It’s rare to find a musician, especially in the traditional music world, who wasn’t influenced by a parent or grandparent at a young age. For Charlsey Etheridge, a Georgia native who has recently released her debut album, one of those early influences was her grandmother, who taught her a number of old songs when she was a child. Several of those songs have made their way onto Etheridge’s debut album, Memories of Mine, a ten-song collection of old favorites.
The majority of songs here are traditional Gospel or bluegrass numbers, but Etheridge has put her own unique stamp on each of them. Blue Moon of Kentucky, for instance, is a little more Elvis than Bill Monroe, with a fun 50’s sound and swingy fiddle. There’s a jazzy version of In the Pines which is almost unrecognizable as a bluegrass song, but is still excellent, with soulful vocals from Etheridge and fine piano work from Chris Phillips. Tennessee Waltz, on the other hand, is done in more of a traditional style, with fine fiddling from Jeremy Abshire and tear-soaked vocals from Etheridge.
Etheridge also offers fine takes on a number of Gospel songs, including the Louvin Brothers’ Keep Your Eyes on Jesus. She stays quite faithful to the original cut of the song, though she throws in some old-time flair with the addition of autoharp, harmonica, and spoons, as well as some nice banjo from Shad Cobb. Wayfaring Stranger is also enjoyable, with Randy Kohrs’ tasteful dobro work adding to the song’s bluesy feel.
The other Gospel songs here are all traditional hymns, performed in a fairly stripped down style as to showcase Etheridge’s vocals. The peaceful Land of Beulah (also known by the title Is This Not the Land of Beulah) is one of the best numbers on the album. Bluegrass fans may recognize the song from The Isaacs’ version from the late 1990s. The album also closes on a powerful note with a Southern Gospel-tinged version of Take My Hand, Precious Lord featuring just Etheridge’s strong vocals accompanied by Phillips on piano.
The only song which falls outside the bluegrass canon is Filipino Baby, a classic country number which Etheridge learned from her grandmother. It’s been recorded by a number of artists over the years, including Ernest Tubb, but Etheridge’s version is tender and sweet, with a simple arrangement that goes well with the song’s story of a soldier who falls in love with a beautiful local girl while serving in the Phillipines.
Though the songs on Memories of Mine will all likely be familiar to bluegrass fans, and several of them stick fairly close to the traditional bluegrass arrangements, this isn’t necessarily a bluegrass album. However, Etheridge is clearly a talented vocalist, and has chosen a host of top musicians to join her on this recording. Fans of traditional music – particularly those who like their music just a bit outside the box – will surely find something to like here.
For more information on Charlsey Etheridge, visit her website at www.charlseyetheridge.com. Her new album is available from several online music retailers.