Steve Gulley / Tim Stafford

Dogwood Winter

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Bluegrass pickers and songwriters Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford have been hitting pay dirt as a songwriting team for quite a few years. Their composition "Through the Window of a Train," cut by Stafford's band Blue Highway, won the IBMA's Song of the Year Award in 2008, and they've had songs covered by other bluegrass bands and country artists. Stafford has played with Alison Krause & Union Station as well as Blue Highway and is also a noted producer. Gulley was a founding member of Mountain Heart, played with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and currently plays with Grasstowne, winner of an IBMA Album of the Year trophy for The Road Headin' Home. This is their first collaboration on a recording, a collection of 14 of their original tunes, and they cover a lot of musical and emotional ground. The title track opens with a processed vocal that sounds like it's coming from an Edison cylinder. It has an old-time music feel with Ron Stewart's banjo and the fiddling of Justin Moses augmenting its melancholy vibe. "Dying Won't Be Hard at All," "Why Ask Why?," and "How Did That Turn into My Problem?" have strong hooks and sound like they could be mainstream country hits. "Snow" is an old-fashioned bluegrass waltz with Moses adding his soulful fiddling. "Sixteen Cents" brings to mind the hobo songs of Jimmie Rodgers, while "Just Along for the Ride" is taken at a breakneck tempo to give the backing pickers a chance to shine. Stewart's banjo, Adam Steffey's mandolin, and the Dobro work of Moses are particularly impressive here. The duo stretches out with "Torches," a torch song they wrote in the style of James Taylor marked by their sweet close harmonies and a subdued acoustic arrangement, and "Nebraska Sky," a tune that deals with the universal theme of the poor boy missing home. Michael Alvey's piano adds a subtle touch of pop to their delivery. Like many 21st century bluegrass musicians, Gulley and Stafford write tunes that can find favor with folk, Americana, and country fans, as well as bluegrass aficionados.

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