August 2011

Dale Ann BradleyDale Ann Bradley Sings From and To the Heart

Compass 2-4564 2
Format: CD

Musical Performance
Sound Quality
Overall Enjoyment

I first heard Dale Ann Bradley at a music festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, when she performed with the New Coon Creek Girls. Bradley was a member of that skilled and vivacious all-female band for several years. On returning to West Virginia, I ordered all of the band's albums I could find as well as Bradley's solo efforts. What had impressed me so much showed up on all the CDs -- Bradley’s honest, no-gimmicks delivery of heartland lyrics. Couple that with one of the most beautiful, pure voices in bluegrass, or any genre for that matter, and you have one very special performer. I'm clearly not alone in this appraisal, as Bradley received the International Bluegrass Music Association award for Best Female Vocalist of the Year (2007-2009).

Bradley used to record for the Pinecastle label, and I'd lost track of her in the last decade. Recently, however, she popped up in an online mailing from Naxos, with a new album on the Compass label. I've now listened to it a half-dozen times and can gladly say that Bradley has mellowed in the best possible way, and time hasn't ravished her golden voice one bit. The only difference is that she now has more maturity and insight, the sort that just comes with living. Her manner is still direct and true, absent of any histrionics or distractions. She sings straight to and from the heart.

On Somewhere South of Crazy, set to be released August 30, 2011, Bradley sings 11 classics, including the title song, which she co-authored with country music legend Pam Tillis. There are a few surprises, like a version of the Seals and Crofts hit "Summer Breeze" that makes the song sound like it was always intended to be a bluegrass tune. More often, Bradley sticks with bluegrass songs like Sarah Pirkle's poignant "Come Home Good Boy" and the upbeat "In Despair," written by Joe Ahr and Juanita Pennington and made famous by Bill Monroe.

Alison Brown, co-founder of Compass Records and banjo player extraordinaire, produced Somewhere South of Crazy, and she kept the production simple to suit Bradley's style. Reading the fine print reveals that Brown spent three years with another Alison, Alison Krauss. Brown also contributes buoyant-yet-subtle banjo playing on most of the tracks. Other bluegrass artists that make appearances on Somewhere South of Crazy include Stuart Duncan, Steve Gulley, Andy Hall, and Sierra Hull. All of the instruments are recorded with detail and space, and all are in perfect balance with each other and with Bradley. The sound here is a successful case of less being more.

Be sure to listen to: At the beginning of the second track, "Round and Round," the interplay of Alison Brown's banjo, Sierra Hull's mandolin, and Steve Duncan's fiddle makes for a special, intimate sound.

. . . Rad Bennett