New Vintage Bluegrass Band
No Time For The Blues
review by Art Menius
Once upon a time Raleigh, North Carolina provided the home base for such giants as the Monroe Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, and the Blue Sky Boys. A quarter century ago the New Deal String Band, the first hippie bluegrass band to sign with a major label, emerged from eastern end of the Research Triangle. Since then no bluegrass band from Raleigh has earned serious national acclaim received until the New Vintage Bluegrass Band.
Their second CD, No Time For The Blues, portrays a quintet with all the tools for serious success. New Vintage has bottled compelling male and female vocalists, strong original songs, powerful ensemble and solo picking, and an ingrained understanding of both roots and contemporary bluegrass music. New Vintage uses these tools to create music whose passionate intensity melds 1950s soul with 1990s sensibilities.
No Time For The Blues reflects the tightness of a band forged into a unit by gigging weekend after weekend and delivering three hot sets every Tuesday night to their regular fans at the Fat Daddy’s nightclub. Since veteran banjoist and singer Gina Britt has since departed for a full-time band and bassist Carl Cardwell for a full-time day job, New Vintage should count themselves lucky to have preserved this prime vintage version of an always first-rate band on disc.
Although New Vintage displays excellent and uncommon taste in both classic and contemporary cover choices, the compositions of mandolinist and soulful vocalist Russell Johnson provide the real stars of each New Vintage release. Both Johnson’s Monroe-inflected “No Answer Blues” and Stanleyesque “Gravestone,” stoked by their inclusion on a Prime Cuts of Bluegrass sampler, had cracked the Bluegrass Unlimited Top 30 Songs by late spring, while the album entered the Top 10. The classicist Johnson and modernist Britt, since replaced by talented Coloradian Julie Elkins, give New Vintage a stunning and wonderfully balanced pair of lead vocalists. With guitarist Earl Lewellyn they explore a pleasing variety of vocal trio arrangements. Fiddler Jan Johansson rounds out a strong instrumental quintet. By the end of 1995 No Time For The Blues should rank among the half dozen best new bluegrass releases of the year.