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Larry Cordle

Tales from East Kentucky – 2018 (MightyCord Records)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Larry Cordle

Although he has won Song of the Year from the IBMA twice, Larry Cordle has long been largely ignored when recognition has been accorded. He has never received Songwriter of the Year, nor has he received a Distinguished Achievement Award: if any songwriter deserves a place in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, it is Cordle.

With Lonesome Standard Time and without, Cordle has released several exceptional albums of high-quality bluegrass replete with timeless songs, most of which he wrote or co-wrote. That continues with "Tales From East Kentucky."

Perhaps the closest bluegrass has to a poet laureate on the scale of Guy Clark, Cordle writes and sings with an everyman's perspective, homespun wisdom approached from a literary angle. "Anything Worth Doing" and "Lawrence County Seat" are two examples of songs attain this lofty aspiration. These songs appear uncomplicated in structure - one filled with sensible advice, the other the observations of an old church pew - but reveal their foundational structure through intelligent word choices and apt melodic variation. Similarly, "Old Men" reflects astuteness attained through experience, while the vivid imagery of "Scared the Hell Out of Me" captures experiences similarly to "Texas, 1947," albeit illustrating the challenge of faith and conviction rather than a streamline, "mad-dog cyclone."

Cordle can also deliver lighter songs, praising a formidable coon in "Bandit," a free-spirited celebration of pickin' "Bluegrass Junction," and "Yard Bird," about the chicken due for a Sunday appointment. Co-written with Donna Ulisse, and featuring her vocals, "Where The Mountain Lilies Grow" is a powerful, sentimental song.

Cordle - self-producing - has elected to surround himself by some fine bluegrass pickers. While several musicians are featured, Mike Bub (bass), Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Clay Hess (guitar) and Chris Davis (mandolin) comprise an instrumental core tough to beat. Jody King and Ron Block split banjo responsibilities, while Rob Ickes guests on Weissenborn. Don Rigsby, Jerry Salley and Brandon Rickman are among the well-known contributing background and harmony vocals.

This is Cordle's 11th eleventh album, including those with Lonesome Standard Time; "Tales From East Kentucky," featuring songs tied to Cordle's experiences, certainly stands with the best of them.