My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Sammy Shelor

Album Review: Lonesome River Band – ‘Mayhayley’s House’

The Lonesome River Band are a veteran band on paper, but have seen many changes of personnel over the years. As one expects from this band, the instrumental playing is brilliant but tasteful, with banjo star Sammy Shelor anchoring the sound. Both the current lead singers are outstanding too – the smoky characterful baritone of Brandon Rickman (one of my favorite singers across country and bluegrass) almost matched by the strong, if less distincive, tenor of Jesse Smathers.

A number of well known country songs get a bluegrass treatment . Crystal Gayle’s early hit ‘Wrong Road Again’ is delightful. The Don Williams hit ‘Old Coyote Town’ is given an absolutely beautiful reading by Brandon Rickman. Western Swing classic ‘Ida Red’ becomes a pacy bluegrass romp. A less well known cover, ‘Hickory Hollow Times & County News’ was on Charley Pride’s 2011 album Choices. Rickman’s warm vocals suit the song’s sweet nostalgia.

‘As The Crow Flies’, a plaintive Billy Yates/Melba Montgomery love song which Yates has recorded, has another lovely vocal from Rickman. The lyric refers to both the title bird and to blackbirds, both of which make a more ominous appearance in ‘Blackbirds And Crows’, an excellent murder ballad about a possesive husband and restless wife he just can’t bear to let go:

Blackbird sat on a fence line
Crow flew through the sky
I whispered low into Eva’s ear
Eva you’re gonna die

She’s a half a mile out, a quarter across
Beneath those wheatfield rows
And no one knows who put her there
But the blackbirds and the crows

Folks come by and we sit around
And I tell them how she’s gone
I tell them how she packed her bags
And wrecked our happy home
Lord I tell them she’s down in Atlanta
Doin’ cocaine and God only knows
But Eva’s not gone
She’s here with me
Right here where she’ll always be
With the blackbirds and the crows

It was written by Don Humphries.

The atmospheric title track, an Adam Wright song based on a true story, is about a rural Georgia psychic from the mid 20th century, to whom the album as a whole is dedicated.

‘Diggin’’ is a pretty good mid-tempo song about struggling to make ends meet that manages to sound bright despite the despairing lyric. The similarly upbeat ‘As Lonesome As I Am’, written by Matt Lindsey and Shawn Camp, is a more overtly optimistic song about expecting things can only get better. ‘I Think I’m Gonna Be Alright’ sees the protagonist coping well enough with a breakup.

Some fantastic fiddle (from Mike Hartgrove) leads the fast paced ‘Lonesome Bone’. ‘It Feels Real Good Goin’ Down’, written by Gary Nicholson and Shawn Camp, is a vibrant drinking-away-the-pain song. Thw album closes with a frenetic arrangement of the bluegrass standard ‘Fly Around y Pretty Little Miss’.

This is an excellent album which should appeal to country fans with an interest in bluegrass.

Grade: A+

Album Review: The Lonesome River Band – ‘Bridging The Tradition’

bridging the traditionThe Lonesome River Band is one of my favorite bluegrass groups, and the replacement of their last tenor co-lead singer by newcomer Jesse Smathers has not affected the recipe at all. Award winning banjoist Sammy Shelor dominates the arrangements, and also helps out on three-part harmonies, while the lead vocals are divided between Smathers and the excellent Brandon Rickman. This is bluegrass with the addition of drums as well as Shelor’s punchy banjo– anathema in purist bluegrass circles – and is a very listenable meld of bluegrass and acoustic country. Excellent vocals, impeccable playing, and stellar song selection combine to make this a very worthy release.

I loved the life-affirming Kim Williams/Doug Johnson tune ‘Rocking Of The Cradle’ when I first heard it a few years ago, and Rickman’s warm vocal is perfect to bring it alive. He is also warmly believable on ‘Showing My Age’, a lovely song which he wrote with songwriter Jerry Salley about calmly accepting growing older and comfortable in one’s own skin (although the younger Rickman takes the age down by a decade compared to Salley’s own version).

Rickman also wrote ‘Mirrors Never Lie’ with Larry Cordle, a soulful challenge to the protagonist from his own conscience, to face up to his heartbreak rather than hiding from it in a bottle of liquor. He wrote ‘Waiting On My Heart To Break’ with Curtis Wright; this is a mid-tempo country song about a husband’s doubts of his wife’s fidelity.

New boy Smathers opens boldly with the fast-paced ‘Anything To Make Her Mine’ where his vocals soar high. ‘Runnin’ From the Blues’ is a nice song written by Nashville songwriter Brent Maher with bluegrass’s Jamie Johnson. Smathers takes a darker turn on Waylon Jennings’ murder ballad ‘Rose In Paradise’, which is made for a bluegrass makeover.

Rickman’s voice melds with Smathers in a haunting harmony on the traditional ‘Boats On The River’, interspersed with Smather’s soulful lead vocal on the verses. They also harmonise together brilliantly on the Stanley Brothers’ fast-paced ‘Rock Bottom’ and the equally up-tempo ‘Old Swinging Bridge’, another old-time tune from the Virginia Mountain Boys.

Adam Wright contributed a couple of songs. The pacy ‘Thunder And Lightning’ is a gleeful story song about a moonshiner on the run:

I can outrun any old G-man
Might as well be pushing a plow

‘Real People’ ends the album on a good humoured but wryly comic note about struggling with finance and family.

In ‘Showing My Age’ the protagonist talks about missing country music. If you like bluegrass with an acoustic country feel (or country with a strong banjo lead), this is highly recommended.

Grade: A

Album Review: Ashley Lewis – ‘Captivated’

captivatedMost of the best female artists seem to come out of bluegrass these days. Singer, songwriter and mandolin player Ashley Lewis is the latest to catch my attention. Although this is her third album, it seems to be her breakthrough moment, setting a record for the number of tracks picked up simultaneously by bluegrass radio. Small wonder, as she has a lovely voice reminiscent of the young Alison Krauss, and is a talented writer who has composed almost all the songs here. The album is produced by fiddle player Jimmy Mattingly, and Jon Randall provides harmony vocals.

Opener ‘Nothing But Ashes’ is a fine song about facing the reality of a fading love affair.

‘Ghost’ is an excellent song with a beautiful melody (co-written with Jon Weisberger) about the pain of an abandoned wife’s memories of love now lost. Ashley has a vulnerable vocal which makes the song entirely believable, as she bemoans her ex’s choice:

Please don’t tell me it was worth the cost

Ashley’s angelic vocal soars on the dramatic Civil War story song ‘Blockade Runner’, backed by Mattingly’s atmospheric fiddle and Sammy Shelor’s banjo. ‘Winter In Wyoming’ is outstanding, a beautifully sung lonesome ballad about separation from a loved one who has followed his dream to Nashville. This is my favourite track.

The charming ‘You Put The Fire in Me’ has a Western Swing feel and features a cameo from Vince Gill on guitar (though sadly not vocals). ‘Blue Ridge Rain’ is delicately pretty, and the sultry ‘Fan The Flame’ and ‘Rivers Rising’ are also good. ‘Convicted’ is quite good but didn’t hold my attention as much as other tracks.

‘Another Place, Another Time’ is a wistful duet with Josh Williams which is excellent. This gentle ballad is actually included in two versions, bluegrass and country, the latter having a very slighter fuller but still tastefully understated production.

She veers into jazz in her instrumentals, which include a Django Reinhardt cover. ‘Mermaid’ also has a jazzy feel which is less to my taste than the rest of the album, although it is impeccably performed. An unexpected cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is dreamily sung.

Overall, this is a fine addition to the ranks of female bluegrass stars, and well worth checking out.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Lonesome River Band – ‘Still Learning’

The Lonesome River Band is one of those bluegrass bands which has been going for a long time with a changing cast of members. Their new Rural Rhythm release features some excellent playing (something which almost goes without saying) and a varied selection of songs. Lead vocals are split between high tenor and mandolin player Andy Ball and the distinctive and emotionally expressive voice of guitarist Brandon Rickman. Both are accomplished singers, but my personal preference is for Brandon’s voice with its interesting textures and his sensitive phrasing. Banjoist and band leader Sammy Shelor and bass player Mike Anglin lend harmony vocals, and the non-singing Mike Hartgrove plays fiddle. The instrumental work is impeccable throughout, and showed off to best effect on the sparkling ‘Pretty Little Girl’, a traditional instrumental arranged by Sammy Shelor, which closes the set.

Brandon takes the lead on the excellent opening track ‘Record Time Machine’, one of two songs written by Marvin E Clark. The song recalls being inspired by a Chet Atkins record to a life of music,

That old RCA phonograph record time machine
It took me to the places that were only in my dreams…
I could somehow see the future as I listened to the past

Clark also wrote the wistful ‘Telling Me You Love Me Again’, in which the protagonist spends his time fantasizing about his ex’s return,

Somewhere over every rainbow
Just around every bend
You’re standing there with open arms
Telling me you love me again

There is an excellent cover (with the protagonist age adjusted) of Merle Haggard’s ‘Red Bandana’, a country hit in 1979 about a teenage sweetheart manfully trying to support her musician husband,

You look like you ought to be somebody’s wife somewhere
You ain’t never going to be no Bobbie McGee but you’re trying to…

Every time you leave the stage I know you’ve had your fill
And I wonder why you grew up and I never will

The slight but enjoyable up-tempo ‘Any Old Time’ (written by one-time Lyric Street artist Kevin Denney with Tom Botkin and Mike Rogers) has the strongest harmonies, and Brandon singing in the higher part of his range as he offers to wait for the girl he loves,

Any old time you get lonely

Brandon himself teamed up with Denney and Carson Chamberlain to write ‘As Wild As I Get’, a mature expression of growing up and settling down, a theme which was at the heart of his solo album (which I recommended last year). It’s often hard to make domestic happiness interesting in a song, but this seems to be a gift of Brandon’s, both as a singer and a writer, and this song has a real charm and is beautifully phrased. He also wrote the equally pleasing and sincerely delivered mid-tempo title track, about maturity, settling down and working at being the man his loved one deserves, with the humility to admit he still has something to learn.

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