Three Kinds of Lonesome
These days bluegrass is changing. Seen by outsiders as the quintessential traditional music form, bluegrass has in fact always been about flux and amalgamating genres. One of the more important changes the music has undergone in the last 25 years or so is the emergence of female bandleaders. A movement pioneered by strong women like Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard was mainstreamed by masters like Lynn Morris, Rhonda Vincent and especially Alison Krauss. Now you have to add Missy Werner's name to that list. I first encountered Missy's music when I was fortunate enough to play on her Drifting And Dreaming project a few years back. I found her singing to be sweet, yet emotional, perfect for a contemporary bluegrass sound. On this recording, she moves front and center as a bandleader and singer, with a fine set of songs and producer Jon Weisberger in the fold. The results are a joy to hear. I love the chill in her voice in Mark Simos's brilliant 'Three Kinds of Lonesome.' This is the kind of song made for someone like Missy, the kind of bluegrass made for the 21st century, with interesting structure: cool chords, guts, and lonesome. What a trio... Many times, regional bluegrass artists hoping to move to a bigger stage will record with a 'supergroup' of studio pros, but this sound might be impossible to duplicate live. Promoters will be pleased to know Missy and Jon decided to use her touring band as the core unit on this record, including Jeff Roberts on banjo, Tim Strong on guitar, Artie Werner on the bass, and Missy herself playing mandolin. They provide stout backup for Missy's vocals, which shine throughout, and they're supported, not overshadowed, by Mike Witcher and Aaron Till's dobro and fiddle. Two guest lead vocalists include Chris Jones on 'Just the Same' and Frank Solivan lending his expressive voice to 'Endlessly.' Jennifer Strickland adds sterling high harmonies, and Ned Luberecki dropped by to tear one up on the banjo for this fine set of contemporary bluegrass. And it all sounds good, thanks in no small part to Ben Surratt's masterful hand at the board. Weisberger not only co-wrote a good number of the songs here, but his production touch is deft, allowing the band to breathe in a framework dominated by Missy's vocals. Three Kinds Of Lonesome is a most welcome addition to Missy's body of work, which will hopefully continue to grow and flower in years to come. - Tim Stafford.