Danny Paisley doesn’t wear fancy stage clothes and doesn’t add lots of gimmicks and adornments to his guitar playing.
With a voice like his, he doesn’t need any of those things to establish his bluegrass credentials. He just steps up to the microphone, and the proof pours forth, just like it did when his father Bob was bandleader for The Southern Grass.
Plain and simple, Danny Paisley’s voice is intense and soulful, with echoes of Carter Stanley and Dudley Connell. As IBMA’s reigning male vocalist of the year, he doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone, but on song after song on Bluegrass Troubadour, his Pinecastle debut, he makes an impressive case to take the statue home again this year.
Nine of the 10 songs (one is an instrumental) showcase Danny’s voice perfectly. He’s especially expressive on I’d Rather Live By the Side of the Road, with Lizzy Long adding harmony, Blink of an Eye, which has been getting radio play, and Date With an Angel, a well written gem from Mark “Brink” Brinkman. If there’s a scrap of emotion somewhere in a song, Danny finds it and milks it.
But Danny’s vocals are only part of the stellar package here. Danny’s son Ryan has been a member of the band for nearly a decade now. The younger Mr. Paisley has outgrown his early role as the shy, cute kid who stood in the back and chopped along on the mandolin. He plays with aplomb (check out the tasty fills on Long Black Limousine and the break on May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister?), and he sings with authority, adding stylish harmonies throughout and applying a touch of polish behind the rough edges of his dad’s voice. He also wrote the instrumental Fancy Gap Runaway.
The unsung hero of this record, though, is Mark Delaney. He’s been Danny’s banjo man through a number of Southern Grass recordings, but he really shines here as he plays with drive and conviction. He keeps the band leaning ahead, even on the rare slower song. And on the faster ones, he is clearly in control.
Every listen seemed to bring forward something in Delaney’s playing that I missed on previous trips through the songs.
By the time I sat down to write, one big question loomed in my mind: How has such a masterful five-string picker not be a year-after-year finalist as IBMA’s banjo player of the year? Granted, there are a number of sure-to-be-nominated veterans, and a growing number of hotshot newcomers. But right now, if I was putting together a band, Mark Delaney would be my top choice if I couldn’t find Kristin Scott Benson’s phone number. Heck, he’d probably be my top choice even if I could find KSB’s number. He’s that good, and it’s time for him to share a little of the Southern Grass’s accolades.
All in all, this is one of the best traditional bluegrass recordings I’ve heard this year. Listen for yourself. If you don’t agree I can hook you up with a terrific hearing specialist.