From: The Bluegrass List Posting 6/30/98
Daniel Gore
Ways That Are Dark
Elephant Rock, (888) 685-9665
www.elephantrock.com
by: Jaanus Vainu

RATING 5 (of 5) Exact rating 4.9 (of 5.0)

  This is very unusual project at all -- At first, it is straight bluegrass recording, being somewhere between traditional and progressive side. Mostly with melodical edge of the music.- Second, it has all-original compositions, all but one by Daniel Gore.- Third, this album is not just a bunch of songs and tunes. It's an original song cycle, all lyrics and ideas based on Horace Kephart's "Our Southern Highlanders", book written in 1913. Daniel Gore has written both lyrics and the music, based on texts and feelings got from that book. And it's very well done! (Yes, this will be another review in "positive" series, but unfortunately that's the trueth). I am not a specialist in American history and have not read this book on which the album is based. So I will not comment the facts and topics but it can be immediately noted that the production of this "Ways That Are Dark" project is superb. May-be one of the best I have ever seen. One side is that the songs written are so professional ones that you may think that they are already old classics. But the equally impressive side is the accompanying 16-page booklet. There you can see attention to every detail, every fact. All the informative texts for every song are written by Daniel Gore with high scholarship and in style of historician-librarian. It's not bad, as the texts aren't very long but give still enough facts for the reader. When there's some ancient or unusual words in the lyrics then there's always a useful lexicon added. All information (complete lyrics, lexicon, story behind the song, personnel (musicians) are listed together on the same page (one page per song) which is the best way HOW TO MAKE CD-BOOKLET RIGHT!!! You do not need to search part of the information from one end, other part from other end and so on. All data for one song is together here.

  And even more, the pages of this booklet aren't simply just text-filled. Every page has almost 100% of B/W photo background (sometimes even more than one photo mixed very well there). All these B/W photos are printed with gray contrast which makes them not to interfere with the text. And the text layout is done so that it doesn't cover essential objects on the photos. The best work on the layout of CD booklet I have ever seen. Yes, the only complaint may be the very small font used but I understand that it was the only way to place all the information in the booklet of limited number of pages. And those photos on background! They are deserved own story here -- they are mostly from Horace Kephart's original book, but many are from archives, never published before. Mostly picturing life and nature of southern areas about 100 years ago. But all those photos are very sharp and high-quality, although they are 'made gray' for design purposes. The cover image is hand-colored photo. Very well done, too. THE MUSIC on this CD is performed by many artists, some of them take lead on more songs, some only in one song. Two are instrumentals (also written by Daniel Gore and very strong bluegrass pieces). All those lead singers are in their best form here (except may-be Tim O'Brien whose vocals aren't just his best) but my favorites are Peter Rowan's and Mary Miller's leads. I have followed Peter's music many years but on this recording he sounds best ever. He is sure in his top form here. Clear, haunting, bluesy, powerful vocals! Those 4 songs with Peter's lead on this recording are already worth the price of this CD. Even more... There's a lot of variety in tempos and stylings of the music. Some driving "good-mood" bluegrass cuts, couple of bluesy bluegrass, couple of melodical bluegrass songs, couple of swinging bluegrass, couple of bluegrass waltzes/ballads and so on. Two uptempo bluegrass instrumentals, one rhythm and blues sounding cut (#7) and one a bit folky classical-sounding ballad (#3). Audio recording quality is excellent, very enjoyable balance in mixing and no overforced bass sounds here. Perfect CD mastering, too. Thanks for it go to Jerry Brown. The CD has 14 cuts, Total playing time is 42:45. Just released, in June '98 although the dates on the package refer to 1997. This is probably because Daniel has worked two years on this project and he wanted to complete it correctly, not just to fit it in any time schedule. And that's right done. The only confusing thing for bluegrass recordings may be the main title of this CD. It is in style "AUTHOR / ALBUM TITLE" (Daniel Gore / Ways That Are Dark), just like for classical music albums. But in fact it is still various artists album. Daniel plays occasional mandolin in some cuts but is mostly the writer. OK, that's not big problem and I understand this move from trad. standards well - this is just a song cycle, just like a book. And Daniel has really deserved to mention his name on the spine of this CD. Huge work done here! This is a project which deserves much attention from every bluegrass fan and also can be interesting for every folk music lover and also for those being interested in history. I think it's not easy to find good distribution for such almost unknown small-label release but I wish a lot of success in it.