The Lonesome River Band is one of those bluegrass bands which has been going for a long time with a changing cast of members. Their new Rural Rhythm release features some excellent playing (something which almost goes without saying) and a varied selection of songs. Lead vocals are split between high tenor and mandolin player Andy Ball and the distinctive and emotionally expressive voice of guitarist Brandon Rickman. Both are accomplished singers, but my personal preference is for Brandon’s voice with its interesting textures and his sensitive phrasing. Banjoist and band leader Sammy Shelor and bass player Mike Anglin lend harmony vocals, and the non-singing Mike Hartgrove plays fiddle. The instrumental work is impeccable throughout, and showed off to best effect on the sparkling ‘Pretty Little Girl’, a traditional instrumental arranged by Sammy Shelor, which closes the set.
Brandon takes the lead on the excellent opening track ‘Record Time Machine’, one of two songs written by Marvin E Clark. The song recalls being inspired by a Chet Atkins record to a life of music,
That old RCA phonograph record time machine
It took me to the places that were only in my dreams…
I could somehow see the future as I listened to the past
Clark also wrote the wistful ‘Telling Me You Love Me Again’, in which the protagonist spends his time fantasizing about his ex’s return,
Somewhere over every rainbow
Just around every bend
You’re standing there with open arms
Telling me you love me again
There is an excellent cover (with the protagonist age adjusted) of Merle Haggard’s ‘Red Bandana’, a country hit in 1979 about a teenage sweetheart manfully trying to support her musician husband,
You look like you ought to be somebody’s wife somewhere
You ain’t never going to be no Bobbie McGee but you’re trying to…
Every time you leave the stage I know you’ve had your fill
And I wonder why you grew up and I never will
The slight but enjoyable up-tempo ‘Any Old Time’ (written by one-time Lyric Street artist Kevin Denney with Tom Botkin and Mike Rogers) has the strongest harmonies, and Brandon singing in the higher part of his range as he offers to wait for the girl he loves,
Any old time you get lonely
Brandon himself teamed up with Denney and Carson Chamberlain to write ‘As Wild As I Get’, a mature expression of growing up and settling down, a theme which was at the heart of his solo album (which I recommended last year). It’s often hard to make domestic happiness interesting in a song, but this seems to be a gift of Brandon’s, both as a singer and a writer, and this song has a real charm and is beautifully phrased. He also wrote the equally pleasing and sincerely delivered mid-tempo title track, about maturity, settling down and working at being the man his loved one deserves, with the humility to admit he still has something to learn.
Brandon also co-wrote (with Jerry Salley and Jimmy Metts ) one of the tracks on which Andy takes the lead, namely the Bible-based ‘Forty Days In The Desert’, which has particularly dense harmonies.
Andy is the quintessential high lonesome bluegrass tenor with a pleasingly smooth tone. Particularly traditional sounding is ‘Jack Up The Jail’, the cheerful confession of a moonshiner on his way to jail in Harlan, which sounds authentically like something from the 50s, although it is a new song, written by young bluegrass songwriter and musician Daniel Salyer. (As a coda, we learn his wife will be carrying on the business while he’s away.) A fine cover of Mel Tillis’s ‘Goodbye Wheeling’ has the rambling protagonist moving on from a broken heart.
My favorite of his tracks is ‘Don’t Cry Blue’, a cover of a 1970s folk song given the bluegrass treatment, as the narrator reassures his wife from the road, with a smooth soulful vocal, that he will be coming back to her:
Don’t cry, cry blue cause I’m coming home to you
Well I’ll walk with you this morning and I’ll sleep with you tonight
Don’t cry, cry blue
The highway’s just a two lane road connecting either way
Oh, I’ve seen enough of this end for awhile
But I’ve gotta go the distance til I know I’ve seen a change
I also liked ’I’ve Seen the Blues’ (written by Ashby Frank, yet another talented young bluegrass musician) and ‘High Lonesome’, a mid-tempo lament for a broken heart written by Terry McBride and Billy Burnette.
This record is well worth investigating if your tastes lean toward bluegrass.