Band of Ruhks: Old Pals, New Music

Band of RuhksWho cares that geezer rocker Steven Tyler is making a country record? We’ve got real reason to celebrate: Ronnie Bowman made a new bluegrass record!

Bowman, who has spent most of his time in country music since leaving the Lonesome River Band in 2001, has teamed up with two other LRB alums, Kenny Smith and Don Rigsby, to record and perform as the Band of Ruhks. Their self-titled 13-song CD on the 101 Ranch Label, officially released today, is a stunner.

Make no mistake, this is not a Lonesome River Band reunion with someone else filling Sammy Shelor’s banjo role. For one thing, that band – and Sammy – are still going strong. This is a fresh, new approach that will have people talking all summer long, perhaps right up until the IBMA awards show this fall.

Bowman has writing credits on six of the 13 songs here, and his voice is as strong as ever. But this isn’t merely Ronnie Bowman and friends. Smith and Rigsby aren’t just along for the ride. They’ll full partners, adding sublime vocals and instrumental punch – Kenny on guitar and Don on mandolin, mandola, octave mandolin and viola. A number of all-star pickers join in, including Chris Brown on drums and percussion on 10 of the tracks.

Don’t let the drums scare you. This is Exhibit A in how to use percussion in a bluegrass setting. Brown is expressive and tasteful and doesn’t get in the way of the amazing interplay between Smith’s guitar, Rigsby’s mandolin and guests on fiddle and banjo.

Brown’s subtle rhythm is evident from the starting notes of the album’s opener, All the Way, a straightforward tale of surprise romance. It’s vintage Bowman, an uncomplicated story compellingly told.

Also in that mold is All We Need, a simple love song beefed up with some sweet orchestral string work.

Much of the project’s pre-release attention came from Coal Minin’ Man, with Ralph Stanley’s a cappella introduction. It’s a fine song, and it’s always fun to hear Dr. Ralph. But there are other songs here that deserve attention.

One of them is Here Comes Your Broken Heart Again, written by Barry Bales and Shawn Lane. This is one of those quintessential bluegrass songs in which the fast-paced picking belies the broken-hearted blues of the lyrics. Expressive banjo picking from Scott Vestal adds some tension. This one is bound to be a radio favorite.

Another gem is Can’t Get Over You. This song is decidedly country, and it might be a moneymaker for local police departments. The combination of hard-driving melody, fueled by Stuart Duncan’s fiddling and Jimmy Stewart’s resonator guitar work makes it easy to lose track of the speed limit, especially with the windows down and the volume cranked up. (I didn’t get caught!)

But the real emotional powerhouse in this collection is a Harley Allen gem, Rendezvous With Danger. It tells the tale of hard-drinking Bobby and hard-working Tommy driving down the road toward each other one night. With Tommy just three miles from home, the listener knows with gut-clenching certainty how this story will end. Except there’s a twist. The song ends before the story does!

Sometimes angels step aside
And if we live or if we die
Is up to me and you
How this song ends
Is up to us my friends.

If you like the record, you’ll be pleased to know that the Band of Ruhks is lining up tour dates and getting ready to take the show on the road.

If you don’t like this record, I guess there’s always Steven Tyler.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.