Rebel Records is one of America's greatest bluegrass and old-timey record labels, with an impressive catalog of contemporary and classic recordings by the likes of Larry Sparks and Ralph Stanley. I hope to add more reviews of various Rebel albums as time permits, but for now you may be interested in my Stanley Brothers discography and brief guide to old-timey music. Check back on this page later... I'm sure you'll be pleased!
Clarence "Tom" Ashley "Greenback Dollar" (Rebel/County, 2001)
A top-notch set of blues-tinged old-timey music from this North Carolina guitarist. Many of these songs are now folk music standards, including the title track, which was one of the pivotal early hits for the late-'50s folk revival, when recorded by the Kingston Trio. In these original versions, Ashley's Depression-era recordings strike the perfect balance between the grimly morbid sensibilities of the old-time mountain music and the buoyancy of the emerging commercial country scene. He has an edge, yet avoids the psychotic intensity of Dock Boggs, who could also be considered a precursor to rock-style music. This is a great set, full of lively, good-humored performances and plenty of great tunes. Highly recommended!
Delmore Brothers "Sand Mountain Blues" (Rebel/County, 1994)
Delmore Brothers "Brown's Ferry Blues" (Rebel/County, 1995)
Folks who want to delve a little deeper into the Delmore's past will appreciate these discs, which collect a bunch of their more old-timey material. The recordings on Sand Mountain are traditionally-oriented tunes that were recorded during their stint on King, while Brown's Ferry Blues features even starker material from the 1930s, when they were playing on radio stations such as WSM in Nashville. The earliest Delmore Brothers records and radio appearances apparently had a great stylistic influence on bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe, as well as the other great "brother act" of the time, the Blue Sky Boys. Dark as their disciples may have been, few country acts were ever as genuinely downcast as the Delmore Brothers, and these early recordings may shock you with how stark and morose they sound. Great stuff, highly recommended.
Chris Jones "Just A Drifter" (Rebel, 2000)
Picker/singer Chris Jones represents the progressive camp in bluegrass that believes songs should Be About Something... Thankfully, he's also a pretty good songwriter, and even though the terrain is a little loftier than I personally prefer, the material is all pretty engaging. One particularly powerful tune is called "Slave Rock," reflecting on the legacy of a place in Missouri where slave auctions once took place... Also of note is the album's opening tune, a Jones original called "Just Another Town," wherein the narrator finds out that you can go home again... Just don't get too worked up about what you think you'll find. And, of course, as on his last few albums, the musicianship is all top-flight and pleasantly traditional. Good stuff for bluegrassers of a modern (but not fusion-y) bent...
Chris Jones "A Few Words: The Best Of The Originals" (Rebel, 2002)
A nice sampler of Jones' original work, gathered from his four previous Rebel albums, along with a couple of nice new tunes. Jones tends towards the slicker side of the bluegrass singer-songwriter scene, but he keeps things simple and doesn't go off on flowery, over-poetic tangents like some of the higher-profile fusion-grassers. Plus, a bunch of high-power pickers are backing him up, includimng Rob Ickes, Dan Tyminski, Ron Block and others.
Mark Newton "Follow Me Back To The Fold" (Rebel, 2000)
A lovely album by a former member of the Virginia Squires. Bluegrasser Mark Newton has been carving out a reputation as a champion of straightforward, country-tinged bluegrass singing -- the melodic mid-'70s style that derived from Jimmy Martin and Larry Sparks, then eventually -- sadly -- gave way to the overly ornate, saccharine, "adult-oriented" pop-fusion of Alison Krauss and her ilk. This new album is a picturebook sampler of all that's best in bluegrass balladry; and, as a tribute to women in bluegrass, includes stellar contributions from some of the best wimmin singers and pickers in the business today. Lynn Morris, Claire Lynch, Rhonda Vincent and a slew of other gals all chip in, and the results are lovely. With no-nonsense arrangements that emphasize the melody and sidestep the psuedo-countrypolitan ornateness which plagues bluegrass today, this record is a delight from start to finish. Highly recommended!
Mark Newton Band "Charlie Lawson's Still" (Rebel, 2001)
Pleasant, melodic modern bluegrass which sticks to a pretty traditional vibe. Reminds me a lot of Ricky Skagg's pre-Nashville days, when he was still on Sugar Hill, with the emphasis on pretty picking and friendly vocals, and sweet harmonies. The songs are all pretty involving, tunes of broken hearts and backwoods whiskey. Nice stuff!
James Alan Shelton "Song For Greta" (Rebel, 2002)
Guitar picker James Alan Shelton has a real smooth touch on the Martin flattop; here he steps out from his supporting role helping anchor Ralph Stanley's band to lead another fine, mostly-instrumental album of his own. Ralph Stanley II, mandolinist John Rigsby, banjo picker Steve Sparkman and others join in; Gillian Welch and David Rawlings sing on the gorgeous gospel tune, "Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room," which is certainly one of the album's highlights. Some of the instrumentals are a little too formal and less fiery than some bluegrassers might like, but it's still lovely stuff, with flawless musicianship throughout.
Ralph Stanley - see artist discography.
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