Numerous country musicians have made the short leap to bluegrass in recent years, perhaps most notably Marty Raybon and Joe Diffie. These artists had already established careers as vocalists, and simply adjusted their sound for a new audience.
Now, another country musician has released a bluegrass project, but in a slightly different manner. Zac Brown Band member John Driskell Hopkins has stepped out of his usual sideman roles as bass player, songwriter, and producer to collaborate with award-winning bluegrass group Balsam Range on Daylight, a unique album filled with bluegrass, country, southern rock, and roots music.
A veteran of the Atlanta rock music scene, Hopkins shows his musical background on several of the album’s tracks. The opening song, Runaway Train, is a southern rock-influenced tune with a nice groove and bluesy dobro work from Jerry Douglas. The Devil Lives in a Mason Jar has an almost tortured sound, reflecting the lyrics’ story of the evils of alcohol. On these and a few other songs, Hopkins’ vocals are raspy, the lyrics sung in almost a growl, bringing to mind songs from The Steeldrivers.
Hopkins does a 180 on several other tracks, offering smooth vocals, an acoustic country sound, and lyrics turning to thoughts of love. How Could I? is a tender love song featuring guest vocals and fiddle from singer-songwriter Levi Lowrey, in which the singer offers assurances that he could never do anything to hurt the one he loves. Bye Baby Goodbye, a sweet duet with country singer Joey Martin of Joey + Rory, shares a story that many musicians will be familiar with – that of struggling to leave behind loved ones to go out on the road. Be My Girl features the feelings of a man falling in love and realizing that he can’t live without that one certain woman.
Contemporary bluegrass fans will enjoy I Will Lay Me Down, a cheerful-sounding tune featuring Hopkins’ band-mate Zac Brown, and the humorous She Don’t Love Me Today, in which the singer relates a series of missteps in his relationship with his wife. The Grass Don’t Get No Greener combines elements of a smooth, western swing tune with uptempo, banjo-fueled bluegrass, while Shady Bald Breakdown, an instrumental composed by Hopkins and the members of Balsam Range, allows the group to show off their bluegrass talent.
Hopkins has written or cowritten all of the songs on this album, creating a well-rounded collection of original tunes which cover a wide spectrum of acoustic music. In addition to lead vocals, Hopkins also plays guitar on the album, joining Balsam Range members Buddy Melton (fiddle), Darren Nicholson (mandolin), Marc Pruett (banjo), Caleb Smith (guitar), and Tim Surrett (bass and dobro).
Balsam Range serves as much more than just a studio backing band for this project. Their skills and experience in contemporary bluegrass and acoustic music are showcased throughout the record, allowing them to help direct the sound of the album. Fans of both Balsam Range and the Zac Brown Band, as well as those who enjoy southern roots music, are sure to enjoy this project, which is available today (January 22).
For more information on this album, visit www.johndriskellhopkins.com.
Daylight is available from the website or from a variety of online music retailers.