Monday
Nov172014

Reviews by Ronnie Norton

 

Monday
Nov172014

Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick 'Sing The Songs Of Vern And Ray' - Self Release

I’m a long time fan of both of these bluegrass super-heroines and I’d been waiting for this album since I first heard it was in the melting pot. California based, both Laurie and Kathy have been friends, collaborators and band members for more than a few years. Originally members of the iconic Californian band The Good Old Persons, they both went on tohave separate and hugely respected solo careers. But they never forgot the main influence of their early years was the bluegrass and old timey sound of Vern Williams and Ray Park. This amazing collection is their way of somehow paying back and recognising the kick-start Vern and Ray’s music gave them.

Vern and Ray, although only together through the sixties and early seventies, were an everlasting influence on the west coast bluegrass scene and it’s early musicians, including Tony Rice, Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen (who played banjo with them before taking Doug Dillard’s vacant slot in my all time favourite band). Like a few others, their effect on the growing bluegrass scene was way in excess of their short time together.

Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick and their Bluegrass Pals take us through an 18 song primer of Californian-associated bluegrass standards that is a joy to listen to and a full on foot tapper to boot. I won’t single out any particular track, as that would be sure to lessen the importance of all the others. This is a complete pack of some of our all time favourite bluegrass tunes that owe their popularity to the short careers of Vern and Ray and are lovingly reprised here by two of bluegrass’s most respected daughters.

The only problem with this little collection is that you’ll have to hit the record store again for more of Kathy and Laurie’s essential bluegrass listening. Laurie Lewis singing Who Will Watch the Home Place? is still my favourite and most played radio tune. ‘Nuff said.

One of the best tribute albums I have heard in many a day.

Monday
Nov172014

The Red Pine Timber 'Company Different Lonesome' - Self Release 

In my line of listening, I’m used to being gently lulled into a relationship with my review albums, but the opening Lonely Days Are Gone from the Red Pine Timber Company just blew me back into my seat with its full on Beach Boys/Searchers feel. I couldn’t begin to try to pigeonhole this band; let’s just say that after the initial shock I started to look for influences and found all my musical favourites contributing in this pretty impressive project.

With eight members they have enough talent to form several smaller bands, but they manage to combine their skills to give a West Coast Americana sound the freedom to breathe without any obvious interference from the laid back horn section. Gavin Munro and Katie Burgoyne swap and combine vocals on this collection of Gavin’s own tunes, the shortest of which is 3 minutes long. Big guitar sounds and shrill harmonica harken back to an era when rootsy Americana was in its infancy and borrowing from the prevailing LA and Mersey sounds. 

This Scottish-based band have been on the road for about four years and look destined to be around a while yet. They are certainly not an intimate club listen, but as each track is like a mini movie soundtrack, they would need the right hall to give full room to take in the lush combination of all the various instruments. This was a refreshing diversion from my usual acoustic diet and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The final track Oh Sinner Man,  the only cover version on the album, flipped me back to my folk club roots and eased me back to my more familiar surroundings. There is plenty of info on their website at www.redtpinetimberco.com if, like me, they snuck up unannounced.

Monday
Nov172014

Billy Strings and Don Julin 'Fiddle Tune X' - Self Release

I hadn’t heard of this guitar and mandolin duo, but this is 17 virtuoso tracks jammed into an above average and well designed album. The title track is their own, but they tip the hat to the Carters and Stanleys with Tillis, Travis, Monroe and Rogers  added to a list of traditional favourites.

Billy Strings plays guitar, banjo and sings, with Don Julin on mandolin, banjo and vocals. They put this little beauty together in 2013 and 2014 in pubs, clubs, churches and farmhouses. It was all recorded on one mic, straight to tape, in front of live audiences, which gives it that vibe that, should you feel it’s too cold to go to the local gig, then slip this in the player, sit back and enjoy the real deal.

The young shaver Strings on guitar and older statesman Julin on mandolin are a strange visual combination, but do they ever know how to push a tune to the edges. Michigan based, but sounding as though they grew up dangling their toes in an Appalachian mountain stream, this duo play with a verve and passion that has their audiences hooting with pleasure throughout the recording.

There are way too many tracks to start appraising them all,  but suffice to say the first few bars of the opener Beaumont Rag left me in no doubt that they will feature regularly on my Lonesome Highway radio shows. I’ll be looking forward to more from these boys.

Monday
Nov172014

Kathy Barwick 'Braeburn' - FGM Records

This is12 tracks of pure guitar magic. Kathy Barwick is one of the flatpicking world’s best kept secrets, but her regular visits to this side of the pond are sorting that one out. I first met her at a guitar masterclass in Perfect Pitch in Dublin when she did the impossible and taught my addled brain the secrets of cross-picking. Equally at home on guitar, dobro or banjo, Barwick gives all of them fair exposure on this must-listen-to album.

Each track features at least one of her multi-talented friends, so they are all little stand alone classics in their own right. Two of her own compositions The Cantara Loop and the title track Braeburn sit very comfortably with traditional, folk and bluegrass favourites. There is plenty here to suit pickers and non-pickers alike, with a couple of fine vocal tracks thrown in for good measure.

Kathy is a fine guitar player and the first few notes of the opening track Caribou leave you in no doubt that this album is a keeper, understated and easy on the ear andoozing with sweet melody. The waltzes and the twin Sally Gardens / Willow Gardens are two wonderful resonator tracks while the Sweet Sunny South, The Cantara Loop (with excellent mandolin assistance from John Reischman) and Braeburn showcase Kathy’s versatile banjo styles.

Fans of Kathy’s band Nine 8ths Irish won’t be disappointed either, with plenty of Celtic covers here to delight. Finally Angelina Baker adds yet another version of this Bluegrass classic. I’ll add this album to my Kathy Barwick archive, knowing that it will enhance my appreciation of her first solo CD, the Nine 8ths Irish CDs and my particular treasure, the long out of print All Girl Boys bluegrass album.

I highly recommend this album and also suggest you see her live in concert as she is an ever so humble, yet ever so talented musician’s musician.