Have you ever been listening to a radio host, with the rich, resonant voice common to that market, and wondered whether they wouldn’t be a good singer as well?
That’s the story of Carl Jarrell, Jr, who goes by the catchy nickname CJ the DJ. He hosts the Melvin Goins Bluegrass Show each week on WMDJ radio in Martin, KY. He and Melvin once co-hosted, and CJ keeps it going in his honor.
He loves to share the story of how he got his nickname, since it was given to him by fellow Kentuckian, Loretta Lynn. Jarrell was good friends with Loretta’s brother Herman, and one day the two of them headed out to see her at one of her shows. When Herman brought Carl to meet his sister, he said, Loretta, this is CJ. He’s a DJ.” She looked up with a smile and said, “CJ the DJ!” The name has stuck ever since.
That deep radio voice does, indeed, make Carl a fine bluegrass and acoustic country singer, which shows on his latest recording, She’s Not Here – Songs Written by Dale McKinney. All of the record’s 10 tracks were written by McKinney, who is the station owner of WMDJ. He loves bluegrass music, and though he doesn’t play or sing, he likes to write songs. So CJ grabbed two of his Floyd County, KY bluegrass buddies, Tommy Webb and Mike Bentley, to make this record of Dale’s songs.
Tommy and Mike are both well known to bluegrass audiences, both in Kentucky and around the world. Webb leads his own band, and Bentley has a history with Cumberland Gap Connection and now Alan Bibey & Grasstowne. Both they, and CJ, bring Kentucky bluegrass soul to the songs assembled here on this album. And the stark variety of their voices breaks up any sameness that might come from a full set by a single writer.
CJ takes three songs, the first single, She’s Not Here, a painful story about watching a loved one suffer from dementia, Take Me Home Lord, a Gospel ballad, and Hole In My Heart, a bluesy, bluegrass “go to hell” song of lost love.
Webb’s contribution is on Duty Not Desire, a two step, country-sounding number which is well-suited to Tommy’s higher pitched voice. It likewise is a sad song about a man who realizes his wife only cares for him out of a sense of duty.
Bentley actually has the bulk of the tracks on here. All Of This is a solid, mid-tempo grasser of the sort that was popular in the ’90s, while 1000 Miles From Home takes an acoustic country vibe to the familiar tale of one who has wanders from home, only to regret missing all that he’s left behind. His agile voice really shows off on Your Smile, with its contemporary bluegrass sound, and Oh Kentucky, a paean to the bluegrass state.
With such a mix of fine singers, supported by top pickers throughout, She’s Not Here offers a great deal to any lover of traditional and contemporary bluegrass.