Since their beginnings a decade ago, upstate South Carolina’s New River Bluegrass has focused on bluegrass Gospel music, even hitting number one on the Singing News bluegrass chart in 2013 with When I Look Back Down the Road from their Pisgah Ridge-released album Heart on the Run. Their most recent record, the self-released Different Shade of Blue, still features mostly spiritual songs, although a few numbers branch out into more straightforward contemporary bluegrass.
It’s obvious that the band has a background in Gospel music; their music is uplifting and cheerful even when not speaking of religious topics, and mandolin player Mike Mullins contributes a nice Gospel-style bass vocal to many of the songs here. Although all the songs are enjoyable, the Gospel tracks are the strongest. Opening number I’m Listening for the Call, written and originally performed by southern Gospel singer-songwriter Mark Bishop, is one of the album’s standouts. It has a fresh, bright sound and the band’s harmonies are excellent. Chuck Price’s fiddling and Andy Smith’s lead guitar work well together here.
Tim Stafford’s Be Jesus to Someone Today has an uplifting message, encouraging listeners to serve others and glorify the Lord in everything they do. He Arose comes from Blue Moon Rising’s Chris West, and was first featured on that band’s 2005 album On the Rise. It’s a well-written song telling the story of Jesus’s life and resurrection, performed a bit faster here than on the original, with nice instrumental backing. God of Isaac & Abraham, written by banjo and dobro player Barry Long, has a more traditional sound than most of the rest of the album and is another fine showcase of the band members’ tight harmonies.
Several of the non-religious songs will be familiar to many bluegrass and country fans. There’s a grassed up version of Alabama’s High Cotton, with bouncy banjo and earnest vocals, and a toe-tapping instrumental Cluck Old Hen. Anywhere is Home Again was previously recorded by Volume Five, and the version here is fairly similar to their cut, although perhaps a bit faster.
On Different Shade of Blue, New River Bluegrass shows off their nicely honed bluegrass Gospel sound while venturing into somewhat new territory with secular material. Their strong harmonies are the best part of the album, although they are also talented musicians. Long, Price, Mullins, Smith, Michael Johnson (guitar), and Dwayne Brown (bass) are enjoyable to listen to, and fans of contemporary bluegrass Gospel (and contemporary bluegrass, in general) should like their latest effort.
For more information on New River Bluegrass, visit their website, www.newriverbluegrass.net. Their new album can be purchased from several online music retailers.