Dale Ann Bradley Puts a Bluegrass Spin On Jim Croce's 'The Hard Way Every Time': Exclusive

Courtesy of Pinecastle Records
Dale Ann Bradley

Knowing the value of a great song is a gift that has always served Dale Ann Bradley well. Whether recording a self-penned original or putting a bluegrass spin on a rock classic, the Kentucky Music Hall of Famer's albums have always been populated with memorable material. On her new Pinecastle Records album, The Hard Way, out today (March 22), the Grammy-nominated artist pays homage to the late Jim Croce by reviving one of his best songs.

“I’ve been a huge Jim Croce fan since I was old enough to hear him on the radio,” the Kentucky native tells Billboard. “There’s just something distinct about him. He sang about real life and real emotions and you could tell the man had lived it.”

In filming a video for Croce’s “The Hard Way Every Time,” Bradley opted for a performance clip shot at The Venue at Falls Park in downtown Greenville, SC. Produced by Bonfire Recording Company, the video features Bradley and band members Matt Leadbetter on mandolin, Ethan Burkhardt on bass, Steve Wilson on banjo and Chance Watt on guitar.

“They rent out this building for weddings, reunions and events, and you could be rustic with it or you could be fancy. It was the perfect place to film,” she says. “I’m really pleased with the way the video turned out. It’s real and just us. Those lyrics fit everybody’s hard time and it’s not always the same thing. I think everybody living can say -- if they are honest with themselves -- they’ve learned so many things the hard way. And, when you learn it like that, you’ve learned it.”

Get an exclusive first look at the video below.

In addition to Croce’s “The Hard Way Every Time,” Bradley’s new album includes new songs as well as covers of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple,” Bobby Gentry’s classic “Ode to Billy Joe” and a grassy spin on Journey’s “Wheel in the Sky.”

Bradley has been performing “Ode to Billy Joe” in her live shows and is getting a great reception. A timeless song, “Ode to Billy Joe” details one family’s reaction to the suicide of a local boy named Billy Joe. “It’s probably the most well written song I’ve ever heard,” she says. “The thing that always drew me to that song is how the news of that tragedy affected each member of that family sitting at a table. You are really finding out how each one of them feels in their heart. Mama was sad. The brother was sad, but in [his] own different way. The mother was thinking, ‘Well that could have been my child,’ and the brother was thinking, ‘I just seen him yesterday. Boy anything could happen!’ Dad had no sympathy and the girl was broken for whatever reason. It’s everybody’s true feelings on a tragedy.”

Another standout on the album is “Pretty, Dark Hearted Emma Brown,” which Bradley co-wrote with her brother Nathaniel Price. “It’s his first writing attempt,” she says proudly, adding that she’s encouraging him to continue. “I had just come in off the road and I was in the kitchen doing dishes. He said he had a song on his mind, and he told me the title. He had ‘Pretty, Cold, Dark Hearted Emma Brown,’ and it wouldn’t sing that well with that many adjectives in it, so we worked on it and got it done in a couple of hours.”

A five-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s female vocalist of the year, Bradley will be sharing songs from The Hard Way as she tours this spring and summer. While she’s one of the most awarded acts in bluegrass, what drives Bradley is the interaction with her fans.

“The people in the audience, you connect with them and that’s a feeling you can’t buy,” she smiles. “You can’t put a UPC code on that and scan it because you can’t buy it.”

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