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Catch Tomorrow
Artist: Dale Ann Bradley
Label: Compass Records 
Length: 12 tracks/42:21
 
I volunteered to review this disc because I knew that award-winning fiddler Michael Cleveland was a member of Bradley's current band. Cleveland is an incredible musician that I have been listening to for several years. I was excited at the opportunity to hear some more of his playing. As for Bradley, I caught one of her live shows a number of years ago at a bluegrass festival. She did a good set that seemed lacking in energy and excitement compared to many of the other groups that performed that weekend.
 
That means I was totally unprepared for this exceptional recording Bradley has released to an unsuspecting world of listeners like me. All the ingredients are here - classic songs, superior musicianship and heavenly vocal harmonies. The twelve tracks explore a range of music from bluegrass to Celtic with stops for country, gospel and even rhythm & blues along the way. Bradley gets a helping hand from an extremely talented group of musicians that includes fiddler extraordinary Stuart Duncan, Jim Lauderdale, Tim O'Brien, Marty Raybon, Steve Gulley, Larry Sparks and Andrea Zonn. Label owner Alison Brown produced the sessions and adds her banjo work to several tracks.
 
The focus of this disc is squarely on Dale Ann Bradley and her lovely soprano voice. It is a voice that garnered Bradley a nomination for the 2006 IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) Female Vocalist of the Year. Listen to her soar on the romping opener, "Rita Mae," telling the tale of love and betrayal as Cleveland's fiddle dances around her vocal. That track is followed by a stirring rendition of the classic Billy Joe Shaver song, "Live Forever" with Bradley conveying a sense of hope that transcends even the author's version.Lauderdale and Zonn supply the harmony vocals.  Another amazing cover occurs with Bradley deciding to "grass up"  the R&B hit "I Can't Stand the Rain," done originally by Ann Peebles and turned into a bigger hit by Tina Turner. The track opens slow and mournful before Bradley and company ratchet the tempo up to a breakneck pace. Cleveland once again punctuates the proceedings with his fiddle.
 
Other highlights are two tracks that feature vocal duets. Bradley is joined by Marty Raybon on "Holding on to Nothing," a hard-core country tearjerker. Both voices seemed dipped in heartbreak and despair. Bradley effortlessly hits notes beyond the reach of most mortals. As if to counterbalance this song, she includes a memorable version of the gospel tune "Pass Me Not," sharing the vocal with Larry Sparks. Producer Brown suggested the song as it is her favorite hymn. With minimal accompaniment, Bradley and Sparks turn in a performance of simple grace and magnificent harmonizing.
 
Another surprise comes when Bradley is joined by Lunasa, one of the great Irish bands of our time, along with Brown on guitar and banjo plus Tim O'Brien on bouzouki and harmony vocal. This aggregation serves up "When the Mist Comes Again," illustrating the many points of connection between Celtic music and Bluegrass. The group moves smoothly back and forth between the genres, ending with a brief instrumental rave-up. Dale Ann's soprano once again rises in urgent cry for mothers and their children living in poverty.
 
For the closing track, Bradley takes another chance by choosing to cover "Me and Bobby McGee." This is a song that seemingly has been done enough, leaving nothing new to be said. Wrong again !!! Bradley's vocal interjects a variety of country inflections and phrasing that takes the song back to it's roots. Aided by Jim Lauderdale on backing vocal, her simple, straightforward approach breathes new life into this old warhorse.
 
It is a fitting ending to a recording that should, if there is any justice left in the world, shine the spotlight on Dale Ann Bradley. With help from Brown, she has put together a  stunning collection that resonates from start to finish. This isn't just great Bluegrass - it is exceptional music that one rarely gets a chance to hear these days. There is no doubt that Catch Tomorrow is one of the ten best recordings I have heard this year. If you give her a chance, Dale Ann will prove it to you as well. Don't miss this one - highly recommended !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
Note: Dale Ann Bradley did not receive the IBMA award for Female Vocalist at this year's awards ceremony. Michael Cleveland did win two awards - Instrumental Album of the Year for his latest release, Let 'Er Go Boys, and the 2006 Fiddle Player of the Year Award. It was the fourth time Cleveland has won that award.
 
Mark Thompson
10/30/2006
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
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