For week four of the Album of the Week series, I went a little more modern and snagged an album by one of my favorite new bluegrass groups: NewFound Road.
Tim Shelton formed the band around 2002. After having performed with the southern Ohio gospel group, The Beacons (with Joe Mullins), Shelton decided to set out on his own. He gathered the talents of (former Beacon) Tim Caudill, Junior Williams, and Rob Baker. The band began as a Gospel group, releasing a pair of stellar bluegrass Gospel recordings, one of which is still in print (Full Heart).
In 2004, the band took a step forward and released Somewhere Between. This was the band’s first non-Gospel project, though it did include four Gospel tunes. I called up Tim Shelton, and asked him what he recalls about the album.
“The first thing that really pops into my mind when I think about Somewhere Between was that it produced our first #1 hit. It’s Raining The Blues topped the Bluegrass Unlimited charts, and that was huge for us. In addition to being our first secular album, it was also our first really big hit record. That really opened up the doors for us in a lot of ways for bookings and further success.”
It’s Raining The Blues gets the album off to a rousing start. The bluesy vocals and Junior’s “angry” banjo, make it easy to see why this tune was the band’s first big hit. It’s a great bluegrass song, that you’ll find yourself singing over and over again.
This album features several great originals written within the band. Edinburgh, the record’s lone instrumental cut was written by Shelton, and its old-timey feel would make Monroe proud. Our music’s Scotch-Irish roots really shine through on this one. The production of this number pays tribute to tradition as well, by starting out with the turn of a radio dial and the scratchy sound of a record needle. This cut also features some killer fiddle work by Jim Van Cleve, the album’s only special guest, who adds complementary fiddle to ten of the album’s twelve tracks. Van Cleve has been a long-time friend of the band, and also added his skills to the band’s current live album.
Tim Caudill’s Love At First Light is a great contemporary number, which really highlights Tim Shelton’s vocal style (and shows why Shelton has been a bluegrass heartthrob for the past decade! Don’t believe me? Just ask my sister or your girlfriend!) It is a remarkable love song, which tells a great story. The song was dedicated by Caudill to his wife.
Caudill also penned the album’s title track, Somewhere Between. This a song that will touch your heart. It deals with the hardships of having a loved one in between life and death. We’ve all known someone who has been “Somewhere between this world and home. Their heart is still beating, but their spirit is gone.” This song can really be a blessing to people.
Somewhere Between is one of four gospel tracks on the album. Tim Shelton’s version of Judy Marshall’s I Need You, Lord may be my favorite. He has recorded the song a few times, but this is the only time with his band. Judy Marshall has written so many Gospel standards, and this is one her best. Shelton’s take on the song is truly moving.
The band does a great a cappella rendition of the classic, Rock of Ages, and also does a blazing fast version of The Osborne Brothers’ Jesus Sure Changed Me which puts Junior Williams’ powerhouse vocals up front. Another Osborne Brothers’ tune appears on Somewhere Between. They offer their tasteful take on Lonesome Feelin’.
The band’s original version of Tom T. Hall’s That’s How I Got To Memphis appears on this record. To me, this is one of the group’s best finds. The song fits Shelton’s voice perfectly, and they did an excellent job translating it into a bluegrass-friendly song. Newfound Road still performs this one in their live shows, and even re-did the song for their live album.
Rob Baker takes the lead vocal duties on his original song, Don’t Be Gone. His tender vocals do a great job conveying the song’s sentiment. This a real hidden gem on the album that has not gotten nearly enough attention.
Somewhere Between also features a real catchy, bluesy number called Nothing Ever Turns Out Right. It has somewhat of a Western swing feel to it due to the flavor of Van Cleve’s fiddle. Larry Spark’s These Old Blues also shares this song’s bluesy sentiment, but in a more traditional way. The blues-tinge to Shelton’s voice is something that makes it so appealing to listeners, and these tunes really showcase that quality.
This is a great all around bluegrass recording, and has something for everyone. It shows the variety and flexibility this group has had, while still maintaining their own unique style. Somewhere Between’s success caused many in the bluegrass world to take notice to this bluegrass band based out of southern Ohio. Shortly after its release, NewFound Road signed with Rounder Records, and has released their last three albums with them.
Along with all of the “firsts” this album carried for the band, sadly, this album is also carries a “last.” This was Newfound Road’s last album with the original lineup. Nowadays, Tim Shelton is joined by Josh Miller, and Joe and Jamey Booher. Their latest album, and their only one featuring the current lineup, is Live At The Down Home.
Somewhere Between is on Mountain Home (MH-0996-CD) and is available for purchase at County Sales and the Classic Country Connection. It is also can be downloaded on iTunes and Amazon Music. I highly recommend this early bluegrass album from one of the hottest acoustic music groups on the scene today.
Bonus Question (for the prize of a job well done!): What two former members of Newfound Road have been members of Rhonda Vincent & the Rage?
Also, I know Christmas is coming up, so next week, look forward to showcasing a true classic album featuring one of the most-beloved Christmas tracks of all time.