Rounder digital reissues hit this week

Mariology - Mark O'ConnorRounder Records has scheduled digital reissues for 22 important bluegrass and new acoustic albums later this week. These memorable titles, mostly from the ’80s and ’90s, include iconic projects from Mark O’Connor, Johnson Mountain Boys, The Rice Brothers, Rob Ickes, Lynn Morris, and The Lilly Brothers & Don Stover.

Scott Billington, Vice President of A&R for Rounder, says that this set of download albums that will be available on August 5, demonstrate the company’s early commitment to bluegrass music.

“For more than 40 years, Rounder Records has been the foremost bluegrass label, a legacy that was recently acknowledged by the announcement of the induction of company founders Bill Nowlin, Marian Levy and Ken Irwin into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame. The August worldwide digital release from Rounder shows the depth and strength of the catalog, with albums from key artists such as Hazel Dickens, Mark O’Connor and The Johnson Mountain Boys.”

Some of these albums have been available digitally for some time, though not in all markets worldwide, and not to all the various streaming services. Starting this Friday, you’ll be able to find them throughout all of Rounder’s digital distribution network.

Here are the reissues coming available, along with Rounder’s description:

Richard Greene – Duets  Richard Greene has worn many musical hats. Known as the fiddler for the 1960s proto-roots fusion band, Seatrain; for his tenure with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys; and for his session work with Emmylou Harris, Taj Mahal, James Taylor and many others, he has been an active and versatile player. On this 1977 album, he performs duets with electric pianist David Frishberg; mandolinist David Grisman, guitarists Tony Rice and David Nichtern; and banjo players J. D. Crowe and Tony Trischka, in a program of primarily traditional songs.

Mark O’Connor – Markology  Fiddler and multi-instrumentalist Mark O’Connor has had a storied career, beginning with his first recordings on Rounder, made while still in his early teens, up to his 2016 release on Rounder with the O’Connor Family Band, with forays into classical music, jazz and music education along the way. This 1978 all-instrumental release features Mark playing exclusively the guitar, in the heady company of Tony Rice, Dan Crary, David Grisman, Sam Bush and Bill Amatneek.

Darol Anger & Mike Marshall – The Duo  Following their stint with the highly influential David Grisman Quintet, multi-instrumentalists Mike Marshall and Darol Anger made this eclectic album (with bassist Rob Wasserman on two tracks). Both have since had inspired careers in the “new acoustic music” world: Anger with the Turtle Island String Quartet, Marshall with the Modern Mandolin Quartet, and together with Psychograss and the Anger/Marshall Band. Songs include originals, as well as compositions by Charlie Parker, J.S. Bach and Chick Corea.

The Rice Brothers – The Rice Brothers  Tony Rice, the most iconic bluegrass guitarist of the modern era, is joined on this 1989 recording by his brothers Larry (mandolin and guitar), Wyatt (guitar) and Ron (bass), all of whom got their start under the tutorship of their father and his California bluegrass band, the Golden State Boys. The album features a rhythm section and guest Doboist Jerry Douglas, and a diverse program of traditional and contemporary songs such as Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice.

Kenny Baker and Blaine Sprouse – Indian Springs  Kenny Baker, born in 1926, was one of the most influential fiddlers of his generation. Marrying the traditional music he learned from his family with the influence of jazz violinists such as Stephane Grappelli, he was a featured musician with country singer Don Gibson and bluegrass forefather Bill Monroe. On 1989’s Indian Springs, he goes bow to bow with younger virtuoso Blaine Sprouse, accompanied by guitarist David Grier, mandolinist Buck White, bassist Terry Smith and banjo player Allen Shelton, in a program of mostly original tunes.

The Johnson Mountain Boys – At the Old Schoolhouse  In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when younger musicians such as David Grisman and Sam Bush were taking bluegrass into exploratory territory, the Johnson Mountain Boys came along with a purely traditional sound that resonated with soul and authenticity. Released as a 23 song, 2 LP set during 1989 during a farewell tour that ultimately turned out not to be the band’s last stand, At the Old Schoolhouse is a tour de force, especially for singer Dudley Connell. Traditional bluegrass at its best!

Stuart Duncan – Stuart Duncan  A veteran of thousands of recording sessions, accompanying Alison Krauss, Billy Ray Cyrus, Lyle Lovett, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, and hundreds more, multi-instrumentalist Stuart Duncan is a remarkable and complete musician—a master of fiddle, guitar, viola, mandolin, banjo and more. His debut solo album from 1992 walks a line between traditional bluegrass (with members of the Nashville Bluegrass Band) and his adventurous original compositions (with Béla Fleck and Victor Wooten from the Flecktones)

Wyatt Rice – New Market Gap  Guitarist Wyatt Rice, who was often featured in his brother’s group, the Tony Rice Unit, is featured on his debut all-instrumental solo album in 1989. There’s a lot to like here: deft flat-picked guitar solos and a mix of bluegrass and newgrass tunes, including Bill Monroe’s Shenandoah Breakdown, Frank Wakefield’s New Camptown Races, and the original title track. This lesser-known Rice brother is certainly his more famous brother’s peer.

Tony Furtado – Swamped  While Tony Furtado may be best known for his exceptional slide guitar playing, his debut album from 1989 features him playing the banjo, the instrument with which he first achieved renown as a member of the Laurie Lewis band. He is joined here by Lewis on fiddle, Scott Nygaard on guitar, Todd Phillips on bass, Darol Anger on fiddle, and Rob Ickes on Dobro, among others, in a set of genre-pushing bluegrass-leaning tunes, balancing traditional material with his original compositions.

Mike Compton & David Grier – Climbing The Walls  Mandolinist Mike Compton (who has appeared on recordings by Rhiannon Giddens, Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson) and guitarist David Grier (three-time winner of the Best Guitar Player of the Year award by the International Bluegrass Music Association) are two of the shining lights of the Nashville acoustic music scene. Their 1989 duo album leans toward uptempo traditional and bluegrass songs, along with the swinging Bye Bye Blue and the melancholy Paul’s Blues.

The Warrior River Boys – Sounds Like Home  There’s no pretense in the music of the Warrior River Boys—this is pure and soulful bluegrass, in the tradition of early pioneers such as Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. Band members Anthony Bailey (banjo, guitar), Tommy Chapman (fiddle), David Davis (mandolin), Mitch Scott (guitar), and Stan Wilemon (bass) deliver tight vocal harmonies on songs such as Hank Williams’ Singing Waterfall and Cindy Walker’s The Gold Rush Is Over.

Beth Stevens, April Stevens – Sisters  The Stevens Sisters bring a bluesy and sometimes haunting feel to their bluegrass harmonies on their 1996 debut album. For these sessions, producer Ken Irwin enlisted many of the best bluegrass players, including Jerry Douglas on Dobro, Glen Duncan on fiddle, and Jeff White on guitar. About half the songs, including the title track, are originals, along with Steve Earle’s My Old Friend the Blues and Dolly Parton’s Tomorrow Is Forever.

Rob Ickes – Hard Times  Rob Ickes is among the most esteemed masters of the Dobro, or resonator guitar. A founding member of the band Blue Highway, Rob also has a playfully jazzy side, and perhaps a bluesier approach than many bluegrass players. Hard Times, his debut solo album from 1997, shows the breadth of his talent on traditional songs, originals and a cover of the Meters’ Look-A-Py-Py. Accompanying musicians include fellow Dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas, mandolinist Adam Steffey, and drummer Larry Atamanuik.

Delia Bell & Bill Grant – Dreaming  For over 40 years, Delia Bell and Bill Grant were one of the outstanding harmony vocal duets in bluegrass, who also hosted their own festival in their native Hugo, Oklahoma. While Bell had a brief flirtation with country music in the 1970s, singing a duet with Jon Anderson that made the top 50 on the country charts, there was no duo in bluegrass that could sing about heartbreak like Delia and Bill. This collection brings together the best tracks from their three Rounder albums: Cheer of the Home Fires, A Few Dollars More, and Following a Feeling.

The Wayfaring Strangers – Shifting Sands of Time  The Wayfaring Strangers is an acoustic super group founded by fiddler Matt Glaser, featuring several members (banjoist Tony Trischka and mandolinist Andy Statman) with histories that reach back to the earliest days of Rounder Records. With guest appearances from vocalist Tracy Bonham, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, pianist Lazlo Gardony and others, the group occupies a uniquely evocative and atmospheric niche, with their imaginative interpretations of folk, country and bluegrass standards such as Man of Constant Sorrow and Cry, Cry Darling.

Red Cravens and The Bray Brothers – Prairie Bluegrass — Early Days of Bluegrass  From Champaign, Illinois, Red Cravens and The Bray Brothers were among the best midwestern bluegrass bands of the early 1960s. When they were hired to perform a regular slot on WHOW’s Cornbelt Country Style in Clinton, Illinois, they began recording these radio programs in their apartment in Champaign, rather than commuting to the station. This set presents the best of those recordings, complied by John Hartford.

Lynn Morris – You’ll Never Be the Sun  Three-time International Bluegrass Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year Lynn Morris (also the winner of the National Banjo Championship in 1974) was a pioneering woman in bluegrass. Her fourth Rounder album, released in 1999, features her husband, bass player Marshall Wilborn, along with young new band members Jesse Brock on mandolin and Ron Stewart on fiddle. The well-chosen songs include Hazel Dickens’ Scraps From Your Table and Jody Stecher’s Seventeen Cents.

Hazel Dickens – It’s Hard To Tell The Singer From The Song  Hazel Dickens was bluegrass music pioneer (especially with her early work as a duo with Alice Gerrard), an important if sometimes-reluctant feminist voice, a highly regarded songwriter, and a singer whose unvarnished approach always reached the heart of a song. Honored with the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2008, Dickens made three acclaimed solo records for Rounder. It’s Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song includes many of her best, including Hills of Home.

Tony Trischka – New Deal  Tony Trischka is a modern banjo pioneer, who created a melodic approach to the instrument that provided the foundation for his student, Béla Fleck. While Trischka has made recordings of traditional music, he veers into adventurous territory on New Deal, with his tight, working band that includes horns, electric guitar and drums, and almost all original compositions by Trischka and saxophone player/arranger Michael Amendola. It’s a refreshing and wholly satisfying effort.

Michael Cleveland – Flame Keeper  Michael Cleveland is one the greatest fiddlers in the history of bluegrass, whose quick-fingered playing transcends genre. He has received the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Fiddle Performer of the Year award an unprecedented ten times, while his band, Flame Keeper, has been selected four times as the IBMA Instrumental Group of the Year. Flamekeeper, his debut album from 2002, features blistering version s of traditional songs such as “Dance Around Molly,” and guest vocals form Rhonda Vincent, Audie Blaylock and Jeff White.

Open Road – Cold Wind  The 2002 debut Rounder album by Open Road is distinguished by the soulful lead vocals of Bradford Lee Folk, who also contributes four compositions. From Fort Collins, Colorado, the band hews to the classic bluegrass sound of pioneers such as Bill Monroe, while remaining wholly n the present and avoiding cliché. Produced by Sally Van Meter, who plays a Dobro guest spot on Some Things Does, Some Things Don’t.

The Lilly Brothers & Don Stover – On the Radio 1952-1953  Originally from West Virginia, the Lilly Brothers relocated to the Boston area in the early 1950s, where their exceptional harmonies planed the seeds for an authentic New England bluegrass movement. As producer Jim Rooney recalled, “One day in early 1952 a friend of mine in high school in Boston told me to tune in WCOP on my radio and listen to a show called The Hayloft Jamboree… I had never heard anything like it. The music jumped out of the radio…” These recordings offer a rare glimpse into the inspirational sounds that he and others heard.

Many thanks to Rounder for keeping this music available for this next generation of bluegrass lovers.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.