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Album review: Ola Belle Reed, "Rising Sun Melodies"

ola belle reedOla Belle Reed was an enormously influential figure in bluegrass music.

By Bill Friskics-Warren

As a performer, bandleader and humanitarian, Reed, who died in 2002, was a role model for generations of bluegrass musicians, and not only women. Her songs have been recorded by the likes of the Del McCoury Band and the Louvin Brothers. And with her brother and her husband, she opened New River Ranch, a country music park near Rising Sun, Md., where, from 1951 into the '60s, everyone from Hank Williams to Bill Monroe and the Carter Family appeared. All of which is to say nothing of Reed's forceful clawhammer banjo playing and keening voice, both of them the epitome of the Appalachian mountains in which she grew up.

This set, which includes 11 tracks from two late-'70s albums for Folkways and eight previously unreleased recordings from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, is as good as primer on her music as any. Several of Reed's best-known songs are here, including "High on a Mountain" and "I've Endured." Written on the occasion of her 50th birthday, "I've Endured" appears in two versions, the second a barely contained live performance, with her husband and son on guitar, that makes persistence amid adversity less an act of determination than an out-and-out triumph.

Reed's resilient spirit, informed by the poverty that she and her family knew during the Depression, courses through the album, whether in the justice-minded "Tear Down the Fences" or in "I Believe in the Old-Time Way," a gospel number she learned from an old Charlie Moore LP.

Recommended tracks: "I've Endured," "High on a Mountain," "Tear Down the Fences"

By Bill Friskics-Warren  |  August 3, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Quick spins  | Tags: Ola Belle Reed  
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