Cookin’ with New Releases; Here’s What’s on the Stove. (Read This Before You Order)

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Dixie Bee-Liners ~ Ripe
I’m sure at some point someone has recommended a restaurant to you, but you’ve never made time to go. Then you keep hearing about how good the food is from others. The Dixie Bee-Liners showcased at the recently completed Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis. I was there, and never saw them, despite encouragement from many. Now that I’ve sampled their debut CD, I really regret the missed opportunity. Led by singer and writer Brandi Hart and co-writer and multi-instrumentalist Buddy Woodward, the band presents original material almost exclusively. Each story is different from the next, the harmony blend is stunning, and the arrangements are well thought out. Bil Vorndick is the producer.

There is a civil war ballad with a twist, and a delightful mother daughter song “She’s my Angel” in which as Brandi writes: “I’m watching my mother watch me grow up.” Two members of Ricky Skaggs band join in, fiddler and mandolinist Andy Leftwich and bassist Mark Fain. David Talbot (The Grascals) plays banjo. There is some concern as to why they needed help as the band should be solid on its own, but on the other hand, CDs offer chances for repeated listening (hopefully), so each song should really shine. For the most part this whole album shines.

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The Punch Brothers ~ Punch
When Nickel Creek disbanded members became excited about individual projects. Sean Watkins went first with Blinders On, and now it’s founder Chris Thile’s turn. We were warned that parts of the album were avant-garde and they are, but most of this CD is very accessible despite the lengthy cuts. Thile’s 4-movement epic “The Blind Leaving the Blind” is based on his reaction to his 2004 divorce. You’ll hear the 2nd movement and the first 1/2 of the 4th movement on Folk Alley. Movement #2 is the longest individual song we have ever played at nearly 13 minutes, but it weaves and changes so frequently that it holds your interest. In fact, your ear begins to perk up anticipating the next surprise. As long as it is, when it’s over, you want more.

Part of the reason is this band – there are young stars at every position. Noam Pikelny on banjo (Leftover Salmon, John Cowan), Gabe Witcher on fiddle (Jerry Douglas) Greg Garrison on bass, and Chris Eldridge (Infamous Stringdusters) on guitar. Each player is at home improvising to Thile’s ideas; each can play fast, or slowly, and they know how to back up one another.

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LisaBeth Weber & Maggie Marshall ~ The Fire Tower Sessions
One of folk music’s most cherished gifts is its invitation to join in. Most singers in concert hope you’ll sing along at some point. Most fans also own an instrument and play it for diversion and release. And of course at a dance, square or contra, everybody dances. If you’ve done one or more of these things, good for you, because most of America just sits there and watches everybody else.

The next step can lead to problems. Not everybody needs to record an album. It’s easy to do these days – you can go digital in your basement and create your own artwork on your own Mac. You can even go a step further and hire a talented and experienced producer, such as Bil Vorndick who produced “The Firetower Sessions.” It starts, however, with material and ends with performance. I met LisaBeth and Maggie at the Folk Alliance Conference – they are wonderful people and this event was a positive experience for them. Unfortunately, and despite some excellent session players, there is nothing on this album that is strong enough to replace what is already airing on Folk Alley. I often tell those who offer submissions to name their most admired musician and their favorite song. I then remind them that whatever they are sending us has to be good enough to replace what they’ve just named. I couldn’t find anything here.

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Andy Irvine & Donal Lunny’s MOZAIK ~ Changing Trains
Andy Irvine is one of our most gifted writers of history. From Irish famine to Antarctic explorers to Raoul Wallenburg, Irvine doesn’t just tell stories, he knows how to take us inside the people and their struggles. Finally, he’s turned toward someone he knows best – himself. “O’Donoghue’s” is a narrative about the first Irish pub with music that Andy experienced in 1962. Through the fast moving song we share in his discovery and his continuous love for tunes and tales.

MOZAIK is a project shared with instrumental whiz Donal Lunny. What makes this band different is that Andy and Donal share Celtic music with the far corners of the earth. The influence and instruments spread from Romania to West Virginia. “Reuben’s Transatlantic Express” traces the old timey “Rueben’s Train” to Danville, Dublin, Budapest and Timisoara. As the tune begins, you might recognize it, but suddenly new doors open as unfamiliar instruments and an amusing arrangement presents itself.

This album is like going to 5 ethnic restaurants at once, but with these two chefs, and their parcel of players (Bruce Molsky, Nikola Parov, & Rens van der Zalm) mixing up the meals, nothing tastes out of place. How will we ever settle for less next time?

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