Where The Big Lamp Shines – self-released (2022)

The Often Herd

And now for something completely different... bluegrass from Northern England. Modern, exciting and crossing borders. The band is Rupert Hughes playing the guitar and singing lead and harmonies, Evan Davies on mandolin also singing lead and harmonies, with Niles Krieger playing fiddle and guitars and singing and finally Sam Quintana on the bass. They are supported by several musicians on saxophone as well as on drums. The marvelous Tabitha Benedict, known for her work with Cup O'Joe, Midnight Skyracer and The Foreign Landers, plays the banjo on two tracks.

They've been around a while already as 'The Kentucky Cow Tippers'. Playing all the festivals in Europe and the UK they even released an EP with four original tracks and a long player. In 2018 Hughes and Davies released their first 'Often Herd' EP together with Quintana and Krieger. And kept playing live as many shows as they could get. Also in 2018 they also received quite a lot of recognition by winning the European band contest at the famous La Roche Bluegrass Festival in France.

Since then we all have been waiting for them to release a whole album with original tracks. Well, here it is. And let me tell you it's impressive. Ten tracks – eight songs and two instrumentals – all originals are creating a microcosm of bluegrass, folk, country and jazz or if one might like to say so: British Americana. From the first track, the thrilling and impulsive 'Inner Peace' to the more melancholic closing track 'I Was', with a bit of a Scottish feeling to it. A very special feeling to it, with obviously a lot of live experience and well-balanced arrangements and what is more: great singers.

The song 'Casablanca' has a Byrds feeling to it. Coming along with subtle drums and a really nice twangy telecaster guitar. Followed by one of the instrumentals called 'Sycamore Gap'. A nice and swinging bluegrass fiddle tune with some sort of fiddle and mandolin battle rounded by Tabitha's banjo.

On their website, The Often Herd describe themselves as Newgrass from Northern England. But I'm tempted to say that they are way more. In a positive and distinguished way they have brought together ages and cultures and musical inheritances to form music that makes us feel at home. As if we'd heard it often yet it's still new. Let me just close with these three lines the album closes with:

“I was a man who could move boulders – I was a boy who told the time wrong – I was a soul who wrote a song every day.“

Reviewed by:
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
September 2022

Somewhere Beyond – Mountain Fever Records (2022)

BREAKING GRASS

This is album number six since their first self-titled album in 2011. They're playing together for fourteen years now and they don't seem a bit tired. Breaking Grass ‘2022’ is Cody Farrar on guitar and lead vocals, Jody Elmore on banjo and harmonies, Britt Sheffield on bass and harmonies, Zach Wooten on mandolin and harmonies and Tyler White playing the fiddle. They've received support for this project from Randy Kohrs (dobro) and Aaron Ramsey (lead vocals). Aaron Ramsey also recorded, engineered, mixed and produced the album for Mountain Fever Music. And yes, he did a great job.

I suppose it must have been great fun to work on this ten-track album with all original songs. All of them were written by the lead singer Cody Farrar with one co-write on 'The Gift' by none other than Ronnie Bowman. By now the band has established their very own sound and style of contemporary bluegrass. Without any fear of strolling through rock, pop, jazz and some country music. “Money Can't Buy You” even reminded me a little of the great Lyle Lovett with a swinging attitude and great humor in the lyrics. And what is more: awesome vocals. The soulful deliverance of lead and harmony vocals is also highlighted in their single “Pauline”. Maybe the most traditional attempt on this record. But still, the band finds their very own characteristic arrangements. What a great love song – makes you want to hear it performed live.

Another one of my favorites on this album is “Outrun The Wolf”. It creates an atmosphere and emotion I already liked about Breaking Grass on their records “Cold” and “Warning Signs”. Cody Farrar puts some grim themes into great melodies and connects them with his intense performance. And their closing with the beautiful and forgiving “Down In The Darkness”, a heartfelt waltz about faith and salvation.

All in all Breaking Grass has delivered a solid and unique album with a distinctive mixture of great acoustic music styles, superb vocal arrangements and sensitive production.

Reviewed by:
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
September 2022

Heartache And Trouble – Engelhardt Music Group (2022)

Fast Track

This is easily one of my favorite bands right now. Those of you who follow me on Facebook probably will figure. It's the combination of musicians, all their experience and their own special approach to traditional bluegrass. Playing it tight and modern with extraordinary instrumental skills as well as high-class harmony singing. Anywhere great bluegrass music has been played the last thirty years or more at least one of the band members has been around. When I first heard that Jesse Brock was about to leave the band I initially felt sad but when I heard they were able to win Shayne Bartley over to take his place, I was happily relieved and excited. 

This time we get ten tracks. Some from writers such as Gerald Evans Jr. or Lowell Varney but also Bill Monroe and Carter Stanley, three originals by Ron Spears and last but not least the 1968 'Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde' by Merle Haggard. The band and the production team with Glen Duncan and Adam Engelhardt have used their alchemy to melt it all into a first-class bluegrass album.

No matter if you pick the singles 'Plain Old Country Boy' and 'Heartache And Trouble' or songs like 'Hurts All Gone' or the absolutely terrific 'You No Longer Believe In Me'. The final track of the album and a Ronald Spears original is a classic bluegrass waltz about a relationship and its faded trust. With a beautiful violin theme, stunning lead vocals and great harmonies it takes you back to the fifties. Ron Spears manages it to a fluid performance. His other song 'Jenny Lynn' perfectly merges with Monroe's 'Mary Jane Won't You Be Mine' and 'Sweetest Love' by Carter Stanley. This man knows how to write a song and how to arrange it.

Enough said! This is a superb effort by an incomparable band. Thank you Fast Track!

Reviewed by
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
July 2022

Up The Hill And Through The Fog – self released (2022)

The Slocan Ramblers

This is the fourth release of The Slocan Ramblers. The 2020 Momentum Band Of The Year (IBMA) has grown far and above that. This new album hits the nail on the head! Twelve tracks in every color of bluegrass and a superb Tom Petty cover are carrying us through the microcosm of the band. The 2022 band is Frank Evans: banjo, vocals – Darry Poulsen: guitar, vocals – Adrian Gross: mandolin, vocals. Supported by Charles James: bass. And all of the three main members write songs and sing lead.

This album was written during the pandemic and the lyrics reflect a lot of the insufficiency we all experienced. Two of the band members even lost family members during this time. Take a good listen to the opener 'I Don't Know' or the beautiful 'The River Roaming Song'. Both are powerful examples of turning a personal experience into a universal feeling we all can relate to. Transported by powerful and uplifting bluegrass music.

The band knows their way around bluegrass music history. They know it so well that it all seems so effortless. Their musical vocabulary is so big that all of them can easily form their musical sentences and take them in their very own direction. It's new bluegrass on the fertile ground of tradition. The last track 'Bring Me Down Low' might be the best example of what I mean. It has an almost pop-like melody surrounded by a great up-tempo bluegrass drive and is introduced with an awesome mandolin lick. With great singing, tight harmonies in the chorus and well-tempered breaks.

One of my absolute favorites though is 'You Said Goodbye' by guitar player Darryl Poulsen. This is bluegrass in overdrive … it's a really fun ride. Simple, straightforward, up-tempo, sad and funny all at the same time. One can easily imagine hearing this at any festival. I should also mention the instrumental tunes on this album. 'Snow Owl', is a mid-tempo mandolin tune with kind of a melancholic chord progression, and the banjo tune 'Platform Four' with an old-timey clawhammer vibe. Followed up by the 'Streetcar Lullaby' waltz, which is taking you down a whole different track. Last but not least their great take on Tom Petty's 'A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own' from the Full Moon Fever album. It almost seems to be the theme song for what the band had in mind when they were recording their very own yet universal version of a bluegrass record.

This album hits the mark, all at once making me think and laugh and tap my toes. This album buries my troubles.

Reviewed by
Severin Theinert for
Uncut Grass
July 2022

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

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