Dale Ann Bradley’s formula for success

Meet Dale Ann Bradley for the first time and five minutes later you feel like she’s an old friend. Somewhere South of Crazy, her upcoming release on Compass Records, delivers the same result. From the opening notes of Stuart Duncan’s fiddle on the title cut, the solid playing and Dale Ann’s tender singing envelop you like a comfortable old sweater.

Dale Ann has worked out a formula for strong recordings over the years, and she follows it here for another classy effort. There’s an all-star cast of musicians – Duncan, Sierra Hull on mandolin, Steve Gulley on guitar and harmony vocals, Mike Bub on bass, Andy Hall on Dobro, and Alison Brown on banjo (plus Pam Tillis harmonizing with Dale Ann on the title track, which they co-wrote). There is a grassified pop song; this time, it’s Seals and Crofts’ Summer Breeze.  There are a handful of songs that Dale Ann wrote or co-wrote. And there is, of course, the voice. Strong and sweet at the same time, taking the listener through a roller-coaster of emotions over 42 minutes of music.

Somewhere South of Crazy, Leaving Kentucky, Will You Visit Me On Sundays, and a live solo performance of Old Southern Porches are among the best cuts on the album. But my favorite is Round and Round, which Dale Ann wrote a few years back. I first heard this song last summer, when Dale Ann and Chris Harris, who then played mandolin in her band, did it at a songwriting workshop at the Out Among the Stars festival in Benton, PA.  I didn’t hear it again until last weekend, when Dale Ann sang it at FiddleFest in Roanoke, but it stuck in my head that whole time. It’s a killer song, written straight from the heart about life on the road and the difficulties of maintaining a relationship when you always have to leave. It’s a common refrain for musicians, but Dale Ann makes the topic fresh – and heartbreaking.

I do have one complaint, admittedly a small one. Listening to Round and Round and two co-writes on this project, leaves me wishing Dale Ann spent more time writing. When she finds the time, she delivers.