Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road are proud carriers of tradition in the world of bluegrass music, with many of their past hits proclaiming a love for classic grass and the sounds of an earlier era. Their newest effort from Pinecastle, Bill Monroe’s Ol’ Mandolin, is no different. Namechecking some of the genre’s founding fathers in the first two singles and including several excellent covers throughout the album, Jordan and Carolina Road pay tribute to the first generations of bluegrass while also incorporating a smooth, modern touch.
The debut single and title track has find quite a bit of appreciation on radio in the several months since its release. Kicking off with a nice mandolin intro, the song memorializes Ricky Skaggs’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, during which he played Monroe’s famous mandolin. Allen Dyer brings songwriter David Stewart’s images to life, making the number solemn yet soulful: “Lord, he picked up that old Gibson, he embraced it like a friend. He held it like the Bible as it softly spoke to him.” This song is complemented nicely by the second number on the album, They Call it Bluegrass, an uptempo toe-tapper with fine banjo picking from Ben Greene. The song was written by Raleigh-area bluegrass DJ Larry Nixon, who honors that special something Earl Scruggs and his banjo brought to our genre.
Greene’s banjo picking is also hot on one of my favorite instrumentals, Sally Ann. The band doesn’t necessarily show off on this number, but plays it straight and tight the whole way through – just the way it should be. I’d have liked a mandolin break from Jordan to go along with the fiddle, banjo, and dobro, but it’s still a fine tune. Another nice example of straightforward traditional grass is the cut of Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.
The group dives into the country genre for a few tracks, including a strong rendition of He Stopped Loving Her Today, which Dyer’s rich vocals fill with plenty of emotion. Matt Hooper’s fiddle guides Cherokee Fiddle, made popular by Johnny Lee and the movie Urban Cowboy, and penned by Michael Martin Murphy. The group has given this song a nice bluegrass treatment, with plenty of banjo and mandolin. Coming from a slightly different place, at least sonically, is Boogie Grass Band. Written by Ronnie Reno and taken to the top of the charts by Conway Twitty in the late 1970s, the original is a neat fusion of country and bluegrass sounds that celebrates loving “to hear Bill sing about Kentucky, and the Allman Brothers’ Ramblin’ Man.” It’s just a fun number that I’m sure is a crowd-pleaser live.
Jordan co-wrote two of the songs on the album, and contributes lead vocals on both. Mama Can You Hear That Train was co-written with Mickey Tripp, and is told from the perspective of a boy waiting for his father to return from prison, and reflecting on the unfair circumstances that put him there. It has a nice chugging melody and a strong harmony vocal from Randy Graham. Living Like I’m Dying was penned by Jordan with her mother, Janice Jordan. According to the liner notes, the song was inspired by Lorraine’s approach to life: “I’m headed down another open road, not sure where it leads, I know I want to go.” Jordan’s mother passed away last year, and the album is dedicated to her.
Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road is filled with solid musicians who know their craft well. There’s plenty of good stuff here, and fans of both the band and traditional bluegrass in general shouldn’t be disappointed.
For more information on the band, visit their website. Their new album is available from several online retailers.