Dry Branch Fire Squad
  • Echo Mountain
  • Dixie Cowboy
  • Rider On An Orphan Train
  • (You Got To Pray To The Lord) When You See Those Flying Saucers
  • Echo Mountain
    Genre: Bluegrass
    MP3 (03:48) [8.7 MB]
  • Dixie Cowboy
    Genre: Bluegrass
    MP3 (05:19) [12.17 MB]
  • Rider On An Orphan Train
    Genre: Bluegrass
    MP3 (04:43) [10.8 MB]
  • (You Got To Pray To The Lord) When You See Those Flying Saucers
    Genre: Bluegrass
    MP3 (02:14) [5.12 MB]
McPherson 12 string acoustic guitar
Biography
The vision set forth for the Dry Branch Fire Squad by founder Ron Thomason in 1976 is alive and well in 2009 in the capable hands and dedicated hearts of his fellow band members Dan Russell, Brian Aldridge and Tom Boyd. Together they combine traditional bluegrass and old time tunes with country wisdom and subtle humor for a music that is both joyously simple and deceptively sophisticated, and their intensity and honesty connect with an audience in a way no other band can equal. Echoes of the Mountains, the first all new studio album from Dry Branch since 2001’s Hand Hewn, finds the band’s rich stringband textures, stirring ensemble singing and meticulous sense for selecting and arranging songs in complete harmony for another one-of-a-kind listening experience.

1. Dixie Cowboy 5:16
2. Echo Mountain 3:45
3. Rider on an Orphan Train 4:40
4. Up on the Divide 3:27
5. (You Got To Pray To The Lord) When You See Those Flying Saucers 2:12
6. Bring It On Home to Me 4:15
7. Little Joe 3:16
8. Seven Spanish Angels 3:14
9. Stormy Waters 3:17
10. O Captain! My Captain! 3:24
11. Power in the Blood 1:42
12. Rovin’ Gambler 4:09
13. Grayson’s Train 3:07
14. Thank You, Lord 3:04

Dry Branch Fire Squad:
Brian Aldridge: guitar, mandolin, vocal
Tom Boyd: banjo, Dobro®, vocal
Dan Russell: bass, banjo, vocal
Ron Thomason: mandolin, guitar, clawhammer banjo, percussion, vocal
with
Michael Cleveland: fiddle on “Dixie Cowboy” and “Bring It On Home to Me”
Produced by Ken Irwin and Steve Chandler
Recorded and mixed by Steve Chandler at Hilltop Recording Studios, Nashville, Tennessee.
Roving Gambler was recorded by Bordley Palk at his recording studio on New Lebanon, Ohio.
Mastered by Toby Mountain at Northeastern Digital, Southborough, Massachusetts.
Photography by David McClister.
Design by
Notes by Tom Adams.

DBFS uses La Bella custom Bluegrass strings.
Tom Boyd plays Meredith Resonator Guitars and Hatfield Custom Banjos.

For bookings contact Bill Evans, (510)528-1924 or bevans@nativeandfine.com.

DBFS dedicates this album to the memory of Howard Aldridge who generously taught us all lots of music. We greatly appreciate the fans and promoters who have so graciously supported us throughout. We are especially thankful for the two great festivals that we are honored to host—Grey Fox in Oak Hill, NY; and High Mountain Hay Fever in Westcliffe, CO. We also wish to thank other great performers that we have worked closely with over the years; like, Ralph Stanley, Bobby Osborne, Kenny Baker, Bill Lowe, Larry Sparks, and many others too numerous to name. The most support comes from our immediate families and our closest friends, and we wish to take this opportunity to thank them for all they have done and continue to do and the sacrifices they make to enable us to travel and play music. And we want everyone to know that we really appreciate and respect each other and are grateful to get to work in a group that shares all burdens and supports each member’s efforts.

For information consult www.drybranchfiresquad.com.

Also available:
Rounder 11661-0258-2 Fertile Ground
Rounder 11661-0289-2 Long Journey
Rounder 11661-0306-2 Just for the Record
Rounder 11661-0339-2 Live! At Last
Rounder 82161-0466-2 Hand Hewn
Rounder 18964-4469-2 Memories that Bless and Burn
Rounder 11661-0527-2 Live at the Newburyport Fire House
Rounder 11661-0585-2 Thirtieth Anniversary Special
Rounder 1166-11519-2 Tried & True

Did you know there are still people in these United States who have to clean up when they come in from work? It’s true. I’ve looked it up on the Internet. Granted, some of our fellow Americans are just dusty from having sprayed compressed air on their computer keyboards, but others have spent their days up on ladders leaned against old houses or down on their hands and knees beneath old cars. White collar or blue collar, hand-washed or dry-cleaned, chauffeur-driven or bronco-ridden – when the work’s all done and it’s time for an evening of entertainment, you’ll see them sitting side by side eagerly waiting for that voice behind the curtain – “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Dry Branch Fire Squad.”

Launched amid the nation’s Bicentennial more than thirty years ago, the band is as compelling today as it was then, appealing to the most rural and the most urban, with songs that put you face to face with all of the things that life throws at you: instrumentals that put you on the edge of your seat and family-friendly, thought-provoking social commentary the likes of which you rarely hear save for the occasional rerun of the Bullwinkle Show.

The vision set forth for Dry Branch by founder Ron Thomason in 1976 is alive and well in 2008 in the capable hands and dedicated hearts of his friends and fellow band members Dan Russell, Brian Aldridge and Tom Boyd. The intensity and the honesty of a Dry Branch performance connect with an audience in ways no other band can equal. The odds of attending a music festival and hearing the phrase “those folks sounded just like the Dry Branch Fire Squad” are about as likely as reading “Milwaukee man with sensitive ears claims hearing loss from original Big Bang.” All right, maybe that’s not such a good example.

Down through the years, though, a topic that’s been debated by music writers, literate and otherwise, has been “is Dry Branch the missing link between old-time and bluegrass music?” In a recent interview, Ron listed several artists as possible candidates for this honor, ranging from Clint Howard and Fred Price up to Bill Monroe himself. “Dry Branch is on the bluegrass side,” Ron says. But you’ll hear examples of both genres on this album, each track receiving the treatment best suited to the particular song. Ron notes, “In recording, I try to get songs that complement each other and all have that element where there’s something really poignant. I don’t like to divide them into categories – it’s the song, it’s that punch line.”

Another point that Ron stresses is that he’s “in a band – It’s not ‘Ron Thomason and the Dry Branch Fire Squad.’ We are a band, and I believe that bluegrass music is band music.” Referring to the current line-up, Ron says, “They’re so creative and so willing to take on new material – and they’re always pushing me. I’ve always kind of thought the best thing I could ever do is be the worst musician in my own band – and I’ve finally made it – these guys are good!”

The association between Ron, Dan, Brian and Tom goes back forty years to southwestern Ohio and a common musical thread tied to Brian’s father, Howard Aldridge. Howard, whose family moved to Ohio from Greenup County, Kentucky, was a 3-finger Scruggs style banjo player who turned down an offer to work in Bill Monroe’s band. As Ron puts it, “He was a family man who didn’t want to beat the road.” Brian adds that his dad “really enjoyed sharing his music with others. He liked to show people things and he was really good at it.” Ron gives credit to Howard for “giving us the background and making musicians out of us.” Even though at one point in the late 1970s “all four of us guys lived within seven miles of one another” by Dan’s reckoning, they didn’t start playing music together until 2005, when Tom joined, completing the quartet.

Now, one of the realities of being in a band is that musicians come and go. They join and they move on. About ten years ago, in the liner notes for Memories That Bless & Burn, Ron gave an accounting up to that time of the talented folks who had been a part of the Dry Branch Fire Squad. In subsequent years, Ron made the decision to spend less time on the road. This shift in the group’s touring schedule inevitably led to the personnel changes that persuaded Dan, Brian and Tom to come aboard. “I remember Brian coming back to the band and saying, ‘Let’s just make some good music’, Ron recalls, “And Dan – he’s retired – he told me, ‘Let’s just play what we want to’, and Tom – he had called me a few years back and said, ‘If you’ve ever got a place for me, I’m ready.’ So here’s all four of us, ready to do the same thing.”

Brian Aldridge was raised in an area heavily populated with families who had migrated to the Midwest from Appalachia. He grew up listening to his father, Howard Aldridge, play the banjo and was exposed first hand to the musicians who came to their house in Springfield, Ohio – Bill Monroe, Frank Wakefield and many others. This is Brian’s second stint with Dry Branch, whose sound he describes as “Authentic. Anchored in playing the way the Appalachian people entertained themselves in the evenings; soulful, with a raw quality where you can feel the emotion.” Brian’s singing and playing clearly echo that mountain soulfulness.

Born in Hillsboro, Ohio, Dan Russell lived on a farm for many years. He describes the area where he grew up as a place “where there wasn’t much to do but work.” Although he started playing pedal steel guitar in 1983, Dan’s first instrument was the banjo, which he started playing in 1976. “I watched Butch Robins play with Bill Monroe at Bellefontaine, Ohio, and I tell you I was tore up for a week over the way Butch was playing those fiddle tunes.” Ben Eldridge also influenced Dan’s banjo playing. “Those two guys had more to do with me wanting to play than anybody else.” When Tom joined Dry Branch, Dan moved from banjo to bass. He sings the bass part on the gospel quartet numbers and, like Brian, this is his second time as a member of the band.

Tom Boyd, born and raised in Portsmouth in the hills of southern Ohio, is undoubtedly best known to bluegrass fans for his tenure on banjo and Dobro® with Larry Sparks & the Lonesome Ramblers from late 1974 through the early part of 1980. Tom also built and repaired instruments at his shop in Morehead, KY, and from time to time you’ll still see a banjo with “Boyd” inlaid in the peghead. As a youngster, Tom learned to play the lap steel, the instrument he calls “probably my favorite.” By the time he was ten or eleven years old though, the Flatt & Scruggs television broadcast from Huntington, West Virginia, caught his attention in a big way. To quote Dan, “Lester and Earl – that’s the deal right there!”

At the helm since its inception, Ron Thomason has piloted the great ship Dry Branch over countless miles to countless places, leaving legions of fans in its wake. Growing up in southwest Virginia, “I had the great misfortune some would say – or when I look at it – the great fortune of being sixteen years old before we got electricity,” Ron says, “and so I lived a pretty earthy life. What a gift it’s been.” And what a gift Ron’s been to the world of old-time, mountain and bluegrass music. His singing and playing, his humorous and thought-provoking storytelling, his leadership on and off stage – each continues to add to the richness of the sound Ron first heard as a young boy. “In the late 1940s I was in my dad’s car, coming out of Honaker, VA, listening to Farm & Fun Time on WCYB in Bristol and the Stanley Brothers came on. It changed my life – that music – I sought it out so hard. Everything, really, emanated from the Stanley Brothers.”

Hazel Dickens, who’s known Ron since his days in the early 1970s when he was playing mandolin with Ralph Stanley, describes Ron as “someone who cares a lot about the music – dedicated – passionate about the music.” This latest studio album, the first to feature all new tracks since 2001’s Hand Hewn, finds Dry Branch’s musical chops and Ron’s meticulous sense for selecting and arranging songs in complete harmony. And as with their captivating stage performances, this recording runs the gamut of emotions.

“Power in the Blood” – Of this song and this combination of musicians, Ron says, “This is the group that’s got it in the way I remember hearing it when I was a kid.” Joe Wilson, Director of the Blue Ridge Music Center, has said, “Picking attracts, but the singing holds.”

The 1961 hit “Bring It On Home to Me,” written by soul music icon Sam Cooke, is as much at home in the Dry Branch songbook as the album’s opening cut, “Dixie Cowboy,” mined from the recorded works of Fiddlin’ John Carson, the famed early country musician born nearly a decade before Edison invented the phonograph. Reflecting on the story line in “Dixie Cowboy” Ron notes, “There are very few things I’ve ever done in my life more dangerous than cowboying.”

“Rider on an Orphan Train,” one of the most recently composed songs on the album, is the story of two brothers – two of the estimated one to two hundred thousand children – who, from 1854 to 1929, were taken from cities like New York to farming communities in the Midwest, revealed to you as only Ron’s voice can.

Tom Boyd moves to center stage for the Carter Family’s “Little Joe,” a song he’s been singing for many years. Another song long-associated with Tom is the Larry Sparks-Neal Brackett composition, “Thank You, Lord.” “Tom was on the classic [recording of that song],” Ron states, adding that he thought it would be a good song for Dry Branch with “a little different arrangement on it.”

On another song of faith, Brian Aldridge and Tom pair up for some beautiful duet singing on “Stormy Waters.” Each of the two voices moves alternately between lead and harmony in this wonderfully-crafted song from the catalog of Jimmy Martin and Paul Williams.

Musicians have a saying that goes, “Here’s a song we’ve been carrying around for a while,” and what that means is they’ve been holding onto the idea and waiting for the right time to record a particular piece of music with the right group of musicians. Ron’s had a couple of songs like that, just waiting for this album. Martha Scanlan, formerly of the Reeltime Travelers, sent “Up on the Divide” to Ron about ten years ago. Many, many years before that time, Ron played “Grayson’s Train” with Fred Price and Clint Howard. Ron fills in the details, “It’s in the key of G minor, the same as G.B. Grayson’s version [Price knew Grayson] and Brian’s voice just suited the song perfectly.” So after many years of “carrying the song around,” “Grayson’s Train” makes its appearance on a Dry Branch album.

“Seven Spanish Angels” – Ron was familiar with the Ray Charles-Willie Nelson recording of the mid-1980s, but a few years ago he heard a cowboy in Westcliffe, Colorado, sing it, and he was curious to find out why the man had included that particular song in his repertoire. The cowboy told Ron that the event mentioned in the lyrics, a tragic confrontation between two young lovers and the Texas Rangers who were sent to find them, took place right there at the foot of Kit Carson Mountain near Westcliffe.

Bluegrass and old-time fans are treated annually to two of the country’s finest music festivals at which the Dry Branch Fire Squad serves as the host band – the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, Oak Hill, New York and High Mountain Hay Fever, Westcliffe, Colorado. Directly related to the aforementioned High Mountain festival is the song “O Captain! My Captain!” After reading Walt Whitman’s poem about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Joe Wolking of the Colorado band Sons and Brothers set the work to music. Ron’s interpretation of the song as a solo for voice and clawhammer banjo makes this one of the standout performances on the album.

Of course it wouldn’t be a true Dry Branch program without interjecting some humor “to cleanse the palette” as Ron would say. (“You Got to Pray to the Lord) When You See Those Flying Saucers” is just the sorbet to do the job. Or is it? As in, what level are we talkin’ on here? The lyrics do warn “It may be the coming of the Judgment Day.” Then again, the same writer penned a song for Leonard Nimoy’s 1960s album Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space.

Finally, “Echo Mountain,” “such a great song,” to quote Ron, and “Rovin’ Gambler” round out the collection’s fourteen tracks. You’ll notice in the credits that Dan played both banjo and bass on “Rovin’ Gambler.” “We recorded the banjo live and then a month or so went by before I went back and overdubbed the bass,” Dan tells me – but I’ve seen this man sort a five pound bag of trail mix into its individual components in under a minute. He’s got the mad skills to play both instruments at the same time. Don’t let the mild-mannered exterior fool you.

Well, as these notes draw to a close and you gaze across the room trying to decide if it’s time to throw another log on your television, just remember that you’re You and they’re the Dry Branch Fire Squad and as far as modern science can reckon, you’ve got at least two things in common with Brian, Tom, Dan and Ron: a similar number of chromosomes and a love for that hard-hitting, shakin’ in your boots kind of music that lets you know you’re alive.

–Tom Adams

CD label:

Dry Branch Fire Squad
Echoes of the Mountains

Rounder 11661-0574-2
p & © 2009 Rounder Records.
Manufactured in the USA.
24
  • Members:
    Ron Thomason: mandolin, guitar, clawhammer banjo, vocal, Brian Aldridge: guitar, mandolin, vocal, Tom Boyd: banjo, dobro, vocal, Dan Russell: bass, banjo, vocal
  • Sounds Like:
    The missing link between old time and bluegrass
  • Influences:
  • AirPlay Direct Member Since:
    01/09/09
  • Profile Last Updated:
    03/26/22 17:19:18

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