Don’t Turn Your Back, the latest release from Dale Ann Bradley, has already become one of my favorite releases of 2009. It is full of terrific songs, played by a solid group of backing musicians, transparently recorded at Compass Studios… oh, and featuring one of the most passionate and engaging bluegrass vocal performances I’ve heard in quite some time.
Dale Ann has reigned for some time as the one female vocalist that her peers most consistently rank at the top of their lists, something that has finally been recognized in the IBMA Awards this past two years. Chart-toppers like Rhonda Vincent and Alison Krauss have heaped praise on Bradley and claimed her as a major influence, even indicating that Dale Ann’s early work with The New Coon Creek Girls helped inspire them to contemplate a place for themselves in this music.
On this new release, she follows a familiar format, combining new songs with bluegrass classics, with a couple of grassified pop/country covers for good measure. But there is nothing formulaic about the music, the arrangements or the execution. Four of the 12 songs were written by Louisa Branscomb, two with Dale Ann as co-writer. A Carter Family favorite is included (Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room) as is a remake of Patty Loveless’ 2000 hit song, The Last Thing On My Mind.
The one that grabbed me most powerfully the first time through the CD is Dale Ann’s take on I Won’t Back Down, the Tom Petty anthem from 1989. She tells us that the song hit her the same way.
I Won’t Back Down - Listen now:
“The lyrics to I Won’t Back Down are very rootsy and to the point… just plain English, so much like all the songs of first generation bluegrass. I particularly relate to the line ‘you can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down.’
The pop/rock songs that I have recorded are songs that I always heard instantly being done in the bluegrass style from the first note. I am a firm believer that bluegrass can lend itself to any lyric or melody…that’s how much I respect the music and it incredible musicians.”
Another standout is Heaven, one that comes from a completely different tradition. It’s a bluegrass Gospel classic, and the sort of song a singer approaches gingerly. Brilliant versions have previously been recorded by Flatt & Scruggs on their Songs Of Glory album in 1960, and then again in 1972 by Seldom Scene on their Act III LP.
True to form, Dale Ann takes the song in a new direction. Both prior versions were done with a vocal quartet, but here she performs it as a duet with Jamie Dailey, with Darrin Vincent adding a third part. It is simply brilliant, as you might expect.
Heaven - Listen now:
“It was a very sweet, spiritual experience to be in the studio with those guys. They came in there with those voices and hearts and really wanted to make something special happen and they sure did just that. We all cried. I love’m.”
Anyone who’s ever given thought to making the move to Nashville to seek fame and fortune – or maybe even given it a try – will find much to ponder in Music City Queen, one of the pair of Bradley/Branscomb compositions on Don’t Turn Your Back.
Music City Queen - Listen now:
“Music City Queen was started on the basis of my moving to Nashville two years ago. When I shared my ideas with Louisa, the experiences were the same as far as always wanting to be here to be near the best singers, musicians and hoping to have one of your songs recorded. Through all of the hopes and dreams there is still the reality that you are far from your native land and that the business aspect of music very much exists, and is not as warm and fuzzy as the art itself.
The Cumberland River is very metaphoric in the fact that I was born and raised on the banks of the Cumberland River, fished on the Cumberland, crossed it whenever I went anywhere, was married in a church right on the river, seen the river raise up and destroy, yet it carried my dreams at times.
Now it’s ironic that I still live on the banks of The Cumberland in a big city and another state.”
Dale Ann is on the road this summer sharing the music from Don’t Turn Your Back with bluegrass lovers all over the US and Canada. She is excited about her current touring band, which includes Tim Laughlin on mandolin, Brandon Godman on fiddle, Roscoe Morgan on bass, and newest member, Terry Baucom on banjo.
Regarding having Bauc on stage, she was emphatic:
“HOLY SMOKES… it’s a dream come true. When that mans kicks a song, it’s a field goal every time. You can’t help but feel the excitement! What a wonderful person too!”
There is also an interview Dale Ann did with Bill Cody on WSM which can be heard online. She sings one in the studio, and chats with Bill – and a few callers – while they spin a couple tracks from the CD.
Don’t Turn Your Back is a “must have” for any fans of Dale Ann Bradley – or anyone who appreciates bluegrass music of the highest order.
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John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.
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