Musical adventures: gospel, guitars, and Scottish songs

Musicians often challenge themselves by venturing beyond what their audiences might expect from earlier work. That may at times means going deeper into an idea and at times heading off in a direction listeners wouldn’t expect. Here, an Italian with a flatpick and a guitar takes on Americana music, a Scotsman who has made his home in the heart of Texas goes deeper into traditional Scottish songs, and a bluegrass singer explores her gospel chops.

Beppe Gambetta Slade Stomp
Beppe Gambetta may have started out on classical guitar in his native Italy, but soon he was drawn to sounds of folk, country, and bluegrass music, both in Europe and in America. He’s an adventurous, talented, original guitar player and composer who does two things in particular on Slade Stomp: he offers music, both original and covers, in tribute to the musicians who influence him, and he does it on his own, playing all the parts himself except for two pieces recorded live with David Grisman and Gene Parsons. Gambetta proves himself an adept singer of folk song too on several tracks. For a taste of the highlights, take a listen to 1000 Flat pickers at the Court of King Norman, Dixie Breakdown, and Ave Maria.

Ed Miller Never Frae My Mind
Ed Miller is a native of the Scottish Borders who has long made his home Austin, Texas. That’s a fertile combination for a musician of any genre. In making is way between the two cultures, Miller has made a good name for himself, but the there have also been been a few times when he has seemed to try a bit too hard to be a Scotsman in his music. There is none of that here: it’s all clearly heartfelt, whether the heart is one of fun, or longing, or storytelling.

Producer Rich Brotherton, who has worked with Robert Earl Keen and Caroline Herring among others, offers a clean setting that highlights Miller’s strong tenor voice and the stories he tells through the songs. Brotherton also plays guitar on the recording, and there’s interesting work on the pipes from E.J. Jones. Jill Chambless adds harmonies and well known Scottish songwriter and singer Karine Polwart guests on two tracks, including a Scottish version of song The Spanish Lady, a song more often found set in the streets of Dublin. This one, though, is equally lively, in a version that Miller discovered which is set in Edinburgh. Across the Hills of Home, written by Eric Bogle, is another standout track among a selection of traditional and contemporary songs. True to form, Miller never quite sings them as they were written, putting his own stamp on each of the piece he chooses in a natural way which serves the music.

Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike Wash Away Your Troubles
Valerie Smith has been promising the many fans of her old time and bluegrass music that she’d do a gospel album. This is it. Not foot stomping, shout out gospel, though — at least for the most part — but well presented, quieter songs of praise and faith with quite a bit of original material.Cover include songs by Mark Simos and Claire Lynch. Stand out tracks include Raise the River, Seeds, and the intriguingly titled song God’s Refrigerator.

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