HGR CD Review: Mama Corn

MAMA CORN – HOLD THAT CROOKED LINE (no label) Mama Corn introduced their brand of ‘Allegheny Mountain Bluegrass,’ a sound rooted in traditional bluegrass and folk, on their self-titled 2011 first full-length CD. On the follow up, Hold That Crooked Line, the Blair County-based quintet picks up where they left off and hones their style and sound; mixing colorful original songs with select remakes through 14 tracks. All five band members contributed songs to the album, and each brings a different flavor and slant to the mix that keeps the disc captivating throughout. With his yodeling chorus, dobro and harmonica player Johnny Stevens prefers country life over city life on the whimsical “About a Minute Ago,” recovers quickly from a breakup on the catchy “Another Couple Days,” and salutes a yearly bluegrass festival party in the northern PA Wilds with “Smoked Country Jam.” Waxing introspective, guitarist Bruce Forr contemplates the future on “Someday Knock on Wood” and temptation on “Holdin’ Pen.” Upright bassist Bryan Homan contributes the obligatory murder and hanging song on the album (almost every bluegrass album has one); recalling local history, “The Hanging of Alfred Andrews” documents a famous 1889 Centre County murder case. Mandolinist Chuck Cox also offers a local history lesson with “Red Arrow Train,” his ode to the tragic 1947 passenger train wreck near Altoona that claimed 27 lives. Banjo picker Jeremy Nelson celebrates the life of a bluegrass whiskey drinker with “Old Whiskey Still,” and opens the album by bringing to life the picturesque “Shenandoah Mountain Tops,” a song penned by his father, Ben Nelson. Mama Corn also presents their take on State College native Si Kahn’s blue-collar ode “Aragon Mill,” offers hopeful advice on their serious-toned remake of the traditional “Keep on the Sunny Side,” and closes the disc with their joyous update of Gus Cannon’s “Walk Right In.” The performances are enthusiastic and heartfelt, and listeners can sense that Mama Corn had a blast creating this album. The songs and lyrics are catchy and interesting, the voices are in great form, and the instrumental execution is fast-firing and tight. Produced by Mama Corn and recorded and engineered by Bill Filer at Audible Images Recording in Port Matilda, Hold That Crooked Line flows together smoothly and sounds crisp and vibrant, with all instruments and voices shining brightly in the mix. After the first album set the table, Hold That Crooked Line offers a hearty meal of personable, likeable Pennsylvania bluegrass and folk; and reveals more of the personalities and nuances that converge into the jovial and talented presence that is Mama Corn. This album should win the group many new followers, or as the band calls them, ‘corn-stalkers.’ (The CD can be purchased through the group’s website, www.mamacornbluegrass.com.)