Bryson City, North Carolina’s Cody Shuler first made his mark in bluegrass with traditionally-based band Pine Mountain Railroad, although his earliest experience was playing mandolin for Raymond Fairchild at the age of 15. His most recent release, a self-titled album from Rural Rhythm, is his first billed as a solo artist. The album is a well put-together modern traditional effort, featuring some of the best-known musicians in bluegrass and a few talented younger pickers, as well.
Several singles from the all original twelve-song collection have already received significant airplay. The first single, My Home is on This Ole Boxcar, kicks things off with a pulsing, percussion-guided rhythm. It tells a familiar bluegrass story, that of an old man who has rode the rails his whole life. Listen to the Hammer Ring is a radio-friendly number with a smooth sound that features interesting, echo-like harmonies from Shuler. It’s a combination of several old bluegrass themes – a young man, wrongly convicted of a crime, is sent to a prison work camp and encounters the mighty Bill Henry, who has a cheating wife.
The Beautiful Hills has a bit of a Stanley feel. It’s his version of a murder ballad, in which the singer is moved to action after seeing the one he loves being untrue. Shuler’s clear vocals suit this song well, as do Tim Crouch’s tasteful fiddles. The One That I Love is Gone has a very similar sound and shares the singer’s sorrows after he discovers his love has passed away. Another mournful number is Love Me Too, which finds the singer trying to escape the pain of unrequited love. Again, Crouch’s fiddling stands out.
One of the most enjoyable songs here is the Gospel number Sea of Galilee. It tells the Biblical story of Jesus asking the disciple Peter to walk on water. With the added percussion, it sounds like something Doyle Lawson might have recently recorded. Terry Baucom contributes fine banjo work, as well. The closing number, The Day Love Was Nailed to a Tree, is another Gospel track. Its stripped down instrumental arrangement allows Shuler’s vocals and the lyrics – which tell the story of Jesus’ crucifixion – to shine.
Shuler has also included two instrumentals here. Both are mandolin tunes, and obviously Monroe-inspired, though with very different sounds. Three Rivers Rambler has a nice laid-back groove, while Bryson Station is darker and faster with shades of Southern Flavor. Though Shuler plays mandolin on each of the album’s tracks, his vocal talents are in the forefront for most of the album. Here, he shows off his instrumental skills, demonstrating a good handle on a modernized version of Monroe style mandolin.
This album is a fine solo effort from Shuler that allows him to exhibit not only his musical talents, but also his songwriting. Overall, though the songs here are often updates of older, popular bluegrass themes, they are well-written and enjoyable. Shuler has also picked a fine band to accompany him. Crouch, Eli Johnston (guitar), and Matt Flake (bass) form the core group, with Baucom, Ron Stewart, Scott Vestal, and Brent Lamons each taking turns on banjo, Rob Ickes contributing dobro, and Scott Linton adding percussion. Fans of the popular modern traditional style should enjoy this album.
For more information on Cody Shuler, visit his website at www.codyshuler.com. His new album can be purchased from several online music retailers.