Cumberland Gap Connection first hit the national bluegrass scene in 2011 with the release of A Whole Lotta Lonesome on Kindred Records. Now signed with Mountain Fever Records, this eastern Kentucky–based band is poised to receive more attention with their new album, Another Song. This collection of thirteen songs, including numerous band originals, provides listeners with an all-around enjoyable contemporary bluegrass listening experience.
Guitarist Mike Bentley handles most of the lead vocals on the album, and has also contributed five original songs to the recording. Bentley has a smooth, even, country-flaired voice which may remind listeners of Ernie Thacker. One of the album’s standout tracks, which features both his vocals and songwriting, is Move on the Down the Line, a mid-tempo tune about the decision to leave home and the realization that it may have not been the right choice. Another nice rambling song is Rambler’s Blues, this time with a somewhat more positive outlook on the choice to wander.
The influence of Keith Whitley is evident on Anywhere But Here, in which the singer is trying to come to terms with the fact that the one he loves doesn’t want him anymore. Banjo player Rod Smith changes things up a bit and brings a classic country sound to this track with the addition of pedal steel. Smith brings outside influences to Levi Birmingham as well, providing bluesy dobro behind the familiar story of a young man learning about music from a somewhat disreputable old man.
For the most part, the rest of the album contains straightforward bluegrass. The title track has a somewhat dark sound but a positive message, telling listeners that if they get discouraged, “just stay strong, there’s always another song.” West Virginia Line is an upbeat train song featuring bassist Bryan Russell on high lead vocals. Russell also takes the lead on Forever in Love (which he also wrote), a hopeful song which finds the singer encouraging the one he loves to never give up on their love, even if they don’t always understand each other.
Perhaps some of the best songs on the album are two of the most lonesome sounding. Mary’s Gone shares the story of a man who escapes dying in a mine explosion through a depressing turn of events, while the lead single, John Dig a Hole, is told from the perspective of an elderly man who has outlived almost everyone around him and is preparing to die. This song begins with a haunting, old-time mountain feel, then transforms into a driving bluegrass piece with traditional influences. Interestingly, a version of John Dig a Hole can be found on Ralph Stanley’s Live at McClure album, performed by a group called the Outdoor Plumbing Company. On that record, the band mentions that the song was written by a man from Pike County, Kentucky – the home of Cumberland Gap Connection.
The instrumentation on the album is solid, and it’s obvious that band members Bentley (guitar), Russell (bass), Smith (banjo), and John Messer (mandolin), along with guest Albon Clevenger on fiddle, are well versed in bluegrass music. The group has a tight sound and nice harmonies, and fans of strong original material are sure to enjoy their songs.
For more information on Cumberland Gap Connection, please visit their website at www.cumberlandgapconnection.com.
Their new album can be purchased from their website or downloaded from CDBaby and iTunes.