Dale Ann Bradley’s pure Appalachian-style blues glow

Dale Ann Bradley’s “Things She Couldn’t Get Over” is great bluegrass.

Kentuckian Dale Ann Bradley was raised the daughter of a tough, coal-mining Baptist preacher in a home with no running water and one crude electric outlet. She sang as a child, and as a teenager, made her first guitar pick from a milk jug. Hardscrabble living went hand in hand with the high lonesome sound of bluegrass music for her, and these days it soars to the heavens from her pitch-perfect voice full of honey and soul. “Things She Couldn’t Get Over” is Bradley’s 12th solo album, and first since the folding of her Grammy-nominated group, Sister Sadie. For it, she wrote, and chose, a diverse set of songs focused on hardship and injustices, the strength of women and just plain goodness.  

Strong sentiment certainly accounts for one part of it, but great bluegrass music also thrives on musical virtuosity. The players accompanying Bradley on this album — guitarists Jim Hurst, Kim Fox and Matt Leadbetter, banjoist Mike Sumner, bassist Ethan Burkhardt, mandolinist Ashby Frank and fiddler Michael Cleveland — are some of the most deft and versatile in all of bluegrass and beyond. On one song after another, they weave multi-hued tapestries emphasizing all the right shades and angles of Bradley’s voice. The confluence of wood and wire, human voice and emotion, is stunning.

Despite songs that contain sad, disturbing subject matter, such as the album-opening trio of “Living on the Edge,” “Things She Couldn’t Get Over” and “After Awhile,” Dale Ann Bradley and her band fill the air with luminosity. Wariness peeks through the utmost confidence in Bradley’s voice in the first song, then gentle regret in the second, followed by hope and assurance in the traditional third. All of them amount to pure blues, Appalachian-style.

Fans pining for some new Alison Krauss & Union Station music will find much satisfaction in the lush nature of Bradley’s “Lost More Than I Knew.” When Bradley sings the refrain “And I’m getting reacquainted with the blues,” it’s not a wonder that besides the two Grammy nods, she’s in the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, and has been awarded Female Vocalist of the Year five times by the International Bluegrass Music Association. The lady belongs in the company of Krauss.

Valuable messages and reminders fill all the songs on “Things She Couldn’t Get Over.” When feeling down, hum the mournful refrains contained in “Lynwood,” an all-too-familiar story about a homeless soldier who left much of himself overseas, related here with gentle grace, and a massive impact. Then, begin counting blessings. And ultimately, if the ideals offered through the beautiful “In the End” are heeded, life will surely take on a new glow. Nothing beats magnificent bluegrass music to sooth or brighten a day. That’s exactly what Dale Ann Bradley offers here.

-Tom Clarke  

  • Dale Ann Bradley
  • ‘Things She Couldn’t Get Over’
  • Label: Pinecastle Records
  • Release: Feb. 5, 2021

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 25 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, Los Lobos, and the Allman Brothers Band and its ever-growing family tree. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Kudzoo, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen have raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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