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BILL EMERSON, Eclipse—Last year’s Southern was so on the mark that Bill Emerson could be forgiven if Eclipse had not lived up to its predecessor’s high standard, but in fact the man and his mates have succeeded in taking a different route while honoring the spirit that made Southern so memorable. You get the feeling Bill Emerson’s onto something special here.
GRASSTOWNE, Kickin’ Up Dust--In being able to move fluidly and convincingly across the bluegrass spectrum, exploring matters of faith, of the heart, and of history with bracing conviction and a winning balance of serious and feel-good moments, Grasstowne is moving into the front rank of the current scene. They’ve got the whole package together.
MIKE SCOTT, Take Me Lord and Use Me--No matter the high-powered guests on board, Mike Scott’s approach is right down the middle, explaining without over-emoting what it is about his faith that inspires him and keeps him focused on the final reward. The music itself is so fine and so focused it could stand on its own as a spiritual statement. Any way you consider it, Mike Scott has produced the most persuasive sort of testimony.
NEWFOUND ROAD, Live At The Down Home--Like greatest hits albums, live albums are often seen as holding patterns, buying a band in transition or on hiatus some time to regroup ahead of another studio project. But Live At The Down Home sounds like the work of a band ready to flex its collective muscles in making a statement about its own vitality. No holding pattern in evidence here; only a gifted quartet fully in command of its art and ready to move forward.
I LOVE: TOM T. HALL’S SONGS OF FOX HOLLOW—Co-producers Peter Cooper and Eric Brace put together a wish list of artists they hoped to persuade to participate in a tribute album to Tom T. Hall, but a tribute of a different sort: a revisiting of Tom T.’s wonderful children’s album from 1974, Songs of Fox Hollow. They came, they sang, and wonders ensued. No one makes a false move or hits a false note, and much love goes out to the master songwriter, who even shows up for his own cameo.