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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.