Bluegrass Briefs – The Tennessee Warblers, Zoe & Cloyd, Tim O’Brien, Boone & Foster

The number of releases that fit into even a broad description of “Bluegrass” can vary month to month. This time we have a selection that reflects the traditions of Bluegrass and looks back to its influences and the songs that

The Tennessee Warblers lead off with their new album ‘Small Town Songs’. Recorded live over two days in October 2018, this was to be the Tennessee Warblers’ debut record in 2019. Events overtook them, but it’s now emerged into the light. A relatively traditionally styled album, opening song ‘Nothing Can Stop My Loving You’ is the best here and typical of the album. If you like straightforward Bluegrass with all the boxes ticked for picking and playing, then this will be for you. When they do stretch the genre as on ‘Valerie’ you can see where their musical thoughts went next. An enjoyable listen and it’s good that it finally got out there.

Zoe & Cloyd’s Songs of Our Grandfathers is another album reflecting the roots of the music. Natalya Zoe Weinstein’s grandfather David Weinstein was a Jewish klezmer musician who emigrated from Ukraine to New York by way of Argentina, while John Cloyd Miller’s, Jim Shumate, was a pioneering North Carolina bluegrass fiddler. This is an attempt to blend these styles, and it’s very successful. After a straight Bluegrass time ‘We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart’, we dive into the Klezmer with ‘Up And At ‘Em’. From there the two styles are allowed to sit in separate alternating songs. This works surprisingly well, but you would need a basic interest in both Klezmer, and Bluegrass to get the best from the album. A fascinating project and one that is worth listening to, if only to recognise another drop in the pool of influences on American roots music.

With 22 solo albums to his credit Tim O’Brien is a name to conjure with in Bluegrass circles. ‘Cup of Sugar’ This gain is Bluegrass built on the standard model, but where the TN Warblers are a relatively new, if gifted band, this is the work of a master. ‘Let the Horses Run’ is as good a song as you will hope to hear in any roots music genre and features playing and singing from Del McCoury. Playing guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and banjo, and supported by a cast of thousands. Where he steps into Country ballad territory on ‘Stuck in the Middle’ he continues to shine, with his fiddle playing, along with that of Shad Cobb being especially good on this tune. ‘Goodbye Old Friend’ is another slow stately tune, although the extensive credits don’t identify the female duet vocal. This is an set of songs that manages to combine the feelgood aspects of Bluegrass with some of the more maudlin aspects of Country successfully and engagingly, and very few albums achieve that.

Smoky Mountain Favorites’, comes from , and honours the memory of the late Aaron “Frosty” Foster, who unexpectantly passed away in early 2021. Troy Boone plays mandolin and sings, while Aaron “Frosty” Foster is on guitar and vocals. The set list includes songs from Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Ralph Stanley, with the whole album being a masterclass in the respectful interpretation of classic Bluegrass tunes. ‘Fox on the Run’, generally associated with The Country Gentlemen, is the tune to try if you want a flavour of this fine album.


Lastly, we have an album that is bang up to date. Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs, “Montana’s premier alternative bluegrass band”  album is ‘Coyote’ As much folk as Bluegrass. ‘Hold On’ has the best fiddle solo of all the albums we’ve looked at this time. They mix folk and Bluegrass, sometimes drifting quite a long way from the latter, but there is a flash of Bluegrass in each of the songs, seemingly to remind themselves as much as the listener where their roots are. They say of the album ”we will continue to evolve and take chances because we are forging a new path for today’s bluegrass music lovers.”


About Tim Martin 248 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.
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