Well, folks, The Del McCoury and has done it again. Honestly though, would we expect anything different? The Streets Of Baltimore, the band’s first all-bluegrass release of original material since 2009’s Family Circle, reminds us why we love Del & The Boys so well. Potent songs and powerful picking, matched with Del’s other-worldly voice, are a winning combo every time.
The album opens with Blues Rollin’ In which could easily serve as a sequel to the McCoury classic I Feel The Blues Movin’ In. This one is, without a doubt, destined to be a modern day classic and a jam session favorite.
Verlon Thompson’s I Need More Time makes a great example of why Del is as relevant with the modern generation of grassers as he is with those who saw him perform with Monroe. This reflective song demands attention. The arrangement is completely original, Del’s vocal work is nothing short of haunting, and both Alan Bartram’s bass work and Del’s guitar playing really make themselves felt.
Butler Brothers will quickly find its place in bluegrass’ illustrious catalog of Civil War story songs. Although the title references the Butler brothers, the heart of the song is really about the Butler mother.
With one hand on the Bible and both knees on the floor
She begs and pleads with heaven to end this bloody war
Surely God’s heart breaks in two when He hears her pray,
“Stop the guns that called my sons away.”
This brother-against-brother song has a tragic ending which was all too real during this dark time for our country.
A gorgeous waltz, I Wanna Go Where You Go may be the most beautiful song on the album. Jason Carter’s soothing fiddle really shines, but Del’s voice is the clear star. This is one of Del’s most captivating vocal performances to date, and I don’t say that lightly. McCoury demonstrates just how poignant his voice can be. In addition to his sky-high range, the tenderness and restraint are what really stand out on this track, offering proof of he is mastery of his craft.
Nothing says misery like a broken heart during a thunderstorm, and nothing makes misery fun to listen to like bluegrass. Del & The Boys sing their hearts out, and Ronnie McCoury’s creative mandolin picking on this track is one of the coolest things on the album. Who else but Ronnie would think of making his mandolin mimic falling rain? Big Blue Raindrops is a whole lot of bluegrass.
The Streets Of Baltimore includes a handful of country songs with a bluegrass makeover, including the title track. Originally a big hit for Bobby Bare, The Streets Of Baltimore is a “tip of the hat” to the Baltimore honky-tonks where Del cut his teeth on performing during the mid-fifties.
Misty, believe it or not, was a mega-hit for country funny man Ray Stevens in 1975, bringing the jazz standard from those same 1950s to a wide audience. As it was on the Steven’s cut, the banjo is front and center, although Rob McCoury plays with much more purpose than on the country version. Rob’s banjo is the driving force behind this classic tune, and he really plays with some punch! It amazes me that he is yet to receive a Banjo Player of the Year award from IBMA… but I digress.
Traditionalists may scowl at the old school piano on Del’s version of the Jerry Lee Lewis hit Once More With Feeling. I say, “Tough!” Granted, I may be a little biased because I’m such a huge fan of “The Killer,” but so are the McCoury’s. The honky-tonk piano conjures images of lonely people in smoke-filled bar rooms, which only adds to the mood. After hearing this one, it’s no wonder The Del McCoury Band was asked to perform in honor of Jerry Lee at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years back. You can tell Del is having an absolute blast revisiting this old tune.
It seems as if every cut on this record will be a new favorite. The tongue-in-cheek, Amnesia, a high-octane version of Only You, and the Del-penned Gospel number, Free Salvation, are some of my other favorites on the album.
The Del McCoury Band has delivered another classic album with The Streets Of Baltimore, and we can’t be surprised — it’s just Del & The Boyd doing what they do.