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Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain 2
By: Jim Moulton, CSO Staff Journalist

Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain 2 is a bluegrass / acoustic country masterpiece that is one the best quality CDs that I have heard this year. The disc was produced by Jim Van Cleve of Mountain Heart. Jim and Carrie's label, Rural Rhythm, put some time and money into this disc and it shows. Most of the CD is just Carrie and her band, but she gets some help from Josh Shilling, Jim Van Cleve, Andy Hall and Steve Gulley. An old fashioned thing I like used on this CD to get some hi end fullness is the use of a guitar with what is known as Nashville tuning (guitar tuned one octave higher).

What makes this a great CD? Great songs and great performances aided by a great recording. The label really pulls out all of the stops on this CD. It reminds me of "One Step Ahead" by Rhonda Vincent from '03. Rounder Records put her in the best possible situation with Bill Vorndick producing and Bryan Sutton on guitar, a real nice studio and great mastering by Hank Williams.

The sound texture on this CD is plain out audiophile. Many sweet sounding harmonics and no discernable distortion. Some of the songs have more of an acoustic country sound. Mastered by Benny Quinn. Not every artist gets the privilege to record in legendary Omnisound Studio "A" (pictured below right) ,which has the best equipment and legendary clientele.

Now, to the music, 12 great tracks. "Country Strong" is like an acoustic country anthem. This was written by Mark Nester, Tony Martin and Jennifer Hanson. "Fickle Heart" is a bluegrass mid tempo with some great guitar, mandolin, banjo and also the fiddle that Van Cleve adds to every song here.

"I Don't Want to Wake Up" (Josh Miller and Josh Swift) - This is a beautiful ballad that Hassler's vocals really take on the nuances of the phrasing. Just a great song. "Devil's Den" (Josh Miller, Jim Van Cleve and Craig Market) is a very typical bluegrass song on the fight between evil and good.

"One Way Track To Nowhere" (Josh Miller and Keith Mckinnon) An upbeat, bluegrass song that is really well written and also well sung by Hassler. "Turn The Page" (Bob Seger, renewed 2001 Gear Publishing Comp.) This cover track fit's Carrie's vocals well as it is a ballad about being on the road, great song.

I'd be amiss if I didn't mention "She's a Stranger in His Mind" (Mark Brinkman), Hassler really pours her heart into this ballad about Alzeimer's disease.

Carrie Hassler has that special something in her vocals and also a band that provides her sound songs. I highly recommend this disc and her debut CD too.

Release Date - July 29/ 08

Jim Moulton Interviews Carrie Hassler:
Added 8/18/08

JM: Carrie, when did you start singing, you sound like a natural?

CH: I started singing in church at the age of 8. I knew that from that moment I wanted to be a singer.

JM: I was surprised when I heard your first CD at how good it was in every way. I shared some mp3s of that disc with some musical buds of mine and a couple of them were quite blown away too. Your career has been a bit of a fairy tail. I have so much respect for Jim Van Cleve, it must have been amazing when he took you in after hearing your demo tape? Do you have any favorite artists that have inspired you?

CH: As a pre-teen on into my teen years I sang everything that Sherri Easter released. I am also a huge Patsy Cline fan. I started singing gospel, and then went on to a variety of other music. However, the first bluegrass song on stage was Steel Rails... it was then that I knew bluegrass was where I wanted to be. Bluegrass has been very good to me. The people are very honest and real. Those qualities are very important to me. I think that is why I love bluegrass so much.

JM: I have been doing some kind of music my whole life and I just love the resurgence of bluegrass. There is stuff I call new grass like the Greencards and the Duhks. Your music is traditional, but it is recorded in an incredible modern way, the sound has a sheen on it. Your second CD is one of the highest quality recordings that I have heard this year and easily, (not easily), but best by a bluegrass group. The tones of the instruments and vocals are Big Time. Can you explain what it is that makes this second CD jump up several notches into the realm of Alison Krauss?

CH: We have worked very hard as a team to create a sound that stands out. We wanted to create a sound that was still true to it's roots, but at the same time had something new. Jim VanCleve and David Hall (album engineer) understood what we were trying to achieve, and captured it on this album just like we had envisioned.

JM: I just reviewed Mountain Heart's Live CD, what a group, Your label, Rural Rhythm, are a great bunch of folks. Your vocals have a quality that is hard to describe, "Turn The Page" with Josh Shilling is past incredible, I just love that kid, he is so creative. He sings so well with and does some great things. You must be grateful for all of the great songs that your group members have written for you, they seem made for you. Do you enjoy the studio experience? What was it like getting to use Omnisound Studio, that place has a great reputation and the best equipment made, but you have to have someone who knows how to use it, for an engineer.

CH: The studio experience is very rewarding and at the same time exhausting. You want to make sure that everyone that has put something on the CD is happy with their part. Sometimes this means long hours and many takes. Having a studio like Omnisound and an engineer like David Hall is icing on the cake. It all goes into making a product that makes everyone proud.

JM: You can't teach emotion, yet you really live your songs, Does "She's A Stranger In His Mind" touch your life, I mean the lyrics?

CH: I think that anyone that truly listens to the words of this song could not help but be touched in some way. Mark "Brink" Brinkman simply did an amazing job writing this song. It was difficult at times just to make it through the song getting it ready for the album. You can read the words to this song and totally be filled with emotion. This song literally puts you into the lives of the people in the story.

JM: Well, Carrie, from my boss Jim Weaver at CSO (he's a big bluegrass fan too) and myself, thanks for time and this great CD, I grew up in Tennessee and used to go thru Crossville a lot, I hope you and your band can make it up to Philly some time, we have a lot of country/bluegrass fans.

CH: Thank you so much for the opportunity and for your time. I hope that we are up your way very soon. I appreciate your kind words and look forward to seeing you soon. Thank you for the wonderful album review.


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