A favorite voice for many in the bluegrass world is Shawn Lane, whose instantly recognizable vocals have graced a multitude of top tracks from Blue Highway, as well as several hits under his own name. While lots of bluegrass male vocalists today find their singing influences in country music, Lane’s sound has always harkened back to his southwest Virginia upbringings, with shades of Ralph Stanley’s mountain tones mixed with a singer-songwriter sensibility. On his latest effort, a seven-song EP called Family & Friends, Lane effortlessly mixes those two styles, giving listeners a tight, concise record that will certainly leave them wanting more.
The EP title is certainly apt, with Lane’s supporting cast consisting of family harmonies (sons Garrett and Grayson Lane, brother Chad Lane), and several well-known friends as the studio band (Barry Bales on bass, Clay Hess contributing guitar on several tracks, banjo from Patton Wages, and Gaven Largent’s dobro). The songs, including six written or co-written by Lane, slip effortlessly from banjo-fueled traditional drive, to lonesome mountain Gospel, to softer folk sounds.
A few songs from the EP have already found much success on the radio and charts. Opening track I Met the Man spent over six months in the Bluegrass Today Gospel Top 10, with seven weeks of that at number one. It’s certainly a powerful number, based on the true story of Lane’s father’s recovery from a stroke and coma. Wages’ gritty banjo and urgent mandolin from Lane underscore the moving words of a man pulled back from death: “Thought I was gone, but He had another plan, I met the man.” This song pairs nicely with the a cappella, Stanley-esque I’ll Wear a White Robe. Sung in a call-and-response style, the clear, resonant vocals will grab listeners’ attention immediately.
The other radio hit, One More, has a gently rolling singer-songwriter vibe. Lane penned the song with Ronnie Bowman, and it shares an uplifting message of hope after struggles and pain. A solid bass backing from Bales accompanies Largent’s fine dobro work. American Factory Town, written with Bales, has a similar feel. Filled with images of a working-class town hit hard by shifts in the economy, it goes for optimism instead of blame and anger. “I’m proud to have the ones who stayed to tough it out, cause we’re all American-made. We won’t stay down, so don’t you underestimate what we’ll be,” Lane sings, personifying the town itself.
Rounding out the EP are a pair of modern traditional numbers and a thoughtful love song that calls to mind James Taylor. Free as the Wind has Richard Bennett as a co-writer, and it has a definite Bennett vibe to it, with a breezy sound that mimics the narrator’s journey across Texas. Wages’ banjo leads Footsteps Falling, which is probably the closest thing to a Blue Highway song here, with its full band sound and hints of desperation in Lane’s voice. New Days, written with Gerald Ellenburg, is a winding, poignant piece that finds the singer recovering from many hard years with the discovery of a new love.
With Family & Friends, Lane offers listeners plenty of hope and encouragement in a year when they’ve been difficult to find. The seven songs here are all well-written, with enough variety in their content and sounds that it keeps you hitting the rewind button to listen through once more. As with many EPs, the only complaint I have is that I wish there was more.
For more information on Shawn Lane, or to purchase his new EP, visit him online.