When a new band finds prominence quickly, it’s not uncommon to wonder how they might weather the inevitable personnel swaps that occur in bluegrass. It’s especially true for a group that isn’t built primarily on the strength of a single member, like Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers. They kept the original members intact for their first two records, but have seen a number of changes this past year.
But judging from their latest Rebel CD, Another Day From Life, Ramblers fans have no reason to fear a letdown from this powerful bunch of pickers and singers. Mullins has found a successful formula for the group he leads, and they follow it again on this new project. Vocals, both lead and harmony, are consistently strong and sincere on a set of mostly new secular and spiritual bluegrass.
Joe is there on banjo, as slick a Scruggs style man as you’ll find, while also providing a smooth yet piercing tenor vocal. Original members Mike Terry is still on mandolin, and Evan McGregor on fiddle, though Evan has left the group since this album was recorded, with Jason Barie taking his spot.
New on this CD are lead singer and guitarist Duane Sparks, and bass player Randy Barnes. They fit the mold perfectly and the vocal blend, the highlight of their presentation, is still rich and robust.
Two songs from Another Day From Life had received substantial radio play as the record was being released in late September. The Last Parade, a tribute to a fallen veteran from Steve Bonafel, brought tears to many an eye, and Barkley C. Davis’ Now The Summer’s Gone has been enjoying a nice run on our Bluegrass Today Airplay Chart this past few weeks, driven by McGregor’s fiddle and Mullins’ banjo.
>Every Road Leads Back To You is a surprisingly modern song for the Ramblers with Terry taking the lead on the Darrell Scott song, with Joe’s tenor soaring. Joe sings lead on Hymns From The Hills, a quartet vocal arrangement on Chris Stuart and Jon Weisberger’s Gospel number.
The title track is a new composition from Bill Castle, a slice of life song that describes a scene passing before the narrator’s viewpoint. All in all, it’s just Another Day From Life. Hank Williams’ May You Never Be Alone is a tribute to The Osborne Brothers, following very closely to their version, and making a strong claim for Mullins as the successor to Bobby Osborne as the sultan of high lead singing in contemporary bluegrass music.
Johnson Island Prison is a minor key Civil War prisoner of war song from Joe. Talk about working in your bluegrass cliches! It’s a fine story, told from the perspective of a Confederate soldier locked up in a Union camp. And for country blues fans there’s Blue Collar Blues, one of many songs that the late Gerald Jones left behind him.
Mike Terry gives a plaintive delivery on Mark Brinkman’s Through A Coal Miner’s Eyes, which contains many of the familiar tropes we associate with the genre. Another winner is The Dearest Friend I Ever Had, an a cappella treatment of the old favorite, and a perfect illustration of the strength of the Ramblers quartet.
The album finishes with Sparks on a sparse version of The Gaithers’ Because He Lives.
Fans who have followed this stellar band this past few years will certainly enjoy their latest release, and folks who are not as familiar will find an excellent introduction on Another Day From Life.