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Headed into 2015, Imelda May was on a hit streak. Her rockabilly career was in full swing, nurtured by the likes of former Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland and guitar icon Jeff Beck. Her albums routinely topped the charts in her native Ireland. No less than Bono cited her as the country's queen, and she attracted a global fan base through rigorous touring. At home, May was wife to musical collaborator/guitarist Darrel Higham and mother to two-year-old Violet, and the future seemed shades bright.

That all came to a shattering halt when she and Higham decided to divorce. Although their split was largely amicable, May also lost a significant band member with Higham's departure, and her subsequent attempt at a new relationship ended in heartbreak. The songs May wrote to deal with her pain didn't lend themselves to her raucous rockabilly presentation.

The resultant album, "Life Love Flesh Blood," is a combination of slow burning bluesy torch songs and sturdy yet atmospheric... »»»

For most artists, eight years is a fair amount of time in their careers. For Nikki Lane, eight years represents the entirety of her recorded history, and she's filled that relatively short time span with a highlight reel of impressive accomplishments, not the least of which would be actually learning how to write and play music and including her most recent and best album to date, "Highway Queen."

The Greenville, S.C. native was raised on country and Motown, but turned her teenage attention to punk and alternative rock. A high school dropout, Lane moved to Los Angeles where a series of nothing jobs led to an opportunity to design her own shoe line; she currently runs a vintage clothing boutique in Nashville called High Class Hillbilly.

Five years later, she gave the guitar a try, learned how to play and write, but after a few open mic shows, she relocated to New York for a corporate position. Lane's then-boyfriend broke up with her to pursue his recording career. So,... »»»

For The Avett Brothers, MerleFest is a coming home of sorts. This year's edition of the MerleFest "traditional-plus" music festival in Wilkesboro, N.C., the event's 30th anniversary, a milestone sure to be marked by many different special appearances and commemorations during the festival's four-day run, is no exception.

No appearance may be more significant or thorough, than the participation of The Avett Brothers, who will appear in some form on every one of those days.

MerleFest has always been a perfect fit for the music of The Avett Brothers, North Carolina natives who continue to straddle the line between traditional Appalachian tunes, bluegrass, rock 'n' roll and pop music even on their most recent album, "True Sadness," which introduced more pronounced electronic and rock elements to the band's sound.

They are scheduled as one of the Thursday night headliners, playing a full band concert set. On Saturday, they will appear on the Hillside stage doing a set of... »»»

There's no more solid live bluegrass show than the Gibson Brothers. They play with great technical skill and crispness. Their harmonies are just what a brother act should be: sweet, true and never forced. Brothers Leigh and Eric Gibson surround themselves with outstanding sidemen with impeccable bluegrass cred: Jesse Brock (mandolin), Mike Barber (bass) and Clayton Campbell on fiddle. Brock is the newcomer in the group, having been with The Gibsons for the last four years or so. So, continuity and preparedness contribute to the band's assuredness.

Given their standing in the bluegrass community, it's always noteworthy when the Gibsons release a new record.

Leigh Gibson views the release of "In The Ground" (Rounder) as an important step forward for the Gibson Brothers. "This is the first record that Eric and I have done all the writing. We did have a couple of co-writes…one is a song that I wrote with Shawn Camp. But it's the first record where we've pretty much written the whole thing."... »»»

For nearly a decade and a half, The Devil Makes Three has concocted an amazing blend of bluegrass, folk, country, blues, rockabilly and whatever happens to bubble to the surface, and applied it liberally to their songwriting ethic. The result has been an incendiary cross-pollination of old time authenticity and contemporary invention which the trio – guitarist Pete Bernhard, upright bassist Lucia Turino and guitarist/tenor banjoist Cooper McBean - has translated into their estimable catalog of four studio albums and two live recordings.

For the band's fifth studio album, Bernhard, Turino and McBean envisioned a thematic work exploring the duality of humanity, the push and pull between damnation and salvation, evil and good, carnality and spirituality. To that end, they chose a handful of covers that dealt in those issues, rearranged them to fit comfortably in The Devil Makes Three's oeuvre and recorded them live for the beatific and brutal "Redemption & Ruin."

From Bernhard's perspective, the concept didn't require much research on the band's part.... »»»

Mercy Rose Isbell recently celebrated her first birthday and, ironically, the album she helped inspire has just been released. Synchronicity is a beautiful thing.

Mercy Rose is, of course, the daughter of singer/songwriters Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, two of the most gifted Americana artists working today, and the album in question is her mother's just-released fifth full length, "My Piece of Land." And while Mercy Rose's presence had a profound effect on the outcome of "My Piece of Land," Shires is quick to clarify that her influence was not necessarily direct; most of the album's songs were written last year at the end of Shire's pregnancy.

"I couldn't travel anymore at that 33-week mark, and it gave me time to write, for sure," says Shires. "There are songs on there that allude to being pregnant, but it's not a pregnancy record. It's kind of about my feelings and my perspective of a time in my life. Bringing a child into the world is pretty scary. So many... »»»

Something old is new again. The Earls of Leicester, fresh from their first release in late 2014 and the IBMA Entertainer of the Year Award for 2015, followed that remarkable success with "Rattle and Roar."

The Earls of Leicester play the songs popularized by, and in the musical style of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. They were one of the first generation bluegrass bands (along with Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys and The Stanley Brothers) that worked the local circuits in the southeastern U.S. in the 1940s and 1950s, touring relentlessly from the base of their radio station of the time and forming the foundation of traditional bluegrass as it is known today. While Monroe is credited with popularizing, some say inventing, the genre, Flatt and Scruggs added their own songs and instrumentalization to carve out a unique corner of the bluegrass sound.

But, nearly 70 years on, they are a distant memory to most bluegrass fans. The sole surviving member of the Flatt and Scruggs band, Curly Seckler, has retired his tenor voice and mandolin chops.... »»»

In the nine years since Nickel Creek declared itself on indefinite hiatus, violinist/vocalist Sara Watkins has been relentlessly busy. She discovered a new pathway for her harmonic gifts with Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O'Donovan in the vocal trio I'm With Her.

She lent her talents to the super group Works Progress Administration with Glen Phillips and Benmont Tench, among others. She found new inspiration in her longest standing collaboration with brother Sean in the Watkins Family Hour and even reunited with Sean and Chris Thile to scale greater heights with the groundbreaking band that thrust her into the spotlight in the first place.

But more than anything, Watkins has been endeavoring to identify and refine her solo voice. Her eponymous 2009 solo debut established her as a creative entity beyond the confines of Nickel Creek and earned her opening slots for Robert Earl Keen, Tift Merritt and many others. Watkins' sophomore album, 2012's "Sun Midnight Sun," was her... »»»

Four years after forming in Boston and a year after receiving their first major award (an IBMA Momentum nod), when most bands might be expected to have two or three already in circulation, the Lonely Heartstring Band finally has its first full-length CD release "Deep Waters" (Rounder) out on the street.

Patrick M'Gonigle, the band's fiddler, says, "We're perfectionists, and I think that that's probably why that is…We weren't gonna have just four great songs and then eight mediocre songs of ‘filler' to just get that out into the world. I think we all, without even discussing it, knew we wanted to have a great record, start to finish, with great original songs and unique and original sounding covers."

A "preliminary" version was ready for release a year ago, M'Gonigle relates, explaining that they sought out Boston-area resident and Rounder Records founder Ken Irwin for advice, got picked up by the label and wound up remixing a good bit of it before finally putting it out. "We're really trying to be careful about making the music that we really want to be making and doing things right the first time," he concludes.... »»»

Sam Bush is back with a new record, "Storyman," not that he ever went anywhere. Identified with The Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which he has played in one form or another for each year but one, he helped define the newgrass sound. Starting with Poor Richard's Almanac (along with Alan Munde and Wayne Stewart) in 1970, continuing to turns with New Grass Revival and Nash Ramblers, Bush has played fiddle, mandolin and mandolin variants (including slide mandolin) solidly since that time.

"Storyman," his first release in seven years, is a throwback in the sense that it is an album to be listened to and considered as a whole, distinct from the one-song-at-a-time consumption patterns of the popular streaming services of the day.

"The last five years or so, I've just been writing with my friends. I collected some songs and actually had quite a few of them, and for me, I still think about the entire package and tried to get the songs that really fit together. I still think of recording an album." Bush emphasizes, "I think of it as an album, building a project."... »»»