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review: Dean Sapp & Harford Express "Coal Black Gold"

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  • joe ross
    Here s a little something for all you bluegrass music lovers...... Joe DEAN SAPP & HARFORD EXPRESS – Coal Black Gold Old Train Music OTM-1010 1723 W.Pulaski
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 3, 2004
      Here's a little something for all you bluegrass music lovers......

      DEAN SAPP & HARFORD EXPRESS � Coal Black Gold
      Old Train Music OTM-1010
      1723 W.Pulaski Hwy., Elkton, MD. 21921, TEL. 1-800-246-3319
      EMAIL: bby2yrold@... OR sapp8256@...
      Playing Time � 47:37

      Maryland-based Dean Sapp formed his first band back in 1969 and has released
      many albums since 1987 that emphasize his dedication to traditionally-based
      bluegrass with lively instrumental work and balanced vocal harmonies. The
      band�s sound is also built around their presentation of a fair amount of
      original material. I believe that this is their tenth album. �Coal Black
      Gold� introduces five original cuts penned by Sapp or the band�s mandolin
      player, Dan Curtis, from Baltimore, who has played with Walter Hensley,
      Foggy Bottom, Leon Morris, and Eastern Heritage, and many others.

      Most of Sapp�s songs are inspired by experiences in life or dreams. �Heart
      Full of Trouble� is a strong original with a cute hook. �The Lucketts Ghost�
      is a spooky tale of a Civil War soldier�s ghost. Sapp�s �The Traveler,� a
      ballad about ex-lawyer turned hobo, suffers slightly from its lengthy
      arrangement that spans six minutes. Additional material on this project
      comes from Wendy Miller, Rodney Kent Dowell, Dixie Hall, Lester Flatt, Allen
      Reynolds, Mike Van Hoy and more. I enjoyed their instrumental bluegrass
      version of the old favorite, �Never on Sunday.� They also tear up �Kentucky
      Chimes� and Curtis� �Wyman Park March.�

      The band plays a variety of family venues, and they�ve also backed up Mac
      Wiseman, Bill Grant and Delia Bell, and others on occasion. Besides their
      original material, the band keeps Dean Sapp�s bassy lead singing in the
      forefront. �Coal Black Gold� was recorded at Dixie and Tom T. Hall�s Studio
      in Franklin, TN. The Halls and Sapp have known each other and respected each
      other�s music for many years. After Sapp repaired Hall�s Gibson F-5 Lloyd
      Loar mandolin, the band was invited to stay with the Halls when they played
      the Station Inn in Nashville a few weeks later. This album project was
      conceived a short while later, and it includes Miss Dixie�s �The Farm,� a
      song with a plea to not sell the farm. The title cut of this project was
      written by a songsmith in Sapp�s area, Ronnie Simon, who grew up in the
      Carolinas and writes about what he has lived. Simon writes with a
      contemporary flair that reminded me of Dallas Frazier and his hit,
      �California Cottonfields.�

      Dean Sapp�s musical family roots go back to Virginia and North Carolina,
      where he started playing guitar at age six, seeing all the famous bluegrass
      musicians touring through the area, and playing in bands with his his
      uncles, Sonny and Johnny Miller. Besides guitar, Dean has also mastered the
      banjo, mandolin, dobro, and bass. As a partner in a bluegrass music shop,
      Dean gives lessons on all bluegrass instruments, buys and sells instruments,
      and repairs guitars. �I really do live for bluegrass music,� he once said.

      Besides Sapp�s guitar and vocals, many came to know The Harford Express
      sound as Dan Curtis on mandolin, George Osing on banjo, and Bill Graybeal on
      bass. On �Coal Black Gold,� however, Sapp and Curtis are joined by Darin
      Hirchy (bass) and Ben Sapp (banjo). I�m not certain how long this current
      configuration of the band has been together, but I do wish that they had
      also included a hot guest fiddler and/or dobro player because the types of
      songs they choose to play would certainly benefit from those additions in
      their mix. Sapp once told me that they work as a four-piece band because
      they want to and that he has tried using fiddle and dobro players but became
      very unhappy with the sound. On this album, Sapp says he wanted a �very warm
      sound and feel instead of the over produced projects we seem to be bombarded
      with lately.�

      Dean Sapp is clearly dedicated to bluegrass music, although he draws from a
      wider range of musical experience to define his own musical style within the
      genre. He apparently sings those songs which really move him, and I�m sure
      you�ll find some offerings that also move you on �Coal Black Gold.� (Joe

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