With two IBMA Guitar Player of the Year trophies to his name, a passel of solo recordings, and a career spanning several decades, it would be hard for anyone to deny Jim Hurst’s expertise on the guitar. His latest solo effort on Pinecastle Records, From the Ground Up, however, is not just a showcase for his guitar skills, but is truly a well-rounded album that features excellent lyrics, Hurst’s smooth, instantly-recognizable lead vocals, and backup from a who’s who of pickers and singers.
Two early singles were released from the album, both of which found favor on bluegrass radio. Back to the One, an original that Hurst co-wrote with Jack Shannon, is a nice, straightforward bluegrass waltz that finds the singer trying to convince his wife to return home, “back to the one who loved you before you walked out the door.” Jason Carter’s fiddle shines throughout the song, matching well with Scott Vestal’s banjo. The lyrics of Weary Old Highway will strike a chord with other musicians, as they share both the struggles and joys of a musician on the road. It’s a well-written song from Keith Little, with an acoustic country feel thanks to Hurst’s guitar and gently rolling banjo from Kristin Scott Benson. Strong harmony vocals from Darin and Brooke Aldridge help add a bright, full sound on the chorus.
The Aldridges lend harmonies on several other songs throughout the album, with Brooke’s high baritone an especially fine match for Hurst’s lead. One of the best is Sunnyside Garden, another from Jack Shannon’s pen, a touching number about an old farmer spending his twilight years in a retirement home. The lyrics on this one are just top-notch, with vivid descriptions and a story that might just bring a (happy) tear to your eye. Also well-written is Nothin’ to do But Pray, penned by John Cadley, which dispenses some handy wisdom: whether it’s fighting with your wife or despairing at the shape the government’s in, sometimes the only thing to do is to quit worrying and just pray.
While most of the songs here are recorded with a full band, several others are more stripped back to achieve a sparser sound. Hurst is joined by Don Rigsby to take on the Delmore Brothers’ 15 Miles to Birmingham. With just guitar and mandolin, and fine brother duet-style vocals, it’s definitely an enjoyable listen. Rigsby is one of the best tenor singers out there, and he and Hurst are both in fine voice here. Train of Trouble, on the other hand, is a neat bluesy number that lets Hurst have a little fun with his guitar, and has a chugging rhythm helped along by Shawn Lane’s mandolin and Larry Hurst on bass.
I’ve been a Jim Hurst fan for a long time, both admiring his guitar abilities and enjoying his vocals. I once sat and watched him do a solo show in a hallway late at night during IBMA’s World of Bluegrass and enjoyed it just as much as (if not more than) the many main stage concerts going on outside. If you’re already a Jim Hurst fan, like I am, you will surely enjoy this album. However, if you’ve never really listened to Hurst’s music, or might have passed on this record thinking it would be mostly a guitar album, give it a chance. The songs have some of the most thoughtful lyrics of any album I’ve listened to this year, and it’s a great recording featuring some excellent musicians.
For more information on Jim Hurst, visit him online. His new album can be purchased from several online retailers.