Formed by mandolin player, singer and frontman Frank Ray with his uncle over half a century ago, Cedar Hill has a storied history known mostly to aficionados of authentic bluegrass of the Ozark Mountain variety. That’s the place they’ve always called home, although they shared stages in Nashville, London, and various locales in-between, winning accolades along the way. Those honors include induction into the National Traditional Country Music Association Hall of Fame in 2008, and the association’s Lifetime Achievement Award a decade later.
Several shifts in personnel eventually coalesced into their present personnel roster, consisting of Ray on mandolin and vocals, Jim Bunch on banjo and vocals, Pete Brown playing fiddle and vocals, Patti LaFleur handling bass and vocals, and Dan Stokely on guitar and vocals.
Still, for an outfit with such a sturdy trajectory, Cedar Hill’s sound is surprisingly unassuming, a series of rambles and ballads that take an easy, affable stance. While Ray writes most of the songs, theirs is a group approach that allows for a cohesive and communal approach. The band’s new album, By Request, is an anthology of sorts, but better suited to faithful fans as opposed to those who are simply unaware. That said, the material boasts universal appeal, courtesy of a sound that hews faithfully to tradition. That’s apparent in the high lonesome harmonies of songs such as False Hearted Love and On Hobo’s Wings, the amiable, ambling I Beg To You, the pluck, strut and sway of Broke Hearts Are Real and Heartaches and Teardrops, and the mournful Pearl’s Song, the latter having earned its place in the set by being a consistent favorite on the National XM/Sirius radio program, Bluegrass Junction.
Although Cedar Hill also shares a spiritual sensibility, it comes across through an upward glance rather than any sense of proselytizing or preachiness. That allows for a wider embrace that doesn’t necessarily break down boundaries in sound or style, but does ensure a sound with the potential to appeal to all.
The fact that this set of songs is identified as “Volume 1” suggests that another collection of fan favorites will likely show up as well. Hopefully by then there will also be even more faithful to welcome it as well.