Pinecastle Records PRC 1200
Writing about an all-female band can be tricky. If I mention that these women—Dale Ann Bradley on guitar, Tina Adair on mandolin, Gena Britt on banjo, Deanie Richardson on fiddle, and Beth Lawrence on bass—kick butt on their instruments, is that a “gendered” remark? Does it sound like I am surprised—when I’m not? If I mention that few bluegrass bands can showcase such a strong roster of powerful lead singers—Dale Ann, Tina, Gena, and Beth—will readers think, “No biggie. Women are known for their singing.” These are the thoughts that cross my mind as I listen to the debut CD, self-titled, from this band of familiar and beloved faces.
Sister Sadie, a touring band of seasoned professional female players, is breaking new ground. For decades, they have paid their dues individually, working in many different groups, and now they are putting their skills together in a configuration that they clearly enjoy. Merely to list their individual accomplishments would take the entire review, so I will let their album do the talking.
Dedicated to the always-inspiring Lynn Morris, Sister Sadie features eleven vocals and one fiery instrumental, appropriately titled “Ava’s Fury,” on which Gena, Deanie, and Tina absolutely drive their breaks to the wall, playing solo or in unison. Through their song choices, Sister Sadie pays tribute to some of the great women musicians: Lynn Morris (“Don’t Tell Me Stories”), Pearl Butler (“Don’t Let Me Cross Over,” written by Penny Jay Moyer, who was in Jimmy Martin’s band for a while), and Tanya Tucker (“Blood Red And Going Down”). And though most of this album is clearly in the modern bluegrass camp (unusual chord progressions, hot mix), “Look What I’m Trading For A Mansion” and “Mama’s Room” (by the great Harley Allen) clearly show that these women can wring all the pathos possible out of a traditional-sounding “mother” song.
One of the most poignant cuts is “Unholy Water,” which takes a look at the shadow side of “mountain dew.” Told by the Unholy Water itself, the story keeps you engaged from its beginning, First time you see me, I’ll be harmless enough, to its middle, I’ve turned friend against friend, to its end, Quenching the thirst of the damned, I am unholy water. This song captures the essence of this album: Powerful writing, powerful playing, and powerful singing from the five powerful women known as Sister Sadie. (Pinecastle Music, 2514 River Road, Ste. 105, Piedmont, NC 29673, www.pinecastlemusic.com.)MHH