One Foot in The Honky Tonk
Wild Card Reviews
Troubled Times Reviews
Barons of Bluegrass Reviews
Barnstormin' Reviews

The Mysterious Redbirds Reviews


One Foot In The Honky TonkOne Foot in the Honky Tonk

"There are few bluegrass singers who match the lithe and masculine timbre Reams brings to the songs he is called to perform. With One Foot in the Honky Tonk, James Reams further defines his bluegrass, blending the varied elements of the roadhouse with sounds from the hills of Kentucky and her neighbors. One foot in the honky tonk indeed, but the rest of the Barnstormers’ bodies and their souls are deep in the bluegrass. Signifying a period of growing esteem and prominence within the bluegrass world, this album also marks a series of transitions for James and his band mates. Joined again by long-time compatriot Mark Farrell, a multi-instrumentalist whose fiddle and mandolin excellence have highlighted four previous Reams’ projects, the line-up on this album is as strong as ever. Circumstances and good fortune have brought the newest Barnstormers- Doug Nicolaisen and Nick Sullivan- into the fold. What remains the same is the passion and precision with which their music is shared.

When listening to James Reams & The Barnstormers, one is on a bridge connecting the present to the past, where the waters below blend the relationships and lamentations of today with those who birthed and shaped them."

Purchase online at


Wild Card
James Reams, Walter Hensley & The Barons of Bluegrass

From a review by Tom Druckenmiller in Sing Out:
“With bluegrass music getting increasingly more slick, who would have thought that a band from Brooklyn, New York, would be a leader in reestablishing the classic sound of the 1950s… they are no ordinary bluegrass band as they draw much of their material from the South all the while playing with the power and drive of the big city.”
From a review by Jerome Clark in (
“… a dozen unabashedly rural bluegrass songs and tunes, reminiscent, perhaps, of a harder-edged Flatt & Scruggs…. In their understated but quietly confident way Reams, Hensley and compatriots make some of the most satisfying bluegrass around. I suppose that there is no one way that bluegrass is "supposed" to sound; nor, I'm sure, should there be. But if there were, it ought to be something like this, where the singers, the pickers, the songs and the soul of the music are as one.”

From a review by Donald Teplyske in Bluegrass Now:
“If you are unfamiliar with James Reams, Walter Hensley & the Barons of Bluegrass, you may not appreciate the excitement many fans find in the arrival of their second album. Wild Card is much in the same vein as a self-titled release three years ago, with the added coherence that comes with the experience of playing together….Wild Card is another in a line of superior bluegrass recordings from James Reams and crew. Painstakingly and artfully packaged, Wild Card should be warmly received by the ever-growing legions who have come to appreciate their music.”

From a review by Robert Steelman in Bluegrass Music Profiles:
“… another fine collaboration from James Reams and Walter Hensley. The result is an album full of spirited, traditional bluegrass music. James Reams’ solid rhythm guitar and strong vocals lend a solid foundation to Hensley’s clean and tasteful banjo picking. …Through their joint projects, it is obvious that they have a profound respect for traditional bluegrass. It’s a shame they didn’t meet a few decades earlier. Hopefully they will see fit to continue churning out the music.” –Robert Steelman, Bluegrass Music Profiles

From a review by Keith Lawrence in the Owensboro (KY) Messenger-Inquirer:
"Wild Card is not Nashville slick. But it's real.” –Keith Lawrence, Owensboro (KY) Messenger-Inquirer

<top of page>


Troubled Times
James Reams & The Barnstormers

Excerpted from a review by Aaron K. Harris in Bluegrass Unlimited:

 “… delightfully unadorned 1950s-style bluegrass that draws heavily on, yet doesn’t mimic, the best-loved bands of that era… [includes] a sixty-minute DVD film entitled ‘Rollin’ On,’ which documents the band as they serve as engaging bluegrass ambassadors…”

Excerpted from a review by Jack Bernhardt in the Raleigh (NC) News Observer:

 “James Reams and the Barnstormers are among the Northeast’s most passionate ambassadors of bluegrass. With its solid performances and savvy production, ‘Troubled Times’ should extend their reach to the rest of the bluegrass-loving world.”

Excerpted from a review by Brad San Martin in Country Standard Time:

 “The bonus DVD program cements Reams’ reputation as a bluegrass goodwill ambassador. ...Like the album, it’s a winning portrait of a persistent, engaging talent delighting in maintaining bluegrass’s noble legacy.”

Excerpted from a review by John Lupton in Sing Out!:

 “…Reams and his band have earned a reputation for tight instrumental excellence and hard-edged vocals straight from the Kentucky coal country of Reams’ youth…uncompromising, hard-core bluegrass….”

Excerpted from a review by Katy June-Friesen in No Depression magazine:

 “The Barnstormers move deftly between old-time, bluegrass, and country with a sound that leans toward the first half of the 20th century a la Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers and Roy Acuff. ...What makes the album so appealing is the energy, fullness, and occasional roughness of the Barnstormers’ sound. ...The Barnstormers deliver an edge that’s missing from a lot of bluegrass being made today.”

Excerpted from a review by Keith Lawrence in the Owensboro (KY) Messenger-Inquirer:

 “Reams, who grew up in London, Kentucky, near the foothills of Appalachia, creates a music that straddles the border between bluegrass and old-time country. The strength of a band is in its original material, and they offer plenty of good original material. James Reams & The Barnstormers is definitely a band to keep an eye – and an ear – on.”

Excerpted from a review by Donald Teplyske, roots music columnist for the Red Deer Advocate (Canada) :

 “On what will surely be considered one of the premier hardcore bluegrass discs of the year, if not the decade, New York City middle school teacher James Reams takes his interpretation of classic sounds to a significantly impressive level. Few bluegrass bands hail from NYC, fewer still fronted by native Kentuckians raised on the music of the hills and hollows of the bluegrass state. James Reams & the Barnstormers play acoustic music with passion and energy.”

Rik James, DJ, Bluegrass Traditions / Americana Backroads, KGLT FM, Bozeman, MT:

 “I think James Reams & The Barnstormers are bringing us bluegrass fans the sounds we long for... solid bluegrass timing, great pickin’ and singin’. And original material that is so good that any of the first generation pickers could have done ‘em.”

Excerpted from a review by Bob Cherry in Cybergrass:

 “’Troubled Times’ is an album that should shake up the bluegrass music community.”

Billy J. Ivers, DJ, WLUW 88.7, Chicago:

 “’Troubled Times’ is a bluegrass album not to be missed. Chicago has fallen for the bluegrass of James Reams.”

<top of page>


James Reams, Walter Hensley & The Barons of Bluegrass (self-titled CD)

Excerpted from a review by Richard D. Smith in Bluegrass Unlimited:

… I am quoted on the back of this CD as calling Hensley “one of the underrated greats of the five-string,” and I stand by that. With this spirited new CD, I have developed a similar happy bias about James Reams. A pleasing singer/guitarist with smooth, well-considered phrasing who never strays from classic 1950s country-bluegrass song stylings, Reams perfectly matches the sterling-standard picking of his new partner…. Walter retains his ringing, rangy picking. And as much of a loyal following as he has among aficionados of the seminal Washington-Baltimore bluegrass scene and fans of Vern McIntyre’s Appalachian Grass (with whom he played in the 1990s), it’s high time Hensley found a wider audience. Ditto Reams… There are few vocalists as natural as Reams. He doesn’t have to try to sound down-home, he’s there at each turn in the song. There’s so much to like about this CD. The material is pleasingly varied, from love songs to gospel to instrumentals and even some truck and train songs. None have been overdone – some are future classics. The backing musicians assembled here as the Barons Of Bluegrass possess a king’s ransom of talent, taste, and ability well-suited to the rich live-in-the-studio mode of this production. It all comes together so well, it’s surprising that the Reams-Hensley friendship only goes back to 1999, their musical partnership to the recording sessions in February 2002, and that Hensley hadn’t recorded seriously for nearly a quarter century. If you’re tiring of the slick stuff and yearn for something straight-ahead, there’s not a false bend or blend here.

Excerpted from a review by David Smith in Pow’r Pickin’:

The banjo playing of Walter Hensley should be in every bluegrass fan’s collection. … This album has it all. … It is rare to hear such punch and drive in a banjo player. Every note seems to be pulled off his instrument and thrown your way. Hensley is an undaunted banjo player who is sure and precise with instrument in hand — there are no questioning notes, just pure bluegrass. At the same time this is by no means a solo album where the main act seems to be joined by overdubbed studio recorded tracks. The Barons of Bluegrass are also a band and the talent and interaction, both instrumentally and vocally, is rowdy, gritty and true. The album is a great purchase for those seeking tradition with strength and down right good ol’ times. If you are a musician I would definitely recommend this album, not only for the history lesson within the liner notes and an appreciation for a few of bluegrass music’s masters, but also because I found it to be a real fun album to just sit back and play and sing along with.

Excerpted from a review by Donald Teplyske in That High Lonesome Sound:

No corners were cut here! It isn’t often one has the pleasure of hearing a bluegrass album that makes no attempt at sounding contemporary. Despite modern production and opulent liner notes, the music of JR, WH & BofB is a musical reminder of how bluegrass sounded in the 50s and 60s. … they create bluegrass music driven by smooth melody and exceptional timing. … Heartfelt music made by masterful hands!

Excerpted from a review by Frank Scott for Roots & Rhythm:

Fine set of traditional style bluegrass featuring singer/guitarist James Reams and obscure but highly regarded banjo player Walter Hensley accompanied by a fine band. Hensley’s career dates back to the 50s… and his hard-driving and innovative but not flashy banjo playing earned him a reputation as one of the best in the business. Reams is a younger performer with a fine voice a little akin to Lester Flatt. He and Walt joined forces a few years ago. Their first album together is a collection of traditional songs, a few originals by Reams and some well-chosen, unfamiliar covers.

Review in the Music Shed:

Some of the best traditional banjo playing around combined with great song writing.

<top of page>

James Reams & The Barnstormers

Excerpted from a review by Stephanie P. Ledgin in Sing Out:

…Some of the finest bluegrass and old-time country music one can find north of conventional bluegrass bordersReams’ commanding voice takes the listener all the way back to Kentucky, with an unaffected Monroe-style quality that bends to capture the mood of each selection. Five originals from Reams and partner Tina Aridas could fool anyone into believing they were written long before they were born; the authentic nature of both words and melody nail the style… This is a top-notch recording. Let’s hear more!

Excerpted from a review by Jim Lee in Dirty Linen:

A traditional straight-up bluegrass record, but one that reflects an early style of the music. …Reams’ soulful voice is the highlight, as the rest of the band pitch in backing vocals, as well as mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, and banjo. A fine complement to Reams’ more traditional work and one that is sure to delight any bluegrass fan looking for something out of the mainstream.

Excerpted from a review by John Lupton in Country Standard Time:

This isn’t citified, ersatz bluegrass, it’s the real stuff…and the music on this new Copper Creek disc features elements reminiscent of the sophisticated stylings of fellow Kentuckian Bill Monroe mixed with the old time, deep-hollow sound of the Stanley Brothers. The disc features 15 tracks, including traditional tunes …mixed with originals by Reams and his songwriting partner Tina Aridas … that are story-telling songs in the classic country mold. …This is hard-core bluegrass from down home.

Excerpted from a review by Chet Williamson in Rambles

 [The] results not only storm the barn, but set fire to it as well. …this is top-notch bluegrass, with a strong, high-lonesome lead vocal and a tight, sweet-picking band. …a close harmony vocal sound that will have you drooling if you miss the way bluegrass used to sound, and you can’t get much deeper into the mountains than with a song called “Coal Dust in My Soul.” Its roots are deep, and Reams’ lyrics contain telling details: “Cigarette in the morning, cold coffee at noon / Bourbon at quittin’ time, I’m digging my tomb.” “Barnstormin’” is the first of several tight, zippy instrumentals. It’s played beautifully, and has some fun and unpredictable chord changes. … “Buffalo Creek Flood” is the CD’s dramatic highlight, a powerful denunciation of the Buffalo Mining Co.’s 1972 accident in which a sludge dam burst, killing 125 people and leaving 4,000 homeless… It’s always rewarding to hear traditional, old-fashioned bluegrass sung and played as well as Reams and the Barnstormers do it. From their Colonel Sanders ties to the barn siding on the booklet, this one exudes the golden age of bluegrass. If that’s your golden age, you won’t be disappointed.

Excerpted from a review by Pete Smith in Country Music Round Up. England:

 [James Reams & The Barnstormers’] powerful, dedicated and knowledgeable approach to their every performance instantly causes an audience to sit up and take notice. On this generous 15 track programme Reams defines old standards…whilst establishing himself as one of the greatest modern writers in the genre …

<top of page>


The Mysterious Redbirds,

Excerpted from review by Tom Druckenmiller in Sing Out! magazine:

 ... James Reams, Bill Christophersen and Tom Paley… are perfectly suited to perform as a trio…. The Redbirds approach their music from the song structure, not trying to duplicate anyone else. These are three master musicians playing in a loose congenial style that is so very engaging. … The listener is treated to a session featuring three of the finest players, not unlike visiting the stalls of Galax or Mt. Airy. Don’t miss this one!

Excerpted from a review by Suzy Thompson in The Old-Time Herald:

All three of the Redbirds are in great form here. Bill Christophersen’s … playing has plenty of bite. His earliest fiddle influences were from bluegrass, and his playing shows it. His command of the bow is impressive, especially on tunes like “Turkey Buzzard,” which he learned from Joe Greene’s recording. James Reams’ guitar playing is strong and driving, while Tom Paley’s banjo-playing mostly remains in the background, emerging to the forefront only on a few tunes including “Oh My Little Darling.” I’m not sure who is singing on which song, but someone (I suspect it’s James Reams) has a wonderful baritone voice with a good resonant low end, particularly effective on songs like “Sweet Sunny South,” which has such a big range. I also enjoyed the lively group singing, especially on “Sangaree.”\

Excerpted from a review by David Lynch in the Old Time Music News:

If you like the New Lost City Ramblers, you’ll like the Mysterious Redbirds. Don’t get me wrong, this is no carbon copy band, but there is a similarity in flavor, probably thanks to Tom Paley. However, James and Bill bring their own distinct personalities into the mix, so the trio definitely have their own sound. The tune/song selection is great. A very enjoyable CD.

Excerpted from a review by Brad San Martin in Country Standard Time:

… Here are three great musicians with nothing to prove. They just lay into thirteen tunes — not even terribly obscure ones — and indulge in some great grooves and pristine empathy. ... A trio of experienced pickers the Redbirds have only recorded three times in eight years, and this CD contains their complete recorded exploits. Each member is a seasoned vet, with Tom Paley (the banjo player and a founding member of the immeasurably influential New Lost City Ramblers) being the most recognizable name. His clean clawhammer and three-finger playing is definitely an asset, and his treatment of the chestnut “I’ll Fly Away” is particularly dignified. Guitarist James Reams is a rock, the perfect foundation for this bass-less aggregation. Bill Christophersen’s fiddle sails on top of it all with a great balance of grit and elegance. All three sing. A modest masterpiece, for sure, but a worthy addition to any old-time library.

Excerpted from a review in Dirty Linen:

The Mysterious Redbirds are not, unfortunately, a working band. The best-known member, Tom Paley, lives in London while Bill Christophersen and James Reams are New York-based, though the latter grew up in East Kentucky. They play together so well that one can only wonder how good they could be with regular work. Christophersen is a fine fiddler, and the tunes he leads are excellent, from the rarely heard “Prairie Dog” and “Turkey Buzzard” (a relative of “Sandy River Belle”) to standards like “Did You Ever See the Devil?” Reams is an effective singer and an excellent ensemble guitarist…. “The Mysterious Redbirds” keeps intact Paley’s streak of never having made anything but excellent records. — DB

<top of page>