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

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

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