Brand New Strings,
Stay Tuned
(Rural Rhythm, 2012)

Carrie Hassler,
The Distance
(Rural Rhythm, 2012)

Rural Rhythm once was known for its championing of mountain bluegrass and oldtime string bands, packaged in no-frills style with clip-art covers. Over time and changed ownership, it's come to reflect modern bluegrass in both the musical and marketing senses. Today, you could pick up a Rural Rhythm CD and, if you didn't know the artist, fail to recognize it as any different from any disc that's coming out of mainstream Nashville.

Of course, Rural Rhythm's music is a lot better than the swill that swirls on what passes for country radio these days. Carrie Hassler's The Distance -- an EP, not a full-length CD -- is not hard-drivin' 'grass, but it has its pleasures.

Hassler is a smooth-but-soulful singer in the style of the mostly (and unjustly) forgotten country-pop female vocalists of the 1970s. The production is tastefully uncluttered, mostly acoustic, sometimes country, sometimes bluegrass. Except for the opener, the late Gram Parsons's "Luxury Liner" (famously covered by Emmylou Harris on her 1976 album of the same name), and one Hassler cowrite, the songs come from current Nashville professionals.

On their own EP the newly formed Brand New Strings offer up seven cuts of tasty, neotrad bluegrass of a kind any fan of the genre will appreciate. This sort of sound traces back to Flatt & Scruggs, who removed some of the hard from the core of bluegrass. They accomplished as much by making the music more accessible to casual listeners without cutting out its heart.

The Flatt & Scruggs influence has been happily durable, and you can hear it here in modernized, updated style. There's a soulful version of Joe Babcock's outlaw ballad "I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water," long ago a hit for Stonewall Jackson. Just as worthy are Marshal Warwick's witty "Mustang Minnie" and band member Mike Ramsey's earnest gospel anthem "Behold the Lamb."

Stay Tuned will have listeners doing just that as they await the fuller CD that is sure to follow. One looks forward to more of Carrie Hassler, too.

music review by
Jerome Clark

16 June 2012

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