West Virginia singer, songwriter, and mandolinist, Rachel Burge, first came to our attention as a member of No One You Know, a bluegrass group formerly based in the Mountaineer State. Their clever band name served them well in generating curiosity, one that may have been based on the custom destination sign that was used for many years by Lonesome River Band on their tour bus.
Not long after Rachel’s debut solo project, Don’t You Worry About Me, was released in 2012, No One You Know broke up, leaving her with a new album to support, and no one to support it with.
But by the Spring of 2013, Rachel Burge & Blue Dawning was born – her own band under her own name. One of the first choices she made was to bring along Lance Gainer, who had played guitar with No One You Know. Then Rick Westerman came aboard to play bass, along with Radford Vance on banjo, and Michele Birkby-Vance on fiddle.
Now their first band album, a 12 song self-titled CD, has been released on Mountain Fever Records. And it really is a band project. Only two of Burge’s songs are included, with three from other band members. They are also featured on four of the vocal numbers.
The sound throughout is contemporary bluegrass, with material from some of the top songwriters in bluegrass. Burge starts things off with Sisters of the Mountains, written by Paula Breedlove and Brad Davis, and follows that with April Snow from Mark Brinkman. Her own My Cold Heart, the record’s first single, is a standout which has the singer berating her heart for the way it has treated a true and faithful love.
Please Stay Away, another of Rachel’s compositions, is a modern love song very much in her style with the singer trying to protect herself from an uncertain new relationship. This and My Cold Heart are the most memorable tracks on the album.
>Banjo picker Radford Vance is featured as lead vocalist on a pair of songs, Pauline Beauchamp’s Rebels Ye Rest, famously recorded in 1976 by John Duffey with Seldom Scene, and his contribution, Barefootin‘, extolling the joys of summertime. Fiddler Birkby-Vance sings her song, Home Place In The Mountains, whose subject is explained in the title.
Rick Westerman sings a new Gospel song written by his wife Rebecca, Living In The Light, performed in the Flatt & Scruggs way, with finger-style guitar from Vance.
Two powerful instrumentals are included. Rachel turns in a fine version of Bill Monroe’s under appreciated Kentucky Mandolin, which starts slow and stately before leaping into a bluegrass romp. The album closes with Vance’s Road Apples, a driving banjo tune where everyone gets a chance to shine.
I’ll admit to some disappointment in not hearing more of Rachel’s singing or her songs. There is something very fresh and appealing about her music, and more would have made this project sparkle. But that not withstanding, Rachel Burge & Blue Dawning is a strong recording, serving as a fine introduction to a new group we hope will remain together for some time.
I look forward to a second album with Rachel more out front. Get to writing, girl!