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 DaleAnn 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.

Louisa Branscomb: "Steel Rails" (Lyric Video)

"Steel Rails" holds a special place in my heart. I grew up riding trains, and to me they mean having courage, looking ahead, and taking the curves as they come. It also meant the world to me as a young songwriter that Alison Krauss heard it on one of my albums and decided to touch it with her magic, and from then on it has had a life of its own.For this album, I asked many musicians who'd told me stories about singing the song early on in their lives to come together and collaborate to create their own vision of the song. It's like a musical history, coming full circle. Thank you taking time to check out this new version, from my upcoming album GONNA LOVE ANYWAY, out July 26.Pre-order now: lnk.to/gonnaloveanywayFA

Posted by Louisa Branscomb on Thursday, July 18, 2019

“It’s amazing how music brings people together. This picture is a song full circle – (new link to hear free below) It’s the original photo I took of the train in the Rockies in about 1968 that inspired Steel Rails, then my band’s first recording of it in the ’70s with that same picture -Boot Hill- and the new CD with the new musical vision of Steel Rails including many artists who’ve sung it along the way.”

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. 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.

Louisa Branscomb, songwriters workshop, IBMA 2019 Photo credit: Rick Davidson

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