Brett Ratliff: Cold Icy Mountain

Johnson County Kentucky is the birthplace of some of the greats of Country Music. Bluegrass pioneer Hylo Brown and Country superstars Crystal Gayle and Loretta Lynn all hail from Johnson County. Recently, singer and songwriter, Chris Stapleton, has also emerged from Johnson County to make a splash with rising bluegrass supergroup, The Steeldrivers.

Now, another Johnson Countian, Brett Ratliff has released his debut album, Cold Icy Mountain, on June Appal Records. Like Stapleton, Ratliff was a schoolmate of mine at Johnson Central High School in Paintsville, Ky. Brett was actually a year behind me in school, so I didn’t really become familiar with him and his music until college when we both wound up at Morehead State University. I have been listening to him for quite a while now, though, and I think you should hear him too.

Ratliff is a true student of the roots and history of traditional mountain music. Much like Moe Asch of Folkways Records, Ratliff has spent time traveling through the Appalachian Mountains making field recordings of old time musicians to preserve their music and stories for future generations. He also made sure to study these old time players, learning their styles and their songs as he worked to preserve their sound. Ratliff has worked at times with both The Kentucky Center for Traditional Music as well as Appalshop… two organizations that are dedicated to preserving the music, heritage, and traditions of the Appalachian region.

It is no surprise then, that Ratliff’s debut album is a collection of traditional mountain music with many of the songs seemingly as old as the hills themselves. On this set, Ratliff plays the banjo and, at times, is joined by his friends and bandmates in the Clack Mountain String Band. This is a fun collection of old-time foot stompers, miner’s laments, and cautionary tales for those who would run afoul of a Higher Power. These songs are more than just banjo and vocals. They are the stories of a generation of people and a way of life that has passed, and though Ratliff is still a young man, he does the songs and their stories justice.

Fans of “new-time” string bands such as The Old Crow Medicine Show and The Hackensaw Boys should give this a listen to hear what the “old-time” sound is really all about.

I’m featuring two tracks here. The first is “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” featuring the Clack Mountain String Band (Jesse Wells on fiddle, Karly Higgins on guitar and vocal, and JT Cure on bass). The second is an instrumental banjo tune called “Forked Deer.” The percussion you hear on this track is actually credited as a foot-slappin’ “flat-foot dance” performed by Juile Shepherd.

You can find out more about Brett Ratliff here, read the liner notes from the album here, listen to some more music here, and order the album here.

Brett Ratliff: Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow (Buy Album)
Brett Ratliff: Forked Deer (Buy Album)

2 Responses to “Brett Ratliff: Cold Icy Mountain”

  1. Great to see this here, even if it means my own planned post on the subject later this week has been pre-empted. Wish I went to your high school — the Steeldrivers are one of my newest faves, and Ratliff has been stuck in the CD plasyer all week.

  2. Sorry to step on your toes… I had no idea how widely distributed this disc was. I just wanted to get a friend’s music out. Hope you can still find some room for Brett’s music somewhere in the future.The fiddle player for the Clack Mtn. String Band, Jesse Wells, also is a JCHS alum. He is another amazing talent who works full time at the KY Center for Trad. Music and has played on the last few albums from bluegrasser Don Rigsby.I’ve listened to Chris, Jesse, and Brett jam together a few times in the past… good times.

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