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Marty Falle: The Legacy of Kentucky Bluegrass, Past to Present

It could be claimed without any exaggeration whatsoever that singer, songwriter and musician has always had bluegrass in his blood. It was infused early on, when, after watching re-runs of “The Andy Griffith Show” as a youngster, he became fascinated by the show’s “house band,” a fictitious group called The Darlings, who were played by The Dillards, a real-life group that were responsible for transitioning the archival sounds of mountain music into a sound that could be admired, appreciated and enjoyed through populist appeal. Falle’s fondness for the form was further nurtured while living in Athens Ohio and frequenting a local record store that featured live bluegrass on an ongoing basis. Having dabbled in music while in high school, he relocated to Eastern Kentucky after college, and it was there that he immersed himself in the traditional template so essential to the music of that particular region.

Years later, Falle still cherished the memories that were made there. While he would eventually spend time in Nashville — where he met Jonathan Yudkin, the producer who sat behind the board for his new album, My Farm, My Bluegrass — he continues to call Appalachia home.

A follow-up to Kentucky Bluestar, Falle’s first full foray into authentic bluegrass music, the tellingly-titled My Farm, My Bluegrass naturally brings high expectations. After all, Kentucky Bluestar reaped any number of critical kudos. The title track, and the album’s first single, was a Top Ten hit, debuting at Number Six before reaching Number Two on The Bluegrass Today Singles Chart. It then climbed to Number One on the Bluegrass Jamboree Top 100. In addition, it found its way to Number Eight on the Top 50 APD Bluegrass / Folk Albums and debuted at Number Six on The Bluegrass Today Singles Chart. The album also made it to Number Eleven on The ADP Global Radio Indicator.

The critics took notice as well. Falle graced the cover of The Bluegrass Standard Magazine this past June. In April, Falle was spotlighted for a feature story in Bluegrass Today Magazine, one in which he was described as "an artist well worth your attention.” The kudos then continued from there. He was designated as Artist of the Month by Ohio Bluegrass deejay Michelle Lee and featured in an article in Country Music International in Europe. More recently, Falle was singled out in Germany’s CountryMusicNowInternational after hitting Number One on its chart.

It’s hardly surprising then that My Farm, My Bluegrass maintains the lingering legacy that’s so vital to the essence of American music. Despite that high bar established by Kentucky Bluestar, its successor has already found similar success. The downloads credited to deejays worldwide were significantly higher than that of the previous release. So too, within the first 48 hours of its release on August 26th, My Farm, My Bluegrass successfully scaled the APD Global Radio Indicator Chart, a chart that ranks all musical genres, and then quickly climbed to Number One. Just as impressively, out of the top ten singles on the APD Bluegrass Global Radio Indicator Chart, eight were from My Farm, My Bluegrass. Likewise, the album’s first single, “Ode to Ale 8,” featuring six-time Female Bluegrass Vocalist of the Year Dale Ann Bradley, tied for Number One on APD Global Radio Indicator Chart for Bluegrass singles on the first day of its release.

In a larger sense however, My Farm, My Bluegrass details the lingering legacy of bluegrass music itself, all gleaned through the lens of Falle’s personal perspective. A history major in college, he retains a fondness and connection to the stories spawned from that historical region. Previous songs, such as “Renfro Valley Barn Dance,” “Shiloh,” “Bloody Coal, Bootlegger,” “Appalachia River Song,” Virgin on the Bluegrass,” “Revenuer Blues,” “Cherokee,” and “Kentucky Bluestar,” gained significant popularity by retelling stories inherent to the American heartland.

Falle pursues the same tack on the new album, culminating in what could be called a journey through an ongoing trajectory. The music, all entirely originals, culls the various stylistic strands of the archival influences found in Irish, Scottish and English folk music, which then found its way into American country and mountain music, courtesy of those who made their way overseas to resettle in Appalachia. History and happenstance evolved from there.

“The roots of bluegrass music go back to the 1600s,” Falle explains. “They were brought to Kentucky and surrounding states by those Irish, Scottish and English settlers. Bill Monroe, who was born in Kentucky, is generally cited as the father of bluegrass music, given that he popularized that particularly breed of country music which he then dubbed ‘bluegrass,’ after the bluegrass region of his home state.”

Falle notes that those archival origins are still vital today, and it’s those traditions that are infused into the new album. “Kentuckians have been wearing out shoe leather at informal jamborees since the state was settled over two hundred years ago,” Falle notes. “A Rosine barn dance helped launch Bill Monroe’s career. Even today, Appalachian cloggers and square dance callers celebrate the unique musical culture of Kentucky.”

Consequently, those early influences figure prominently in each of the new songs.

For example, "Kentucky Sons of Ireland” and “Appalachia Irish Dance” take the listener back to bluegrass’s early beginnings, each an effusive, upbeat and evocative example of spirited sentiment applied to the traditional tapestry of the British Isles. The use of penny whistle underscores the authenticity. “Kentucky Proud” offers an affirmative nod to home and hearth, and the pride of those who freely share a timeless heritage with purpose and pride. It’s the sound of old-school country music imbued with a sense of drive and determination. The lively “Big Barn Breakdown” captures the joy and jubilation that made life so special and precious. It evokes the sound of the gatherings that took place after the work was done and those who plowed the fields would gather with friends and neighbors to celebrate that rural Kentucky culture with all its down-home designs.

Those shared sentiments aside, spirituality plays a big part in the musical mix as well.

“Praise the Lord and Pass the Gravy” and “Bluegrass Holy Land Breakdown” are each flush with dedication and devotion. So too, the moving and memorable track titled “The Calling” finds Falle quoting scripture, specifically Philippians 3:14, which inspires the faithful to press on towards finding the fulfillment that comes with worshiping the Lord.

“It’s the core of my spiritual beliefs and what I am trying to achieve,” Falle says.”

There’s a light up in the sky

I must have prayed to you a thousand times

Please help me see, please help me find

The calling…

Forget the things that are behind

the perfect sight known to the blind

With faultless heart and true piece of mind

The calling…

Throughout the album, Falle intersperses brief yet engaging bluegrass breakdown instrumentals while creating a musical thread and effectively connecting the songs. “Big Barn Breakdown,” “Unbridled Breakdown,” “Back Forty Breakdown,” “Chimney Letters” and “Bluegrass Holy Land Breakdown” affirm the album’s celebratory stance and while providing absolute authenticity.

Naturally, it took an exceptional group of musicians to bring the project to full fruition. Falle and his producer, Jonathan Yudkin, all but assured that success by assembling an all-star band that to back-up Falle as he sang lead and backing vocals and played rhythm guitar. Yudkin contributed fiddle and mandolin and also oversaw an erstwhile ensemble that includes Carl Miner (guitar), Michael Bub (acoustic bass), Rob Ikes (dobro), Josh Matheny (dobro, lap steel, mandolin), Matt Menefee (banjo), and Tim Carter (banjo). In addition, Marty Slayton, Kim Parent, and Marcia Ramirez contribute backing vocals. Dale Ann Bradley shares lead vocals on "Ode to Ale 8", "Chimney Letters" and "Praise the Lord and Pass the Gravy.” The album’s cover art was the work of Disney artist, TJ Matousek.

Each of these individuals boast distinguished resumes that not only confirm that fact they’re tops in their respective fields, but also offer a testament to a clear musical mantra. Falle’s made it his mission to weave together bluegrass basics and ensure an enduring and indelible connection to the culture and heritage of his Eastern Kentucky environs.

However, in a larger sense, My Farm, My Bluegrass epitomizes what bluegrass itself is all about, a sound based around a tightly knit instrumental core that embellishes the melody as other players take turns at soloing. It’s around flush with improvisation, typically termed a “breakdown.” While old-time music may be characterized as having one player or another at the forefront while other musicians provide accompaniment, breakdowns are characterized by rapid-fire tempos and an instrumental dexterity that’s both fervent and finessed. In that regard, Falle captures the true spirit of a sound that’s gained the populist precepts that’s so vital to the common bond that today’s bluegrass readily embraces. As a result, My Farm, My Bluegrass offers a specific sanctuary, where sentiment, skill and satisfaction are safely secured in community confines. It’s a place where all are welcome to visit and reside.

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