While embarked, in tandem with the International Bluegrass Music Museum (IBMM), on bringing bluegrass music to schools in the sort of arts awareness curriculum so sorely needed, thanks to conservatives from Reagan forward, in our country's education system, Valerie Smith, an ex-teacher, became the first musician to record at the IBMM's 'Cave', turning it into an impromptu recording studio. Blame It on the Bluegrass is actually an EP, a six-pack of songs to be later augmented with a second helping next year, rounding out an intended 12-cut roster. It's also a fine way to kick off what hopefully will be a tradition of music produced in the venue.
A self-acknowledged "odd duck in an odd place" more than once in her life, Smith knows the rules but also knows that tossing a few of them overboard when art and heart demand it results in a good thing; thus, she walks a rather enticing line between country, bluegrass, and folk styles. And, when taking a peek at the head shot on her website (http://www.valeriesmithonline.com/bio.cfm), one can't help but note a pixie-ish grin behind that smile: Val ain't afraid to step on a tail or two while getting to business. That, then, accounts for why her music has an appeal across borders not always determinable in an approach seamlessly incorporating elements rarely so happily blended.
The opening title cut is an uptempo heel-kicking number from Nashville by way of Austin and Topeka, backing band wailin' as she vocally bounces atop, all and sundry picking' 'n grinnin' as though hot and heavy in the middle of a harvest-time barn raising aftermath. Slow Healing Heart, however, may be the best showcase for Smith's singing, a blue bluegrass ballad with a number of tricky elements and perfectly exemplary of the trio of modes mentioned moments ago, each balanced to perfection. Then Four Leaf Clover is so high-octane that I recommend not attempting to dance to it lest a heart attack follow on trying to keep up with the 32nds and 64ths—on the other hand, that may be yer idea of a good time, Bunky, so git to it right quick 'cause, whoooo-ee!!, that band can play! All in all, I strongly suspect that you, like me, will end up pining that the rest of 12-course menu wasn't included in this jamboree—but then, all good things come to those who wait, even if (grumble, grump, moan) it's twelve damn months to do so!
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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