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Gold...In A Way- David Parmley & Continental Divide

Donald Teplyske  |  April 21, 2014

"Three Silver Dollars" Pinecastle Records

Gold...In A Way is a (very) semi-regular feature here at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass in which I look back at a bluegrass album that has, for whatever reason, again struck my fancy. David Parmley crossed my mind this month, and I thought it was about time I gave him another listen.

Unlike other Americana genres, bluegrass doesn't always appear to examine or reflect the political or economic elements of the time. Not as heavy as folk nor as irreverent as roots rock, the commentary of bluegrass is often more subtle, balancing light with dark, good with evil, secular with sacred, surrounded by words and music that challenge within a tradition.

What You Can See From Your Knees, the second track on this solid album David Parmley & Continental Divide released in 2009, contains each of these elements, and all in just over four minutes. Given the shadings contained, and the financial challenges many continue to face, the song could be forty years old, or it could have been written last year.

Few bands succeed in making traditional bluegrass relevant better than David Parmley & Continental Divide, and the line-up that recorded "Three Silver Dollars" carried on an institution stretching back more than forty years to The Bluegrass Cardinals. Ron Spears (Within Tradition, The Special Consensus) was playing with DP&CD at this time, while Dale Perry had been a mainstay within Parmley's band although I believe he had moved on to Pine Mountain Railroad (and then Grasstowne) by the time the album hit stores.

At the time of this recording, Parmley remained one of bluegrass music's most criminally overlooked vocalists. While Dailey & Vincent, The Steeldrivers, Ricky Skaggs, and others were (and justifiably) garnering the headlines and awards, Parmley soldiered on, singing as he always had, in a manner untouched by the passage of time. Throughout "Three Silver Dollars," his voice alternated between low and slightly higher depending on the particular song's needs, and- to these ears- had never sounded better. On this album, his vocal approach was as cool as Dale Ann Bradley's; nothing could make him rush a note or over-sing a phrase.

The gospel side of bluegrass was represented by Lilly Still Blooms in the Dell and God Reached Down, which also presented exceptional guitar work from Parmley. Often unmentioned is the clarity with which he picks.

The traditional, depending on whom you ask, Winsborough Cotton Mill Blues just rocks along, buffeted by Perry on the banjo. Wisdom is contained within each line of That's Just Me. The arrangement of Refill of Your Love, cleverly written by David Scott Coffey, would make Doyle Lawson proud, and (I believe) Perry's tenor vocal on the chorus would seamlessly fit into a Quicksilver set. It was a bright spot among the album's dozen outstanding tracks.

On this album, Perry's 5-string work continued to impress, and Ron Spears' mandolin and vocal talents were admirably demonstrated including on his song, Carolina Rain. She's Lying in the Cold, Cold Ground is a story told a hundred times in various bluegrass songs, but still manages to capture the imagination.

Fleshing out the Continental Divide trio on this album were the admirable Ron Stewart on fiddle and Kyle Perkins on bass. The only guest appearance was saved for a notable talent; proving it is always good to have friends, Rhonda Vincent nicely sang with Parmley on the chorus of Meadow on the Mountain (Where Mama Used to Pray).

If there was any justice in the bluegrass world, "Three Silver Dollars" would have sold 50 000 copies and would have been nominated for the major awards that autumn. There isn't, it didn't, and it wasn't. Within a few months of its release, Pinecastle was mothballed-albeit temporarily- and not too long after that, Parmley left the bluegrass road.

In the years since, David Parmley has returned to intermittent live performance and recording, but doesn't appear terribly active of late. His website has expired, the Facebook page reveals evidence of a few shows in 2012 and 2013, but he hasn't recorded- as far as I can tell- any music beyond an inspiring collection of gospel songs, "Church House Hymns, Vol. 2" since "Three Silver Dollars."

Five years out, "Three Silver Dollars" remains a very satisfying and exceptionally well-executed bluegrass project, one that is deserving of another listen. It is available at some of the popular online stores and digital services.

Other David Parmley & Continental Divide albums should also be considered, including "Long Time Coming" on CMH and "There'll Always Be A Rocking Chair" on Pinecastle. Favourite albums from The Bluegrass Cardinals include the self-titled 1976 release on Sierra (rereleased on Copper Creek) and "On Stage in Nashville." Also worth searching out is the Parmley & McCoury set entitled "Families of Tradition."

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