Reviews of our music

Bluegrass Unlimited July 2015

CEDAR HILL
MISS DIXIE, TOM T. AND ME

Blue Circle Records
BCR-042

When a band comes within the orbit of Blue Circle Records, it reaps the benefits of access to the masterful songwriting of Tom T. and the late Dixie Hall. Cedar Hill has been in that orbit since 2007. This is their fourth album for the label and, like so many Hall songs, comes with a story. Mandolinist Frank Ray had suffered some personal tragedy and, more or less, quit music. Tom T. and Dixie wanted to help, so they lured him back by offering ten new songs for him to record, which is what this recording represents.

Those ten songs have the classic Tom T. and Dixie mark on them. There are songs with catchy phrases, such as “This Ain’t No Way To Run A Railroad,” in which a man struggles to meet his girl coming in on a train. There are great story songs, such as the touching encounter a man has with a “Hound Dog From Harlan” or the family that trashes their farm by “Burning Down The Barn” after losing their property to the bank. There’s the humor and brilliance of “Aunt Penny,” who turns out to be Uncle Pen’s banjo-playing sister, and there’s the sentimentality of “Let’s Go Walking Again,” and the betting imagery (hearts, diamonds, jokers, and putting it all in the pot) of “Love Is A Gamble.” They’re all good songs, some of them very good and better.

Frank Ray and Cedar Hill (which includes banjoist Jim Bunch and guitarist/vocalist Britt McGarity, along with newcomers, bassist Patti LaFleur and fiddler Pete Brown) are a wonderful choice to put these songs across. They seem to understand almost intuitively the Hall’s ethos and style. McGarity, who has since left the group, also has a voice suited to the material, a storyteller’s voice—warm and inclusive. All of that together brings very good results. (Cedar Hill, 11503 Landers Rd., Rogers, AR 72756,www.cedarhillbluegrass.com.) BW

Bluegrass Unlimited - November 2011

I've Got A Thing About Doors

 

I’ve Got A Thing About Doors proves that, in 2011, a band can still record a pretty traditional bluegrass album using all new songs.  On this enjoyable album, Cedar Hill even manages the honor of debuting a recording of the last song Jimmy Martin wrote, “A Little Bit More.”  This is Frank Ray’s Cedar Hill, the 44-year old Ozark-based band, not Duck Adkins’ 35-year old Cedar Hill from Atlanta.  Even though the latter has quite a reputation for humor, Frank’s bunch is no slouch, adding a silly voice-over from Tom T. and Dixie Hall at the end of their title track and concluding the project with the how-not-to instructions of “Just Wanna Write A Bluegrass Song.”  That is one of three titles from Cedar Hill’s resonator guitar player Ferrell Stowe.

Ray, who plays mandolin and sings, composed or co-wrote four of the songs, including “Broke Hearts Are Real,” a fine neo-traditional piece, with bass player Earon Adams.  In addition to Martin and the Halls, Cedar Hill provides a sincere rendition of Mark Brinkman’s “With Love From Normandy,” the least traditional cut on I’ve Got A Thing About Doors.  Ray’s associates, Dale Haverstick and Charlene Summey, delivered the remaining three new songs.

Cedar Hill is traditional in the significant sense that they model from the first generation and are little influenced by the bass-heavy, trio and quartet vocal style so popular for the last thirty years.  At their quite enjoyable best, the band puts old ideas in new vessels to excellent effect.  Haverstick’s “Already Gone” receives one of the most interesting arrangements with Stanley Brothers-influenced vocals over Monrovian music featuring the fiddling of guest Tim Crouch.

The Hall’s radio-friendly title track, in fact, achieves a real Cedar Hill sound that doesn’t resemble anyone else.  The band does that again on Ray’s “Whose Gonna Pray.”  They could use more of this, for sometimes they sound more like Cedar Hill sounding like a traditional star more than sounding like themselves.  For example, “Nails and Thorns” could be slipped right on to a Dave Evans release.  That aside, I’ve Got A Thing About Doors proves a solid disc of original traditional bluegrass.

 

I’ve Got A Thing About Doors

Blue Circle Records