Gena Britt Tew is a real bluegrass trooper. Since hitting the scene with her own band in 2001 she’s done time with Lou Reid & Carolina, appeared on all three projects from Daughters Of Bluegrass, won several awards from both IBMA and SPBGMA, and is currently touring as banjo player and harmony vocalist with Dale Ann Bradley.
Her solo project, Doing All I Can, was released in September showcasing Gena as a lead vocalist, banjo player and songwriter. It’s a terrific album with a first rate cast of pickers and singers on a mix of contemporary and traditional bluegrass.
The first track sets the stage, with a clever reworking of Lennon and McCartney’s Help! Gena shared a few words about how this one came to be.
“Well, I spent almost 4 months in Japan back in 1993 and while I was there I picked up a Dolly Parton record that I had not seen in the States. It had a version of Dolly doing Help! on it, and I thought…. ‘Man, that would make a killer grass tune.’
When I had my band – Ashby Frank, Beth Lawrence, Clay Jones and me – we came up with the arrangement, and it just seemed to work. Plus, it’s just fun to play!
It stayed with me until I got ready to record.”
Two alumni from The Gena Britt Band show up on Doing All I Can, Ashby Frank on mandolin and Clay Jones on guitar, along with Greg Luck on guitar, Wayne Benson on mandolin, Tim Tew on resonator guitar, and Zack McLamb on bass. Gena plays banjo throughout.
“All the musicians on this project are some of my best friends. I grew up in central North Carolina around most of these guys, most of them living only an hour or so from me. It has really been a blessing to grow up with these great musicians who’ve all gone on to be some of the best in the business. I asked Shawn Lane to be a guest vocalist on this project, because I absolutely love his singing. He’s one of the purest vocalists that I know of, and I love to sing with him in my car. So, why not ask him to be on my record? It was an honor.
My husband Tim Tew was guest vocalist on a gospel tune called I’m Glorybound that I heard in his dad’s church not long after we started dating. I think he did a great job and this cut turned out being one of the most straight-ahead bluegrass tunes on the album. His brother, David, and I are singing harmony on that tune.”
Greg Corbett, Wayne Joyce and Teresa Hatley Love also contribute harmony vocals.
Gena also gave us some background on other songs she chose for her new CD.
“Old Flames is another tune that I heard Dolly Parton doing for the first time. I’ve been singing this song for years on my shows and it is one of my most requested songs. It’s an old classic that never grows old for me.
The Life Sentence was written by David Thompson, of the band Kanes River. Julie Elkins had gotten me a copy of this song several years ago and I loved it. Julie cut this song as well, with a little different feel. This song is kind of out of my bluegrass comfort zone, but when we tried it out, everyone seemed to love it and I think it turned out great. The band had a ball with this song in the studio.
As Long As I’m Rockin’ With You was a tune that I’d heard Lonesome River Band do from an early project of theirs. I thought it would be a cool duet with my husband, and that it might be a tune that alot of folks haven’t heard in a long time. It was originally cut by John Conlee, and it was a much slower country version, but I like how the LRB grassed it up.
The House is one that has a neat story. It kind of wrote itself, so it’s special to me. It’s one that I wrote about the house where I live, an old 1800’s farm house. Before we moved in, I’d heard some stories about it being a home where un-wed mothers would come and stay, work on the farm until they had their babies, and then leave. I always thought that was so interesting, and it happened in my house.
I guess I was thinking about that one night when I couldn’t sleep, got up, and just stared into the dark hallway. I picked up my guitar and started playing this haunting melody in a minor key. Then, I started thinking about what it must have been like for those young mothers to be in that home. I know this sounds strange, but I could almost hear babies crying. That’s how I came up with this song.”
Radio hosts and programmers who would like a copy of the CD for airplay can contact Gena by email.
“I’m so proud to be playing with Dale Ann right now. She is such a pleasure to travel with and work for. We’re having a blast and looking forward to picking together a long time.”
Do yourself a favor and check out this fine recording.