Roots Artist Spotlight: Dale Ann Bradley

A 3-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, Dale Ann Bradley may not be a name you're yet familiar with yet but if you love yourself some traditional country music, you're sure to love her brand of modern bluegrass and acoustic music. Read our interview with her here!

“You can find anything there, and I think that has pros and cons,” the Bluegrass star says. “It’s a good thing to be able to find stuff, but it’s so accessible now. Finding it was part of the joy for me when I was growing up – being able to find the vinyl.”

The singer, who has just released her latest disc, Somewhere South Of Crazy, says that her growing up years were much like those of Lynn. “It was probably pretty identical until I was a senior in high school. My dad worked the mines in Bell County. I’m right on the Tennessee – Virginia line, on the Kentucky side. At that time, the pay was a lot better than when her daddy worked the mines. It was still very treacherous. The house that we grew up in – when I saw Coal Miner’s Daughter, it was identical. We had newspapers for the wallpaper, and no running water. We heated with coal. The house was just a tar paper shack. We eventually bought a mobile home, and put it on my grandmother’s property. Water and cable and all of that didn’t come along until I was a senior in High School.

Just like the old saying goes, she’s come a long way, baby. She’s become one of the most consistent performers in Bluegrass music – taking the IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year award three times since 2007. Her winning ways have become such a tradition at the award show that it caused Darrin Vincent of Dailey and Vincent to good naturedly joke that it was a good thing she hasn’t cloned herself, or lowered her voice to compete in the Male Vocalist category. “I wouldn’t do that on purpose, we just work with what time gives us, I guess,” she says with a laugh, before turning serious. “I’ve always been happy to be in the nominations. There’s a lot of good artists that are working hard, and the times that I’ve been fortunate enough to win, it couldn’t have meant any more to anybody than it did me. We’re fortunate enough to be there this time on some collaborations. We’re up for Song of the Year and Recorded Event of the Year for ‘I’ll Take Love,’ and I got to work on that with Alison Krauss and Steve Gulley. We’re also up in the Gospel Performance with Russell Moore on the Look To The Light album.” Those are all wonderful things that I enjoyed so much with my heroes and people that I admire. I’m glad they got in the final nominations, and I was very honored and humbled to be in the Female Vocalist category.”

Bradley says that teaming up with different artists is special because “It gives you a chance to work with people that you’ve really studied their music. It’s a special moment, an exciting one. If it’s live, or if it’s an overdub, you want to put forward your best foot for that collaboration, for sure. It does make you want to do your very best.”

Somewhere South of Crazy features some incredible performances, including her take on Bill Monroe’s “In Despair.” The release comes on the heels of the 100th anniversary of Monroe’s birth September 13. “It just turned out that way,” she said. “I’ve always loved that song, and we’ve been doing it in the show for a couple of years. I wanted to record it, and it just so happened that it coincided with his birthday, and that worked out just great. I thought it was just one of his best songs.”

The title cut was also a highlight, as she got to team up with one of her favorite singers, Pam Tillis. “I was thrilled to have checked my e-mail and I had an invitation from Pam to come down and write with her for a couple of days, and I did that. Actually, she started ‘Somewhere South Of Crazy,’ and before we finished with it, I put a hold on it real quick, and I wanted to put it on my album. She was good enough to put the harmony on it, and she did so good – You know, she can sing anything! Bluegrass people love Pam Tillis, and they love her dad too. I was just thrilled that worked out. It was a special moment.”

One song that might throw some of Bradley’s longtime fans for a loop is her cover of Seals and Crofts’ 70s hit “Summer Breeze.” She said if you listen to it, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. “You look at the lyrics, and I’ve thought it was a Bluegrass song for years. I’ve loved that song, and I’ve always wanted to take songs from other genres and put them to Bluegrass instrumentation. That song had a Celtic melody, and a very minery-mountain sound - It’s just always been a real Grassy-sounding song to me.”

She also tips her hat to the Louvin sound, with a cover of Charlie’s “Will You Visit Me On Sunday.” Bradley lamented how much of a loss was felt with Louvin’s death in January. “It sure was, not only with Charlie himself, but the influence that he and Ira had on Bluegrass music. They were considered Bluegrass and Country, because they were so accepted by both. Their songs, harmony, and arrangement, it’s such an honor to perform a Louvin Brothers song. I had heard Conway and Loretta’s version as a duet many years ago. Steve Gulley and I had performed that for many years at Renfro, and I wanted to put that on this album because that song has meant so much to me, and it gave us a chance to do a duet – which was something we’ve wanted to do for so long.”

Another artist that she covers on Somewhere South Of Crazy is ….. Dale Ann Bradley, with a re-cut of “Old Southern Porches,” a song that appeared on an earlier Bradley album. “That song is so special. Leslie Wynn Satcher is such a great artist and writer in her own right. I recorded it as a title cut of an album from a few years ago, but I had this live version from California from when I was out there. We get a lot of requests for it, but that album is out of print – the album that I did on Pinecastle. It’s been many, many years. So, I wanted to put that live feel out there. I couldn’t think of a better song for that.”

Bradley has been hitting the road in a frenzy this year, and that’s a good thing, she says. “This year has been the busiest year of my career. I’m very happy. It’s looking like next year will be a wonderful year for us too.”

One of those dates will take her back a little bit. On Sunday, September 11, Bradley will play “The Carter Fold,” in Hiltons, VA. A salute to the music of the Carter Family, the occasion also marked the last public musical performance of Johnny Cash in the summer months of 2003.  It’s an event she’s honored to be a part of. “The past few years, I have had the fortune of playing over in that area a lot. I’ve never played the Carter Fold, but I’ve always wanted to, hut I’ve got the highest reverence for what that place stands for. I’m very excited about that show. A lot of people tell me they’re going to come. This will be my first time there. All of us in this region have all heard the Carter family songs. The songs they recorded in Bristol with Jimmie Rodgers, that’s what they grew up on.”

Just like somewhere, somebody is growing up dreaming of being Dale Ann Bradley, Rhonda Vincent, or Alison Krauss. And the wheel keeps spinning!