When a friend recently described Dale Ann Bradley as the real deal, he wasn't lying. In a sea of bluegrass voices, hers stands above most, approaching that of Alison Krauss on the bluegrass side and Reba McEntire on the country. Add a stable of superb pickers and immaculate production by Alison Brown and you have one of the most solid releases out of Nashville this year.
You can call it old-timey, bluegrass or country, for it is all of those in differing degrees. Rita Mae, which kicks off the CD, is straight out of Tim O'Brien's playbook, an upbeat traditional number giving top-flight musicians a chance to run with it, which they do. Things tone down a bit on Live Forever and Bradley shines with that Krauss/McEntire hybrid voice (and let's face it, it's also one of the better songs to come out of Billy Joe and Eddy Shaver catalog). Bradley credits her uncle with turning her on to Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, and he deserves a big pat on the back because Bradley and Marty Raybon give Porter and Dolly a run for their money on the classic Holding On To Nothing. Most kids these days think George Jones and Tammy Wynette were the only ones cranking out beautiful duets in those days. I shake my head.
I thought at first that Bradley had made a big mistake bastardizing one of my all-time favorite R&B tracks, Ann Peebles' I Can't Stand the Rain, but a handful of listens has proven that she knows what she's doing. Regardless of genre, it's one fine song and these people work their a***s off making it work. Bradley reached into her past and came up with Run Rufus Run, a great story of rumrunning in old-timey time, a tune which fits perfectly here. Bradley slides into Nanci Griffith territory on Memories, Miles and Tears, harmonies carrying the chorus over the top.
Pass Me Not captures all that is good in old country gospel. Larry Sparks lends soul as well as voice and there is magic when Bradley steps in. A hymn of the first water. "Julia Belle" cranks it right back up, an upbeat 'grasser which again gives the musicians room to run. Grandma's Gift has that smooth uplifting feel to it, a musical call to anyone who has ever known a grandmother's love.
Back to Tim O'Brien territory with Mercy Railroad, a song which "invites us to ponder just how desperate a mother would have had to have been to hand her baby to a stranger on the Underground Railroad" (from the liner notes). After hearing it, I do believe that says it all. When the Mist Comes Again melds traditonal folk, country and Irish folk and while it is a big step from the rest of the album, it works beautifull thanks to Lunasa, a band of Celtic proportions. Big thumbs up.
Bradley's choice of Me and Bobby McGhee to close the album could have backfired big time, but by the time you get there, you won't care. Love or hate the song (it seems everyone has an opinion), Bradley and crew do it more than justice.
A word about the musicians. They smoked these sessions. Trust me.
Dale Ann Bradley will no doubt turn some heads in Nashville with this release. She is the real deal in a city of pretenders and she will survive. When most of the darlings of modern country are taking flack, she will be remembered for being true to her music--- and for that angelic voice.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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