Three Great Albums from 2003


Randy Howard - I Rest My Case

In 1999 Randy Howard died of leukemia at the age of 38. Even within his short lifespan he has made a lasting contribution with his remarkable musical talents. During his ten years in Nashville doing sessions, he played on discs by Garth Brooks, George Jones, and Shelby Lynne, as well as a multitude of bluegrass recordings. On I Rest My Case you have the opportunity to hear Randy Howard at his best.

From the opening bars of "New Camptown Races," by mando great Frank Wakefield, Randy Howard's musical mastery is obvious. Not only could Randy play fast, but also with ease and fluidity that left mere mortals shaking their heads in amazement. Joined by such stellar players as Ron Block on banjo, Sam Bush, Jerry Grisman, and Don Rigsby on mandolin, Jerry Douglas and Al Perkins on dobro, Dennis Crouch, the late Roy Husky jr., and Kevin Grantt on bass, Bryan Sutton, Carl Jackson, Kathy Chiavola, Romane, and Trent Howard on guitars, and Carl Jackson, Don Rigsby, and Larry Cordle on vocals, Randy's fiddle and baritone vocal lead his ensembles through a variety of wonderful tunes. The spirited and engaging song roster includes several of his own original instrumentals in addition to songs by Carl Jackson, Kathy Chiavola, Joe Stuart, Dan Fogelberg, Al Clauser, and Robert Thiele. My favorite is the Randy Howard original, and title cut, "I Rest My Case," taken from his solo CD, Survival of the Fiddlest. The song's bouncy rhythm coupled with its clever melody gives the players ample opportunity to display their musical abilities to their fullest.

When a talented artist dies while still in his prime you can't help but wonder what masterpieces he would have created if given more time on earth. I Rest My Case stands as a testament to Randy Howard's consummate artistry. While we can't help but mourn his passing, this disc lets us celebrate his life.



Kate Rusby - Kate Rusby 10

Kate Rusby looks too young to have been performing for ten years. But in an age when even teenagers boast of their credentials as show business veterans, it shouldn't be to surprising that a young woman in her mid-twenties can celebrate her first decade in the business. Rather than a "greatest hits" compilation, 10 is a collection of songs that Kate especially likes, recorded during the last six years. Nine of the fifteen selections were done in 2002. Every song is either a traditional tune arranged by Kate or an original written by Kate and John McCusker.

For those unfamiliar with Kate Rusby, she performs Celtic music that sounds as timeless as the moors themselves and as authentic as twelve-year-old single malt whiskey. Her voice has a purity and power that ideally suits it to old tunes of love lost and found. Accompanied by her producer, John McCusker, on cittern, piano, fiddle, banjo, and Viola, musicians Andy Cutting on accordion, Ewn Vernel on double bass, Ian Carr and John Doyle on guitars, Micheal McGoldrick on flute, Rusby's voice is a diamond set in a ring of emeralds.

Compass Records has developed a justifiably fine reputation for good sounding recordings. 10 certainly lives up to Compass' high sonic standards. Paul McGeechan of Paw Paw mastering does a superlative job roping together into a cohesive sonic whole recordings from three different studios made over a six-year period. The sound is natural and relaxed with great clarity and realistic ambience.

In this age of flashy and superficial media sensations it's refreshing to experience music that focuses on one particular traditional style. Instead of a shallow trench, Kate Rusby digs a deep well in the dark loam of her Celtic heritage. Have a drink, it will refresh your soul.



Don Stiernberg - Unseasonably Cool 

During the last sixty years Jazz has increasingly become marginalized. Music that was mainstream at the end of WWII slowly, but inexorably, became more and more elitist and less and less popular. For most people listening to jazz is work, not recreation. Don Stiernberg's latest release, Unseasonably Cool, makes you realize that jazz is not by its nature inaccessible. Here you'll find an entire CD full of jazz standards performed with lyricism and grace.

Don plays the mandolin, which is not commonly thought of as a jazz instrument, but in Don's hands it sounds right at home comping or leading. Don's style owes much to Jethro Burns, who pioneered jazz mandolin, but his style is somewhat less frenetic and more introspective. Don leads a fine group made up of Curt Morrison on guitar, Jim Cox on bass, and Kevin Connelley on drums. Also joining in on some cuts are Art Davis on flugelhorn and trumpet, Ron DeWar and Richi Fudoli on tenor saxophone, Russ Phillips on trombone, Aslejo Poveda and Geraldo deOliveira on percussion, and Gerg Studebacker on cornet.

The songlist reads like a who's who of American song writers, including standards by Hart and Rodgers, Romberg and Hammerstein, Green and Heyman, Warfield and Williams, Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmicheal, and Lalo Schifrin. With total playing time of over 62 minutes, Stiernberg and company have plenty of time to luxuriate in their rich ensemble sound and explore the inner spaces of American classics such as "I Cover the Waterfront" and "Easy Living."

Executive producer Steven Briggs and engineer Steve Rashid deliver a lush sonic landscape full of warmth and intimacy. Along with mastering engineer Randy Leroy from Final Stage in Nashville, Tennessee, they deliver sound that reminds me of the best production work of the late Norman Granz.

If more jazz CD's were like Unseasonably Cool, jazz would be far more popular today. While "broad appeal" might sound like a denigrating term to elitists, Unseasonably Cool is exactly that, the sort of album that makes folks who don't like jazz want to listen. Popular jazz? What a concept.

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