Noteworthy

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Assembly of Dust – Recollection (Hybrid): If you figure there's at least a semistraight link from old-time American music to bluegrass and country to rock 'n' roll, then including this album in this roundup makes sense. Among other things, this album reminds me of The Band in its pre-"Last Waltz" Bob Dylan days. (And whose roots spread more widely than Dylan's?) These all-original stories are mostly electric and often funky, and as all-American as an old guy playing clawhammer banjo by himself, up in some Tennessee hollow. Grade: A

Cadillac Sky – Blind Man Walking (Skaggs Family): In the tradition of David Grisman's "Dawg Music," the New Grass Revival, and (more recently) Nickel Creek, this group launches its first album with unique flair and plenty of talent. And it has the label backing of country big man Ricky Skaggs, so you know it's solid. All are original songs, most by band member Bryan Simpson. The vocalizing is good, and the instrument playing is original. Eclectic and innovative with some terrific surprises. Grade: B+

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver – More Behind the Picture than The Wall (Rounder):This band and its longtime leader are the gold standard of classic bluegrass. Their virtues are many: they're impeccable instrumentalists, especially on those high-energy songs impossible to sit still through ("Sadie's Got Her New Dress On"), and the players are also classic, old-time country storytellers of love and loss ("Whatever Happened To Us"). And above all, they're pure, sweet singers whose tight harmonies and high, lonesome sound are angelic ("Just Loving You"). You know you're in a different space when "Can You Hear Me Now" transcends kitsch and reveals itself as a wonderful rerecording of a 1938 classic. Grade: A

Recommended: Default

The Grascals – Long List of Heartaches (Rounder):Among next-generation bluegrass bands, it's hard to beat the youthful Grascals, whose first album garnered lots of attention. They're back with their signature blend of musicality, humor, and earnest spirituality. From classics such as Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt's "Will You Be Loving Another Man" and Merle Haggard's "You Don't Have Very Far to Go" to gospel ("Did You Forget God Today"), to new tunes by the band ("Cut Your Wheels"), they range over classic country, progressive bluegrass, and their own earnest theology. Singing and playing from, and to, the heart. Grade: B+

Uncle Earl – Waterloo, Tennessee (Rounder):Before bluegrass, there was stringband music, where groups of musicians gathered to play for themselves and family, or headed off to back up the caller at a weekend dance. In recent years, it's come back big-time at folk clubs and through such movies as "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Cold Mountain." One of the best developments here is all-women bands, and one of the best of those – or any new stringband – is Uncle Earl (above). On their second album, the "g'Earls" put their own wonderful spin on classics by Ola Belle Reed and A.P. Carter as well as newer material by Bob Dylan and themselves. My favorite is the traditional "My Little Carpenter." As band member Rayna Gellert says, "It's one of those rare old-time songs where nothing awful happens." Grade: A

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