If the title seems a bit of an overreach, it’s only because Williamson Branch is a far more traditional combo than a name like Classy. Sassy. Bluegrassy. might seem to suggest. Despite a varied background that incorporates bluegrass, country, Gospel and dance, this family band are traditionalists in every sense, carrying on a sound that springs from the very roots those archival styles imply.
Four albums on, the group shows they’re at the peak of their prowess. Husband and wife Kevin and Debbie Williamson, along with their three girls — teenagers Melody and Kadence, and nine-year-old Caroline — excel with a sound that’s marked by close-knit harmonies, upbeat instrumentation, and the kind of songwriting skills that endow each album with a wealth of memorable melodies. Kevin himself contributes a trio of tunes this time around, with Melody and Kadence providing one apiece. Nevertheless, the outside offerings find an ideal fit within the song selection overall, ensuring the kind of cohesive collection that places an emphasis on both verve and variety. And with each member taking turns with a lead vocal, that diversity is even more profound.
Still, the biggest new additive here is represented in the form of multi-instrumentalist Anthony Howell whose contributions on any number of stringed instruments (guitar, banjo, mandolin et. al.) add a deeper dimension to the arrangements, and bring these melodies to the fore. Taken in tandem with the articulate expression and ability already imbued within the Williamsons’ reach, it adds an extra measure of texture throughout. The examples are everywhere — from the stirring sounds of Blue Moon Over Texas and Over the Mountain to the touching balladry of We Believe in Happy Endings and ultimately, the heartfelt hymn of devotion, Thank You, Lord, For Your Blessings In Me. The latter offers yet another example of the hallowed hymns that grace the material overall.
For those who have followed the Williamsons’ progress over the past few years — and witnessed the critical kudos the group was accorded for their previous effort, the aptly-dubbed Free — the success achieved with Classy. Sassy. Bluegrassy. will likely come as little surprise. This is a band, after all, that’s rapidly rising to the upper tier of today’s bluegrass vanguard. Come to think of it, that’s pretty classy and sassy bluegrass indeed.