Three Digital Vintage Releases from CMH Records
Donald Teplyske | June 13, 2018
Whatever one thinks about modern bluegrass music-from "That's not bluegrass!" to "That's too traditional for today's listeners..."-most bluegrass listeners admit that the late-70s was a pretty good time for the music.
CMH Records has a vast catalogue of bluegrass recorded 40 years ago and more, and every month or two they prepare a handful of unavailable titles for digital release. No bonus tracks or significant remastering is offered-the recordings sound just fine, but are an upgrade to ripped versions one may encounter on the internet-and, unfortunately, neither are liner notes. Just the music, then.
This month's offerings come from Bobby Smith & the Boys From Shiloh with Josh Graves, Don Reno & the Tennessee Cut-Ups, and Curly Seckler & the Nashville Grass.
"Smokin' Bluegrass" from Bobby Smith & the Boys From Shiloh was released in 1978. Of the three albums, this one is the most dated although it is a fine if uneven example of the bluegrass of the day. The album incorporates a pair of songs borrowed from the pop (and country) hit parade of the decade. "Let Your Love Flow" has never been argued as the most significant #1 song of 1976 (that honour goes to "Boogie Fever") and the version offered here is rather awkwardly presented; Josh Graves' Dobro sends up notes rather randomly, and Smith's vocal is buried a bit in the mix. "Down on the Corner" fairs no better-one wonders if Smith's heart was really invested in the song. Still, the album does have its moments. "Bluer Than Midnight" and "Don't Let the Smoky Mountain Smoke Get In Your Eyes" are presented with more vigour, and the production quality of these songs also sounds more vibrant. Vassar Clements also guests on fiddle. Inconsistent, but worth a listen.
In 1979, Don Reno & The Tennessee Cut Ups released "30th Anniversary Album," and from the kick-off of "Singin' On The Mountain" the vitality of the recording is apparent. With Dale Reno beside him, Reno was in his early fifties when the album was recorded, and feeling every one of his years if the cover photo is any indication. The album itself is more than good, although there is little here that would make anyone forget earlier performances with Bill Harrell. "Daddy Was a Hard Working Man" is a fine country song, as are "My Arms Are Empty and Cold" and "What Can I Say." While dated, even "Foggy Mountain Rock" sounds pretty good within this concise set of eleven songs.
The gem of this trio of digital reissues is 1980's "Take A Little Time" from Curly Seckler & the Nashville Grass, a strong album from start to finish. Marty Stuart was in his early twenties, and had assumed a prominent role in the group here, just prior to joining his future father-in-law's backing band. Stuart takes several of the leads, including on the title track, "The Sun's Coming Up," and "Sugar Lee." Seckler shows that his tenor was still in amazing shape as he comes in over the top with his "take a little time" on the refrain. Beautiful.
Seckler takes the lead on the rather risqué "You Gotta Let All The Girls Know You're A Cowboy," and atones for any implicit indiscretion on "Will You Meet Me Over Yonder." I can listen to Seckler singing "Sign On The Dotted Line" all day. Johnny Cash, perhaps via his Stuart connection, drops in for strong renditions of "What's Good For You (Should Be Alright For Me)" and "Mother Maybelle." A highlight is a pensive rendition of Benny Martin's "Benny's Waltz." A precious album featuring expert harmony singing and bluegrass instrumentation.