It’s a familiar story in the bluegrass world: dad gets interested in bluegrass music, then mom joins in, as well. Soon, the kids want instruments of their own, and before you know it, there’s a family band in the works. Sometimes it stays more of a hobby, and sometimes it blossoms into a full-time career. For northwest Indiana’s McLemore family, what started as dad Daniel’s casual interest in jamming and picking has turned in to a family music ministry under the name of Rusty Nail Crossing. The family recently released its second album, a twelve-song collection called Back to the Roots.
Rusty Nail Crossing consists of Daniel and Linda McLemore and their four children (Abigail, Emma, Maggie, and Gabe), who range in age from 9 to 18. For this album, they’ve relied on help from another family band to pull everything together. Phil Bankester and Kyle Triplett of The Bankesters had a hand in the recording, with both men producing and arranging the album, and Phil also offering recording, mixing, and mastering services. Plus the group is one of several artists lately that have received band coaching from Stephen Mougin.
Several of the songs here will be familiar to fans of bluegrass-tinged Gospel music, including a couple of numbers from the Isaacs, one from Cherryholmes, and an excellent cover of When God Dips His Love in My Heart (modeled after the popular version by Alison Krauss and the Cox Family). The bluesy If That Don’t Make You Want to Go, written by Sonya Isaacs and Rebecca Isaacs Bowman, is one of the standouts here, with a good groove and a nice banjo contribution from thirteen-year-old Emma. Cia Cherryholmes’ This is My Son has a bit of a folk-pop sound. It raises an interesting comparison between a mother who sends her son off to the army and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and is another of the best tracks on this album.
Two new originals from Donna Ulisse are also included. The first, Back to the Roots of My Soul, is another bluesy number. It starts out with a slow, swampy sound as the singer laments all of her troubles, then kicks into a bouncier tempo as she decides to call on the Lord for help. When Jesus Swings the Wreckin’ Ball, on the other hand, has a more traditional sound. The younger kids take care of most of the vocals on this number, giving it an earnest feel.
Wherever You Are is a song from popular Gospel group The Martins, and it’s performed here with a touch of the original’s contemporary Christian feel. It has a gentle melody, and the smooth, calm delivery fits well with the song’s message that “wherever you are, wherever you’re going, God is right there beside you seeing and knowing.” The album’s lone original, a sweet number from oldest daughter Abigail titled Dancin’ On Her Daddy’s Feet, has the same gentle, encouraging feel. It’s a well-written song that uses the image of young girl’s father helping her dance as a metaphor for the Lord’s guidance in our lives.
Overall, Back to the Roots is a fine bluegrass Gospel effort. The band has a contemporary sound, and will likely be enjoyed by fans of that vein of bluegrass music. Though the majority of the group is very young, the kids in the band are skilled on their instruments and will likely continue to grow their talent as they get older. The standout of the entire recording, however, is eighteen-year-old Abigail’s lead vocals. She takes care of most of the singing on the album, and quite simply, is an excellent vocalist. Although her vocal style is a bit more country or even pop-leaning than many bluegrass female vocalists, she easily tackles the various musical styles included here, from blues to traditional bluegrass.
Though Rusty Nail Crossing does perform at some festivals and other specifically bluegrass-related events, they are officially a music ministry of Faith Baptist Church of LaPorte, Indiana. For more information on the group, visit their website at www.rustynailcrossing.com. Their new album is available from a variety of online music retailers.