Gonna Love Anyway: Louisa Branscomb Album Review
Ever since the popularity of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” instrumental virtuosity has been a hallmark of bluegrass music. But from the time Bill Monroe put pen to paper, the songs have always driven success. For the past forty years, Louisa Branscomb has been a prolific and revered songwriter in the genre. Including some new songs and some re-recorded versions of songs written or co-written by Branscomb, Gonna Love Anyway is currently the number one album on the Bluegrass Album Charts on the Roots Music Report.
Branscomb has collected some of the finest talent anywhere to participate in this project. Multiple award-winning vocalists are here, including Dale Ann Bradley and Tina Adair from Sister Sadie, Claire Lynch, Celia Woodsmith from Della Mae, Sierra Hull, Molly Tuttle, Missy Raines, Becky Buller, Dave Peterson, Russell Moore from IIIrd Tyme Out, Jim Hurst, Johnny and Jeanette Williams, and Josh Williams. This is not to say that the musicians are overshadowed. We get to listen to Stuart Duncan, Charlie Cushman, Mike Compton, Rob Ickes, Shadd Cobb, Kristin Scott Benson (just named banjo player of the year at the IBMA Awards), Alison Brown, and others. Louisa Branscomb sings lead on one song and provides instrumental backup and harmonies on others.
I’ve known Louisa Branscomb for over forty years. I met her when she was playing banjo and writing songs for Boot Hill along with lead singer Sam Sanger, mandolin prodigy Gary Brown, and bass player Steve Bloch. She was one of the first women to ever play banjo in a touring band. Boot Hill released several albums, including their first, Steel Rails, in 1977.
Alison Kraus released the title song in 1990, and it was her breakthrough hit. Later covered by John Denver and many others, it has become a bluegrass classic. Co-written with Claire Lynch, the song “Dear Sister” was the IBMA Song of the Year in 2014. Branscomb has been hosting songwriting workshops at her Woodsong Farm home for over 40 years and has developed songwriting and mentoring programs for groups from elementary school kids to adults at workshops.
The album is a musical and lyrical tour de force, including both old songs and new. Claire Lynch’s plaintive “Freight Train for a Song,” the title cut sung by Molly Tuttle, and Becky Buller and Russell Moore’s duet on “Barefoot Girl” (with Buller playing a great clawhammer banjo) are standout tracks. “Blue Moon Blues,” sung by Dave Peterson, has a real Monroe feel. Josh Williams offers a great vocal on “Riding Double on my Old John Deere,” sounding much like a young Tony Rice. “Gone” is another beautiful collaboration with Tina Adair, Dale Ann Bradley and Steve Gulley with some fantastic harmonies. The real showstopper, however, is the new version of “Steel Rails,” featuring six lead vocalists taking a turn at the classic: DaleAnn Bradley, Becky Buller, Sierra Hull, Molly Tuttle, Jeanette Williams and Celia Woodsmith. Alison Brown, Stuart Duncan, Hull, Tuttle and Missy Raines provide the perfect tasteful instrumentation. It’s a true tribute song to a songwriting fixture in bluegrass music and part of an album that deserves its accolades.