The Dixie Bee-Liners,
The Dixie Bee-Liners
(Betty Troublesome, 2005)

At 29 minutes and eight cuts, The Dixie Bee-Liners is more EP than full-length CD, but don't let that discourage you. Based in the green fields of Manhattan, the Bee-Liners have fashioned a sound so distinctive that you couldn't possibly mistake them for anybody else, certainly not another standard-issue acoustic-roots outfit.

Though this is at its core a bluegrass band (albeit one that incorporates light percussion), its heart is the partnership of Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward, who together or independently have composed all the songs and done all the singing. The songs are not boilerplate genre exercises, nor are they pop-rock numbers done for novelty purposes in acoustic stringband settings.

For all the originality of their approach, Hart, Woodward and company are traditionalists after their own fashion. Their take on traditional music owes more, however, to the folk revival -- ever harder to depict as something that arrived and passed into history in the 1960s -- than to the usual Monroe/Stanley/Flatt & Scruggs-derived models. Hart/Woodward's ballad "Yellow-Haired Girl," for example, is set to an arrangement that surely owes, at least broadly, to Pentangle's dense, orchestral readings of Appalachian pieces like "Wedding Dress" and "Rain & Snow." I'll wager that before this, not very many -- or, more likely, any -- bluegrass musicians had ever picked up cues from that very British neo-folk band.

Their writing, Hart's in particular, has the aura of mountain balladry without feeling like musical stenography. Inevitably, Gillian Welch sometimes comes to mind, though Hart is more emotionally accessible as both singer and writer. Her "Roses Are Grey," punctuated with quasi-Swiss yodeling, is as pleasing a reimagining of 1930s hillbilly music as you're ever going to hear.

The Dixie Bee-Liners have too much talent, creativity and intensity in them to remain obscure for long. A lot of contemporary bluegrass is little more than empty hot licks, bland vocals and country-pop songwriting. The Bee-Liners, who are anything but the just-cited, give contemporary bluegrass not just a good name but a lesson in how modern and traditional sounds, lovingly wed, can infuse old musical styles with fresh life in a new century.

by Jerome Clark
5 May 2007

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