Music from the American Heartland: Four Journeys

Kerry Dexter's picture

In the heartland of American music, threads of bluegrass, old time rhythm, folk song, stories of immigrants, music kept alive in mountain hollers, gypsy jazz, and tunes for dancing often meet and intertwine across history. Follow the journeys musicians offer on these four recordings and you’ll come away refreshed and, perhaps, surprised about that.


Marcy Marxer plays a crazy number of instruments, sings in a sweet soprano, and offers wit and humanity in her songwriting. She's joined all these up in her album Things Are Coming My Way. From the swing influenced title tune to the old time and bluegrass standard Angeline the Baker to the gypsy jazz of Django’s Castle and the gospel song What Are They Doing in Heaven Today, Marxer offers a musical trip filled with sparkle, wit, and warmth. Whether she’s singing lead, playing her signature model Martin guitar, adding harmony vocals or maybe playing ukulele, Marxer’s presence and style anchor the music here. She’s invited several gifted musical friends as traveling companions, too, and they all know just when to sparkle on their own and when to step back. Marxer’s longtime musical collaborator and fellow Grammy winner Cathy Fink produced the album with Marxer and sits in at times on guitar and vocals as well. Learn more about Marcy Marxer at




The SteelDrivers are a band born out of the confluence of talent, background, and idea that is Nashville. Tammy Rogers, Brent Truitt, Gary Nichols, Mike Fleming, and Richard Bailey: they are all names you’ll see in the credits of many a top charting record and television show produced in Music City. In addition to great acoustic music talent, the five share a passion for bluegrass, loving both music that hews to older standards and creating their own music that draws on bluegrass roots. Hammer Down finds the band hard at work on a collection of new music, mostly written or co-written by band members. that shows just how well they are moving bluegrass tradition forward while staying true to its heart. Standout cuts include When You Don’t Come Home, Cry No Mississippi, and I’ll Be There. Learn more on the SteelDrivers at




Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent looked to history and future as they were planning their album Brothers of the Highway, too. “When it was time to record this album, Darrin and I knew exactly what we wanted it to be," says Dailey. “We know where we came from, and we know where we want to go. We feel this record is in step with out musical dreams.” Known for their spot-on harmony work and full out playing on guitar and bass, Dailey and Vincent have created a musical journey that reveals songs you may know in a new light and brings in music you may not have heard, too. Take a listen especially to the title track Brothers of the Highway, Hills of Caroline, which was written by Vince Gill, and the Louvin Brothers standard When I Stop Dreaming. Learn more on Daily and Vincent at




Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott are each well recognized for their solo work, their songwriting, and their contributions to a number of high profile bluegrass and country groups. They are also longtime friends who really enjoy playing together. All that talent and friendship come through on the album We’re Usually a Lot Better Than This, a recording made from a live concert in Asheville, North Carolina. The title is taken from a comment made during the show, but short of being there, it’s hard to imagine a better experience of an energetic, high spirited, and friendly evening with two of the country’s best songwriters. There are thirteen tracks, all of them keepers, to be sure, but you may want to listen especially to Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning, Mick Ryan’s Lament, and You Don’t Have to Move That Mountain. Learn more on O’Brien and Scott at and




Kerry Dexter is Music Editor for Wandering Educators  You may reach her at music at wanderingeducators dot com

You may find more of Kerry’s  work on music as well as travel, history, and creative practice, at Music Road, Journey to Scotland, Perceptive Travel, National Geographic Traveler, and elsewhere online and in print.


Feature photo of Marcy Marxer and Cathy Fink with a giant guitar courtesy and copyright