Sunday
Dec212014

Reviews by Ronnie Norton

Sunday
Dec212014

The Claire Lynch Band ‘Holiday’ - Thrill Hill Records

My first encounter with Claire Lynch was an interview I did with her for Lonesome Highway following my mind-blowing listen to If Wishes Were Horses, the opening track on her 1997 album Silver and Gold. We have kept in touch over the years and there is seldom a programme on my radio show that doesn’t include a track from one her albums to date. But for all the albums that I have this “Holiday” one really is the icing on the Christmas cake.

Ten tracks with a voice as pure as the driven snow all leading straight to “Goose Bump City”. All the Claire Lynch Band are the featured musicians with some additional help from old pal Jim Hurst, Engineer Todd Phillips and daughter Christy Lynch. 8 old familiars and 2 originals make this a tight collection of holiday music that just might not get put away when all the glitter comes down after Jan 6. 

The Claire Lynch Band are a total package and all members deserve equal billing when the praise is being dished out. I think that's what makes this CD so special to me. The titles are all familiar but the CLB treatment lifts then all to a level that keeps the repeat button permanently pressed down. While it’s hard to pick out any particular track maybe White Christmas  and the instrumental  We Three Kings  manage to just nose a bit ahead of the bunch.

To my mind Claire Lynch has the finest voice in music today, not just in bluegrass but right across the whole musical spectrum. This album is only available from the band at live performances or from her website and make sure you get yours because as the slogan goes "The Claire Lynch Band Holiday album is not just for Christmas, it’s for life”

Sunday
Dec212014

Rick Lang  ‘That’s What I love About Christmas’ - RLM Records

Rick Lang was a class mate of mine when I did the Leadership Bluegrass programme a few years back and I knew then he was a fine songwriter. But this little collection of self-penned seasonal gems took me just a little by surprise. Each track is a stand alone trip through Rick’s thoughts and very personal feelings on the Christmas season and just about every musical genre is featured at some time over the ten tracks. After the first few opening chords I half expected Harry Connick Jr or Michael Buble to jump in but what I got was a stellar set of performances from singers and musicians some of whose names I had never heard before.

But my bluegrass ear was quick to recognise Ron Block, Darin and Brook Aldridge and the amazing Sierra Hull. This is not your usual Christmas album with the artists giving us their renditions of all our old favourites but a total newbie with well written words and melodies that could well feature on some of our Christmas listening over the years to come. It’s a credit to Rick and all the gang involved that this one got uploaded to my trusty iPod and has been on constant rotation with the other albums on this set of reviews.

Sunday
Dec212014

Darius Rucker ‘Home For The Holidays’ - Hump Head Records.

Darius Rucker first entered my musical world when he played Ireland as support to Brad Paisley a few years back and some where in my photo archives is a shot of them with Darius using a bottle of Guinness to help Brad play some pretty mean slide blues. So when I put this album in the player I wasn’t quite expecting what I got to listen to. 

This is a holiday album that will be around for years. His voice keeps reminding me of both Dean Martin and Nat King Cole and that is some compliment coming from me. But he still has his own unique approach to these songs that lifts them above a simple homage the the “old masters”.

Twelve tracks include many of the old regulars but different enough to deserve lots of listens. Then there are two that Darius was involved in writing that to me have the makings of new standards. What God Wants For Christmas and Candy Cane Christmas are two great new tracks that I’ll be surprised if they don’t get covered in years to come. You’re A Mean One Mr Grinch and Baby It’s Cold Outside with Sheryl Crow are two other tracks that deserve an honourable mention.

This album probably leans a little more to Memphis then Nashville and that suits me fine. It’s a late night, lie on the floor with your head between your speakers and drift away sort of album. Just the sort that I really enjoy.

Sunday
Dec212014

Pinecastle Artists ‘Christmas In The Smokies’ - Pinecastle Records

Where would we “grassers” be if it wasn’t for Pinecastle Records. They have been my go-to guys for my bluegrass education since I first got bitten by the bug many years ago. This Christmas collection gathers a lorry load for all their finest artists for a bluegrass bonanza of Christmas cheer. 15 great tracks to keep every bluegrass DJ and die hard fan fully enthralled over the holiday season. 

Unfortunately I’m reviewing from a downloaded mp3 album so I don’t have a clue who sings or plays on each of these fine tracks. I do recognise most of the performers but I’m not going to risk my radio reputation by trying to name names. But all the great Pinecastle superheroes are there somewhere in the mix.

You’ve heard all these songs before but to hear them “grassed up” is a special treat for me and a great addition to my seasonal playlist on my radio shows. Plenty of banjo, mandolin, high lonesome tenors, and watertight harmonies to keep the old fans happy and a great way of introducing some new pals to fastest growing musical genre on the planet.

I can’t finish without mentioning the amazing Phil Leadbetter who features here with his friends and who looks like he has kicked his second bout of “The Big C” out of the field and should be out there touting his own album The Next Move when he tours with new Pinecastle recruit Dale Ann Bradley in the new year, so “slainte” and good luck to you Phil in 2015.