J. D. Crowe is gone from the stage, but his music and his influence remain constant, both in terms of songs that remain in regular rotation on the bluegrass airwaves and of ex-band members who continue to make music shaped by their former boss.
Indeed, if bluegrass was a fantasy sport, you could draft several championship-caliber teams from among the future all-stars that passed through his bands over the years. Fortunately, we don’t need to fantasize how about how good it could be. We just have to give a listen to Foxhounds and Fiddles, the stellar Pinecastle Records project from Flashback.
Bluegrass veterans will remember Flashback as a fine 1994 recording by J.D. Crowe and the New South. Here it’s the name of the band that includes those who picked with Crowe on the earlier record – Richard Bennett, Don Rigsby, Phil Leadbetter and Curt Chapman, joined by Stuart Wyrick, who has the seemingly impossible task of playing the five-string in Crowe’s place.
From the opening lick of the title cut, written by Bennett and Rigsby, Wyrick makes it clear he’s up to the challenge, and the rest of the band shows they haven’t lost a step in 20-plus years. Like the earlier album that featured most of these guys, this one offers a refreshing mix of new material, much of it written or co-written by Bennett, and some work from past masters (Carter Stanley, Charlie and Ira Louvin).
The title cut is a toe-tapper from beginning to end, as are a few more among the 12 cuts here. Those songs are sure to please Crowe fans and bluegrass purists, both instrumentally and vocally. Whether it’s Bennett taking the lead or Rigsby, I could listen to these guys sing all day.
But it’s the reflective, wistful ballads on the CD that will keep it in regular rotation on my player. At the top of my subjective list is Two Rivers, written by Bennett and Shawn Lane, one of several songs in the bunch that center on loss and loneliness, but with hope that a reunion will come some day in heaven. The message here – “I’ll be waiting like the roses in the meadow, like two rivers, we will meet again” – hit home hard the other day, the one-year anniversary of the death of a special person in my life at a far too early age. But the note of optimism left me smiling through the tears.
Another favorite is Autumn’s Not that Cold, with a sublime and powerful solo vocal by Rigsby. In this one, the protagonist is defiant, standing up to the pain of someone who split the scene:
I’m almost feeling guilty
That the hurt’s not taking hold.
I guess I’m just not that lonesome,
And autumn’s not that cold.
Song after song, Leadbetter demonstrates why he’s one of the best resophonic guitar players in the business, but on the slower numbers, especially, he practically makes his instrument weep. But the rest of the pickers, joined by guests Ronnie Stewart and Tim Crouch on fiddles, are top-shelf, too. This is especially obvious on Welcome to New York, an instrumental written by Bill Emerson and Doyle Lawson, but it’s also evident on the breaks on nearly every song.
Flashback will make you nostalgic for the days when Crowe strapped on the five. But the band will also leave you eager to peer into the future to see what this talented posse of musicians will come up with next. Let’s hope it’s not another couple of decades!