Dale Ann Bradley
Bluegrass music is usually recognized first for its instrumentation, then its distinctive vocals and themes.
Only the most gifted singers are capable of overshadowing the music. Vocalists who have adopted the "high lonesome" style are the most notable, but a number of females have made a stand in the genre and have done so with a much milder delivery.
Allison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent immediately come to mind, but Dale Ann Bradley belongs in the pack, as well. Bradley's new album, "Somewhere South of Crazy," out Aug. 30 on Compass Records, continues to solidify her position as one of bluegrass' top female singers.
Bradley's voice, one which Ricky Skaggs calls "heart and soul," is drenched in an honesty and expressiveness that does nothing short of awe its listener. Capturing her contemporaries, the International Bluegrass Music Association voted Bradley Female Vocalist of the Year in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Bradley is not an instantly recognizable name, as she has remained under the radar for much of her career, but those who have encountered her will testify to the enduring impression made by the pureness of her personality and art.
Bradley calls "Somewhere South of Crazy" her most mature effort to date. From her beginnings as a daughter of a Baptist preacher in rural Kentucky to her busy life as a touring musician, Bradley's songwriting on the album is extremely reflective. Bradley used "Round and Round" as the foundation for the album. The first piece she has written by herself in several years, the song isn't only about her continuing love for music and travel, but also about her ever-growing need to go back and value other parts of her life that are important to her.
Wearing her heart on her voice throughout the album, the feeling Bradley puts into "Leaving Kentucky" is the most intense. "Though the mountains were her prison, they would always be her home," she laments in lyrics that assuredly have autobiographical aspects to them.
Whether her story or not, Bradley owns it. She is an ace at absorbing any narrative she chooses to sing.
"Somewhere South of Crazy," penned with Nashville veteran Pam Tillis, is another example of this ability. Written about the desire to escape from the redundancy of everyday life, one can imagine sitting passenger to Bradley in a convertible sailing down the highway to a more ideal setting. Tillis joins on the sweet melody.
Bradley is known for adopting pop and rock songs into bluegrass numbers. For "Somewhere South of Crazy," she chooses Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze." Enticed by what she felt were "mountainy" and "Celtic" aspects of the song, Bradley transforms the 1970s soft rock cheese-fest into a real classy piece. Someone should lobby Muzak to have Bradley's version replace the original.
The other recognizable cover on the album is Bill Monroe's "In Despair," which acts as Bradley's tribute to the fellow Kentucky native and father of bluegrass. Bradley exercises her love for traditional bluegrass, while giving her band an opportunity to break down. The song is one of many examples of the fine musicianship all over the album.
Bradley and producer Alison Brown chose some of bluegrass' finest pickers for "Somewhere South of Crazy," including, but not limited to, Sierra Hull, Stuart Duncan and Brown, herself.
The most outstanding musicianship on the album is between Bradley and Steve Gulley, who partner on harmonies for every song and duet on "Will You Visit Me on Sundays." Singing together for more than 25 years, the two voices meet in a flawless cohesion that adds to the tremendous depth of Bradley's songs.
With "Somewhere South of Crazy," Dale Ann Bradley will once again win over her bluegrass colleagues. Unfortunately, for a genre increasingly bleeding into the mainstream, talent like Bradley is oft overlooked. For those willing to go through the extra work of seeking out the independent talent in the field, Dale Ann Bradley is truly a diamond of a reward.
Find Dale Ann Bradley online at http://www.daleann.com.