A true musical devotee and revered bluegrass staple, Larry Stephenson has plied his craft in service to that seminal sound for the past three decades. It’s little wonder then that 30 serves as an apt testament to his tenacity and perseverance. Indeed, Stephenson has never wavered in his efforts to preserve an archival approach that doesn’t find a need to concede to any commercial concerns. As Stephenson himself declares on the new album’s standout track, I Was Bluegrass (When Bluegrass Wasn’t Cool), he’s never wavered in his adherence to the form, even when more trendy options awaited.
That attitude is also signaled in such songs as Two Ol’ Country Boys Like Us, Ernest Tubb’s Journey’s End, the Kostas composition Timber, I’m Falling In Love, Boudeaux and Bryant’s Tears and the traditional tune Darling Little Joe. Each of these offerings finds the band — Stephenson (vocals, mandolin), Derek Vaden (vocals, banjo), Nick Dauphinais (vocals, guitar) and Matt Wrihgt (vocals, upright bass) — blending their voices in close harmony while picking and strumming with seeming abandon. Their down home delivery is effusive without ever seeming self conscious, even though certain songs — Blue Memories in particular — sound like sure standards echoed from a bygone era. On the other hand, their take on the Randy Van Warmer chart topper, Just When I Needed You the Most remakes that classic hit by convincingly casting it as a genuine bluegrass ballad.
Any band daring to make their music without posturing or pretence is something of a rarity these days, but credit Stephenson and company for adhering to authenticity without deviating into any alternatives. They summon their strengths in service to songs that veer from seasoned classics to original offerings, all the while keeping their consistency intact. That results in an album which offers a lingering lesson on what it takes to maintain the personality and precepts necessary to deliver authentic music of a vintage variety. They also prove that honesty and sincerity still have a role to play when it comes to preserving a hallowed heritage, and here again, there’s no doubt about Stephenson’s commitment to the cause.
Ultimately, 30 confirms the fact that even after all the years gone by, nothing can deter Larry and his colleagues from their dedication and devotion.