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The Piedmont Melody Makers The Piedmont Melody Makers
Album: Wonderful World Outside
Label: Vigortone
Tracks: 16
Website: https://www.facebook.com/piedmontmelodymakers/

The Piedmont Melody Makers is a band unpretentiously named after the Piedmont region of eastern North Carolina. It comprises four old friends (Alice Gerrard, Chris Brashear, Jim Watson and Cliff Hale), seasoned professionals one all, coming together to make music entirely without ego-tripping, just to enjoy sharing a bunch of good songs. Although the band has two respected and gifted songwriters in its ranks (Alice Gerrard and Chris Brashear), their own compositions here take an unassuming place within a programme of classic songs whose sources range from the Stanley Brothers (the disc's mournful, lonesome title song) to a pair of priceless Carter Family covers (including the gorgeous Poor Little Orphaned Boy), a less-well-known Hank Williams number Six More Miles and Charlie Poole's uplifting Just Keep Waiting Till The Good Times Come to Hank Locklin's I'll Be There (from the singing of Ray Price). Each of the four band members boasts a long and illustrious CV - Alice is one of the true pioneering women of American roots music; Chris brings together songwriting and instrumental excellence; Jim founded the Red Clay Ramblers and spent time with Robin & Linda Williams; Cliff's an uncommonly fine veteran singer. Each of the four possesses an unmistakable voice in his/her own right, and just one of the major glories of this wonderful album is the way they come together and blend so intuitively, trading lines and harmonies both naturally and effortlessly alongside and in keeping with their proven instrumental skills. The choice of material - and the unerring selection of lead parts - is just perfect, and not one single track disappoints; in fact, in many cases, I've not heard the songs done better. It's one of those albums that, even at 48 minutes, leaves you wanting so much more.

But I guess I do need to single out some standout cuts. So let's start with Alice's two compositions, Sweeter Day and the affecting Kentucky Home; moving on to the spiritful a cappella hymn Over The Sea (a gospel quartet song from Cliff's West Virginia grandparents) and the impassioned gospel waltz Troublesome Waters (whose melody resembles Farther Along). Are You Lonesome Tonight? (culled from the Carter Family not Elvis!) is a real breeze, and the aforementioned Hank Locklin number receives a similarly perky, jaunty performance with some fulsome fiddle work from Chris. Estil Ball's late-50s sanctified bluegrass-gospel number Trials Troubles Tribulations is nicely done, as are the two songs and two instrumentals by Chris (especially Brasher's March).

A top-notch roots album in every respect, warm-hearted and sincere and as thoroughly recommendable as are the credentials of its participants.

David Kidman