One of the most underrated female vocalists in bluegrass music today, hands down, is Melody Williamson of Nashville-based family band Williamson Branch. She’s been around the bluegrass world for years, performing on stage with her parents as a kid, showcasing original songs at IBMA as a teenager, and performing with IBMA’s Kids on Bluegrass. However, neither she nor the other talented members of her family have had as much attention on the national level as they deserve. Their new album, Free, may change all that.
Her soaring, strong vocals are a highlight of the album, anchoring the title track and several others. Free is an upbeat justification of the rambling life, with the unique (in bluegrass, at least) twist of being sung from a female’s perspective. Written by Melody and dad Kevin, it’s catchy and ripe for a sing-along, with the repeated refrain, “I ain’t lost, I’m free.” Till I See You Again is another fast-paced vocal showcase. Penned by Kevin Welch, it’s a “coming home to you” type of love song, filled with excellent musicianship. Middle sister Kadence Williamson plays a ukulele bass, and it packs plenty of punch here, setting the rhythm behind fine banjo work.
Several of the songs here are family originals, including Goodnight Angeline, which Melody wrote after a performance at Sally Mountain Park in Missouri. Mom, Debbie, sings this one, with high harmonies from Melody and Kadence, reminding listeners that this band is just packed with great singers. Like Melody, Debbie has excellent control over her voice, which serves her well on this lovely song about family love.
Probably my favorite song on the album, however, is sung by Kevin. Old Man Hoback’s Farm tells the story of childhood memories ruined for modern progress, filled with specific details that bring a vivid picture to listeners’ eyes: “catching lightning bugs in mayonnaise jars, stole a kiss behind a Mail Pouch barn, jumped out the loft one time and broke my arm.” I bought this album based off of hearing just this one song on the radio, which is a testament to its well-written lyrics, Kevin’s clear, country-style vocals (with nice harmonies from Debbie and Melody), and the first-rate picking on the track. His style of singing comes in handy on album closer If God Doesn’t Bless America, with its country instrumentation (including piano) and production. This solemn patriotic number beseeches Americans to turn to God in their time of need.
In fact, there are several songs here that play with the definition of bluegrass. This Song’s For You is straight-up belted-out ’90s country, with the singer offering apologies for breaking someone’s heart. I’m Gonna Move is a bluesy shuffle sung by Kadence, who is no slouch in the vocal area, herself. Youngest sister Caroline takes the reins on a sassy-yet-endearing version of Hey Good Lookin’. While the album’s singles stick closely to the upbeat contemporary bluegrass lane, and these decidedly do not, these songs still seem to fit with the group’s stage act, which is high on entertainment value and incorporating the whole family.
Overall, the Williamsons have put together a thoroughly enjoyable album, with very strong instrumentation from both regular band members and guest musicians. Though some listeners – including me – will likely prefer the grassier songs on the album, there’s a little something for everyone here, and it’s all done well.
For more information on Williamson Branch, visit them online.