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Memories That Bless and Burn

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Album Review

With Memories that Bless and Burn Dry Branch Fire Squad has made the kind of music that the alt-country folks are copying, but a few steps closer to the real thing. Sweet gospel harmonies exist side-by-side with episodes of banjo madness and the vocalists, especially Mary Jo Leet and Ron Thomason, sometimes sound like they are singing right on top of their last raw nerve. This is not to say that the members of Dry Branch Fire Squad lack talent — rather their sound is stripped down to a kind of pure mirror of the music of their grandparents, something which helps make their faith-driven lyrics sound sincere and evokes the sound of the church itself, with its shouting preachers and passionate bursts of praise.

This album functions as sort of a greatest-hits album — the first three songs are new material — including the excellent title track, which features the sweet singing of Suzanne Thomas and helps set the mood for the rest of the album. Tracks 4-10 are from previous Rounder recordings and provide a profile of the band's earlier work. Tracks 4 and 5 are two versions of the same song, interesting because they show the evolution of both the band's technique and the quality of the equipment that they recorded on (the second version is amazingly clearer, as well as featuring a more powerful vocal). Tracks 11-13 are songs that had been featured on other albums but were re-recorded for this one, and 14-16 are songs that have long been a part of their gospel shows but are being recorded for the first time. "Touch the Hem of His Garment," provides a beautiful closing to this album, evoking the gentle despair and hope that echo all throughout this fine work.


Formed: 1976

Genre: Country

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

The modern bluegrass band Dry Branch Fire Squad is dedicated to bluegrass, old-timey, and Southern gospel music traditions. Mandolin player and comedian Ron Thomason founded the Fire Squad in 1976. The earliest incarnation of the group included guitarist John Baker, banjo player Robert Leach, and bass player John Carpenter. Two years later, Mary Jo Leet became the group's vocalist. Dry Branch Fire Squad released a series of independent releases before signing with Rounder in 1978; they would stay...
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