Della Mae, a band with enormous talent honed to steely perfection, has emerged as one of the most entertaining acts in bluegrass. The Boston-based ensemble has had a couple of significant personal changes, losing bassist Shelby Means a few years back, and more impactfully, losing lead guitar and vocalist Courtney Hartman to a meaningful solo career. The remaining members such as fiddler Kimber Ludiker have had to step up their game as soloists. That’s been especially noticeable in the stellar playing of mandolinist Jenni Lyn Gardner. She has matured into a fiery and compelling soloist who can hold her spot on stage with anyone. Still, two soloists does not a great bluegrass band make, in most cases.
So for this EP, The Dellas invited several guest musicians to sit in. Alison Brown, a true pioneer in bluegrass, brings her melodious and memorable banjo to the project, including a textbook solo on “No-See-Um Stomp.” And two-time IBMA Guitarist Of The Year Molly Tuttle brings her scintillating lead guitar to the band’s sound, delivering great solos on “Bourbon Hound” and “No-See-Um Stomp.” Original members Ludiker and Celia Woodsmith, along with new member Zoe Guigueno on bass, form one of the tightest rhythm sections in bluegrass, and no one belts out a tune better than Woodsmith with her emphatic, emotional lead vocals on tunes such as “Sixteen Tons.”
The tunes here range from traditional bluegrass, such as Jenni Lyn’s great rendition of “Sleep With One Eye Open,” to clever modern tunes like the swinging “Bourbon Hound.” If there’s a false note here, it’s the band’s attempt to resurrect the sweeping power of blues-rock giants the Allman Brothers Band on “Whippin’ Post.” It’s certainly a tune that modern concert audiences will appreciate, but instead of putting their own stamp on the solos, the band tries to mimic the original arrangement. Sorry, but an F-5 mandolin or a fiddle can’t match the tortured yowl of Duane Allman’s slide or Dickey Betts’ raging Les Paul. This is clearly a tune the band performs better live on stage than in the recording studio.
The Butcher Shoppe EPcaptures one of America’s leading acoustic music acts at a time of transition. Despite the loss of several integral parts, the band remains a serious force on stage and a major presence in the studio. With help from their friends Molly Tuttle, Alison Brown, and Avril Smith on this excellent project, Della Mae has shown they can evolve and adapt while staying true to their musical heritage. This album delivers. (Rounder Records, 1201 Demonbreun St., Ste. 600, Nashville, TN 37203, www.rounder.com.)DJM