Our UK correspondent, Richard F Thompson, shares this review.
Cedar Hill is renowned for its adherence to the ultra-traditional style of bluegrass and nothing much has changed with the group’s switch from Hay Holler Records to the recently-formed Blue Circle Records label .
The latest release, Poverty Row (Blue Circle BCR-011), serves as a showcase for fiddler Lisa Ray’s crystal clear and emotive lead singing, more Rhonda Vincent than Alison Krauss in character. Ms Ray is featured in that role on no less than eight of the 12 tracks and two of those are instrumentals. Her voice is keening on the driving opening track, plaintive on the title song, another classic from the pens of Miss Dixie and Tom T Hall and melodious on another great Hall-written number, Big Blue Roses that bears all the hallmarks of a top-notch country song of the 1950s, both in its writing and its performance. Ferrell Stowe’s resophonic guitar playing is a significant factor in creating that sound. Apparently, folks have been asking for awhile now to hear more of Lisa’s vocals and nobody can be disappointed by those three opening tracks.
There’s two instrumentals, the quaintly titled Whiskers In The Sink, by Lisa Ray, which has the hallmarks of those swinging fiddle numbers that Kenny Baker led back in the days of his tenure as a Blue Grass Boy, and Soldier’s Joy, with clawhammer banjo from guest Bobby Minner, who with Ronnie Bowman wrote the closing number, Blood Stained Bible, which relates a story about an Army Chaplain involved in the Normandy troop landing.
Rob Collins shows that he has a fine voice on two numbers, the country standard, Love Gone Cold and Call Me Gone, one of two songs that the songwriter Frank Ray calls, “light hearted songs.”
Broken Angels is a heartfelt duet with Ms. Ray and Vince Gill, about the unfortunate hardships that some children have to face and deal with. The vocal blend is spot on.
A rendition of the Jimmy Martin classic 20/20 Vision and the fourth song from Frank Ray round out the set. Neither of them is out of place. In fact, everything about the music on this CD is very much in place.
Band leader Frank Ray says this about Poverty Row‚Ä¶..
“The CD was lots of fun to record. We recorded as we usually always do, with our full group making up the bulk of the recording and adding a few of our friends on several tunes.”
Cedar Hill is made up of Frank Ray (mandolin and harmony vocals), Lisa Ray (fiddle), Rob Collins (upright bass and lead vocals), Joe Wieneman (guitar and harmony vocals) and Kenny Cantrell (banjo). Their guests on this CD are the afore-mentioned Ferrell Stowe, Bobby Minner, (guitar, banjo and mandolin),Vince Gill (vocals and mandolin) and Molly Cherryholmes (harmony fiddle).
The CD is available from the Cedar Hill website.