Not since the haunting and powerful music of Kentucky balladeers such as Roscoe Holcomb and Pete Steele has there been an equal in beauty, force and command of the Kentucky ballad and banjo tradition—until now. Brett Ratliff carries on this legacy in a way that only an east Kentucky native could with his new album Cold Icy Mountain. Filled with soulful banjo ballads and rousing string band tunes, this album will have listeners dancing and crying—sometimes at the same time. Cold Icy Mountain brings chilling ballads that make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, while knock-down, foot-stomping banjo songs will have you up out of your chair.
Raised by a coal miner and teacher in Van Lear, Kentucky, Brett Ratliff grew up with a love for the mountains, its people, and its culture. As a youngster, Brett starting singing in church and sang along to recordings of Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams. As a teenager he began playing guitar for bluegrass bands. But when Brett met musical father and son Jamie and Jesse Wells he became hooked on the moving, emotionally charged mountain music of his home. Since then, Brett has learned banjo tunes and ballads from some of the masters of old time music, like knock-down banjo player George Gibson of Knott County or Pike County fiddle and banjo player Paul David Smith.
Brett’s many musical influences are heard throughout this powerful collection of Kentucky music. In addition to beautiful and ghostly banjo ballads, Brett is joined by members the Clack Mountain String Band for songs and tunes that range from Rufus Crisp’s Blue Goose to Perry Riley’s Gettin’ Wild Again. Comprised of Jesse Wells on fiddle, Karly Higgins on guitar and harmony vocals, and J.T. Cure on bass, these four Kentucky natives create an energetic, hard-driving sound playing the music of their home state. On a few tunes you’ll catch Adrian Powell, best known for his fiddling with Matt Kinman and the Old Time Serenaders, and Julie Shepherd, an award-winning flatfoot dancer. These people play, as John Cohen said of Roscoe Holcomb, on the edge.
The collection of music on Cold Icy Mountain has the power of a mine explosion, the power of young lust, the power of war, the power of a mountain politician who bought votes with magnificent banjo tunes, and the power of the many banjo balladeers that came before Brett Ratliff. Listen to Cold Icy Mountain and be forewarned. You may never sleep again.