Carrie Hassler

Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain 2

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Hassler's eponymous debut with her Hard Rain band stayed at the top of the bluegrass charts for almost a year and was still on the charts almost two years later. Like their first outing CHHR 2 was produced by fiddler Jim VanCleve, a founder of the bluegrass super group Mountain Heart, who managed to capture the feel and fire of a live gig. The album is balanced between traditional bluegrass and numbers that sound like they're ready made for the country charts, with Hassler's emotive alto a clear match for any country diva you might want to compare her to. With banjo player Josh Miller contributing eight more songs that are perfectly balanced between tradition and tomorrow, Hassler and Hard Rain are clearly ready to take their place in the pantheon of great bluegrass bands. "I Can Go Back Anytime" opens the album with a blazing instrumental track highlighted by Miller's banjo and VanCleve's fiery fiddling. "Country Strong" is a subtle "power ballad" that lets Hassler show off her emotional range, and sports a soaring chorus that sounds ready made for the country charts. Josh Miller's "I Don't Want to Wake Up" is another tune with chart potential, a brokenhearted lament with a soulful vocal from Hassler and understated support from the band, particularly Andy Hall's slide guitar. The band's high lonesome sound is showcased on "Fickle Heart" and "Second Chances," you done me wrong songs given a punch by Hassler's vocals, VanCleve's bluesy fiddle, and the interplay between Keith McKinnon's guitar and Keven McKinnon's mandolin. Josh Miller's "Devil's Den" sounds like it could have been written hundreds of years ago, a gospel/folk song with a dramatic lyric and a droning Celtic melody that gives the tune a chilling aura. The arrangement is full of unexpected stops and starts that give the track an epic feel. Hassler and Hard Rain take Bob Seger's old hit "Turn the Page" and give it a lilting arrangement that adds a bit of hope to the original's hopeless vibe, while "One Way Track to Nowhere," another Miller original, gives the band a chance to show off their splendid chops on a lightening-fast tune that must have left their instruments smoking.

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