Sound Check: A big box of bluegrass

By Ricky Flake

The weather was nasty for a few days before the Lamar County Bluegrass Festival (and the first day); but things had cleared up by Saturday. We met some new folks, saw others again and had a blast. Here are reviews of three recordings from bands that appeared.

'Places I've Been,' Gold Heart (Mountain Fever Records, HHHHH)

Gold Heart is a Virginia-based family band we encountered/enjoyed a few years ago. They're made up of three sisters (Tori: mandolin/vocals; Shelby: fiddle/vocals; and Jocey: guitar/vocals), their Dad Todd: doghouse bass and a younger brother on banjo who doesn't appear on this recording played banjo at the festival. Jocey and Shelby writer or co-write the original songs.

My favorite is Shelby's traditional-sounding accapella-in-the-studio song "I've Got A Burden," where the sister harmonies are in full flight. Other highlights include Jocey's "Steam Engine," "Ain't That Crazy" and "Summertine," along with Shelby's "Raleigh" and the title song.

Each sister sings lead on different songs. Bluegrass family-harmony fans will find Gold Heart to be one of the best bands around.

'The Coast,' Wood & Wire (Independent Release, HHHH 1/2)

This band hails from Austin, Texas, and recently added mandolinist Billy Bright to the trio of guitarist/lead vocalist Tony Kamel, double bassist/singer Dom Fisher and banjo/singer Trevor Smith. The three are bolstered by Andy Leftwich and Jason Carter on several tracks here.

My favorite song is the snarky "Dancing On My Grave," with its unexpected minor chord. Other highlights include the title song (with bowed bass), the nifty instrumental "Elucidation," the more traditional-sounding "Torture Of Love" and the tale of "The Sea Wall."

The progressive-level musicianship will make this and future recordings by Wood & Wire desirable.

'No Town Like Coaltown,' Coaltown Dixie (Independent Release, HHHH)

The ladies in Coaltown Dixie come from Kentucky and Georgia rather than Lamar County's Coaltown community. They are Kris Bailey Preston: mandolin, lead/harmony vocals; Kalyn Bradford: guitar, lead/harmony vocals; Stephanie May Rose; bass, lead/harmony vocals; and Melanie Turner: banjo, guitar and lead vocals. They joined forces in 2009, and this is album number three. Young fiddler Ivy Phillips and dobro/producer Rod Smith ride along.

My favorite tunes "Papaw's Swing" co-written by Kris, Melanie's "Every Day For Jesus," Kalyn's "Set Me Free" and "Run," a Kris and Kalyn co-write.

Coaltown Dixie is an entertaining band on the way up.

Upcoming columns

The next few weeks will hopefully see your reviewer get a better handle on his new computer. Reviews of a Michael Jackson "Off The Wall" anniversary edition featuring a Spike Lee documentary, a new recording from Dion, a Twisted Sister documentary and lots more.

Ricky Flake, a former punk rocker and current music fan, lives in Biloxi. Reach him at flakericky@gmail.com.