Alecia Nugent,
A Little Girl ...
A Big Four-Lane

(Rounder, 2006)

Alecia Nugent, whose second Rounder CD A Little Girl is, is one more of the emerging female artists in a genre defined almost entirely by males for most of its history. (Bluegrass was invented in the mid-1940s, though it didn't get its name until some years later.) Over the past decade and more, Alison Krauss has opened once-closed doors for fellow women. They have helped transform bluegrass, or at least one wing of it, into a more contemporary-sounding music, tied as much to pop and mainstream country as to the old hillbilly traditions (fused with blues and jazz) that inspired Bill Monroe.

Hailing from Louisiana, not a state often associated with bluegrass, Nugent comes across as more rural -- at least in a relative sense -- than Krauss, drawing on songs that often feel like acoustic versions of the sort of well-crafted but commercially intended material that the better Nashville hacks turn out by the bucketload. That sort of stuff isn't all bad, by any means; in fact, if you hear them without the glossy, factory-issue production of the Nashville studio, such compositions sometimes emerge as real songs about actual human beings and recognizable human emotions.

The songcraft on these 13 cuts is never less than professional, and every once in a happy while, something like an approximation of older-style bluegrass (e.g., "I Cried All the Way to Kentucky") steps proudly forward. "Letter from Home" has the resonance of a Carter Family song propelled into the new century. The final cut, "Meet Me in Heaven Someday," is a glimpse of bluegrass paradise.

Nugent, who sings pleasingly in a familiar country-pop sort of way, has a solid band behind her on this recording, including the highly regarded dobro player, studio musician, producer and Blue Highway member Rob Ickes. She also brings drummer Tony Creasman along for the ride. Though drums are far from a standard instrument in bluegrass, Creasman handles them with sufficient intelligence and restraint that they become more enhancement than distraction. Their presence, too, underscores not only the tasteful musicality in abundant evidence on Little Girl, but also the generally nontraditional character of Nugent's approach.

by Jerome Clark
13 May 2006

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