When Gregg Welty specifies Community as the name of his new album, he apparently means the term be taken seriously. He assembles an all star cast consisting of dozens of major players from all corners of the bluegrass and nu-grass worlds — some 50 musicians in all — to join him in a set of songs that typify the best both genres have to offer. Although Welty mainly sticks to banjo and mostly takes a back seat during the proceedings, he stakes his credence on his assertion that he’s gathered “the largest collaborative bluegrass project ever recorded.” The fact that it utilized 30 studios underscores his claim, but the results sound surprisingly intimate for such grandiose designs, given that the album sounds both rich and rugged in its overall execution.
The names involve may alone be reason enough to explore Community. Vocalists on the album include Shawn Lane, Steve Gulley, Josh Shilling, Paul Brewster, Summer McMahon, Eli Johnston, Jesse Smathers, Buddy Robertson, Rick Faris, Jason Tomlin, Nick Dumas, Mike Rogers, Jacob Greer, Zack Arnold, Avery Welter, and Zach Alvis — and that’s not even a complete list. To handle the instrumentation, he has Michael Cleveland, Jake Workman, Tony Wray, Troy Boone, Cory Piatt, Harry Clark, Stephen Burwell, Gaven Largent, Jeff Partin, Jed Clark, Doug Young, Mitch Meadors, Josh Hicks, and Jay Shuler, also an incomplete listing.
Indeed, while the sheer scope of the project will likely be the thing that grabs most of the headlines, the music itself provides a listening experience that eschews any need to roll a list of credits. It’s decidedly dynamic, and while the track list consists of covers — artists like America, Merle Haggard, Dan Tyminshi and Randy Travis are among those represented — the artists involved give each song new life and a fresh appeal that transcends any established origins. Songs such as Don’t Cross the River and To See My Angel in Virginia Again offer rousing refrains, but every effort basks in contemporary credence. The sole instrumental, Fisher’s Hornpipe, underscores the instrumental acumen of those involved, but it’s a rotating cast of singers that also help give new life to every other selection that surrounds it.
Whether Welty conceived this gathering as a means of boosting his own marquee status or simply felt a desire to push the parameters could be considered a matter of speculation. He’s hardly a novice, having won several banjo championships and gained extensive experience on stage and in the studio. Still, he’s a relative unknown within this circle of superstars.
In truth, Gregg is training to be a medical doctor, or as he puts it, “I only do medicine so I can afford to do bluegrass.”
However it hardly matters; the fact that he was able to succeed on this particular mission is reason enough to give him solid kudos. The fact that the album itself is such a stunning success provides ultimate confirmation that his work was well worthwhile.