Tom Feller was born and raised in Milan, southern Indiana, and Chris Hill was born in Covington, Kentucky. There was just the Ohio River between them, and a great closeness extends to their music as well.
Feller was born into a musical family; his uncles on his mother’s side are the Holt brothers of the Boys from Indiana fame. He has worked the rounds with Jerry Williamson and his band Redwing, the Larry Stephenson Band, Rhonda Vincent and the Rage and with Nashville songwriter Kim Fox in the group 3 Fox Drive.
Banjo-player Hill began with the Wildwood Valley Boys, then played with the talented Gerald Evans and Paradise, enjoyed two short stints with the James King Band, and then had a spell with The Karl Shiflett and Big Country Show.
The duo met up when they joined forces to help the Wildwood Valley Boys, Feller filling in by playing mandolin or bass, while Hill served as sound engineer.
Together their voices blended instantly and instinctively. They developed a talent for swapping their lead and harmony lines a la Glaser Brothers, a top country music trio whose greatest success came between 1960 and 1975.
Calling their band the Bluegrass Buckaroos signals yet more classic country music leanings, emphasised by the Buck Owens/Don Rich style harmonies.
So, it’s given that the voices of Feller and Hill are their forte and that is confirmed listening to this self-titled debut album for Blue Circle Records (BCR-035).
The CD begins with two Delmore Brothers’ songs Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar and Southern Moon and the journey through country music’s history continues with a delightful and refreshing version of Together Again with neat Dobro and mandolin interplay, then lush fiddles before they skip to Wasted Words tying together Don Gibson, Ray Price and the Johnson Mountain Boys.
There are a two Gospel songs; Joyce and Colbert Croft’s Is it Footsteps that I Hear? that features prominently guest bass vocalist Cody Jones, and My Lord Keeps a Record with some wonderful intricate arrangement culminating with ascending harmony lines.
Deft fiddle breaks enhance a great Mark Brinkman song The Old Kentucky Man – a vocal and instrumental tour de force – while What Will You Bid For My Old John Deere?, written by Judith Feller (Tom’s mother), is a telling summary of agrarian economics in recessionary times, such as we are experiencing currently.
A Blue Circle Records’ album wouldn’t be complete without a song penned by Tom T. and Dixie Hall. In this instance Big Blue Roses – the first single from the album – given a treatment that is redolent of Ray Price at his two-stepping best.
This is followed by the rollicking I Get the Blues When It Rains with dobro interludes to emphasise the bluesy element. Equally blues-ridden but taken at a more sedate tempo is the mournful Lost Love. That is the first of three from the pen of Tom Holt. Another song taken in waltz time is Will Heaven Be like Kentucky? beautifully-adorned with swinging fiddles and crisp banjo and dobro breaks.
Bringing the album to a close is the nostalgic Those Old Things (Holt/Feller). This song has vocal overtones reminiscent of Lefty Frizzell.
The stellar vocals are matched with great instrumental work from Brian Blaylock (lead guitar and dobro); Steve Thomas and Michael Cleveland (both on fiddle); and Glenn Gibson (dobro). Feller plays acoustic and pedal-steel guitar; mandolin and upright bass, always right on top of the beat; and Hill plays some masterful banjo, with tasteful backup and during breaks.
There really isn’t any qualification needed, anybody who appreciates very good bluegrass music, which is what this CD presents, will find a great deal to enjoy here.