Bluegrass Unlimited July 2015


Blue Circle Records

Cedar Hill Tom and Dixie HallWhen a band comes within the orbit of Blue Circle Records, it reaps the benefits of access to the masterful songwriting of Tom T. and the late Dixie Hall. Cedar Hill has been in that orbit since 2007. This is their fourth album for the label and, like so many Hall songs, comes with a story. Mandolinist Frank Ray had suffered some personal tragedy and, more or less, quit music. Tom T. and Dixie wanted to help, so they lured him back by offering ten new songs for him to record, which is what this recording represents.

Those ten songs have the classic Tom T. and Dixie mark on them. There are songs with catchy phrases, such as “This Ain’t No Way To Run A Railroad,” in which a man struggles to meet his girl coming in on a train. There are great story songs, such as the touching encounter a man has with a “Hound Dog From Harlan” or the family that trashes their farm by “Burning Down The Barn” after losing their property to the bank. There’s the humor and brilliance of “Aunt Penny,” who turns out to be Uncle Pen’s banjo-playing sister, and there’s the sentimentality of “Let’s Go Walking Again,” and the betting imagery (hearts, diamonds, jokers, and putting it all in the pot) of “Love Is A Gamble.” They’re all good songs, some of them very good and better.

Frank Ray and Cedar Hill (which includes banjoist Jim Bunch and guitarist/vocalist Britt McGarity, along with newcomers, bassist Patti LaFleur and fiddler Pete Brown) are a wonderful choice to put these songs across. They seem to understand almost intuitively the Hall’s ethos and style. McGarity, who has since left the group, also has a voice suited to the material, a storyteller’s voice—warm and inclusive. All of that together brings very good results.