If you get a good look at Darrell Webb, he doesn’t appear to be old enough to have spent 20 years working professionally in bluegrass. In fact, he won’t turn 40 until later this month, and got his start touring with Lonesome River Band back in 1994 when he was 19 years old.
It was a tricky time for LRB, as Dan Tyminski had just made his final exit to work for Alison Krauss, and Sammy Shelor had recently returned from a stab at playing guitar with a touring country band. Webb’s strong tenor voice and powerful mandolin playing helped solidify the band sound, and helped launch that next iteration of the band.
From there Darrell performed on mandolin with J.D. Crowe & the New South, then served as a founding member of Wildfire with Phil Leadbetter, Barry Abernathy, Robert Hale and Curt Chapman. He helped form Mashville Brigade, which was primarily a Nashville act, and then played guitar and sang with Rhonda Vincent & the Rage. After leaving Rhonda, he worked with Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper before launching his own group in 2009.
Throughout this time Webb was a first call sub, filling in on a variety of instruments with bands like Blue Highway, Mountain Heart, The Grascals, Larry Sparks, Pine Mountain Railroad, and Dailey & Vincent. He also recorded on a pair of Dolly Parton albums and did some shows with Dierks Bentley.
With the release of Dream Big, his new album for Mountain Fever Records, Darrell has reunited with many of the bands and artists with whom he has worked over the past two decades, creating a strong pitch for him being listed among the most versatile artists in bluegrass. He sings, plays mandolin, guitar and banjo, and has chosen a strong selection of material to highlight his many skills.
For the opening track, Josh Miller’s Ferry Man, Webb all but assembles Blue Highway in the studio. Darrell plays mandolin and sings lead, with Shawn Lane on harmony vocal, Tim Stafford on guitar, Rob Ickes on reso-guitar, and Jason Burleson on banjo. Jason Moore is in to play bass, and producer Jim VanCleve is on fiddle.
It’s like that throughout all 10 songs. Ronnie Bowman shares the lead on So Far, an Eli Johnson original with a strong late ’90s LRB vibe. Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent provide harmony vocals on Folks Like Us, accompanied by the members of The Darrell Webb Band.
Flying South To Dixie finds Terry Eldridge and Jamie Johnson from The Grascals on hand for lead and harmony vocals, with Sammy Shelor on banjo. It’s one that utilizes the classic 6-2-5-1 chord progression so recognizable on songs like Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down.
>Darrell’s duet with Rhonda Vincent, More Love, had been released as a single late last year, and may be familiar to some of you from radio play. A lovely ballad by Rory Bourke and Mike Reid, this song will tug at your heart, especially for folks looking at the end of their days, and all those who love them.
Other standouts include Webb’s soulful version of Skip Ewing’s Devil’s Rope, a remembrance from a man condemned to death as he prepares to meet his fate, and Pretty Polly which features Darrell on banjo. There are some old chestnuts that I’m always ready to hear again, and this is one of ’em. Darrell and his band air this one out pretty good.
The album concludes with a rip-roarin’ version of Hummingbird, previously recorded by both Ricky Skaggs and its authors, Tim Dubois and Greg Jennings in Restless Heart. Listen fast… it goes by quick!
Other musicians making contributions here include Aaron Ramsey on mandolin and banjo, and members of Darrell’s band: Jeremy Arrowood on bass, Brandon Green and Chris Wade on banjo, Jared Hensley on guitar, and Jake Joines on reso.
Darrell Webb spent a lot of time putting Dream Big together, and the care he’s taken shows through in every track. Thirty nine is a bit young to be making a lifetime statement, so let’s presume there is much more to come from this talented artist.