Review The Sand Mountain Boys

The Sand Mountain Boys

The Sand Mountain Boys

Hay Holler Harvest HHH-CD-601

Review by Art Menius for Bluegrass Unlimited January 1995

Everybody Needs Lovin’    Slip of the Pen    She’s Mine    Memories of the Old Mountain Home    What’s Good For You    You Were Sent  Down From Heaven    My Little Liza Lou (From Louisianne)    On The Lonely Side of Goodbye     How Much Can You Lose    Springtime In Alaska     Twenty Long Years    Talkin’ In Your  Sleep    Mississippi River  Man    Somewhere On Down Life’s Road

When versatile banjo player Gary Waldrep departed the Warrior River Boys five years ago, he quickly resurfaced as leader of the Sand Mountain Boys. While not everyone grooves on their Nudie-like stage attire, it’s rather difficult to deny the Sand Mountain Boys ability to perform hard core bluegrass. The bi-generational quartet from Alabama delivers its strongest project to date on its eponymous Hay Holler Harvest debut. The Sand Mountain Boys serve up thirty-four minutes of clean, basic bluegrass performed with conviction.

The Sand Mountain Boys provide a strong example of a well established bluegrass trend of the 1990s–fairly traditional instrumental work and classic vocal duets mixed with some more contemporary trios and quartets applied to new or obscure material. Their blend of experience and youthful energy provides precisely the right medium for the method. Every cut features their singing, with but one a vocal solo all the way through. Waldrep and Kenny Townsel shared the mandolin when they cut this album at Doobie Shea studios. Occasionally, as on Hylton’s “My Little Liza Lou (From Louisianne),” Waldrep provides a pleasing change of pace by jumping in with his energetic banjo frailling.

Although only fiddler Townsel (“You Were Sent Down From Heaven,” “How Much Can You Lose,” “Twenty Long Years”) provided songs from within the group, the Sand Mountain Boys had no trouble rounding out the 14 selections. Four come from fairly recent Randall Hylton compositions, while Bill Prickett delivers two titles, and Glenn Fletcher and Bluegrass Cardinal Don Parmely wrote one each. The band dips into the pool of classics for “Talkin’ In Your Sleep,” “What’s Good For You,” and, from Johnny Horton, “Springtime In Alaska.”

Elder statesman and guitarist Wayne Crain shares the lead singing with Waldrep. The senior Crain’s reedy lonesome lead and tenor work invites favorable comparison to Del McCoury. Waldrep applies his smoother, lighter voice to most of the trios and the one novelty tune, “Mississippi River Man.” While both do a good job, the selections featuring Crain, regardless of tempo, exhibit the most traditional bluegrass soul, punch, and power. The contrast between the two lead singers sometimes proves a strength, providing a constant source of variety. At other points it seems to hinder the development of a clear aural identity for the Sand Mountain Boys.

The Sand Mountain Boys have worked hard, hitting the road at every opportunity to hone their show and their music. The Sand Mountain Boys demonstrates their efforts are starting to pay off handsomely. They keep it close to the ground, and the approach works well. Their stage clothes and show display lots of flash, but musically they deliver the excellent, honest, straightforward goods.