Black Music Matters Festival

Della Mae

Headlight – 2020 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by Della Mae

The struggle is real for Della Mae. Hailed as an emerging artist by IBMA several years ago, the bluegrass trio has battled personnel changes and the onslaught of Americana-infused material for the last half decade, taking breaks from the road and searching for its voice.

Through it all, Della Mae has endured as a solid bluegrass band featuring strong vocals and outstanding musicianship. Celia Woodsmith's smoky, soulful and sledgehammer-powerful vocals exemplify the band's newfound focus. Along with founding members Kimber Ludiker (fiddle) and Jenny Lynn Gardner (mandolin), Della Mae declares on "Headlight" that they are in for the long haul.

"Headlight" features three Ludiker-written tunes (one a co-write with Jon Weisberger and Mark Erelli) and Woodsmith's strong writing. There's also some soulful collaboration with the McCrary Sisters on three tracks. Songs like "The Long Run" and "Waiting For You" flow from veins of frustration and despair, but all carry the message that these players and their voices are here to stay, regardless of the twists and turns of the music business or, generally, life.

A big part of the new focus of the band is its embrace of issues singular to female musicians. There's a clarity of purpose that comes through on the release, impossible to ignore (not that you would want to). The title cut is an anthem to challenges faced by women making their way in the male hierarchy of the 21st century. But there's more to "Headlight" than just howling at the men in the room. "Change" follows "Headlight" with a bluesy call to action.

Della Mae seems to have embraced exactly who they are and who they will always be - talented and powerful players that have lived life and have stories to tell. There's no apologies for their new musical maturity; the listener is challenged to accept it and embrace it straightaway. The result is a powerful collection of songs and stories from one of the finest bands extant. This is not your mother's bluegrass album, but it might be your sister's.