Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 4 Reviews

Dale Ann Bradley
Saturday, Oct. 2, Noon
Banjo Stage
by Sarah Bardeen

Progressive bluegrass singer Dale Ann Bradley isn't as well known as she should be, and Saturday's set proved there's an audience hungry for her. She took to the Banjo stage at noon, and the minute she started singing, the crowd was hooked. Her clear, bell-like voice evokes Alison Krauss at her most tender and her musical sensibility is similar to Krauss's: she loves traditional bluegrass but she's not afraid to stray. Of course, the fact that's she playing with a crack team of musicians doesn't hurt. It became clear during the set how much this band loves playing together; their energy was infectious. Mandolin player Jesse Brock and fiddler Michael Cleveland in particular traded some amazing solos. Bassist/songwriter Vicki Simmons and banjo player Pete Kelly completed the line-up.

The group ripped into a high-energy mix of originals and covers that included Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" and U2's "Still Haven't Found (What I'm Looking For)." Jesse Brock let loose on his instrumental "Kicking Grass" (all puns intended) and actually managed to live up to the song's name. Dale Ann sang the Vicki Simmons original "Granny Cat," a perennial crowd-pleaser about Simmons' great-grandmother, who escaped her abusive husband by walking three hundred miles to Kentucky from Tennessee, just after the Civil War, with her infant son. That's typically a high point for the band, though "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," written after a drive on California's Highway 101, more effectively showcases the band's lyrical inventiveness and bluegrass chops.

But it was the U2 cover that really captured the crowd. Bradley's crystalline voice brought the song's lyrical beauty into sharp relief. They dedicated "John Henry" to Warren Hellman by way of thanks - "talk about sharing the great gift of music," Dale Ann said. "This is the highlight, right here. It don't get any better than this." She introduced "Lonesome for the Mountains" with a gentle reminder that Californians have "mountain folk" too.

Bradley has been nominated for IBMA female vocalist of the year, and the fiddle player Michael Cleveland is also up for an award. It was clear why when he launched into "Lee Highway Blues" - he fell into a fiddle solo that was positively sick, full of crazy turns, humor and virtuosity. Interested folks should check out his IBMA-nominated album Live at the Ragged Edge.

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