Noteworthy new music

Ralph Stanley – A Distant Land to Roam (Sony): No one better expresses the "old, weird America" of music that cultural critic Greil Marcus wrote about than Ralph Stanley. Bluegrass and country music sprang from those mountain roots, and "Dr. Stanley" has been picking and singing in the pure high, lonesome style for more than half a century. On his latest album, he reaches back to the songs of the legendary Carter family that first inspired him. With his band, the "Clinch Mountain Boys," and a voice as strong as ever, he reminds us why songs such as "God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign" and "Worried Man Blues" are classics. Grade: B+

Old Crow Medicine Show – Down Home Girl (Nettwerk): If Ralph Stanley is the Methuselah of old-time music, the boys of Old Crow Medicine Show are the brash newcomers. Imagine a garage band falling down the rabbit hole into a world of banjos and fiddles, rags and field hollers. That's OCMS, part of a new phenomenon of young hipsters and punk rockers discovering and reinventing roots music. Some traditionalists will find it shocking and offensive, but so what? They said the same thing when Dylan went electric and mandolinist David Grisman invented "dawg music," a fusion of bluegrass and jazz. These guys are fresh and energetic. Their playing and singing can be rough; they may smooth out or flame out. But for now, they're the spice added to the comfort food of folk/country music. Grade: B

Linda Rondstadt and Ann Savoy – Adieu False Heart (Vanguard Records): Join a pop-rock diva together with a veteran Cajun performer, bill them as "The Zozo Sisters," and you get a mix that is intellectually stimulating and soulfully resonant. Rondstadt's soprano and Savoy's alto blend and complement each other in extraordinary ways. Their duets, in which they often exchange lead vocal and harmony, are Everly Brothers-quality, and they have some of the very best studio and performing musicians accompanying them, including Dirk Powell, Sam Bush, and Stuart Duncan. The songwriters they've chosen range from Bill Monroe, the "father of bluegrass," to the late balladeer John Jacob Niles to contemporary British songsmith Richard Thompson. Their version of the 1966 rock ballad "Walk Away Renee" will break hearts. This album gets better on every listening. Grade: A+

The Wailin' Jennys – Firecracker (Red House): Taking folk music in an entirely different direction are The Wailin' Jennys, three highly talented young singer-songwriters from Canada. While OCMS can be prickly and raucous, these women are polished and subtle, melodic, and often lush – but just as original. Like the trio Nickel Creek, The Wailin' Jennys take the instruments and the harmonies of folk and country and transform them into something entirely different. But here there's a tight backup band and three voices – strong and sweet as Alison Krauss's – that work melodic magic. Each of the songs is written by one of the Jennys. The one exception – a beautiful a cappella interpretation of the traditional song "Long Time Traveller" – reminds you of where they're coming from. Grade: A

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