Category Archives: bluegrass

Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days

I love this album, it chills me out, it chills my lady out, it chills the cat out. Like an injection of hypnotic happy flavoured valium, you won’t regret putting this album on. Iron & Wine is Sam Beam and his friends. File under calm and folk. The name Iron & Wine came from a dietary supplement called ‘Beef Iron & Wine” that he came across.

This folky album is full of finger picking, understated vocals, sweet harmonies and catchy tunes. Please, please play a sample, it won’t take you very long to work out if you like it, if you don’t move on as there is not a hidden hard rocking number anywhere in his catalogue.


Yes very laid back chilled out vocals, the guitar is probably more of the featured instrument though.

Calm with a capitol C is the way I’d describe this album. This is the album I play to defuse any tension that might be moving around the Toyota hatchback on a long drive. I don’t always find driving to be relaxing by the way.

Good to work to
I find this is a great album to strip away whatever is bothering you in the moment. It’s like he’s almost whisper singing it’s so laid back.

The guitar is very rythmic and dare I say it hypnotic. A lot of the guitaring is finger picking and at least with the way my brain works I just hook into the rythms.

He’s the ultimate folky, there is a similar era latino artist with laid back vocals over the top of the guitar which he lets star. Not quite country, but in the ball park. I can’t for the life of me remember his name at the moment, but I will put in a link at some later stage when it comes to me.

But… If you like this you’ll like the two Beck albums I review that are similarly smokey in their vibe

The Artist/s
Iron & Wine a.k.a. Sam Beam and friends is an accidental musician. A track he wrote was given to a friend of his brother and serendipity set his career rolling. But that said he is a very talented man who was always goign to be discovered I hope. And he’s got a great name.

The crew on this album are

Sam Beam – vocals, guitar, slide guitar, banjo, mandolin
Brian Deck – drums, percussion, keyboards
EJ Holowicki – bass
Patrick McKinney – guitar
Jeff McGriff – percussion
Jonathan Bradley – percussion
Sarah Beam – harmony vocals, percussion

Other works
At last an artist where I can unreservedly reccomend their entire catalogue. It’s not so samey you don’t need to bother listening to it. But even though it is different it keeps the same laid back vibe which is great for writing.

It’s hard to recommend just one, so I won’t these two are great

Where Can I buy it, and in what formats
You can get this album everywhere and of course through iTunes. Also should still be available on vinyl. Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days, do it

The Verdict
An absolute cracker, why else would I write about it. I have no idea why I even keep this category in these reviews.

The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark

The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark – Gene Clark and Doug Dillard
One of the first bands to combine bluegrass rock n’ roll and east coast hippie idealism, this is one great band. This album is smooth and fun, with classic songs and great grooves, with none of the sacharine that makes country indigestible. It maintains a steady pace that keeps my fingers tapping over the keyboard.

The vibe of the entire album is relaxed fun bluegrass fingerpicking good times ho-down music.

This is a significant album in the history of country rock, and is played on by a who’s who of country rock royalty, Byrds, Eagles, and Flying Burrito Brothers. The fact that Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, and Bernie Leadon are some of the all time fantastic song writers of the country rock pioneering generation doesn’t hurt either.

I can’t quite describe the happy little rythm bluegrass/rock has, but this album has it in spades. It is an easy high tempo pitch that keeps you moving along and I find my words move along at the same pace.

This has nothing to do with the quality of the album or the speed with which you can write to it, but if you want to listen to the most rootin tootin, cool album you’ve ever heard… And as for that album cover it is so funny, two of the coolest looking hippie bluegrass wildcats in a cool motorcycle and sidecar. File this under unbelievably cool, and indeed fantastic.



Relaxed and easy. Country bluegrass.

Good to work to
If you don’t like bluegrass you’re going to hate it. I like Bluegrass a little bit, and I like country rock with good lyrics, so this is metaphorical music to my ears.

This album is a bit of a cross between classic bluegrass and the country rock later popularised by Gram Parsons and the Eagles. Bernie Leadon who featured in this line up not surprisingly was in a key member of the supergroup the Eagles.

The only thing I’ve put up so far (although I hope not the last) that would compare is some of the Bluegrass, including will the Circle remain Unbroken. That album is more old school but has the same uptempo bluegrass feel.

The Artist/s
Gene Clark has the curious distinction of only ever lasting for one album with any one record label before being dropped for wilful, drug fuelled, or erratic misbehaviour. He gained fame in the Byrds and with ex Byrd Hillman. There are numerous books about his Clark’s life, with one of the funniest anecdotes coming from many years after the release of this album. He took his kids to see orginal Star Wars then to grab some fast food afterwards. In the fast food joint Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) happened to pop in and seeeing Clark was star struck, while Clark’s kids were star struck over Hamill. So while a washed up alcoholic in the twilight of his career at the time, he was the dad who got Luke Skywalker to hang out with them, bumping up his kudos considerably.

Doug Dillard was a bluegrass hero in his ex band the Dillards. He was just the kind of hard living rebel to match wits with the erratic Clard.

Bernie Leadon was to gain fame as a founder member of the Eagles. A killer song writer he co-wrote and filled out this band of future country rock royalty.

Chris Hillman and Sneaky Pete Kleinhow were both to gain fame as part of Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers. They wrote a lot of timeless songs.

Michael Clark and Chris Hillman were also famous ex members of the Byrds.

Featured artists on The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark

•    Gene Clark – guitar, harmonica, vocals
•    Doug Dillard – banjo, fiddle, guitar
•    Bernie Leadon – banjo, bass, guitar, vocals
•    Chris Hillman – mandolin
•    Sneaky Pete Kleinhow – pedal steel guitar
•    Jon Corneal – drums
•    Michael Clarke – drums
•    David Jackson – bass, piano, cello, vocals
•    Byron Berline – fiddle
•    Donna Washburn – guitar, tambourine, vocals
•    Donald Beck – mandolin, fretted dobro
•    Andy Belling – harpsichord

•    Producer: Larry Marks

Other works
In terms of a famous band going off in a hundred different directions  this is the one you’d start with. Take your pick Leadon went off to the Eagles. You can go back in time to the Byrds and their extensive back catalogue. You can head for the Flying Burrito Brothers Gram Parsons famous country rock band. If you want to delight in Bluegrass then head in the direction of the Dillards.

For mine although not neccessarily the best for writing I would mine the extensive Gene Clark back catalogue. He recorded extensively and has some fantastic albums such as the classic “No Other.”

Where Can I buy it, and in what formats
You can get this anywhere (online) digitally and on disc, although it’s a bit harder to find on vinyl.

The Verdict
For me this is a staple of any collection. Especially for any collector of country rock or Bluegrass. It’s great music that is both cheeky and fun.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will the circle be unbroken

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will the circle be unbroken

One day the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a rag tag bunch of talented hippies, had an idea that some of the most talented musicians in America who had been overlooked were slipping into obscurity. They thought the best way to bridge the gap between these musical superstars who were overlooked outside of the Nashville sound and scene was to make an album celebrating that heritage with them. Not all of the greats agreed to participate but they certainly got most of them. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band get their name on the cover and deserve a big slap on the back if for nothing else than gathering together the greats while they were still alive and making this fantastic album happen.

Country may not be your thing, but this is high quality country and I find it mellow and relaxing, the perfect thing to have in the background when I’m writing. I have friends who think it’s sacrilege to have things in the background that are paid no attention. I on the contrary like having the right kind of music with the right kind of feel washing away any thoughts other than what I am focussing on.

The songs are generally classics of the country era although perhaps not so well known these days. Stars of the era like the Mother Maybelle Carter, Roy Acuff, and Earl Scruggs sing and play a mixture of guitars and banjos with a skill built up over a lifetime. At times the bluegrass rags and traditional songs he ark back to a celtic folk heritage, but the accents are unmistakably American. All of the tracks are first or second takes, these were experienced musicians.

Track list is full of classics like keep on the sunny side, like a rolling stone, honkytonkin and a stack of other tracks that will probably vibrate in the back of your head as you’ve heard them used on various films used as the sound of rural America.

Part of the joy of this album is the dialogue between the songs where the musicians are working out who will play what and how. As well as recording the tracks they let the tape record throughout the entire sessions so you can get an idea of what kind of person that these musicians were.


Yes, straight-forward songs with lyrics

This album has a down home yes haw feeling. It goes from ballads to hoedown finger picking frenzy songs. There is some real emotion and genuine feeling in these songs that will not disappoint.

Good to work to
I find this a comforting album to work to. I like albums that occasionally go into some high tempo music, this can lift my typing tempo and flip me into a different type of thinking, but one I can’t keep up forever. For that erason I like a diverse album like this.

I can’t say I listen to a lot of bluegrass music, but I guess anything else that is labelled as bluegrass. I don’t know enough other stuff to reccomend.

The Artist/s
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with many legends of the bluegrass and country and western scene including…

Roy Acuff – Renowned singer and fiddler who popularised the more commercial singer style that popularised the music

“Mother” Maybelle Carter – Original member of the Carter family singing group, that popularised the Carter Family picking style. A mother figure on the country circuit, and Johnny Cash’s grandmother.

Doc Watson – Singer and master of guitar flat picking

Earl Scrugges – Acknowledged as the inventor of the scruggs three finger style banjo picking style, and performd the ballad of Jed Clampett for the cult sixties TV show the Beverly Hillbillies

Merle Travis – popular singer songwriter who often wrote about the hardships of coal-miners

Pete “Oswald” Kirby aka Bashful Brother Oswald popularised the resonator guitar and Dobro

Jimmy Martin – Known as the King of Bluegrass

Vassar Clements – dubbed the father of hillbilly jazz, who taught himself to play fiddle at the age of seven

Other works
The incredible string band and all of the fantastic musicians that play along on this album……… have hundreds of albums between them.

Where Can I buy it, and in what formats
This is one of those albums that will always remain in print. You should even be able to find a second hand copy on vinyl without to much trouble.

The Verdict
This is a great laid back album to listen to while you’re typing away. It’s country but straight up bluegrass country. So know big steel guitars and nashville production just straight ahead backwoods musicianship.