Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain came out of nowhere -- actually Crossville TN -- in 2006 when their debut album for the Rural Rhythm label, Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain, took the bluegrass world by storm coming onto the Billboard Top Bluegrass Top Album Charts at number 11 and charting regularly for the next two years. It earned enough airplay to spend nine months on the Bluegrass Unlimited National Bluegrass Survey Top 15 Album Chart, and the album's first single, "Seven Miles from Wichita," went to number one on Sirius Radio's Bluegrass Top 40 and spent ten months on the Bluegrass Unlimited Top 30 Chart, crossing over to country radio as well. To top it all off, the gospel flavored track, "Least That I Can Do," spent a year on Bluegrass Now Magazine's Gospel Truths Chart. Not too bad for an album that was originally made to give away as a gift to family and friends.
Hassler was a stay at home mom with a husband and young son and although she enjoyed singing and performing, getting a record deal was the furthest thing from her mind. She was born in Chattanooga and raised in the small town of Pikeville, TN. Her mother was a piano teacher and everyone in her extended family sings and plays music. Her father worked the soundboard for a local gospel group, so Hassler was well versed in various styles of gospel music as a child. She was a shy, quiet girl, but when she started singing in the church choir at the age of nine, she shocked family members with the power and clarity of her voice. All she ever wanted to do was sing, but school, and later on raising her family, took precedence over her desire to be on-stage.
Hassler sang with a few bands doing covers of country music hits and had a low-key local career playing weddings, fairs, and private parties. She took some vocal training in junior high with gospel singer John Blassingame who taught at Chattanooga State College, but when he passed on she never went back and relies on her innate music sense for her vocal style. In 2004, she had a part in a review that payed tribute to Patsy Cline. A bluegrass band was on the bill and she asked them if she could sing a song with them. Both the band and Hassler were blown away by the power of her performance. Pikeville hosts three bluegrass festivals every year, so Hassler had grown up loving bluegrass and gospel, but never thought about singing with a bluegrass group. The reaction to her performance was immediate. She started playing local bluegrass shows with a loose coalition of players, most of them older pickers. When friends and family suggested making an album she warmed to the idea. Hassler met fiddler Jim VanCleve of Mountain Heart and he offered to produce a CD for her and her still unnamed band. The sessions were a patchwork affair; some tunes were cut with Hassler's regular group and some with musicians VanCleve brought in. Five of the new players -- Kevin McKinnon, mandolin; Keith McKinnon, guitar; Travis Anderson, bass; Josh Miller, banjo, and Dennis Harper, Dobro -- soon became Hassler's regular backing band. "Hard Rain" was the name of one of the strongest tracks they cut for the album and it became the name of the band. Shortly after Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain was finished, fiddler Jamie Harper stepped in to replace Dennis Harper, who was leaving to play with Doyle Lawson's band.
Even before the sessions for Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain were over, Rural Rhythm expressed interest and when the album came out its unexpected success was a surprise to everyone. CHHR took to the road and logged over 150 dates with Hassler's husband and son joining mom on the road in her new career. With Hassler's emotive alto a clear match for any country diva you might want to compare her to and a smoking band, CHHR shot to the top echelon of live bluegrass bands.
In 2008, the band cut Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain 2 produced again by VanCleve. It entered Billboard's Top 50 Bluegrass Chart at number five. Hassler's vocals have been compared to gospel singer Sheri Easter, Etta James, Patsy Cline, Dale Ann Bradley, and Alison Krauss, but she has her own style of down-home soul. The songs were all road tested and many were written by banjo ace Josh Miller, who finely balances traditional bluegrass and contemporary country instincts in his tunes, although the band has no plans to make any overt crossover moves. In early 2009, CHHR were already writing new material and planning album three. ~ j. poet