Album title aside, the highly acclaimed North Carolina combo dubbed Sideline take an unassuming stance with their latest effort, a set of songs that offers an ideal example of bluegrass at its best. It says something that this six piece ensemble — consisting of Steve Dilling (banjo), Jason Moore bass), Skip Cherryholmes (guitar), Troy Boone (mandolin), Bailey Coe (guitar), and Nathan Aldridge (fiddle) — opted to cover such memorable music, even at the expense of any original offerings of their own. Indeed, the skill and conviction with which they render this material succeeds in making it their own. It’s obvious from the outset that their tender sentiments are delivered with authenticity and clear conviction throughout.
That impression immediately becomes evident with Frozen in Time, a longing look back at a gentler era when life never had to be more complicated than simply a walk through the garden, or a glimpse of the world from the vantage point of a front porch swing. That view is reinforced with the track that follows, Old Time Way, an unabashedly upbeat celebration of music-making with only purity and passion as the sole purpose.
In fact, nostalgia is an overriding theme throughout much of Front and Center, an ideal that binds these ballads and uptempo romps within a single, steadfast mindset. Several of the songs deal in romance — Gordon Lightfoot’s heartfelt Song for a Winter’s Night, the sprightly Bluefield WV Mtn. Girl” and the deliriously delightful Memories That We Shared, chief among them.
Likewise, faith flourishes as well, evidenced by the demonstrative approach accorded I Long to See His Face and Satan’s Chains, each of which finds the sextet sharing their reverence and devotion with equally upbeat enthusiasm. So too, their rousing version of the traditional standard, Cotton Eyed Joe, sums up that skillset succinctly.
When they first formed more than 20 years ago, Sideline was, as the name implies, a spin-off project that wasn’t intended to be a full time endeavor. Yet with Front and Center the group’s managed to make their most memorable effort yet, one which fully expresses an ability to create a sound infused with both confidence and clarity. After Front and Center, there will never be reason for ever looking back.