Tina Adair Band "Born Bad" www.TinaAdairBand.com
As the last century came to a close, Tina Adair was one of the more familiar female bluegrass artists. Her Sugar Hill album "Just You Wait & See," produced by Jerry Douglas, was well-received, and her name was frequently mentioned when 'next big things' were begin discussed. While her harmony vocals on Josh Williams' Down Home were welcomed, as the last decade unfurled Adair became little more than a footnote within the tumultuous and quickly-changing bluegrass world.
That should change with the release of the Tina Adair Band's "Born Bad."
While the 1997-debut album largely featured songs from outside writers- and good ones, Janis Ian, Chris Stuart, Lisa Ray, Cheryl Wheeler, and Rusty Young among them- the new album has seven Adair originals, each a 24 karat corker.
Adair, who plays mandolin as well as singing in a voice with (to these abused ears) similar vocal flair, style and range as Dale Ann Bradley, may have taken her time prior to releasing her third album (the second album, "All You Need," isn't readily available and hasn't been heard by this writer), but the results would indicate that the time away from the recording studio has been well spent.
Teaming with her husband Tim Dishman (Special Consensus), Adair has assembled a strong core-quartet for this album. In addition to Dishman (guitar, bass, harmony vocals), Forrest Goodman (harmony vocals, bass on stage, but not herein) and Sim Daley (banjo) comprise the Tina Adair Band. A handful of guests also appear throughout the album, including co-producer Randy Kohrs (resonator guitar) and Brandon Godman (fiddle). Billy Dean duets with Adair on Tomorrow and For Always, a sleepy, country-flavoured number that really didn't do much for me.
What works best are the rock solid bluegrass songs, sparked by the opening salvo of four incredible Adair pieces. How I Was Raised is instantly familiar, telling a tale common within the bluegrass fold- leaving a country road home for the allure of Nashville, all the while guided by the wisdom of parents. Stuck Somewhere in the Middle, like How I Was Raised, could be borrowed from the aforementioned Dale Ann Bradley, as it is a lively romp, as much a showcase for the musicianship of Adair and her band as it is for the vocalist's talents.
More emotive is Heart I Had to Break, a reso-rich, weepy reflection on the 'one that got away' with the twist of whose heart was broken by whom. The free-spirited What Was Never Meant to Be is another independent song of affirmation, guaranteeing that things will be better once he has gone.
My interpretation of the title track is that it is intended to challenge listeners' beliefs in the hopes of causing an alteration of perspective toward seemingly obvious situations: we see, but what do we see? We believe, but what do we believe?
Snaker Dan is the album's sole instrumental, and it is an impressive one. Featuring the Adair-Dishman-Daley trio (with Dishman doing double duty on guitar and bass), the tune's drive, punctuated by false stops and a flurry of impressive breaks, makes this one an immediate favourite.
One would suspect that the album's most personally significant song is Don't Grieve, written by Adair and Kenny Lewis about her brother and best friend (and songwriting partner) Keith, who passed away three years ago. The lyrics reveal her continued faith, revealing a message of strength, acceptance, and hope, flowing nicely into a 'church choir' interpretation of Farther Along, which closes the album.
"Born Bad" marks an inspiring return for Tina Adair. Her voice is special, and within this context, some kind of remarkable. But "Born Bad" isn't just a vehicle for Adair's vocals. Dishman is impressive as an instrumentalist and vocal partner for his spouse, and it is great to see him once again emerging within the bluegrass community, and Englishman Daley provides playing that banjo-enthusiasts should note.
Two quibbles, each significant. Firstly, the size of print within the tri-fold album packaging- especially the musician credits- is much too small and is a flaw within the otherwise pleasing design.
Secondly, and this has nothing to do with the album. Autoplay on musician websites is irritating. Autoplay on musician websites without a corresponding 'pause' button being readily available is tantamount to asking for a negative review from a persnickety writer; fortunately, I am much too professional to stoop to such a level. But, Tina- fix that feature on your website!