It’s been nearly a decade since Bob Amos put out a bluegrass CD, with the talented and widely praised band Front Range.
But fans who have pined for Front Range since the band’s final album in 2003 will find the former frontman’s project, Borrowed Time, worth waiting for. And those who hear this CD but missed out on Front Range’s 16-year run are likely to find themselves circling back to see what they missed.
Borrowed Time features masterful but restrained picking and smooth harmonies throughout, the kind of music that makes me think of sweet tea in the shade on a lazy weekend afternoon.
And Bob’s songwriting abilities are front and center, too. He wrote all but one of the dozen songs found here. The lone exception is Robert Johnson’s Last Fair Deal Gone Down, superbly arranged to feature Jesse Brock on mandolin and Freeman Corey on fiddle. Those two also shine, along with Bob’s first-rate banjo work, on Crazy Legs, an up-tempo instrumental. At just 2:26, it’s the shortest cut on the CD and it left me longing for more.
But while the picking is stellar, the vocals are the real selling point here. Bob brings an easy-going Tim O’Brien feel to his music, especially on Where the Wild River Rolls and Backwards and Forwards.
Backwards and Forwards is my pick for the best song of the dozen, elevated by Bob’s singing with Patti Casey and its sticks-with-you chorus:
“Everything ending before it begins; backwards and forwards and backwards again.”
Patti and Bob also team up for a splendid duet, Jenny and Jimmy, which traces a familiar bluegrass journey – from love to despair and then back to love again.
Other memorable moments include The Road Home, a gospel song with Bob’s daughter, Sarah, singing the lead and Mother of Mine, which features ethereal four-part a cappella harmonies.
Borrowed Time is dedicated to Bob’s mentor, Davey Staats, who “patiently, but firmly, implanted the fundamental elements of soul, drive, tone and timing into my brain.”
All of those things are in evidence on Borrowed Time, with Bob playing all the guitar and banjo parts and doing some of the mandolin work. He gets help in the time department from former Front Range bassist Bob Dick.
While we’re talking about time, here’s hoping Bob Amos doesn’t take so long before delivering his next bluegrass gem.