Album Review

Dale Ann Bradley - East Kentucky Morning

Dale Ann Bradley - East Kentucky Morning

In the '90s, Dale Ann Bradley has come to bluegrass notoriety with the New Coon Creek Girls, whose name derives from the old-time ensemble Coon Creek Girls. That band recorded for Vocalion in the '30s and held a central role in the Renfro Valley Barndance, playing their own instruments and focusing on mountain music such as "Little Birdie" and "You're A Flower Blooming In The Wildwood". Bradley and her companions were able inheritors -- they now tour as Dale Ann Bradley & Coon Creek -- and their "L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore" contains a definitive reading of that Jean Ritchie classic. Like her preceding work, Bradley's solo debut finds Sonny Osborne as producer and spiritual godfather. Osborne shapes the whole gently, keeping the songs concise, never disturbing the autumnal atmosphere, and lending his ear for harmonic intricacy (on Dallas Frazier's "The Day I Lose My Mind", he lets brother Bobby take a raw, emotional vocal lead). Bradley's voice is the warm, solar heart of this record, around which all else -- players such as Gene Wooten, Terry Smith and Robert Bowlin -- moves. Bradley has been likened to Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss, yet she has a maturity in her lower tone and serene phrasing, affording her emotional understatement and cutting against easy sentimentality. Much of the material is original, penned by or with Coon Creek member Vicki Simmons. The title track is the strongest, a solid furthering of the "Rank Strangers" theme. Bradley also draws on songwriters such as David Olney, Larry Cordle, and Bono. Even if it hadn't been written by U2, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" would be the most striking track, enigmatic and multileveled, resolving religious and romantic desire into an endless search. Ron Block's banjo and Randy Howard's fiddle urge it on in unaffected bluegrass heat. The whole record breathes an air of sad rapture, and while it is one thing to capture the feel of love's longing -- whether for home or lover -- it's quite another to be it, to embody this basic emotion of country music, beyond performance or suggestion. East Kentucky Morning, as much as any record I've heard recently, accomplishes just that.