I first heard of Missy Werner when I signed up to present my radio show (Lonesome Highway: www.worldwidebluegrass.com) a few years back and have been a big fan of hers ever since. Turn This Heart Around is the third Missy album in my collection and it’s fully loaded and chock full of bluegrass beauties. Not the hard driving banjo driven barnstormers that the big boys get up to, but more your gentle easy listening kind that you reach for when you just want to listen and chill out.
The CD includes songs from some of the best writers out there starting with Ashby Frank and drifting through a few of my favourite writers like Paula Breedlove, Eric Gibson, Larry Cordle before finishing with Carter Stanley. There’s a very distinctive Randall Hylton song and producer Jon Weisberger gets a few mentions. In fact all the writers are top class and Missy manages to do them all more than justice.
Gretchen Peters’ Main Street is a perfect track to showcase Missy’s fine voice and Hylton’s Rough Edges is a great tribute to the late lamented songwriting superstar, Eric Gibsons Rocks In The River and Carter Stanley’s I Got Wise set the bluegrass bar as high as it needs to go.
Holding the familiar woodcut artwork of this album in my hands immediately let me know I was listening to the follow up to their excellent 2012 release Our Lady Of The Tall Trees and the also familiar clawhammer banjo opening on Fiddlehead Fern again welcomed me into one of the classier releases of the year to date. Fourteen tracks that weave a musical journey through old time, bluegrass, mountain, and pure country are a joy to listen to and to regularly reach for on my radio shows.
The first five tracks are clawhammer driven and set the pace until Natural Thing to Do at number six drags you straight in to the honky-tonk with as good a country song as I’ve ever heard. After that the styles twist and turn including Lorene by The Louvin Brothers, a gospel Green Pastures and Voices of the Evening by Alice Gerrard before finishing with a fine fiddle reprise of Fiddlehead Fern.
Most of the rest of the songs are written by Morrison. Eli West and Cahalen Morrison are very accomplished musicians and singers capable of commanding the respect of the likes of Dirk Powell, Bruce Molsky and Tim O’Brien who produced this fine album, so who am I to argue. And I’ll keep this one close to the front of my record drawer for easy access.
The strangely named Betty and The Boy are a quirky Eugene, Oregon based five piece that put me to the pin of my collar trying to define them. In the end, after a few listens to the album, I saw them as a mountainy band that got lost in the corridors of a long-closed theatre and reopened with a sort of Bertolt Brecht/Marat Sade feel to all the tunes; strange but gripping. All songs are written by original band members Bettreena Jaeger and Josh Harvey, with the other three in the gang providing the arrangements.
The songs and melodies are deep and sometimes dark but always telling stories while the instrumentation is strongly classical strings with just enough of an old timey edge to keep you hooked. The songs are a little samey in their delivery but somehow The Waltz and September Eight reached out to me and dragged me back for the necessary few listens that this album needs to really understand it.
Their imagery and style will appeal to the edgier side of the new acoustic fans and could well see them sitting in the same seats as The Handsome Family or the Be Good Tanyas. I’ve grown to like it and I think it’s worth the effort of a few listens to make an informed decision.
Simple statement: I really like this album. It caught me totally by surprise. There are 13 tracks, each of which draws you back to listen again to their simplicity and melody. Each little gem seems to be hand picked and polished to perfection. The instrumentation supports and lifts the songs from their already high vocal standard to a place that just snuggles in your ear and dishes out crystal clear lyrics in a style seldom heard these days.
Eight of the thirteen songs are written by Kristen Grainger, who delivers most of the vocals, and the rest of the singing duties are shared equally by her partner Dan Wetzel and the other couple making up the Salem, Oregon based quartet, Dale and Suzanne Pearse Adkins.
All of the songs have a rhyming simplicity that would have done Harlan Howard proud and their strong storytelling nails your foot to the floor till each one lets you loose. They are true to bluegrass when needed but drift into old timey or swing or even a tinge of Celticy folk. It’s hard to pick out a winner from all of Kristen’s songs but The Poet and the Carpenter and Shiny Black Shoes for me really show her ability to blend words and suitable melody to suit the mood and style. But the the life-story in Be Here Now is a real lump in the throat masterpiece. The addition of Ruth Moody’s One Voice and Rattlin’ Bones from Shane Nicholson and Kasey Chambers shows just how easily Kristen’s songwriting sits with the best of the best.
The boys provide stunning flat-picked guitar and a host of appropriate mountainy stringed instruments that are slipped in almost unnoticed, yet tick the box every time. This is a band that I would pay to sit front row and still holler for more at the end. ‘Nuff Said.