There’s no denying that almost every bluegrass musician recording and performing today has been influenced by the artists who came before them, particularly “founding fathers” like Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, and the Stanleys. Most musicians choose to honor those artists in some way, whether that is performing their songs, imitating their instrumental style, or even writing songs about them. Mark Whitt, a singer and songwriter based in Xenia, Ohio, has recently released Fly Me Home, an album which reflects his respect for those who came before him.
Although Whitt grew up playing mandolin and listening to his father and uncles play and sing bluegrass, this is his first album. He takes care of lead vocals on the album’s eight tracks, showing off an earnest voice and a clear knowledge of the traditional style. Whitt is backed by skilled instrumentalist Clay Hess, who also produced the album. In addition to his usual role as a guitarist, Hess also plays bass, banjo, and mandolin here.
While the majority of the album’s tracks are covers of bluegrass classics, the title track, an original from Whitt, kicks things off. Whitt wrote this Gospel number, which speaks of the joy of going to heaven, shortly before his father passed away. The song has a nice, easy-going feel, and has hints of Flatt and Scruggs’ Gospel style.
There are a couple of Flatt and Scruggs numbers here, too. Before I Met You seems to be a bit slower than the original, which actually makes it a little more heartfelt. Some Old Day leans a little closer to the J.D. Crowe and the New South version from the 1970s. Whitt’s vocals here match the weariness of the song well, and Hess’ wife Samantha offers a fine lead on the chorus.
The Stanley Brothers are well represented here, as well. Stone Walls and Steel Bars is enjoyable, and Hess provides nice instrumentation, particularly on banjo. Carter’s I Love No One But You is lonesome, as it should be, and I Only Exist has just the right touch of grief.
Rounding out the album are a straightforward version of In the Pines and Joe Isaacs’ Gospel favorite I Pressed Through the Crowd. The latter’s simple, honest arrangement makes it one of the best songs here. Fans of John Bowman’s version should appreciate it.
While Fly Me Home is a bit short, coming in at only eight tracks, Whitt has plans for a follow-up to be released this winter, which will include at least three more of his originals and more classic favorites. He’s done a commendable job on this debut, and those he honors (including his father), would surely be proud.