Dry Branch Fire Squad - Hand Hewn

Hand Hewn

Dry Branch Fire Squad


Rounder Records
One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Allen Price

With Hand Hewn, Dry Branch Fire Squad offers another great collection of tunes covering a variety of traditional music and new music with a traditional sound. While there have been some changes in the lineup of the group in recent years, they continue to be one of the finest and most engaging groups in bluegrass music today.

Opening with a classic song by Stephen Foster (Angelina Baker), they take us through the Civil War (Atlanta Is Burning), on the open seas (Sailor's Return), across the open range (Midnight The Unconquered Outlaw) and into the dark coal mines (Black Lung). Each step of the journey is taken with the tight harmonies of Thomason, Mary Jo Leet, Charlie Leet, and now-departed member Suzanne Thomas. When hearing Dry Branch, one wonders why more bluegrass bands don't offer a multi-gender lineup. It adds a fresh dimension to the harmonies, as well as a whole new path of songs where the main character is a woman. Hazel Dickens lends her voice on her tune Black Lung. Thomason and Dickens singing together is worth the price of the disc all by itself.

With Midnight The Unconquered Outlaw, Thomason offers a glimpse into his love of horses, singing poignantly of a rodeo horse who earned his freedom to roam the range. Midnight was a proud, free spirit, much like Thomason himself.

There are also Dry Branch's bone-chilling harmonies on gospel tunes, especially the a capella I Can Go To Them. Turn the volume all the way up on this one. And for those of us lucky enough to see the Squad in person, there is Thomason displaying his hambone virtuosity on Papa's Billy Goat. I've been lucky enough to see them twice this year. Thanks for the birthday song in Enumclaw, WA, Mary Jo.

While a studio recording, Hand Hewn captures the energy and strength of their live performances. Until they get to your hometown, here's the next best thing. Hand Hewn is another great effort from Dry Branch Fire Squad.


  • Angelina Baker (Stephen Foster)
  • I Saw A Man At The Close Of Day (G.B. Grayson)
  • I Can Go To Them (copyright control, arr. The Forbes Family)
  • Nazeer, Nazeer (Nazeer, Nazeer) (Ron Thomason)
  • Atlanta Is Burning (Aubrey Holt)
  • Willye Brennan (trad., arr. Ron Thomason)
  • While Roving On Last Winter's Night (traditional)
  • Sailor's Return (trad., arr. Ron Thomason)
  • Black Lung (Hazel Dickens)
  • The Cuckoo Is A Pretty Bird (traditional)
  • Two Coats (Ralph Stanley)
  • Midnight, The Unconquered Outlaw (traditional)
  • I'll Live Again (traditional)
  • Papa's Billy Goat (trad., arr. Ron Thomason)
  • Lonesome Road Blues (traditional)

Edited by Virginia Wagner

Copyright 2001, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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