Industry, media and fans all respond to ‘what’s new,’ without necessarily meaning to ignore the rest. And we’ve all seen stories of legendary artists who can’t get a label to release their new music, though that is thankfully more rare in bluegrass.
That came to mind when listening to Born Bad, the new album from the Tina Adair Band, representing as it does her first recording in nearly 13 years. She was among the most celebrated young bluegrass artists in the late 1990s before giving up performing to obtain a degree in music business. Since then, many a fan has been heard to wonder, “What ever happened to Tina Adair?” Now they have an answer.
She and her husband, Tim Dishman, have assembled a fine band, and released a gem of an album that should put Adair’s name right into the discussion for Female Vocalist of the Year. And maybe Songwriter of the Year as well. 7 of the 12 tracks are Adair originals, and they define the tenor and the feel of the record.
Tina plays mandolin, with Tim on guitar and bass. For their live shows, he handles guitar with Forrest Goodman on bass. Sim Daley completes the band on banjo, with guest appearances from Randy Kohrs on reso-guitar, Brandon Godman on fiddle, and Sarah Davison on piano.
But Adair is the unmistakable star. She sings with a power and authority possessed by only a very few vocalists. Her voice is expressive and agile, with the sort of sincerity required to pull off the emotional material she’s assembled for this project.
A few of the songs discuss difficult topics. The title track is a different sort of Gospel number; more a song of Christian reflection. It’s a conversation with St. Peter about his having denied Jesus, offering solace in shared sin and mutual broken promises. Anyone trying to live a Christian life will recognize themselves here.
Don’t Grieve is Tina’s imagining of a message from her departed brother, written with Kenny Lewis, son of former Blue Grass Boy, Wayne. It was the death of Keith Adair in 2010 from colon cancer that spun her away from music for a while. Tina and Tim had started putting a band together in 2009, and she largely dropped it when Keith was ill. After he passed it took her some time to return, as she and her brother had played together since they were children, and missing him made the music painful.
But she used this beautiful song, in which she hears Keith telling her to tell her to live life, and “Don’t Grieve,” to work through it. If you’ve lost someone you love – and haven’t we all? – you’ll find a mix of sadness and comfort in the song, which was produced by Randy Kohrs.
But the songs are not all so intense. How I Was Raised is a mid tempo bluegrass song about being raised right, while Stuck Somewhere In The Middle rips along a bit more quickly wondering about the line between right and wrong. Go And Tell Jesus is a highlight, starting with a traditional mandolin/guitar duet before ripping into a tight band arrangement. Dishman really shines on guitar here. A more contemporary sound marks What Was Never Meant To Be, and country artist Billy Dean joins Tina on a lovely duet for his song Tomorrow & For Always, co-written with Lewis.
Daley contributes a fine banjo tune, Snaker Dan, performed with a style somewhat reminiscent of the great Ron Block. He and Daley are longtime friends, and Sim does most of the work on Ron’s many cherished instruments, so he comes by it naturally. The album ends with a choir-like rendition of Farther Along, which follows appropriately after Don’t Grieve.
Born Bad is one of those rare 5-star releases. Every track is strong, all the performances are superb, and marking the recorded return of Tina Adair is a gift to the bluegrass world. This one is not to be missed.
The album is available from CD Baby, iTunes and other popular download sites.