3x IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year and daughter of bluegrass Dale Ann Bradley celebrates her musical heritage with new original tracks, a classic rock cover and a timeless tribute to Bill Monroe.
“I grew up in a tar and paper covered shack right near Loretta Lynn’s childhood home,” reflects Dale Ann Bradley on her rustic origin in the hills of east Kentucky as a hardscrabble preacher’s daughter. ”It was very different. It was not easy,” she says. And even as a girl, she knew she wanted more. With Somewhere South of Crazy (available August 30th), this three-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year shares what has shaped her life and music, by going deeper—deeper into bluegrass, deeper into her own musical passions, deeper into her own history as a veteran entertainer who spent years singing country music alongside her ‘grass at Kentucky’s venerable Renfro Valley.
The result is a set that ranges from first-generation bluegrass classics through long-cherished favorites to brand new songs from Bradley and her friends—but always, always with her incomparably rich voice and east Kentucky sensibilities right at the center.
The title track provided Bradley with some especially enjoyable moments. “We had the best time writing,” she says of writing—and singing—partner Pam Tillis. “I just love her. We sat down, and she had that title line and the idea, and I came up with the melody and some lines—we had worked on a few different things, but this was the one that we finished, and as soon as we did, I knew it was going to be the title track.” Bill Monroe’s “In Despair” may be more unexpected. “I didn’t plan it as a tribute,” Bradley says with a laugh. “But I hope people will think of it as one. I just wanted to showcase a more traditional side of what I do. But I’m glad it’s coming out on his 100th birthday!” The track “Come Home Good Boy” was more intentional and especially poignant, lending itself to Bradley’s first memory of a funeral, when, at age five, a neighbor boy who served with her uncle in Vietnam returned home in a casket.
A smartly selected crew of singers and players frame Bradley’s tender yet muscular singing to perfection. A couple of her regular bandmembers—harmony singer Kim Fox and banjo man Mike Sumner—make appearances, and so do supple, inventive musicians like the Infamous Stringdusters’ Andy Hall, ace studio fiddler Stuart Duncan, bass stalwart Mike Bub, producer Alison Brown (who doubles on guitar and banjo) and, perhaps most surprisingly yet appropriately, young mandolin phenomena Sierra Hull. All those elements come together in the partnership here with singer, guitarist, songwriter and friend Steve Gulley. “We grew up together,” Bradley notes. “Steve and me—we each know what the other one’s going to do.” Yet as strong as the supporting cast is, the focus is, as always, on Dale Ann and the songs she’s chosen—and as always, they’re a deliciously varied bunch.
To a listener unfamiliar with her unique ability to pull songs from the rock vaults and make them her own, Seals & Crofts’ ‘Summer Breeze,’ will undoubtedly be the biggest surprise, but Bradley sees it as a natural. “I’ve always wanted to do that song,” she says. “I don’t pick out a rock tune just for the sake of having one—it has to be one that I always grew up with, or one that I hear that strikes me as fitting into the mix. Sometimes a melody or lyric will just have that feel, just lend itself to the banjo or something like that—like this one, it almost sounds Celtic to me.”
Some songs, like “I Pressed Through The Crowd” and “Will You Visit Me On Sundays,” have been in Bradley’s repertoire for years, yet were never recorded until now. “I was so tickled when Alison gave the o.k. to ‘Sundays,’” she notes, “because it brings back the traditional country that Steve and I have been singing together for a long, long time. And of course, ‘I Pressed Through The Crowd’—I’ve been doing that one for a long time, and it just keeps getting more and more meaningful to me.” Others are more recent. ‘Leaving Kentucky’ was, ironically enough, started in Nashville, but finished after Bradley moved back to Kentucky.