While there are many fine female vocalists in bluegrass music, few can hold a candle to six-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year Dale Ann Bradley. Her southeastern Kentucky upbringing seeps into every note she sings, making her music instantly recognizable as soon as it comes across the radio waves. Her most recent album, Things She Couldn’t Get Over, was released earlier this year on Pinecastle Records, and is filled with the uplifting, poignant, and powerful songs for which Bradley has become known.
One of the best things about the songs Bradley writes and records is their messages – often quiet and understated, but always with plenty to say. Beautiful imagery and figurative language often underscore stories of people struggling in various recognizable ways. The title track, written by Bradley and inspired by a high school classmate who struggled with mental illness, is desperate and heartfelt at the same time. Bradley paints a picture of a woman often held captive by the troubles inside her mind, offering lines like, “With thoughts like speeding cars on 25, sometimes she was deafened from the sound.” It’s a fine reminder that troubles are not always visible on the outside.
Lynwood, penned by David Morris, Gordon Roberts, and Donate Gardner, is another song that will cut listeners deeply. A heartbreaking depiction of a Vietnam veteran, struggling with a “tortured, private war,” and forsaken by the country he served faithfully, it’s filled with poetic, perfectly written lines. Yellow Creek has a much different vibe musically, but still calls for a moment to pause and think about the impact of history. Previously recorded by John Anderson, it’s told from the perspective of a modern-day resident of Yellow Creek who is haunted by the realization that they would not be living there had it not been for the Trail of Tears and removal of the Cherokee Indians.
Bradley always features excellent Gospel numbers on her albums, filled with earnestness and passion, and this record is no different. The rousing After While took home the 2021 Gospel Recording of the Year trophy at the IBMA Awards. In addition to the uplifting lyrics, it’s jam-packed with fine picking – mandolin from Ashby Frank, resophonic guitar from Matt Leadbetter, and banjo from Mike Sumner, among others. Closing the album is what is perhaps the most moving track here, In the End. Bradley had originally planned to record it with her close friend, the late Steve Gulley, but Gulley learned of his cancer diagnosis just before the scheduled recording session. You can hear the emotion flooding every word as Bradley sings. “In the end, there’s no rewind, there’s no turning back the time. When you leave this world behind, will they say you were their friend? That’s what matters in the end.”
Perhaps less weighty, but no less enjoyable, are several tracks that have enjoyed radio popularity throughout the past year. L.A. International Airport, despite its peppy melody, is filled with wistfulness and longing, told by a woman leaving a man who no longer loves her. Bradley learned the song from hearing Susan Raye sing it on Hee Haw in the early 1970s, and she’s given it a neat new sound that, while fully bluegrass, is reminiscent of pop and country from that era. Falling Down, from Ashby Frank’s pen, was the album’s first single and is inspiring in a round-about way. It discusses the fear of failure, with hushed, urgent vocals in the verses mimicking the worry felt by the singer. It includes one of the best lines on the album: “You know me, I’m getting by. My feet are steady on the ground, but how am I ever gonna fly, when I’m scared of falling down.”
This is one of those albums you can press play and just let it go, soaking in the lyrics and the insightful messages throughout without ever having to skip a track. Based on the merits of Things She Couldn’t Get Over, Bradley’s recent sixth win for IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year is certainly well-deserved.
For more information on Dale Ann Bradley, visit her online. Her newest album is available from a number of online retailers.