Bluegrass Truth – Issue 83

Stuart Wyrick’s debut album East Tennessee Sunrise is the first offering of Rural Rhythm’s “Wide Open at the Curve” series featuring bluegrass artists from the regions of East Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia. It was recorded and co-produced by Steve Gulley at his studio (The Curve) in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. It was a joy speaking with Stuart with his broad rural accent. He lives Tennessee’s Tater Valley and when he is not playing music he is raising beef cattle, although music is clearly his primary passion.

Stuart was touring with Dale Anne Bradley, ‘the Reba McEntire of bluegrass,’ the last three years, but he joined Flashback in March 2016. Flashback is a band inspired by JD Crowe and the New South, also featuring Don Rigsby and Phil Leadbetter. Stuart’s new album hits off with ‘Hitchhiking to California,’ a cracking contemporary bluegrass song reminiscent of Mountain Heart when Gulley was their lead singer. The rest of the album is more traditional, but Stuart sounds at home throughout.

Dale Anne sings the Dolly Parton song ‘When Someone Wants to Leave.’ Vic Graves, who previously worked with Stuart in a band called New Road, sings on ‘The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow,’ a stirring gospel song. Another past New Road band member Randall Massengill sings ‘You’re The One’ in his high tenor. Keith Williams, also from Tater Valley, sings the lead on his own ‘Little Moonshine Johnny’ and Ernest Tubb’s ‘Walking The Floor.’ Keith used to jam a lot with Stuart’s father when Stuart was young.

Stuart nails the straight ahead bluegrass and you really feel as though you are in East Tennessee when you listen to this album. His banjo playing is creative and strong, and he sings a vital baritone on all the vocal cuts. Particularly well done was the instrumental ‘Riding on the Clouds’ which Stuart wrote when he was twenty-eight years old.

The highlight of the year’s bluegrass calendar in Australia approaches – MountainGrass – to be held in Harrietville Victoria, 18-20 November. International guests this year include Rob Ickes (worked with Blue Highway, the Soggy Bottom Boys, and played dobro on Alan Jackson’s bluegrass album), Trey Hensley (worked with Marty Stuart, Earl Scruggs, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Charlie Daniels) and Mike Compton (Nashville Bluegrass Band, Soggy Bottom Boys).

North Carolina’s Rhiannon Giddens, one of the most acclaimed performers in the universe of contemporary folk music, has won the 2016 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. She is both the first woman and the first African-American to do so. The 39-year-old Greensboro native is a co-founder of string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and is the seventh winner of the prize created by the banjo-playing comedian. It carries an unrestricted cash prize of $50,000 and a bronze sculpture created by the artist Eric Fischl. If you aren’t familiar, the Chocolate Drops play very traditional American music and they cracked the pop charts in 2010 with their provocatively titled album ‘Genuine Negro Jig,’ which also won a Grammy Award.

The Sydney based band Green Mohair Suits have just released a new album titled ‘Evans Street.’ The four guys – Brian Campeau, Jason Mannell, Richard Cuthbert and Ben Romalis – play bluegrass instruments, but their music demonstrates strong popular-folk influences and a love of four-part harmony singing. Occupying a broad musical landscape between influences like Beck, Fleet Foxes, Hank Williams, Tom Waits, Portishead & Gram Parsons, Campeau labels their music “Garage-grass”, adding fans should “expect sad songs and waltzes.” He forgets to add that they should also prepare themselves for a harmonious blur of booze-soaked good times, mixed with schooner-loads of emotion and energy.

Australian bluegrass discographer John Boothroyd has been over to the US and making radio appearances and emceeing at bluegrass festivals. John’s involvement in bluegrass began in Melbourne in the late 1960s during the folk music revival and he literally wrote the book on “Australian Bluegrass Recordings.” He also wrote the book “Bluegrass LP Records; 1957-1990.”

Dwight Yoakam has always been on the sidelines of bluegrass and collaborated with the likes of Ralph Stanley and Alison Krauss. However, September saw the release of an exciting bluegrass album by Dwight titled Swimming’ Pools, Movie Stars. The album showcases some of his own songs done in the bluegrass style like ‘Guitars, Cadillacs’ and ‘Please, Please Baby,’ with less electric guitar but plenty of fiddle, resonator and dobro. There’s even a bluegrass tribute to Prince with ‘Purple Rain,’ a spontaneous idea that Dwight had when they were in the studio making the album.

Here is a quick rundown of the winners at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s 2016 Awards: Instrumental Recorded Performance Of The Year – ‘Fireball’ – Special Consensus, Rob Ickes, Trey Hensley & Alison Brown. Recorded Event – Longneck Blues – Junior Sisk and Ronnie Bowman. Banjo Player – Charlie Cushman. Dobro Player – Jerry Douglas. Bass Player – Barry Bales. Mandolin Player – Sierra Hull. Fiddle Player – Becky Buller. Guitar Player – Bryan Sutton. Female Vocalist – Becky Buller. Male Vocalist – Danny Paisley. Vocal Group – Flatt Lonesome. Emerging Artist – Mountain Faith. Album of the Year – Runaway Train – Flatt Lonesome. Entertainer of the Year – Earls of Leicester.

Tim O’Brien fans will be happy to hear that he is returning to Australia this summer for the Woodford Folk Festival, the Cygnet Folk Festival and a series of dates in Victoria and NSW.

Although Tamworth 2017 seems a long way off, you can expect to see novelty bluegrass band The Pigs, long time festival favourite Pete Denahy, South Australian Kristy Cox, Nashville’s veteran songwriter Jerry Salley and Australia’s queen of bluegrass Karen Lynne.