Bluegrass music is one of the uniquely American musical genres, and no one carries on its illustrious tradition better than Pinecastle recording artist Dale Ann Bradley. A five time International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Female Vocalist of the Year, and twice nominated by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music (SPGMA) for Traditional Female Vocalist of the Year, Dale Ann has achieved international acclaim for her true blue vocals, and with the release of “Pocketful of Keys,” she continues her musical journey down that high lonesome road first cut by Bill Monroe, the endearing Father of Bluegrass music.
The album also is a personal first for Dale Ann as she produced and arranged the twelve tracks on the album. “Pocketful of Keys” serves notice that Dale Ann can go note for note with any singer on the planet. Simply stated, she is a talent that breaks through the musical sound barrier and defies categories. There are those who sing songs and then there are those who not only sing them, but who also, through their emotional interpretation, make every line real and bring the lyric to life as if they personally lived every word. Dale Ann is one of the latter.
“The album kind of took on a theme, “she says. Of the 12 songs on her Pinecastle Records return, Dale Ann selected ones that had a personal meaning for her, songs that reflected her life growing up in rural Eastern Kentucky. Songs such as her own “Soldiers, Lovers, and Dreamers,” and “Pocketful of Keys,” along with Dolly Parton’s “Stranger,” are picture perfect reflections of the coalmining towns and hollers of rural Kentucky in the mid twentieth century. Along with “Rachel Pack Your Sunday Clothes” and “Hard Lesson Road,” a duet with Jim Lauderdale, “Pocketful of Keys,” is an album of deep emotional impact. While Dale Ann may not have personally lived the scenarios portrayed in the aforementioned songs, she has an intuitive understanding of them, and conveys the songs as truth set to music. Add to all this an all-star cast of musicians, and you have an album that sets the musical bar as high as the Kentucky mountains.
Reflecting on her childhood years as the daughter of a Primitive Baptist minister, Dale Ann recalls singing in church without any instrumental accompaniment, as instruments were considered worldly. “I’m thankful for the way I grew up,” she says. “We had food, we were together. We stayed warm and dry, but we didn’t have anything fancy. But we made do. It gives me a sense of appreciation and compassion that I’m thankful I have.”
Dale Ann was just two-years-old when she made her singing debut. “ ‘Sweet Hour of Prayer’ is the first song I ever sang in life, “she recalls. “My mother had a part-time job selling Avon. I was at a meeting with her, and the women kind of got bored with the Avon business, so they asked me to sing. It’s still a song that depicts how I feel. It really does.”
Another facet of Dale Ann’s musical intuition is her uncanny ability to choose songs from other genres that lend themselves to bluegrass interpretations. For this album, she chose the Gin Blossoms’ “Until I Hear It from You” and the Charley Pride hit, “I’m So Afraid of Losin’ You Again.” “I love that song, and I wanted to showcase some traditional country music,” she says. “That signature lick on ‘Until I Hear It from You,’ I just knew how pretty it would sound on the banjo,“ she adds.
Even as a young child, music was calling Dale Ann. She remembers lying in the backseat of her father’s car and hearing Jack Greene’s “There Goes My Everything.” “Daddy had the radio on, and boy, I mean I had to be younger that two-years-old, but the song got my attention,” she says.
Ironically, since recorded music wasn’t readily available to Dale Ann, it actually proved to be a blessing in disguise. “The fact that things weren’t handed to me and I wasn’t saturated with music, made me have to seek it out,” she explains.
When she turned 14-years-old, Dale Ann got her first guitar, a plywood model for which she fashioned a pick cut from a plastic milk carton. She took lessons over the phone from a neighbor boy. “I’d be writing down the chords and he’d be telling me where to place my fingers on the fret board,” she laughs. “Sometimes he’d come over to my holler and we’d play for hours.”
Another early influence for Dale Ann was her high school band director, Merle Risner. Eventually Dale Ann started singing with Risner and his wife, Alpha, at Pine Mountain State Park. “It was very hard for me to get in front of people and sing,” she admits. “I’d never have been able to get in front of anybody and sing if it wasn’t for those park shows.”
The trio actually released several gospel records, and from there Dale Ann spring-boarded to becoming a member of the New Coon Creek Girls. Eventually, the group became Dale Ann Bradley and the New Coon Creek Girls. She also became a regular on Kentucky’s Renfro Valley. “I can’t put a price on all I learned at Renfro Valley,” she says.
Lately she has been busy making music videos, recording commercials for the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, and teaching guitar lessons via Skype. She continues to tour with her band of stellar musicians, adding to her ever expanding list of diehard fans every time she takes the stage.
One of the ingredients missing from much of contemporary music is authenticity. Not so with Dale Ann. It is the rare artist who is able to vocally craft every word, every line of a lyric that comes straight from their heart to the listeners. And that’s exactly what sets Dale Ann apart from the crowd. She’s as authentic as it gets.