a great rhythmic approach and shows the band's harmony singing capabilities. The last track 'The Rain' is a beautiful acapella where they close the thematic circle from wind to rain and also showcase their amazing vocals.

In between, they emphasize the instruments and the arrangements. One of my favorites is track eight, the 'Faraway Blues'. This song has very unique dynamics. It mixes up classical elements with a hard-driving banjo and a great melody. Also be sure to listen to the beautiful 'Other Side' where banjo and fiddle introduce an intimate theme that leads into a melody carrying some sweet lyrics: “I walked home and I left you there – on the other side”. It's hard to describe. You have to hear it for yourself.

Reviewed by
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
July 2022

Stuck Loving You – self released (2022)

Morgan Brake

Here is another bluegrass blossom on its rise and if we care about it and give it the attention that it needs it just might rise and bloom to her full beauty. And she sure has got impressive help already. The sixteen-year-old Morgan Brake has hooked up with Richard Bennett, Brenna MacMillian, Jarrod Walker, Sierra Hull, Gaven Largent, Jaelee Roberts, Cory Walker, Nate Leath and Dennis Crouch. I mean there's not much more support you could ask for on your first record.

Many of the songs were written by Richard Bennett and Louisa Branscomb which is quality guaranteed. But three songs Morgan has written with her mother, Victoria Brake. Victoria is probably her daughter’s biggest support. As far as I could find, she trained Morgan's singing techniques even before she could hold an instrument. And yes, Morgan is also playing the guitar. The final cut is a pretty neat version of 'Wayfaring Stranger'. It sure is courageous to do this tower of a song when so many greats have performed it before her. But yes again, she delivers!!

The title track and single 'Stuck Loving You' about this sad and unfulfilled love is so well sung. With all the tenderness and clarity that is needed for this bluegrass ballad. And she's got the timing. 'Georgia Backroads' by Richard Bennett comes rolling along with a great bluegrass tempo. You can easily imagine yourself in a topless GTO cruising those backroads through Georgia.

'Wayfaring Stranger' closes out the set, an all-time favorite. You can play it rough, you can play it old-timey, you can drive it hard or you go down the more jazzy road like Tony Rice did. And that's what Morgan and her amazing crew of musicians have done here.

All in all, this record is a very successful start and we all can expect much more from this very talented young lady.

Reviewed by
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
July 2022

Timeless – Mountain Fever Records (2022)

Magnolia Drive

Solid and down-to-earth are terms that come to mind when you're speaking of timeless music, and also what you have come to expect when you listen to Magnolia Drive. Rightfully so, their new album is titled, 'Timeless'. Solid, down-to-earth, good and honest bluegrass music. 

This band formed some twelve or thirteen years ago and sure has played its share of festivals and shows. In 2011 they released their first recording. An EP with six traditional bluegrass songs and gospel tunes. They then gathered quite some recognition, branching outside of their home state of Mississippi. The four members of the band are both grateful and proud of their new Mountain Fever Records release.

The band includes Mike Nowell – guitar & vocals, Don Robinson – banjo & vocals, Steve Nowell – bass & vocals and Cory Burton – mandolin. For this record, they have received great help from Glen Harrell playing the fiddle and Tim Hathorn on the dobro. Together they have assembled a collection of eleven exciting tunes from different writers, and four originals. Right from the beginning with 'Lonely Side Of Goodbye' you get a hard-driving modern traditional bluegrass sound. The banjo sets the pace and the fiddle is twirling around the smooth harmony vocals. I first heard this tune on a Big Country Bluegrass album called 'Waiting At The Homeplace' from 2004. Written by Randall Hylton this song became a classic throughout the eighties and was even recorded by bands like The Bluegrass Cardinals or the Appalachian Express. Magnolia Drive gives the song a new and peppy dressing.

My next highlight is track number four—a cover of Buck Owens' song 'Your Tender Loving Care' from 1967. I mean, you can't go wrong with a Buck Owens tune. Actually, it might be a risk for any other band. But not for Magnolia Drive – they nailed it. Picking up the pace just a little bit, excellent harmony singing and a steady beat. Their own songs can easily stand up alongside it. Just listen to the gently rolling 'Going Back In Time' by guitar player Mike Nowell. It's a new song yet it still provides everything a good bluegrass tune requires.

Rickey Wasson and Ron Stewart did a fantastic job mixing and mastering this album. I really enjoyed this album and I am hoping from my heart that it will get the recognition it deserves.

Reviewed by
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
July 2022

Kristi – The 615 Hideaway Entertainment (2022)

KRISTI STANLEY

Kristi Stanley is back and she has delivered a great album. And we're not only talking bluegrass. We have country, blues-rock, bluegrass – both contemporary and traditional – Americana in all its facets. Let's put it this way: it's not a genre album, it's a Kristi Stanley album. And she had impressive help. Just take the list of songwriters such as Larry Cordle, Irene Kelley and Billy Droze. As well as a great new tune by Melanie and Steve Wilson and an outstanding cover of the John Prine masterpiece 'Angel From Montgomery'.

The line-up of musicians involved is also stout. Aaron Bowen on keyboards, Michael Branch on bass, Glen Crain on resonator guitar and electric bass, Andrew Crawford on acoustic and electric guitar, Deanie Richardson and Tim Crouch on fiddle, Gena Britt, Shawn Lane and Sarah Logan for harmony vocals, Adam Plott on drums, Steve Wilson on banjo and Blake Young playing the mandolin. Kristi does all the lead vocals and contributes to harmony vocals as well.

The opener, Diggin' by Larry Cordle is a great example of the vibe of the whole album. It kicks off with a cool, soulful and a little bluesy southern rock. Spiced up with some great resonator guitar and banjo, tastefully mixed in. The band weaves the perfect sound carpet for Kristi's remarkable vocals and man does she ever deliver! Another good example is the single Heartbreak Hill, written by Billy Droze. It hits the mark for the bluegrass side of this album with superb fiddle work by Deanie Richardson and carried throughout by the resonator of Glen Crain and the banjo of Steve Wilson.

Steve Wilson is also responsible for recording and producing the album. As well as mixing and mastering.  And what a magnificent job – again. Bringing together the acoustic and electric instruments in such a raw and crisp manner that there is still a warm and transparent mix possible–that's truly amazing.

All in all, we get eleven tracks about love, life and the love for life. Delivered by a voice that fits every style and brings the right feeling to each track. Kristi Stanley is back and she's breaking boundaries and standing her ground on what her true sound really is.

Reviewed by
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
July 2022

Crooked Tree – Nonesuch Records (2022)

Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway

Every once in a while something special happens. Like an earthquake, a solar eclipse, a high-water springtide or the emergence of a new star. And if we're lucky we're living in the same time period. So, let us celebrate this young lady here and the release of her latest album: Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway performing “Crooked Tree”.

Molly Tuttle has been around a while and of course, one could easily see and hear years ago that there is something extraordinary happening. But for me, this album really hits the spot. I've been listening to it up and down and I've been following the band's live performances on the internet and at this point, it doesn't get any better. The most important aspect about Molly Tuttle is that she has found her own distinctive style. As a songwriter as well as a guitar player, as well as a singer and as a band leader. You can also hear her experience in other genres, as her expertise in pop and rock music also shines through. However, she melts it all down in her bluegrass alchemy and every musician involved gets carried away.

Just take these lines: “I promised you the gold In California – On a painted horse with reins of silver thread – But if I can't steal your heart Castilleja – I'll ghost this world long after I'm dead.” Pure poetry paired with an up-tempo bluegrass drive provided by her unbelievable guitar playing and a hard-picked banjo by Ron Block. Add in outstanding fiddle work by Jason Carter and sugar-coated harmony from the great Tina Adair, and this song 'Castilleja' alone, can make you cry.

Her musical company is an all-star ensemble with Jerry Douglas, Ron Block, Dominick Leslie, Jason Carter and Mike Bub, as well as Tina Adair, Christian Sedelmyer, Viktor Krauss, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, Darol Anger, and Todd Philips. All names that speak for themselves. And then there is a list of special guests that takes your breath away. In order of appearance: Margo Price, Billy Strings, Old Crow Medicine Show, Sierra Hull, Dan Tyminski and last but not least the mighty Gillian Welch. You never get the feeling that Molly Tuttle actually needs them to support her. Rather, you get a feeling that they're actually honored to play along. Over all there is the grandeur of her songwriting and singing., but also her ability to arrange and her own superior guitar playing skills.

I'd also like to mention the breath-taking live band Molly has put together with Bronwyn Keith-Haines on fiddle, Jack Tuttle on banjo, Dominick Leslie on mandolin and Shelby Lee Means on bass. Go see them live if you have the chance. Or else check the videos you can find on Molly's website and her YouTube channel.

“She can paint the sun at midnight – Roll out the moon at the break of day – One woman many wonders, one road many ways – Just when you think you know her – She'll change.”

These lines from the opener 'She'll Change' pretty much sum this album up. The boss gives us a ride through every aspect of modern bluegrass. And I mean modern bluegrass, not to be confused with new-grass. She totally knows where she is coming from and what this special kind of music is made of. And she masters it with such ease that you almost think it's simple. Followed by the beautiful 'Flatland Girl' with Margo Price, an instant standard, steadily rolling along with the banjo and the dobro. Two other songs I'd like to point out are 'Nashville Mess Around' … seems like she knows what she's talking about. And the great 'San Francisco Blues' with Dan Tyminski, a perfect bluegrass waltz about how this town or the world has changed.

I mean it…. This lady and her newest record are top-notch. Especially because this album is both traditional and an ambassador to new listeners at the same time. Goodbye Girl … I hope you'll stop by again the next time.

Reviewed by
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
July 2022

Mountains Of Home – self released (2022)

Kentucky Just Us

Sometimes we all just need a good straight shot of traditional bluegrass. What could deliver that but a family band from Kentucky? So, just lean back and take a listen to the new album 'Mountains Of Home' by Kentucky Just Us. It is already their fifth release since 2015.

We have Caleb O'Neal on mandolin, Kacey O'Neal on fiddle, Shelane O'Neal playing the bass, Jesse Meador picking the banjo and Justin Meredith on guitar. Dad, Terry O'Neal is producing and promoting for the band. The songs vary from classics such as Rank Strangers and Fraulein to songs written by Larry Cordle and Wayne Taylor as well as original tunes by Kacey O'neal and Jesse Meador.

The song that sums the album up best might be 'I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home' by the immortal A.P. Carter. With the tight ensemble playing with the skills of an experienced live band and the harmony singing you can expect of a family band, they deliver this song and lyrics with all the heart and feeling it needs and what Kentucky Just Us stands for.

I think that by now they have played almost every festival with their large and ever-growing repertoire of songs. This is how Kacey, a founding member of the band, described the new album: “We feel like this album is a true representation of us as a band. It is a perfect mix of traditional bluegrass, original material, and so much more. We are so excited to share this album with the world”.

Reviewed by
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
July 2022

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