Balsam Range are Marching Home

Balsam RangeThe Clyde, North Carolina-based quintet Balsam Range has just announced the release of their debut CD, Marching Home.

The band comprises Marc Pruett (banjo), Caleb Smith (guitar), Darren Nicholson (mandolin), Tim Surrett (upright bass and resonator guitar) and Buddy Melton (fiddle) who all hail from Haywood County and live within 10 minutes of each other.

The quintet got together recently after various combinations had assisted in the production of solo albums. All the members of Balsam Range are from and live currently in Haywood County located in Western North Carolina. Although each were from the same town they had not played together as a group until this year. The start of the formation came with Buddy Melton’s solo recording project which featured Marc Pruett on banjo, Tim Surrett on bass, Tony Rice on guitar and Adam Steffey on mandolin. Shortly after that session, Darren Nicholson recorded his solo project which also included Marc Pruett, Tim Surrett and an array of various bluegrass greats. Soon they were getting together at each others houses to play great music for the fun of it. It basically snowballed from there.

Surrett, for whom music has been a big part of his life since school days, had recently moved back home after being gone from the area for many years traveling and playing with groups such as the Kingsmen. Nicholson had recently come off the road after playing for three years with Rounder recording artist Alecia Nugent, while Smith, who has been playing music since the age of 7, had found himself home after years of traveling with a bluegrass gospel group he helped form called Harvest. Pruett, who has long been associated with Ricky Skaggs, as well as playing with James Monroe among others, and Melton, a relative new-comer having got serious about bluegrass music while at Western Carolina University, had once played together in a bluegrass gospel group called Rock Springs Reunion and had recently started playing events together again. Some might say the timing of this union was more than just coincidental.

The CD is the result of a three way collaboration involving the group, Crossroads Records and Evergreen Publishing in Nashville. It was originally intended as a Bill Monroe tribute album, but in the end Balsam Range decided to include songs from other sources, because they felt that would be a better presentation for the band

They kept six songs associated with Monroe and added the balance of 13 from what band members brought to the sessions.

Marc Pruett spoke of the original material that they used for the CD to Carol Mallett Rifkin during an interview published in Ashville’s Citizen-Times ‚Ķ‚Ķ‚Ķ‚Ķ‚Ķ‚Ķ.

“Two of the songs were written by Milan Miller, of Waynesville. He and Buddy Melton are close friends. When Buddy worked in Nashville with the Jubal Foster band, he met songwriter Connie Harrington and she brought Blue Mountain to him. We all loved it. The producer wanted a really fast song, one that would blister the paint off the back wall. One that I had in my back pocket was The Train’s Ready. The Marching Home instrumental, well, my family has been interested in Civil War history for a long time. I was sitting around thinking about Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox and all those boys. One day they were in the army of Northern Virginia and the next day they were marching home. That was the inspiration.”

At the same time Buddy Melton said ……..

“It’s a great CD with a lot of variety and styles. There is a traditional element to it and the tribute to Monroe is a big part of it. There is also Blue Mountain and some of the others that are unique and different, a fresh new sound.”

After playing Marching Home just once I have to say that originality is the key word to describing this CD – with most of the material given a different treatment from the norm. Melton, Surrett and Smith all sing lead to give a varied listening experience also.

Joe Diffie, a guest from the Nashville establishment, sings lead on an original arrangement of Monroe’s Come Back To Me In My Dreams. Other guests are Doyle Lawson (mandolin and vocals), Jim Van Cleve (fiddle), Tony Rice (guitar) and influential producer Jerry Salley (vocals).

The CD release party took place to coincide with the band’s appearance at the 2007 Haywood County Fair, in Waynesville, September 25, although it will not be officially available until October.

Geographical Footnote:
The Balsam mountain range is on the southern edge of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, surrounding the area in which the band members live.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.