by Cat Johnson
Three-time winner of the IMBA (International Bluegrass Music Association) Female Vocalist of the Year award, Dale Ann Bradley has been steadily growing an audience of loyal fans who understand that this is a woman who simply oozes bluegrass. With a voice as deep and true as her old Kentucky home and a delivery that ranges from as sweet as the morning to as massive as a canyon without skipping a beat, Bradley is a master of bringing what we love about the bluegrass tradition into the fresh, newgrass landscape of today.
Her forthcoming album, Somewhere South of Crazy (Compass Records), which comes out on August 30, is being touted as her most mature offing yet. As Bradley herself says, “I feel I know who I am as an artist; as a person...I think that’s the maturity of it.”
The title track, which Bradley co-wrote and sings with Pam Tillis, kicks off the album with gently ripping instrumentation and harmonies, a super-catchy hook and thoughts of getting away from the daily grind, to “let the trade winds rock me like a baby/somewhere south of crazy.”
“Round and Round,” a thoughtful tune about finding peace in changing times, is the first song that Bradley has written on her own in a number of years. As she says, “It was real reflective; a song that stated how much I still love music and still love to travel, but that need to now go back and value all the other things that are so important to me.”
A surprise addition the the album is a cover of Seals & Crofts’s “Summer Breeze.” Bradley, who has a penchant for covering pop songs, points out that the tune sounds to her like a mountain song. With its references to curtains, evenings, a hard day’s work and the kitchen, she makes a good point. It is a sweet take on an old favorite that, like the best cover songs, brings to light elements of the song that you hadn’t picked up before.
Other highlights include a shredding version of “In Despair,” a tune that Bill Monroe made famous; all the more fitting since this year is the 100th birthday of the father of bluegrass.
Featuring banjo virtuoso Alison Brown, who is all over the project, including in the producers seat, Somewhere South of Crazy is held together with the solid playing of a handful of bluegrass regulars like Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Steve Gulley (guitar/vocals) and Mike Bub (bass), as well as up-and-coming youngster Sierra Hill, who lends impressive mandolin lines throughout, and more.
All in all, Bradley and company have put together a very listenable, toe-tapping album that is reflective of where mainstream bluegrass is today, with its pop and crossover tendencies, yet still has enough roots, gospel and blues to keep bluegrass traditionalists peeking over the newgrass fence to see what all the fuss is about.