Do NOT file Ripe under bluegrass, no matter what anyone tells you. True, The Dixie Bee-Liners touch upon the genre, as they do upon jazz, country, traditional and modern folk, but a touch do not make the style. You need look no further than early Nickel Creek as proof that sometimes genre just does not apply. So if you need to file it somewhere, file it under "Bible Belt Noir" as the band suggests on their MySpace page. File it under great, under extraordinary (it really is), under wondrous. Better yet, just clear a space close to the player because chances are, after hearing it, you will more than likely be playing it a lot.
Don't let the opening track fool you, either. Down On the Crooked Road is bluegrass, and damn fine vocal bluegrass if there ever was any, but that is just the beginning. The band steps into a jazzy bluegrass/swing rhythm shuffle with the follow-up, Lord, Lay Down My Ball and Chain, resonator guitar, mandolin and fiddle working atop prime bass runs and fingersnaps. Then, straight into traditional folk with Yellow-Haired Girl, a song from the heart of Appalachia via Scotland or England, or so it seems. Light and bouncy, it promotes foot tapping if not foot stomping. Back to bluegrass, you think, with Bugs In the Basement—but wait, the harmonies on the chorus… That isn't like any bluegrass I've ever heard. Standard bluegrass on Dixie Grey to Black? It seems so, but listen to the chord changes. This is song first, genre afterthought. And a downright beautiful song it is, reflecting a mother's love for a son lost in the Civil War.
Pop is the core of the next two tracks and we all know that melody is the core of Pop. Well, that and hooks. They are both there in "Why Do I Make You Cry. It is downright beautiful. Brandi Hart wrote She's My Angel after much reflection. "It's about watching my own mother watch me grow up," she says in the liner notes. With the sensitive instruments creating a Nickel Creek ballad aura, Brandi sings a very Hem-like melody, and if you haven't heard Hem, maybe you should. Old Charlie Cross is a hick tune of sorts, inspired by an old guy who one day asked Brandi to help him cross the street, a ruse for a marriage proposal. The humor is in the music and the tone, but it was a somewhat intriguing moment and she turned it into a fine song. Lost In the Silence would be just another bluegrass ballad except for the harmonies on the chorus, sung to perfection. Then they step into a bit of modernized mountain music with the aw-shucks humor of Grumble Jones, written after seeing a portrait of a scowling Confederate general, one W.E. "Grumble" Jones. Aw, shucks. Sensitive, eerie, haunting are only three adjectives for Jefferson Railroad Line. There are others, but words fail me. It gets better every time you hear it.
You only need to hear Ripe to understand why it is title of the album. Again, there is a Hem quality to the sound and the song, ethereal background beneath beautiful melody. A great way to end the album and another first-rate tune.
There are twelve first-rate tunes on this album. That's right, not a throwaway in the bunch. You can thank Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward for most of them, and you can thank The Dixie Bee-Liners for putting it all together. One listen and you will. And, hey, if you have friends who like early Nickel Creek or Hem, check these guys out. Like those two excellent bands, The Dixie Bee-Liners step past genre into the world of original, and the only thing more rare than that is finding music you know your friends will love as much as you. For myself, this is it.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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