Much to my surprise, another big batch of acoustic and bluegrass music found its way to my desk shortly after that. Here are more favorites, in alphabetical order.
Wondrous Love (Rounder)
These five guys take it straight to church -- and the singing is sheer heaven. With songs from the Carter Family, Bill Monroe, George Jones and a hymnal or two, this wondrous album should appeal to those who snapped up Randy Travis' last record but don't mind the tradition of bluegrass. The title track gave me goose bumps the first time I heard it.
Jim & Jesse
'Tis Sweet to Be Remembered (Pinecastle)
Jim McReynolds couldn't summon his famous tenor harmonies in the weeks before he died of cancer in December. That's why his brother, Jesse, lifted previous vocals and mixed them into the duo's final album. Far from a sentimental farewell, it's as feisty as anything out there. And when folks ask why I love living where I do, all I have to do is play "Tennessee."
All for Today (Rebel)
Softly and tenderly, Shawn Lane emerges from the Blue Highway lineup with this solo debut. Despite the bluegrass arrangements, the melodies and lyrics remind me of country music in the early 1990s -- meaningful, catchy and clean. Barry Bales, Ronnie Bowman, Jerry Douglas and Larry Sparks all pitch in. I enjoy it more every time I listen to it.
Ride (Skaggs Family)
At 21, Andy Leftwich stands among the most talented bluegrass musicians of his generation. Along with his astute skills on mandolin and fiddle, Leftwich shows a knack for composing and producing. He doesn't sing, but who cares? Currently a hired man in Ricky Skaggs' Kentucky Thunder, this young man has plenty of solo potential.
Mike Marshall & Chris Thile
Into the Cauldron (Sugar Hill)
Two expert mandolinists -- and nothing else. It's ambitious to go from a Brazilian number to Bach to Charlie Parker, but the results are compelling (although not strictly bluegrass). Chris Thile, by the way, is one-third of Nickel Creek, and Mike Marshall is an original member of the David Grisman Quintet. However, I can't explain all the photos of fruit.
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Live at the Charleston Music Hall (Skaggs Family)
Yes, it's a live album. But, no, it's not a hits package. Instead, Ricky Skaggs delivers a bushel of lively, mostly new tunes. Personal favorites include the fast and furious "Black Eyed Suzie," the back-to-basics "Simple Life" and the all-time classic "Uncle Pen." Even the chatter is kept to a minimum. Returning to bluegrass was a smart decision indeed.
Bluegrass Guitar (Sugar Hill)
This isn't the fast-and-furious picking style that most people associate with bluegrass, but it's not exactly elevator music either. Instead, Bryan Sutton (a leading session guitarist in Nashville) knows that slow and steady wins the race, which makes this charming album a top choice when you're ready to relax. Tastefully done and inviting.
The Old Home Place (Rounder)
Not nearly as warm and fuzzy as the title might imply. This is essentially a tribute album to homesickness -- and it's wonderful. While most sad songs are often clobbered by sad song production values, this one gets it tearfully right. Artists include IIIrd Tyme Out, the Cox Family, J.D. Crowe, Laurie Lewis, Longview and a dozen others.
One Step Ahead (Rounder)
It would be ridiculous to expect a more exciting bluegrass album this year than One Step Ahead. Rhonda Vincent possesses a passionate alto voice that's perfect for the songs she's written. This album especially deserves a wide audience, and Vincent and her extremely talented band will work tirelessly until she finds it.
Yonder Mountain String Band & Benny Galloway
Old Hands (Frog Pad)
Bluegrass bands certainly take pride in meeting fans, but YMSB takes it a step further. After getting to know a butcher named Benny Galloway at various festivals in Colorado, they recorded an entire album of his poetic songs. The rough-hewn vocals are neither high nor lonesome, but the musicianship is high-caliber.
On Aug. 12, look for It's Just the Night from the Del McCoury Band, arguably the hottest act in traditional bluegrass today. Also on Aug. 12, Connie Smith, Sharon White and Barbara Fairchild collaborate on the Southern-sounding Love Never Fails, produced by Ricky Skaggs. Tim O'Brien returns with Traveler, his first singer-songwriter album since 1997. Pinecastle Records offers new albums from the Churchmen, Jim Hurst & Missy Raines and Michelle Nixon.
Farther down the calendar, Rock County's sophomore effort Rock Solid arrives Aug. 19. June Carter Cash's Wildwood Flower blooms Sept. 9, along with Natalie MacMaster's Blueprint. An all-star tribute to the Louvin Brothers follows on Sept. 30.