Richardson masterfully moves through original material, well known competition tunes and reels, with a bit of Irish and reimagined classic country tossed in for good measure. She plays each style with such tasteful aplomb that a question popped into my mind on first listen, and has stayed there since: How is Deanie Richardson not among the nominees for IBMA fiddle player of the year EVERY year?
I don’t know the answer, but I do know that this is a superb collection of everything fiddle. Even the old chestnuts – Black and White Rag, St. Anne’s Reel, East Virginia Blues and Kentucky Waltz – are updated and fresh.
On Kentucky Waltz, for example, Richardson combines the best bits of her favorite versions, from Randy Howard and Mark O’Connor. The result is a tender and soulful rendition that defies you not to waltz along in your chair.
But this isn’t entirely a collection of covers. Three of Richardson’s originals add spice and texture to the record. My favorite of this bunch is Stoney Mae, a bluesy number she wrote with Bill Tennyson that could have come from some dark hollow decades ago. The groove from Brandon Bostic on guitar, Ashby Frank on mandolin, and Tim Dishman on bass is the perfect backdrop for the lead vocal from Ronnie Bowman.
Bowman isn’t the only top-shelf singer making an appearance. Patty Loveless milks the emotion from Jack of Diamonds. And the vocals on my favorite track among these dozen – Tears Will Be a Chaser For My Tears – comes from Richardson’s regular stage partners in Sister Sadie. Dale Ann Bradley, who has won female vocalist of the year so many times that the IBMA statue ought to be remade in her image, adds a little country swing to the lead, and Tina Adair joins Jeff White with spot-on harmonies. Behind the voices, drums and steel guitar mesh nicely with Richardson’s fiddle. OK, it ain’t bluegrass, but it’s great music that deserves a listen.
But this isn’t about namedropping. Richardson gets her music wherever she can. She got the name of one of her tunes, Chicken in the House, from one of her students when a hen wandered through the open door mid-lesson. And Amanda McKenney, the mother of another student, sings a compelling lead on East Virginia Blues, with harmony and a bit of counter-singing from Bostic. He also adds a dark resonator guitar part
All of those pieces, though, are merely icing on the cake, for which the fiddle is the primary ingredient in the recipe. The CD may be called Love Hard, Work Hard, Play Hard, but Richardson makes it look easy. She plays with subtle nuance when that’s what the song needs, and she saws when that’s in order. Fiddlers at any stage can learn a lot from the varied styles and approaches Richardson uses. The rest of us can just enjoy listening.