Signup for a folk alley account


Folk Alley's Best of 2015 - Barb Heller's Top Bluegrass Albums of the Year

December 21, 2015

Barb guitar.jpgBarb Heller's Top Bluegrass Albums of the Year

In between shifts at Folk Alley, I'm a bluegrass radio host for North Country Public Radio in northern New York. I live a few miles from the mighty St. Lawrence River that divides the US and Canada. You might think it strange that I'd be such a bluegrass fan, living in the Big Cheese State of NY, but we're rich in many kinds of music here.

My "favorites" list this year is in no particular order, and I'm particularly fond of performers who bend their chosen genre a bit. You'll find a lot of bend in this year's list of favorites. Enjoy - and Happy Holidays! - Barb




Steeldrivers.jpgThe Steeldrivers, 'The Muscle Shoals Recordings' (Rounder)
I rarely listen to albums over and over. This one's different - I've been playing it for weeks now, over and over. The songwriting is so vivid that it gets more real every time I hear it. Gary Nichols' lead singing just takes me away. I'm a northerner, but I feel the south in every cut on this great album. Two words: Get it. iTunes * Amazon.com






Ickes and Hensley.jpgRob Ickes & Trey Hensley, 'Before The Sun Goes Down' (Compass Records)
I first met Trey Hensley a few years ago, when he performed at a festival near my home. I've known about Rob Ickes for years - 15-time IBMA dobro player of the year, and Blue Highway band member for 20+ years. Trey Hensley is one of the slickest bluegrass guitarists I've ever seen - and he's doubly blessed with a deep, classic country voice. Together, they're a force to be reckoned with. They produce a sound that's so much bigger than just two. The songs are beautifully rendered - with a slant toward the country genre. These guys could shred these songs with their instruments.... but they don't. They know just when to stop. iTunes * Amazon.com




Tommy Hillbenders.jpgThe Hillbenders, 'Tommy - A Bluegrass Opry' (Compass Records)
As the name implies, this IS a remake of the classic WHO rock opera. Wow! I've seen this show live a couple of times, and it just gets better and better. If you liked the original, you'll love this album, and you should treat yourself to a Hillbenders show, complete with stage dancing and lighting. iTunes * Amazon.com






Bumper Jacksons.jpgBumper Jacksons, 'Too Big World' (Bumper Jacksons)
Sometimes I write notes on the cd jackets as they come in. This one has one word on the front: FUN! This DC-area group has taken a pretty wide variety of songs and turned each one into a little sideshow. Even the serious medicine goes down easy with this band. You'll be shuffling your feet before you realize you're dancing to a gospel song. It's.... fun. iTunes * Amazon.com






Gleaves.jpgSam Gleaves, 'Ain't We Brothers' (Community Music)
Gleaves is an openly gay musician from Appalachia... who sings about a gay miner from Appalachia. Hats off to this young man for boldly going where bluegrass has feared to tread. With a groundswell of support behind this album (produced by Cathy Fink, with guest appearances by Tim O'Brien, Laurie Lewis and Janis Ian), you're sure to hear more about Sam Gleaves in coming years. His choice of songs is as sweet as his gentle voice. Get in on this one. iTunes * Amazon.com




Here are a few more albums that have turned my head this year:


Ronnie Reno.jpgRonnie Reno, 'Lessons Learned' (Rural Rhythm) The Reno name has been a household word in bluegrass circles for decades. Ronnie Reno grew up in the shadow of Reno & Smiley, his dad's band. Ronnie grew up to be a songwriter, performer, radio and TV host, and opening act for some of the biggest names in country music. He's written most of the songs on his latest album, and he's clearly learned his lessons well. Great playing, singing, and excellent content and production quality on this album. iTunes * Amazon.com




Cox Family.jpgThe Cox Family, 'Gone Like The Cotton' (Rounder)
Recorded in 1998, and just released in October of 2015, this collection - produced by Alison Krauss - is just as good as the first Cox Family album. Velvety, melt-in-your-mouth vocals, great instrumental arrangements, and a wide range of songs bring out all the great things this band has to offer. The album also features some big name studio guests (Sam Bush, Barry Bales, Alison Krauss, Ron Block, Andrea Zonn, to name a few). If you like the sound of Alison Krauss, you'll love this one, too. iTunes * Amazon.com




Norman Blake.jpgNorman Blake, 'Wood, Wire & Words' (Western Jubilee Recording Company/Plectraphone Records)
Still making great music in his 70's, Norman Blake is a living classic. Good stories, good picking, and an honest, straight-ahead great set of music. If you've heard anything by Norman Blake over the last 40 years, you know he's a great historian, guitarist, and songwriter. He sets the bar high. iTunes * Amazon.com




Sideline.jpgSideline, 'Session 2' (Mountain Fever Records)
If bluegrass music was a buffet, Sideline would be the meat & potatoes. These guys all have other bands that they tour with, but they put this project together in their spare time. The result is down-home, dead-on great playing. If you're a traditionalist, put this one on your must-have list. iTunes * Amazon.com






Banjo Babes 2016.jpg... and, last but not least, an upcoming release that I haven't actually heard yet. I just LOVE the concept: 2016 Banjo Babes Calendar and CD set.
I met one of the original Banjo Babes this year at a music festival, and that's the first I'd heard of this project. I got the 2015 edition. The music is OK; a compilation of tracks in various genres by 12 women who all happen to play banjo - but the concept is priceless! The 2016 calendar/cd combo is a must-have for the banjo lover in your life. Every mechanic needs one of these in the shop, too. Available - HERE.

Posted by Linda Fahey at December 21, 2015 7:01 PM


Support Folk Alley During Our Spring Fund Drive!

 

Recent Topics

Postcards from Folk Alliance 2017, Episode 5
Postcards from Folk Alliance 2017, Episode 4
Postcards from Folk Alliance 2017, Episode 3
Postcards from Folk Alliance 2017, Episode 2
Postcards from Folk Alliance 2017, Episode 1
Hear It First: Blair Crimmins & the Hookers, 'You Gotta Sell Something'
WATCH: River Whyless' Special Video in Support of America's National Wildlife Refuges
In Review: Guest DJ Hour with Kim Ruehl, MLK Day
Hear It First: Rayna Gellert, 'Workin's Too Hard'
Folk Alley's Best of 2016 - Kelly McCartney's Ten Best Singer/Songwriter Records
Folk Alley's Best of 2016 - Elena See's Top 10 Albums
Folk Alley's Best of 2016 - Cindy Howes' Top 10 Albums
A Q & A with Courtney Marie Andrews
Song Premiere: Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, "If We Make It Through December"
Hear It First - 'Christmas On the Lam and Other Songs from the Season'
'HOOT Thursday' Video Premiere: Tracy Bonham, "In the Pines"
'HOOT Thursday' Video Premiere: Dom Flemons and Brian Farrow,"Polly Put the Kettle On"
'HOOT Thursday' Video Premiere: The Brother Brothers,"Cairo, Illinois"
'HOOT Thursday' Video Premiere: Lula Wiles, "Leave Me Now"
Guest DJ Hour: Kim Ruehl
Guest DJ Hour: Kelly McCartney Recaps AmericanaFest 2016
A Q & A with Dar Williams
Album Review: Chely Wright, 'I Am the Rain'
Album Review: Amanda Shires, 'My Piece of Land'
A Q & A with Glen Phillips
Laura Cortese Guest DJs with Cindy Howes
PLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #160929
Hear It First: Tom Brosseau, 'North Dakota Impressions'
Video Premiere: Gregory Alan Isakov, "The Stable Song"
PLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #160825

 

 

February 2017
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
         1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28            


February 2017


January 2017


December 2016


November 2016


October 2016


September 2016


August 2016


July 2016


May 2016


April 2016


March 2016


February 2016


January 2016


December 2015


November 2015


October 2015


September 2015


August 2015


July 2015


June 2015


May 2015


April 2015


March 2015


February 2015


January 2015


December 2014


October 2014


September 2014


August 2014


July 2014


June 2014


April 2014


March 2014


February 2014


January 2014


December 2013


November 2013


October 2013


September 2013


August 2013


July 2013


June 2013


May 2013


April 2013


March 2013


February 2013


December 2012


November 2012


October 2012


September 2012


August 2012


July 2012


June 2012


May 2012


April 2012


March 2012


February 2012


January 2012


December 2011


November 2011


October 2011


September 2011


August 2011


July 2011


June 2011


May 2011


April 2011


March 2011


February 2011


January 2011


December 2010


November 2010


October 2010


September 2010


August 2010


July 2010


May 2010


April 2010


March 2010


February 2010


January 2010


December 2009


November 2009


October 2009


September 2009


August 2009


July 2009


June 2009


May 2009


April 2009


March 2009


February 2009


January 2009


December 2008


November 2008


October 2008


September 2008


August 2008


July 2008


June 2008


May 2008


April 2008


March 2008


February 2008


January 2008


December 2007


November 2007


October 2007


September 2007


August 2007


July 2007


June 2007


May 2007


April 2007


March 2007


February 2007


January 2007


December 2006


November 2006


October 2006


September 2006


August 2006


July 2006


June 2006


May 2006


April 2006


March 2006


February 2006


January 2006


December 2005


November 2005


October 2005


September 2005


August 2005


July 2005


June 2005


May 2005


April 2005


March 2005


February 2005


January 2005


December 2004


November 2004


October 2004


September 2004


August 2004


July 2004


June 2004


May 2004


April 2004


March 2004


February 2004


January 2004


December 2003


November 2003


October 2003


September 2003


August 2003