The latest release from the Cracker Barrel series of country, bluegrass, and Christian albums is also Dailey & Vincent’s first live album. Alive! In Concert is a fifteen-track collection recorded at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, Virginia. The album showcases the duo’s wide range of influences, sampling from the traditional bluegrass, Gospel, and classic country they have incorporated into their signature style. Many of the songs are fan favorites, while several are new originals that add even more new facets to the group’s sound.
Dailey & Vincent have won numerous industry awards since the group’s creation in 2007, and this album exemplifies why. Even if their particular sound is not your favorite style of bluegrass, it’s hard to deny the group’s talent. Both Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent are excellent vocalists, and the members of their supporting ensemble are widely recognized as some of the best musicians in bluegrass. Live projects sometimes demonstrate that groups rely a little too much on studio magic for their regular albums, but this one is a showcase of fine performances. Particularly of note are Dailey’s clear high leads and Christian Davis’ solid bass vocals.
The album opens to a bit of a different sound than fans are used to hearing. We’re All Here to Learn was written by Dailey and his neighbor, songwriter Karen Staley, with the specific intention of channeling popular folk-pop group Mumford & Sons. It’s finely performed, capturing the folk-pop guitar and banjo styles well, although the accompanying orchestral strings (comprised of students from George Mason University) give the song a slick, soaring sound that seems out of place on an album from a bluegrass group. The group switches gears on the next song, the contemporary country I’ll Leave My Heart in Tennessee. Even with the understated banjo and fiddle in the background, this number wouldn’t sound very out of place on modern country radio. Also written by Karen Staley, it’s a love song to the singer’s Tennessee home.
The group’s fiddler, B.J. Cherryholmes, delivers a sizzling contemporary instrumental, Nine Yards, that he originally wrote for his family’s band. The band is joined by B.J.’s sister Molly Cherryholmes here, and all of the musicians are given a chance to exercise their picking talents. Mississippi River is another grassy tune, written by Dailey and Doyle Lawson about fifteen years ago when Dailey was a member of Quicksilver. It’s certainly toe-tapping, and features Vincent on lead vocals.
A big chunk of the album showcases the group’s love of country legends The Statler Brothers. One of Dailey & Vincent’s previous albums for Cracker Barrel focused entirely on songs of the Statler Brothers, and one song from that record reappears here. According to Dailey, Elizabeth was the first Statler Brothers song he ever really paid attention to as a child, and he does a fine job on the high lead vocals. Atlanta Blue and Oh Baby Mine prominently feature Davis, the group’s bass vocalist, who does an excellent job on both numbers. The orchestra is back for both of these numbers, which again provides a fuller, slicker sound.
Till They Came Home was originally recorded by Rhonda Vincent, though apparently Darrin was the one who found the song for her while producing the album on which she included it. It’s a patriotic number about members of the military during various recent conflicts, backed by a sweeping string section and prominently featuring piano. Military-style percussion is also featured at the beginning and near the end of the song. American Pride is another strongly patriotic song, written by Dailey with Bill Anderson and Jimmy Fortune. It’s sung from the perspective of a musician who asks a stagehand to find an American flag to fly at his performance and ends up explaining why he loves the flag so much. According to Dailey, the song has brought entire crowds to their feet at several recent performances, and the fans at this concert seemed to respond in the same way.
If you buy this album hoping for the traditional-leaning bluegrass of Dailey & Vincent’s last album, Brothers of the Highway, you might be surprised. The music here leans heavily towards country, even on the simpler numbers without the addition of the orchestra. The songs that are performed in a bluegrass style, while still performed well, seem to be almost overlooked when compared to the rest of the album. The regular band also largely slips into the background on many of the numbers, overpowered by strings, percussion, and piano.My personal preference for live albums is when they are recordings of straightforward concerts – Chris Jones’ recent album is a great example. Here, Dailey & Vincent are putting on a production, not just a concert. Perhaps this is because they also released an accompanying DVD of the performance (also available now at Cracker Barrel stores), or perhaps it’s because they wanted to show off all of the musical styles they perform so well. Overall, this album is reminiscent of a Gaither Homecoming album/video in its style – not a bad thing, just different perhaps for bluegrass fans. Fans of the band should still find much to enjoy here.
For more information on Dailey and Vincent, visit their website. Their new album is available for purchase at Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores, and can also be downloaded from iTunes and Amazon.