Never Thought of Looking Back
John Boy and Billy
I have been putting off writing this review and driving around listening to Terry Baucom’s rock solid Never Thought of Looking Back for weeks because I have little useful to say. Since the album is such a great listen, I didn’t have much incentive to stop listening and, thus, start writing. I even asked Bauc what to write and he just laughed as if I wasn’t serious.
Finally, it hit me. It being a critique. To explain, unlike many such projects, this CD uses the same stunning band though out. This killer unit is not a predicable one of current and former band mates at all, save for Jerry Douglas and bass man Steve Bryant. They played in the ephemeral supergroup Boone Creek which launched Baucom to national prominence. Wes Golding, whose “Martha White, Lester and Earl,” as sung by Marty Rabon, is perhaps the standout among many excellent songs here, also belonged to Boone Creek. Joining Steve, Terry, and Jerry are Sam Bush on mandolin, Wyatt Rice on guitar, and fiddler Aubrey Haynie.
I am getting to the criticism. On top of this dream team ensemble, the one time fiddler for L.W. Lambert assembled nine equally respected lead vocalists. Bush sings lead on a winning version of “Just Ain’t” as well as “What’ll I Do,” while John Cowan sings the Monroe cover “No One But My Darlin’.” Jon Randall Stewart does the other Monroe number, “You Live In a World All Your Own.” Tim Stafford leads the song he wrote “I’m Sorry Too,” as does Larry Cordle on “Long Enough to Make Me Blue.” Only Balsam Range’s Buddy Melton sings the lead vocals on three tracks: Milan Miller’s rousing “Carry Me Back to Carolina,” Jon Weisberger’s “I’ll Be Going Home,” and “Please Take Me Home” from Connie Leigh.
Thus, you can see that in addition to putting together an amazing core band and finding nine lead singers, Terry Baucom assembled classic and new songs from no less than ten top songwriters. That means the worst thing I can write about Never Thought of Looking Back is that this album sounds like an unworldly good band with nine lead singers and ten composers. In approaching the album in this new way, rather than making another banjo record, Terry Baucom has truly created an event and one that demands repeated listening. Leading this bunch, the banjoman is driven to display his greatness on both backup and lead breaks.
John Boy and Billy Records (PO Box 876; Burlington, NC 27216) AM
Poor Mountain Home
Poor Mountain Records
Idletymes has developed into quite a good band and released this most enjoyable album, Poor Mountain Home, late in 2013. The ensemble acquits itself particularly well on new songs from Mike Evans (four titles) and Jason Davis as well as their own new Dobro player Bruce Jones.
Nearly 30 years as a band on any level doesn’t happen by accident. Northern West Virginia’s Idletymes offers strong playing and singing with equal comfort on contemporary and traditional bluegrass material. The band members paid their dues with folks like Dave Evans, Emma Smith and Vern Gosden and include two Flatt & Scruggs’ covers, but don’t mind experimenting as well.
Idletymes must have approached Poor Mountain Home with some melancholy since it is their first effort since the death of Gary Jarvis.
“Lorraine” by Davis has the instantly memorable quality essential to a radio hit. A love song from the perspective of an active firefighter tends to stand out.
The covers, unfortunately, also point out the ever so subtle distinction between an extremely good band like Idletymes and the very top strata of the genre. Idletyme’s recording of “Wait a Minute” is flawless but lacks that extra emotional power of either the original or recent re-recording by The Seldom Scene.
Poor Mountain Records (c/o Ron Seabaugh; 900 Dickel Ave.; Parkersburg, WV 26101; http://www.poormountainrecords.com) AM
Simple Little Town
UnspokenTradition.Com CRA 002
Split by the Blue Ridge, the western North Carolina based members of Unspoken Tradition have melded into a polished ensemble with strong original material, abundant talent, and an already distinctive sound subtly more trad than most new bands. Simple Little Town proves an auspicious debut from self-described “six working class guys from North Carolina” who have been together for less than two years. This whole far exceeds the sum of its parts.
Original songs prove a must these days. propel Simple Little Town starting with the radio friendly and instantly memorable title track written and sung by Dobro player Lee Shuford. He also contributes the closing “Rebel’s Shake” – the rare war song from the deserter’s point of view – and “Time Marches On.” Shuford founded Unspoken Tradition down the mountain in Cherryville with banjo player Zane McGinnis and guitarist and primary lead singer Audie McGinnis. The later composed a trio of songs, two quite distinctive. “Mr. President” is Tea-Party angry yet politically non-partisan, populism without party, emotions shaping policy. Audie sings lead on his powerful, Levon Helm-like “Blood and Bone,” about a farmer’s attachment to the land. Mandolinist and sometime lead singer Ty Gilpin provides the other title, “Bitter Haze,” from within the band, rounded out by fiddler Tim Gardner and bassist Matt Warren. Those three come from Asheville.
Given the sincere traditional soul of their original songs, Unspoken Tradition seems just a bit less confident and a lot less distinctive on their cover of the Stanley Brothers’ “I’m Lost and I’ll Never Find the Way.” On the other hand, their bluegrass version of Cake’s “Stickshifts and Safetybelts” works quite well, despite some phrasing challenges in the translation. The ability to identify the bluegrass potential of that pop song demonstrates a great talent long ago mastered by Doyle Lawson and Bill Emerson. Unspoken Tradition demonstrates unlimited potential, genuine passion, fine writing, and, particularly, a well formed sense of themselves on their first album.
UnspokenTradition.Com (www.unspokentradition.com) AM