The debut album from the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, Back to the Mountains, is music for people like my dad. Old school bluegrass fans, who grew up on Flatt & Scruggs and the Stanleys, who believe that Bill Monroe set the rules for bluegrass music and albums without banjo might as well be thrown out the window. It’s also music for people like me, and people like you, and even your hipster friend who thinks Mumford and Sons is really cool. Though at the core of things, the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys fully embrace the retro sound of the 1950s, and do it very well, the sheer energy they do it with is what really stands out about them. They seem to truly love what they are doing, and because of that, I think many listeners will too.
Back to the Mountains is twelve tracks full of enthusiastic traditional-style grass, with an equal dose of honky-tonk and high lonesome. They open up with I Can’t Go On This Way, a 1960s cut written by Noah Crase and originally recorded by the Valley Ramblers. It’s a catchy, bass and banjo-heavy number about a man begging the woman who left him to just let him hear from her one time. Mandolin player C.J. Lewandowski provides suitably twangy and old-fashioned vocals on both this track and the majority of the others on the album. One of his best vocal efforts is the Jimmy Martin-esque Drive Myself to Drinkin’, a kiss-off song from an beleaguered husband that has a good groove and lots of attitude.
Also enjoyable are the Charlie Moore Gospel number I Believe in the Old Time Way, which has nice vocal harmonies on the chorus, and the title track, a mid-tempo song written by Allen Mills (like I’ve said before, long live Allen Mills). Lewandowski seems to channel Mills’ phrasing style on this cut, which is a nice number in the “going home” tradition. Back Toward the Mountain, from the pen of Jerry Cole, also pulls from a longstanding bluegrass tradition – the murder ballad. It’s the story of a man whose wife’s wandering eye leads to a watery grave and features some great dark imagery (spoiler: it’s not the wife who gets killed).
Guitarist Josh Rinkel contributed, and sings lead vocals on, two original numbers. Messing with My Mind is another so-long song, sung to a no-good woman who prefers running around to staying home with her man. Rinkel sings the song with conviction, and even though it’s a new song, it’s easy to imagine it as a golden-era Jimmy Martin cut. Remember Where You Came From is a waltz obviously inspired by the Stanleys, featuring some good life advice from a father to a son: “Remember where you came from, you can always go home.” Banjo man Jereme Brown tackles an actual Stanley Brothers song, Late Last Night. It’s a faithful rendition, performed at high speed with plenty of drive.
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys are a little rough around the edges, but in a good way. It’s easy to imagine them crowded around one microphone, giving it their all, just like the founding fathers of bluegrass did. Lewandowski, Rinkel, Brown, and bass player Jasper Lorentzen (who really knows a thing or two about driving the beat), capture a sound here that’s often overlooked today. Back to the Mountains is a fine effort from an enthusiastic group.
For more information on the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, visit their website at www.theporamblinboys.com. Their new album is out now from Randm Records, and available from a number of online music retailers.