Dale Ann Bradley’s career has taken her many places since she burst onto the bluegrass scene with her 1997 debut album, East Kentucky, and her new album, Kentucky for Me, comes full circle to remind us that her heart has always remained in the Bluegrass State.
Kentucky permeates more than the title of this album, as the Bell County native gathers singers and songs with direct ties to her home state. Nine of the 11 tracks are duets with Kentucky-linked singers, including Sam Bush, John Conlee, Larry Cordle, JP Pennington (best known as a member of Exile), Rebecca Lynn Howard, Dave Adkins, Danny Paisley, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, and John Cowan.
Bradley’s talent is unquestionable, having earned her six IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year awards, Grammy nominations, and membership in the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, and she again proves here that her talent can’t be boxed in, as her performances span bluegrass, gospel, country and folk/Americana genres. The common denominator is Bradley’s pure, heartfelt vocals on songs that emphasize honesty, faith, and endurance through adversity.
Kentucky Gold, featuring Sam Bush, is a haunting, banjo-driven, minor key tune about a race horse that was born to be free. John Conlee joins Bradley on I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal, a Billy Joe Shaver composition that was a 1981 country hit for John Anderson. Conlee’s voice is a fitting replacement for Anderson’s in an upbeat production with tasteful dobro licks
Larry Cordle joins Dale Ann on Kentucky for Me, a beautiful ballad written by a fellow Kentuckian, the late Tom T. Hall. This is one of Hall’s most melodic tunes, with pretty acoustic guitar work. Larry and Dale Ann sing that they like other states, but “it’s got to be Kentucky for me.”
JP Pennington sings with Bradley on the Sun’s Gonna Shine, which JP co-wrote with Amanda Martin. Fiddle, banjo and vocal harmony drive the music behind the optimistic message, “Gonna wash away these blues…gonna make it through this storm.” John Cowan is featured on Appalachian Blue, another message of survival due to faith, love and sacrifice: “It’s hard to hide her pain and sorrow / but she knows there’s hope as long as there’s tomorrow.”
God Already Has spans country-gospel-bluegrass genres and shows why when you look up “great female vocalist” in the dictionary, the definition includes “Dale Ann Bradley.”
Love Train includes flat-out excellent vocals, with Rebecca Lynn Howard providing tight vocal harmony. It’s a toe-tapping bluesy number with nice dobro, banjo, and acoustic guitar solos. One by One, featuring Danny Paisley, has echoes of roots music. The album also includes Poor Man’s Pride, with The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys; Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, with Dave Adkins; and Dogwood Winter, with Aaron Biblehauser.
In the end, Kentucky for Me tells us what we already knew; Dale Ann Bradley has cemented her place in the pantheon of bluegrass vocalists, in this age, or any other.