The McKrells,
Better Days
(Draguin, 2002)

Kevin McKrell, previously of the Celtic band Donnybrook Fair, and Chris Leske and Craig Vance, who were two-thirds of the late, lamented upstate New York bluegrass band Summit, offer up a pleasing blend of their respective musical styles on Better Days.

McKrell wrote 13 of the 14 tracks here, which are mostly of the lost-love variety -- unsurprisingly, as that type of song is so prevalent in both bluegrass and Irish music. Of particular note are "Miss the Rain," in which the singer, who is stuck in Phoenix, longs for the rain of Dublin, which he associates with his lover, and the title track, with its stirring chorus.

The material is served equally well by McKrell's strong lead vocals and the newgrass stylings of Leske on banjo and Vance on lead guitar. Fiddler Joyce Andersen holds her own with Leske and Vance, and contributes the album's lone instrumental, "Atalanta." (Andersen has since left for a solo career and been replaced by Sara Milonovich.)

With the emergence of Leske's songwriting and the addition of percussionist Brian Melick as a full-time band member, their next CD, Hit the Ground Running, will see the McKrells becoming more adventurous. But the straightforward charms of Better Days should appeal to fans of Celtic music with a taste for bluegrass as well as bluegrass aficionados with an interest in Irish music.

- Rambles
written by Chris Simmons
published 8 November 2003