My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Pete Goble

Album Review: Dailey & Vincent – ‘Brothers Of the Highway’

brothers of the highwayAfter a detour with their Statler Brothers tribute and two gospel releases, the duo who burst onto the bluegrass scene in 2008-2009 are back on Rounder with an exceptional album mixing old and new material. The duo is in fine form vocally, with Jamie Dailey generally taking the lead and Darrin Vincent providing a close harmony, but they vary the arrangements as best suits each song. The band is augmented by the brilliant fiddler Andy Leftwich and acoustic guitarist Bryan Sutton, among others.

The sometimes frenetic pace and constantly changing rhythms of the opening ‘Steel Drivin’ Man’ make for an arresting start, and the music never let’s go. It is one of two Jamie Dailey compositions, and may be the first country or bluegrass song to be inspired by reading a Wikipedia article. The subject may have been garnered at second-hand, but the story sounds as authentic as if it were a traditional number, while the lengthy instrumental passages allow the band to show off their musical chops. Dailey’s other song here, ‘Back To Jackson County’, is pleasantly nostalgic about a childhood in the country. The similarly titled ‘Back To Hancock County’, written by Pete Goble and Leroy Drumm, has a little more substance with its wistful consciousness of change. It is one of a few songs where Darrin shares the lead vocals with Jamie evenly, as they do on the playful Porter Wagoner top 20 country hit ‘Howdy Neighbor Howdy’, another opportunity for an instrumental showcase.

Dailey & Vincent are challenged only by the Gibson Brothers among current proponents of close bluegrass harmony, and their version of the Louvin Brothers’ ‘When I Stop Dreaming’ is simply perfect. Darrin takes the lead vocal, and does an excellent job, with Jamie’s harmony vocal twining around it on the chorus to create a magical sound. Darrin also sings lead, and band members Jeff Parker and Christian Davis add a full spectrum of voices to the harmony on the well-played and sung but otherwise unremarkable ‘Big River’.

Bill Monroe’s bluegrass classic ‘Close By’ gets Jamie’s highest high lonesome vocal with no harmony and more superb playing. ‘Tomorrow I’ll Be Gone’ is a Wilma Lee Cooper song which has been recorded by a number of bluegrass artists including Monroe; Dailey & Vincent’s version is as excellent as one would expect.

A gentle laid back take on ‘Brothers Of The Highway’, the ode to truckers recorded by George Strait on his Troubadour set, is an unexpected inclusion, but a very welcome one. Jimmy Fortune of the Statler Brothers adds a third harmony voice. Gospel tune ‘It Will Be Wonderful Over There’ gets a Statlers-style gospel quartet arrangement.

Vince Gill’s ‘Hills Of Caroline’ gets a stripped down arrangement and spare lead vocal very reminiscent of Gill’s version, with a delicate harmony – simple and beautiful, and another outstanding moment. Kathy Mattea’s 80s chart-topper ‘Where’ve You Been’, with its sensitive portrayal of a couple divided by Alzheimers but united in love, has a full-scale string section backing Jamie’s vocal, making it the one song not to adhere to traditional bluegrass stylings. It works quite well, but is slightly out-of-place.

This is the best bluegrass album I’ve heard in a couple of years – and my favorite record so far this year.

Grade: A+

Get it at amazon.

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Timeless And True Love’

Rhonda’s fourth and last album for Rebel (another 1991 release) heralded the move she was about to make into straight country music. Produced by Rhonda with brother and band member Darrin and Ronny Light, it was her best effort to date with a nice collection of material, although many of the songs were covers, some of them surprisingly recent country songs given a tasteful bluegrass or semi-bluegrass treatment. A ballad-dominated set, whose songs were picked out with the assistance of the great songwriter Jim Rushing (although he did not write any of them himself), this is basically a bluegrass influenced country album rather than a pure bluegrass one, with piano, drums, steel and electric guitar added to the basic bluegrass band, although the instrumentation is mainly acoustic and bluegrass-sounding with Rhonda’s mandolin much in evidence. Guests include banjo stars Allison Brown and Bela Fleck.

The beautiful title track was previously recorded by The McCarters, a sister trio who had a top 5 country hit with it in 1987. A sunny version of ‘Birmingham Turnaround’, a song written by Sanger D Shafer and Warren Robb which had been cut on Keith Whitley’s 1988 classic Don’t Close Your Eyes, opens the set in straight bluegrass style. Neither of these quite matches the originals, but they are agreeable listening nonetheless.

The best of the covers is a charming version of another Sanger D Shafer co-write, ‘I Do My Cryin’ At Night’, an old Lefty Frizzell song, which works well for Rhonda. Another favorite track is ‘I’m Not That Lonely Yet’, a lovely traditional country song written by Bill and Sharon Rice about the hard process of getting over an ex, and resisting the temptation of getting back together with him. It was a #3 hit single for Reba McEntire in 1982.

‘Midnight Angel’ is not the country song recorded by both Barbara Mandrell and Highway 101, but an excellent plaintive number written by two of the finest bluegrass songwriters, Pete Goble and Bobby Osborne, but given a classic country arrangement. Steel guitar dominates as Rhonda addresses the title character, her errant spouse who spends the nights preying on other women while she waits unloved at home.

‘Let’s Put Love Back To Work’, written by Larry Cordle and Mark Collie, is an attractive love duet sung with bluegrass singer David Parmley (credited only as a harmony vocalist), The lovely sounding ‘Artificial Tears’ features prominent harmonies from Alison Krauss. Despite the sweetness of the music, Rhonda gives an ultimatum to a partner unwilling to show his true feelings and pretending to be upset about her leaving.

‘Lucinda’ is a story song painting a picture of a kindly truck stop waitress who, having her own lover taken from her, lives vicariously through the truckers’ tales. Another story song, ‘Bobby And Sarah’ relates a love story from teenage romance to marriage and babies.

‘Homecoming’ is a pretty Carl Jackson gospel song about the promise of heaven. ‘Moving On’ is an early Irene Kelley song, written with Nancy Montgomery, pleasant but not that memorable.

Rhonda plays both mandolin and fiddle on the record, and showcases her skills on a self-composed instrumental, ‘Cherry Jubilee’.

This is a fine record which reveals Rhonda at a time when she was planning to spread her wings beyond bluegrass. The vocals are not quite as golden as on her later records, but the overall package is very good indeed.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Destination Life’

dest_life

Rhonda Vincent’s latest album underlines her status as one of the best of today’s female bluegrass singers. It is part of what has proved to be a very consistent body of work over the course of her career. The main innovation this time is that Rhonda’s road band, the Rage, takes center stage with her for the first time, providing every aspect of the music we hear. It almost goes without saying that the musicianship is impeccable. The band’s fiddle player Hunter Berry takes on co-production duties with Rhonda, a task borne for the last couple of albums by Rhonda’s brother Darrin, who is now concentrating on his own career with duo Dailey & Vincent.

One of my favorite tracks is ‘It’s Crazy What A Lonely Heart Will Do’, a lovely duet with the Rage’s guitar player Ben Helson.  The traditionally-styled country ballad, written by former Highway 101 lead singer Paulette Carlson with Nashvile writer Jimbeau Hinson, is perfectly suited to Rhonda’s bell-like voice as the lovelorn protagonists attempt to ease their loneliness in another’s arms. Helson’s pleasant and listenable voice is not quite in the same league as Rhonda’s, but he complements her well. I also really like Pete Goble’s ‘I Can Make Him Whisper I Love You’, another take on love lost as she wistfully fantasizes about a long-gone ex still thinking of her as she still does of him, but is forced to admit it is only in her imagination.

My outright favorite, though, is a delightful and committed bluegrass cover of the much-recorded country classic ‘Stop the World (And Let Me Off)’, which I like more every time I hear it. Rhonda’s voice also sounds particularly beautiful on 70s country-rockers Poco’s ‘Crazy Love’, perhaps a more unexpected choice of song, but one which she manages to make fit in well with her sound.

The title track, penned by New Zealand’s Donna Dean, offers a word-picture of a woman in the process of driving away from a neglectful and unloving husband one moonlit night. “He cannot criticize her if she ain’t around”, she notes bitterly, reflecting that they would have stayed together “if only he’d respected, loved and cared for her”. Although the overt message of the song is that there’s no going back and her future is a new life, in fact the lyric focuses more on what has passed than what may lie in store for the protagonist.

Rhonda co-wrote three of the songs, the best of which is the gospel ‘I Heard My Savior Calling Me’, a genuinely compelling first-person account of conversion at a country church revival. This track also features some of Rhonda’s finest singing, and traditional gospel bluegrass harmonies from the band. ‘What A Woman Wants To Hear’ is a pleasant but slightly old-fashioned sounding love song paying tribute to the kind of man who says and does all the right things. ‘Last Time Loving You’, the opening track, sounds beautiful musically, but is rather forgettable lyrically.

The fast-paced ‘Heartwrenching Lovesick Memories’, in contrast, has an interesting lyric but is taken at too brisk a pace for the lyric to make an emotional impact on the listener; I simply can’t detect any heartwrenching (or even mild regret) in the vocal delivery. It gives the impression of having been picked in order to allow the band the opportunity to stretch out and show off their impressive licks, and this may be the downside of not using an external producer. A better balance is achieved with the love-on-the-road ‘Anywhere Is Home As Long As You’re With Me’, which has some dazzling instrumental passages, but the best showcase of the band’s musicianship comes with a version of Chubby Wise’s brilliantly entertaining composition ‘Eighth Of January’.

The album ends with a slow, serious and really rather beautiful acappella performance of the hymn ‘When I Travel My Last Mile (He Will Hold My Hand)’, starting with Rhonda solo, gradually joined by the boys from the band.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Tommy Webb – ‘Heartland’

tommy-webb-heartlandTommy Webb is a bluegrass singer who has just released his third album, and his first on the larger independent label Rural Rhythm, which should lead to a higher profile for him.

I think it shows a definite advance over both his 2007 debut album, Eastern Kentucky, and last year’s follow-up, Now That You Are Gone, both of which were released on the smaller Kindred Records. Like those predecessors, the new album features playing entirely by Tommy’s regular band, augmented by producer Ron Stewart on fiddle/mandolin/anything else required. The recording sessions took place at the delightfully named Sleepy Valley Barn studio in Tommy’s home state of Kentucky, and the whole project has a very authentic, organic feel. Tommy hails from Langley, Kentucky, and is clearly steeped in bluegrass traditions. I wouldn’t put him in the top rank of male bluegrass vocalists, but he is firmly in the high lonesome tradition and sings with real feeling for the lyrics. The material he has gathered for this album is very high quality, with a strong overlap with country music, although the treatment is firmly bluegrass.

Two of the tracks are re-recorded versions of songs which appeared on Tommy’s previous releases, which the label probably felt deserved wider attention. The more interesting of these songs is ‘If It Weren’t For Bluegrass Music (I’d Go Crazy)’, a re-write of Clinton Gregory’s minor country hit from 1991, ‘If It Weren’t For Country Music (I’d Go Crazy)’. Tommy gives himself a co-writing credit for altering the allusions from country artists to bluegrass ones, for instance declaring, ‘I’d vote for Ralph Stanley for president’ where the original picks Merle Haggard. The changes work pretty well, although the hook line sounds a little awkward – surely most people normally refer just to “bluegrass” rather than to “bluegrass music” as a rule?

Read more of this post