Family bands are nothing new in bluegrass music, although in recent years it seems the focus has been on siblings who have shown musical prowess at a young age, rather than on the entire family unit. West Virginia’s The Stevens Family takes a slightly more traditional approach to their band. The group, which recently released their first album for Mountain Fever Records (and third overall), entitled Down on the Farm, consists of J.W. and Nancy “Mamma” Stevens, and five of their ten children, ranging in age from teens to thirties: Laura “Sissy,” Ben, Luke, Sam, and Tommy.
Various members of the Stevens family have performed together singing Gospel music for several decades, but they didn’t officially make their debut as a touring bluegrass group until 2007. With Down on the Farm, they show off their musical skills quite well, offering listeners an enjoyable mixture of contemporary bluegrass and traditional Gospel music. The family pulls from a variety of well-known songwriters and songs on this twelve-track collection, and offers two original numbers.
The first original, written by upright bassist and vocalist Sissy, is the album’s opening number and title track. It’s a nice, cheerful example of a “home” song, reflecting on her family and growing up in the mountains of West Virginia. Sissy has an honest, clear voice, and it’s well-suited to this song. Sissy also takes the lead on Here Comes That Feeling Again, a Craig Market/Brandon Rickman song that Rickman recorded on his solo project a few years back. Here, it’s a fine slice of contemporary bluegrass, and Sissy’s vocals add to the lonesome feel of the song.
The second family original is a driving, banjo-guided number called She’s the One written by Luke, the family’s guitarist. It has a bit of a different feel than the rest of the album, with some fiery instrumental work and a modern traditional sound, largely due to lead vocals from mandolin player Ben. It shares the familiar story of a singer on the road hoping to get back home to the one he loves.
In a nod to the family’s roots in Gospel music and dad, J.W.’s, role as a pastor, the family includes several Gospel songs in the middle of the album. Mama Stevens sings lead on two of these, showing off a great old-timey Gospel vocal style. City of Gold is an upbeat, traditional number about the wonders awaiting Christians in heaven. Search the Book is a classic Gospel song which finds the singer dreaming of arriving at heaven’s gates and learning that good deeds aren’t what get us inside. Three of the Stevens brothers (Tommy, Luke, and Ben) provide some fine harmonies on the old Bluegrass Cardinals song Where Rainbows Touch Down, written by Randall Hylton, and is one of the best tracks here. The family’s version of Ron Block’s A Living Prayer is also quite enjoyable, though it has more of a Gospel style than Alison Krauss’ version does.
Though they’ve only recently began to tour outside their regional area, The Stevens Family are poised to gain notice with this release. J.W. (banjo), Sissy (bass), Ben (mandolin), Luke (guitar), and Sam (fiddle) are all skilled musicians, and all the family members contribute fine vocals. Fans of straightforward contemporary bluegrass and Gospel music will likely enjoy Down on the Farm.
For more information on The Stevens Family, visit their website at www.stevensfamilybluegrass.com. Their new album is available from a variety of music retailers.