From the front cover’s depiction of a woman walking out the door in red high heels to the sad songs included within Crash Course in the Blues, Wildfire reminds us with their late 2010 release that some of the best tunes are lonesome. This is the band’s 4th release since its formation in 2000, and with the concrete musical skills exhibited here by Robert Hale (guitar), Curt Chapman (bass), Matt Despain (Dobro), Steve Thomas (mandolin, fiddle) and Johnny Lewis (banjo), there is no doubt that more good music lies ahead. Adding to the already great instrumentation, Scott Vestal also makes an appearance on the title track.
Even though Hale and Chapman are the last remaining original members of Wildfire, their latest album remains rock solid. Crash Course in the Blues reached #7 on XM Radio’s Top 40 Albums in April 2011, and their cover of the Keith Whitley/Don Cook song Daddy Loved Trains also found chart success, peaking at #4 on Sirius-XM radio station Bluegrass Junction’s Top 40 Tracks.
The album includes both traditional sounding bluegrass tunes like Paint This Town, as well as songs with more progressive country flair, such as pieces originally performed by contemporary artists Lionel Richie and Vince Gill. Wildfire’s version of Richie’s Oh No is a bit unexpected, but it actually fits well into their repertoire. Lifetime of Nighttime, the second of two Gill pieces on this project, is particularly haunting with its description of a blind man’s anguish. Hale’s own impressive lyrics are also showcased on two tracks entitled Lies That You Told and In This Town. The twelve song compilation is rounded off nicely by a moving rendition of the traditional hymn When He Reached Down His Hand For Me.
Perhaps the best cut is the fresh take on the Whitley/Cook song, the country sound of which seems to be perfectly designed for Hale’s voice. Hale’s country influenced guitar playing and smooth soulful singing style creates a balance between traditional sounds and contemporary attitudes.
Since their debut a decade ago, Wildfire’s music has always sat somewhere between time-honored bluegrass and country music, and this effort continues in the same vein. Marking their first decade in bluegrass, Crash Course in the Blues, released on Lonesome Day Records, proves that Wildfire still has plenty to offer.