Cookin’ With New Releases (Better Read this before you order)

Frank Vignola ~ Kong Man
Never heard of Frank Vignola? Chances are you HAVE heard him even if you haven’t heard OF him. He has played with Wynton Marsalis, Mark O’Connor, Les Paul, Leon Redbone, David Grisman, and Ringo Starr. Frank’s specialty is “Gypsy Swing” and he pioneered the Django Rheinhart revival that has launched dozens of bands. Other releases by Vignola are more straight ahead jazz, but Kong Man really swings. His arrangements often feature trade-offs with young mandolin phenom Josh Pinkham. They offer several originals, a few classics and even attempt a few crossovers – Black Sabbath and Frank Zappa. At one point he even plays a fly swatter, but that’s only because he has tackled the guitar completely. Vignola (pronouned “vin-YO=lah”) can really play, and this album challenges the mind as it entertains the heart.

Gary Ferguson ~ Live at Podunk
Here’s an album where the sidemen overshadow the leader. With the exception of three well played, thoughtfully arranged instrumentals, every song here is the same pace, about the same thing, and is sung without much energy or style. I was searching for one to choose that would shine above the others, but in the end I only suggested a couple of the instrumentals for inclusion on the Folk Alley stream. The sidemen are multi-instrumentalist Ron Stewart on fiddle who has the ability to play smooth like Kenny Baker, or soulful like Stuart Duncan. Emory Lester plays mandolin, and Mike Auldridge is on dobro. The Auldridge back-up on the slower songs makes you think of the early Seldom Scene, a sound it appears Ferguson is going for. He lacks the material, however, and he really lacks John Starling’s stylistic delivery. This album appears to have a recipe and all the spices, but you’ve had this meal before – from better restaurants.

James Taylor ~ One Man Band
James Taylor loves the Berkshires as much as he loves a good song. That’s why he dedicated his energy toward keeping a local theatre alive. Once dark, the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Massachusetts is now open again and it’s a beautiful place to see and to listen to music. Most of this is just James recorded this past summer. The album is somewhat misnamed, as Larry Goldings plays piano on most selections and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus joins them for one classic: Shower The People. You’re sure to know many of the songs and a few may be new to you, but the entire recording is a pleasant return to the old days and Taylor is in good form. The live recording is impeccable. Ordering this album is like ordering a favorite meal at a favorite restaurant. You know what you’re getting, and you’re happy to indulge. Save the surprises for another day.

Rhonda Vincent ~ Good Thing Going
Rhonda Vincent has always followed in Alison Krauss’ footsteps even though it was Krauss who entered the music scene because she heard Vincent. Originally part of a family band called “The Sally Mountain Show,” Rhonda always stood out and she’s been standing up on her own for years now. Like her other albums, this is driving contemporary bluegrass with one exception: World’s Biggest Fool, a new song that sounds like an old swing number from the ’40s. Her musicians are verstatile and handle it with flair. Like many other singers in the genre, Rhonda has hired a couple studio stars to make sure the songs stand up over repeated plays. I’ll bet you can guess the names: Bryan Sutton and Ron Stewart. There are a couple songs where her own band is featured, notably banjoist Kenny Ingram who played with Lester Flatt and Jimmy Martin, I believe. Play this album loud, push the bass-boost button, and start dancing

Jim Blum

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