Once upon a time, all-female bluegrass and old-time bands were a rarity, as each era produced a challenge to a male-dominated style—the Coon Creek Girls, the Any Old Time String Band, the Buffalo Gals, the All-Girl Boys, and more paved the way for equality and acceptance.
Boston’s Della Mae has taken things a quiet step further with all women guest artists and composers as well, augmenting their talented quartet [currently a quintet] with a guest roster including Laurie Lewis, Alison Brown, and Brittany Haas, and filling out a slate of original tunes with covers of songs penned by Hazel Dickens (“My Heart’s Own Love”) and Cousin Emmy (“Bowling Green.”)
Truthfully, except perhaps for taking note of another historical barrier quietly falling, there’s no reason to mention anything but how good an album this is. Lead singer Celia Woodsmith’s voice has a bluesy growl that proves adaptable to the driving numbers “Jamie Dear” and “From The Bottle,” while lending an urgency and authenticity to themes of losing love and losing control. But the power of her voice loses nothing on the gently sultry ballad “The Most” and shines the strongest on the powerful closing track, “Ballad Of A Lonely Woman,” where the spare accompaniment of Kimber Ludiker’s and Brittany Haas’s fiddles create a timeless [and almost Scandinavian] setting for her moving vocals.
Ludiker, mandolinist Jenni Lyn Gardner, and bassist Amanda Kowalski, joined by guest (and newest recruit) Courtney Hartman on guitar, lend great support throughout, playing with fire, but not overwhelming the songs. And that’s ideal, because it’s the fine body of original material that Della Mae presents that will really get audiences interested and keep them coming back for more. (www.heyheydellamae.com.) HK