For The Record – Joe Mullins delivers, again

I’d like to say right up front that For The Record, the new CD from Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, is the band’s most eclectic, and one of the best, of the eight they’ve released so far.

There’s something for everyone here, from sacred to secular, serious to silly. There’s no better example of what I’m talking about than the last three numbers in this stout 12-song collection that marks Joe’s debut on Billy Blue Records: Bacon in My Beans, I Want to Know More About My Lord, and Georgia Slammer.

It’s not just the content, though. There are a variety of tempos and vocal arrangements, too. I’m especially happy that there’s not just one or two burners on the CD. Vocally, the band is at it’s best when singing old-time Gospel as a quartet, but the other vocal permutations are nearly as strong, with each lead vocalist capable of singing the entire record.

My favorites include the previously mentioned Bacon in My Beans, That Old Wheel, which kicks off the CD, and Things That I Like.

Bacon, by Mark BonDurant, Terry Jacobs and Jerry Salley, is just plain fun. In every relationship, there are some things that just aren’t negotiable. In this song, one of those things is whether bacon can be omitted from the beanpot. It can be, obviously – I’m simmering a pot of beans as I write this, minus the bacon only because I’ve been on the road and there’s none in the house – but the end result won’t be nearly as tasty.

That Old Wheel, in addition to being a fast-paced toe-tapper, represents one of those intangibles that helps Joe Mullins rise above the crowd – the ability to find old songs and rearrange them in a compelling style. He heard this one from Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Jr., grassed it up nicely, but kept it true to its country roots with some tasteful percussion.

(Side note: Yes, drums. I’ve come to accept them as a new normal. In fact, I’m pledging NOT to mentions drums anymore in the context of a review unless there’s a need to – for instance, if they detract from the song. They don’t here. There’s no longer a need to point out the mere presence of drums, just as I don’t point out the presence of, say, mandolin or resophonic guitar. It’s time to move on.)

My third favorite is Things That I Like, written by Tom E. Holt, and recorded years ago by The Boys From Indiana. The things that I like about this song are that it races, wraps up in 2:48, includes a Mullins banjo break that, as usual, stays close to the melody, and comes with a cool story attached. This time, the story is that Joe’s father, Paul “Moon” Mullins, played with the Boys on their records and on some of their tours.

Another fast one that resonated with me was O-Hio, written a while back by Tom Ewing. The lyrics state, “there’s nowhere that can compare with Ohio.” This Pennsylvania native might argue with that statement, but there’s no arguing that this a fun, fast foot-tapper.

The first single, The Guitar Song, is not among my favorites. It’s a bit too hokey. But if Del McCurry sang on my record, I’d probably make the song he was on my first single, too. It’s a remake of a Bill Anderson, Jamey Johnson, Vicky McGenee country song into a bluegrass take on a conversation between a guitar (voiced by Del) and a banjo (Joe).

The song is fun for another reason, aside from featuring what the lyrics call “the best hair in the business.” Listen and pick out the names of pickers and titles that the song pays homage to. Then listen to some of the other choices on For The Record and try to find other hat tips. Here are a couple: Road to Columbus and Nine-Pound Hammer, both of which appear in lines from other songs. I’m sure there are others. Happy hunting.

And happy listening, too. A new record from Joe Mullins is always a treat. This one is no exception. He and the band are at the top of their game.

For the record, this one is very, very good.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.