Many bluegrass musicians first developed their love of this genre from listening carefully to their grandparents and other relatives making music. Kenny Thacker is no different. On his latest release, On the Front Porch, this Kentucky-born pastor pays tribute to his grandfather, and the others in his life, who passed down to him the love of old-timey tunes.
This twelve-track collection consists mostly of old standards, several best known for the Stanley Brothers’ cuts of them, rendered in a nice traditional bluegrass style with country influences here and there. Thacker starts off strong with a dark, banjo-heavy version of Wild Bill Jones. He has a bit of a growl to his voice here, which fits well with this murderous tale. He takes a similar approach on the classic Gospel song Two Coats, which, with its country flair, is a bit reminiscent of the Patty Loveless version from her bluegrass venture Mountain Soul. Another traditional Gospel piece, Glory Land (also recorded by Loveless, as “Friends in Gloryland”) is performed a capella.
Other songs to pay attention to are the upbeat version of East Virginia Blues, which has a nice wistful feel, and Pretty Little Miss, which is one of the album’s standout tracks. The sweet harmonies and easygoing melody on this tune brings to mind ’90s country artists. The straightforward version of Nine Pound Hammer is also an enjoyable addition.
The album’s instrumentals allow the assembled musicians to show off a bit. The guitar-led version of Salt Creek is solid, as is Whiskey Before Breakfast. The closing track is a Celtic-influenced piece composed by Thacker’s uncle Ray Slone entitled Lament of Appalachia. The mandolin and fiddle have a bit of a Bill Monroe feel to them, while the tin whistle reminds listeners of Appalachia’s Scots-Irish settlers.
Thacker, who takes care of lead vocals and plays guitar throughout the album, is joined by a talented group of musicians for this project. The band includes Clay Hess (guitar and mandolin), Ron Block (guitar and banjo), Shad Cobb (clawhammer banjo), Tim Crouch (fiddle), Byron House (bass), and Buddy Greene (harmonica). Several members of the Cox Family provided harmony vocals, as well.
Fans of traditional bluegrass should certainly enjoy On the Front Porch. Thacker has done a nice job of updating these old songs just enough to make them fresh, but still preserve their classic sound. Even though the tunes are almost all familiar ones, there’s nothing wrong with tradition.
For more information about Kenny Thacker and his music, visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kennyonthefrontporch.
On the Front Porch can be purchased from various online music retailers.
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