While mainstream country releases have been slow in early 2003, bluegrass artists have picked up the slack. Here are 10 new albums from smaller labels that may appeal to country fans, listed in alphabetical order.
Wayne Benson, An Instrumental Anthology
Known for his mandolin work with band IIIrd Tyme Out , Wayne Benson wrote every track on An Instrumental Anthology. In a way, it’s a solo debut, but by sharing the studio with some of bluegrass’ finest musicians, Benson has crafted a wonderfully modest album that never resorts to show-off licks.
The Gibson Brothers, Bona Fide
Though they won the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award as 1998′s emerging artist, the Gibson Brothers flirted with going country. It didn’t take, so Eric and Leigh Gibson issued this harmonious bluegrass collection praising God, grandpa and old guitars — plus two cheatin’ songs!
Aubrey Haynie, The Bluegrass Fiddle Album
Aubrey Haynie took private lessons from Mark O’Connor as a teen and now leads the list of Nashville’s finest studio fiddlers. But this disc is far less noisy than Music Row fare. The longing melody of “Ook Pik Waltz” can make the hardest heart break. He’s joined by Barry Bales, Sam Bush, Tony Rice and David Talbot.
Randy Howard, I Rest My Case
A hugely respected fiddler who died in 1999, Randy Howard leaves I Rest My Case as his legacy. Even without the sad circumstances, the astonishing music here will move you. If this version of Dan Fogelberg’s “Leader of the Band” — sung by Don Rigsby — doesn’t qualify as acoustic bliss, nothing does.
As the final song fades, I don’t know whether to reach for the Kleenex box or the replay button. This angel-voiced soprano forges ahead without her dad — they were the Kendalls — to heartbreaking effect. With harmonies by Alan Jackson , Alison Krauss , Ricky Skaggs and Rhonda Vincent , heaven’s just a spin away.