The best songs are, by nature, overtly entwined with sentiment. On their new Rebel Records album, Authentic, Band of Ruhks lives up to the disc’s title by sowing songs flush with shared feelings and, well, authentic emotion. A stirring mix of bluegrass, grassicana and mainstream melodies, it’s the product of a band that boasts credentials firmly etched in the musical firmament. The group’s founders and prime movers Ronnie Bowman, Don Rigsby, Kenny Smith, and Brian Fesler, can all claim to be musicians with hallowed reputations. Bowman, Rigsby and Smith were influential members of The Lonesome River Band, and although their tenure in the band ended in the early 2000s, each man has managed to maintain an award-winning trajectory ever since.
The genesis of their current ensemble evolved from a Lonesome River Band reunion concert in 2010, but it took five years for their initial inspiration to yield tangible results via Band of Ruhks’ eponymous debut. It took another five years for the follow-up to appear, but as the saying goes, the results are well worth the wait. Indeed, the evolution is obvious, not only in terms of execution, but in the composing credits as well. While many of the songs on that initial album came from the pens of others — Mark Collie, Chris Stapleton and Harley Allen, among them — Bowman wrote the lion’s share of the material on the sophomore set. Indeed, every track is exceptional.
(It’s worth noting that with the simultaneous release of his current self-titled solo set, Bowman’s proved that he’s nothing if not ambidextrous…)
Back then to that original premise. The songs on Authentic are inherently personal, with most offerings spun from the dual perspective of romance and reconciliation. Julie takes the point of view of a jilted lover, wholly stunned by his rejection. My Ol’ Tattoo finds the singer questioning his ex on how she intends to disavow the fact her skin was stamped with a tattoo that supposedly symbolizes their everlasting love. Cold Heart of Steel delves even deeper into dismal disappointment, a husband lambasting his ex wife for being the cause of their failed marriage. Its title tells all.
Happily, there are some songs that share happier thoughts — the good-natured Charming Betsy, the welcoming Gospel embrace of Good Spirit Here, and the abject affection of Heartstrings and Detroit in particular. Each track is delivered with earnest engagement and a determined delivery, a collective effort that’s especially well expressed on the album’s sole instrumental, the rollicking B N Me.
Authentic is indeed the real deal, absolute indication that only two albums in, this superior super group has already arrived.