Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of terrific songs collected here, and much of the picking is top notch, regardless of gender. But 69 songs on four discs, all of them written or co-written by Dixie Hall, and featuring 134 female performers? That’s overkill. There’s no other way to say it.
Nobody asked me – and they won’t because I’m not one of the girls – but if I produced this project, the three new discs and the re-release of Bluegrass Bouquet from a few years back would be condensed into two incredibly powerful CDs – one of traditional bluegrass and one of Gospel.
I might even release the two discs separately. The reason: The Gospel material on Disc 3 of the box is capable of standing on its own and winning awards. Song after song earned stars in my notes, both for flawless harmonies and instrumental prowess. It’s just what you’d expect from a band of all-stars (and make no mistake, that’s exactly what this is).
The best of the best on this disc include Pray Right Here, with Jeanette Williams singing lead and a whole chorus joining in; He Knows the Way, with Debbie Gulley nailing the lead and Dale Ann Bradley harmonizing and playing guitar, mandolin and bass; and Get In the Boat. Jeanette takes the lead on this one, too, backed by Tina Adair and Louisa Branscomb. You’ll hear this one on the radio on Sunday mornings.
The two new discs of traditional bluegrass aren’t as consistent across the board. There are, to be sure, some excellent performances. Others fall somewhat short of that level.
But let’s focus on the good. One of the strongest songs here is Somewhere In Kentucky, with Donna Ulisse singing lead and Gail Rudisill-Johnson laying down attention-grabbing fiddle tracks. Other winners include Local Flowers, sung by Brooke Aldridge, Kentucky in the Rain, with Stacy York Isaacs handling lead vocals, and You’re Good to Go, with what might be the best vocal in the set, from Fayssoux Starling McLean.
From the songwriter’s perspective, two of the top songs are Mama Remember, about the heartbreak of dementia, and Song Master. The chorus here is a few lines of near-perfection:
“He wrote about coal mines, he wrote about Jesus.
He wrote about lost love with sweet, tender words.
He wrote about just about anything that happened.
And all to the tune of the ‘Great Speckled Bird.’ “
Dixie Hall said the project wasn’t designed to sell records, but to spread the word that bluegrass women are a talented bunch. I’m not sure we needed this collection to prove that in an era that features Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, Claire Lynch, Missy Raines, Kristin Scott Benson, Sierra Hull, Laurie Lewis and many, many more women at the top of the game.
Be that as it may, if you come at this project the way you should approach a buffet line – sampling a little of this and a taste of that, you’ll find plenty of music worth going back for.