Bluegrass “supergroups” have become a thing as of late, with side projects merging into full-fledged, award-winning, chart-topping bands. From The Band of Ruhks to Sideline, from Flashback to the Earls of Leicester, supergroups are everywhere and bluegrass fans are loving it. One recent supergroup has stood just a bit apart from the others, however, by virtue of its membership: Sister Sadie, the all-female supergroup. The band recently released its debut, self-titled album on Pinecastle Records, and I must say – it is one heck of an introduction.
This is high-octane, modern traditional bluegrass featuring five women who can flat out pick and sing. Five-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year Dale Ann Bradley is arguably the most well-known name here, and it’s her soft-yet-strong voice that leads the album’s first single, Unholy Water. On this well-written number, penned by fiddle player Deanie Richardson and Bill Tennyson, Bradley takes on the persona of a jug of moonshine, teasing and tempting would-be drinkers while sharing tales of the bad side of loving liquor. Bradley’s vocals also stand out on the Gospel track Look What I’m Trading for a Mansion. Backed by traditional mandolin courtesy of Tina Adair and country-style fiddle from Richardson, she sings of the wonderful life awaiting believers in heaven.
Bradley shares vocal duties with three of the other four members of the group. Bass player Beth Lawrence takes her turn on the light, folky Falling, a wistful love song updated from a ’70s soft rock number. It seems to have a little more in common with Bradley’s frequent pop remakes on her solo projects than it does with the rest of the album, but is still an enjoyable track. Gena Britt, whose banjo playing here stands equal with any of the current top players on the bluegrass circuit, provides two leads. The first is a fiery cover of Lynn Morris’s Don’t Tell Me Stories, which finds Britt confronting a man whose commitment may be lacking and is filled with furiously fast instrumentation. I May Be A Fool was previously recorded by country artist Mark Chesnutt in the mid-nineties, and Britt’s straightforward delivery fits the resignation in lines like “I may be a fool, but I’m never yours again.”
Perhaps the biggest breakout here comes from Adair, who listeners may recognize from her work fronting the Tina Adair Band or her contributions to the Daughters of Bluegrass projects. She offers two original songs here – the gritty, angry goodbye number Now Forever’s Gone and Not This Time, a rollicking kiss-off song that might be what would occur if Miranda Lambert tried her hand at bluegrass. Her vocals on these two tracks are powerful, and she handles the fast pace of the songs with ease. She switches gears on her two other leads, the emotion-filled Mama’s Room (written by Harley Allen and given a soft, stripped-down arrangement) and country classic Don’t Let Me Cross Over. The latter is one of the album’s highlights, sung plaintively by Adair and featuring tight harmonies on the chorus. Richardson’s tasteful fiddling here fits the song perfectly.
Bradley closes the album out on a high note with Blood Red and Goin’ Down, which Tanya Tucker took to number one in 1973. Tucker’s version is a classic, but this is an excellent update. Bradley fills the song’s narrator with a sense of questioning and foreboding and the musicians give the song a fresh, modern traditional bluegrass feel.
There haven’t been that many “girl groups” in bluegrass. One of the best was the New Coon Creek Girls, which helped make Bradley into a star (and also featured Richardson for a time). Sister Sadie seems to be a direct descendent of that group, and of artists like Lynn Morris (to whom the album is dedicated) in many ways – good song choice, soulful vocalists, and straight-ahead, powerful bluegrass music. The music here is driving and solid, with Britt, Richardson, and Adair taking the majority of the solos and Bradley and Lawrence providing strong rhythm. This debut is sure to lead to great things for Sister Sadie.
For more information on Sister Sadie, visit the band’s website at www.sistersadieband.com. Their new album can be purchased from a variety of online music retailers.