At a time when country music is mired in the worst esthetic swamp since the Urban Cowboy fad of the early 1980s, the Piedmont Melody Makers offer music from and for the soul.
This Triangle-based quartet is a who’s who of old-time, bluegrass and country brilliance: Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter, Alice Gerrard, singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Chris Brashear, former Red Clay Rambler Jim Watson, and versatile vocalist Cliff Hale.
Recorded in Jerry Brown’s Rubber Room Studio, “Wonderful World Outside” is a pure Southern delight – 16 tracks of classic country, bluegrass, gospel and old-time music. Some, including Sam (No Legs) Fincher’s “Some Old Day,” which Hale’s rich baritone leads against the ornamenting harmonies of Watson and Gerrard, are rare, often hidden, gems.
Original songs from Gerrard and Brashear nestle comfortably alongside the honky-tonk reverie of Ray Price’s “I’ll Be There,” the Carter Family’s “Poor Little Orphaned Boy,” E.C. Ball’s “Trials Troubles Tribulations,” and the Stanley Brothers’ “Wonderful World Outside.”
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As those chestnuts sprout from country music’s true vine, so do Brashear’s “One and Only” and “Little Boy Loser,” and Gerrard’s “Sweeter Days.” Her “”Kentucky Home” was inspired by cultural dissonance experienced by her duet partner, the late Hazel Dickens, upon moving from coal country to metropolitan Baltimore.
Singing her own compositions or reinterpreting gospel sentiments, such as “Troublesome Waters,” Gerrard remains as vivid as when she and Dickens pioneered women’s roles in bluegrass in the 1960s and ’70s.
Watson’s soaring tenor breathes new life into Charlie Poole’s “Just Keep Waiting Till the Good Times Roll” and the Carters’ “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” while Brashear’s instrumental brilliance envelopes each song within an ambiance of old-time charm.
A true collaboration, each member of this stellar quartet contributes distinctive gifts, making a splendid local project with universal appeal.
(The Piedmont Melody Makers will perform Oct. 13 at Carrboro’s ArtsCenter.)
“Wonderful World Outside”
The Piedmont Melody Makers
Order from 132 Justice St., Chapel Hill, NC 27516. $17.50