In the past several years, Sideline has jumped from being a literal side project for some bluegrass A-listers to a fully-fledged band working its way to the top of the bluegrass world. With a few of those original “sidemen” on board, as well as the addition of several younger faces, Sideline has continued to up their game with the release of their new Mountain Home album, Front and Center.
Opening track Thunder Dan has captivated radio audiences with its catchy chorus and bluesy, mash-style grass. Penned by Josh Manning, it’s a take on the familiar “mountain man” story, featuring a title character with an itchy trigger finger and strong vocals from Troy Boone. The song hit number one last month and was back at the top spot on the Bluegrass Today chart this past week. Lysander Hayes is another rough character, keeping his mama up worrying and praying while he picks and drinks and runs around. Skip Cherryholmes pulls out the clawhammer banjo for this song, which along with Nathan Aldridge’s fiddle, makes for a nice old-time-with-drive vibe.
On the softer, more country side of things is Brink Brinkman’s Frozen in Time, a nice reflective number about memories of home. Vivid images of an abandoned homeplace contrast well with the list of recollections in the chorus. Gordon Lightfoot’s Song for a Winter’s Night has (appropriately) a Tony Rice feel; Rice recorded it on his 1986 album Me & My Guitar. It’s a peaceful, melodic tune, with stripped back instrumentation that focuses mainly on guitar and mandolin.
Bluefield WV Mountain Girl is a cheerful traditional romp about the ever-present girl waiting back at home. Bailey Coe offers warm, enjoyable vocals here. He also knocks it out of the park on Dudley Connell’s Memories That We Shared. Sideline has given it a more laid-back, bluesy groove than the Johnson Mountain Boys’ original, making it a highlight of the album. A pair of Gospel songs are also enjoyable. I Long to See His Face from Rick Lang has a straightforward, mid-tempo modern traditional sound and excellent four-part harmony on the choruses. Satan’s Chains is a bit darker with a bit more drive, but maintains the strong harmonies.
The band kicks it into drive on Elmer Burchett, Jr.’s Old Time Way, a song that begs to have a whole room of people up clogging to it. Good driving banjo from Steve Dilling and a pushing, pulsing rhythm held down by Jason Moore’s bass make it a toe-tapper, for sure. The closing tune is where things really let loose, however, with a fiery rendition of Cotton Eyed Joe led by blistering fiddle from Aldridge and some extremely hot banjo from Dilling. Boone on mandolin and Cherryholmes on guitar throw in some nice spirited licks, as well. It’s a fun album closer, and likely a good show-ender, as well.
Sideline has been through several line-up changes over the course of four albums, but one thing that’s always stayed consistent is an embrace of strong, driving bluegrass. Over their past two albums, they’ve thrown a few softer, more melodic songs into the mix, which have served well to give the group a more well-rounded sound. Front and Center is a great album from one of the top groups in bluegrass today: excellent singing, strong singing, and a good song selection. Check it out.
For more information on Sideline, visit them online at www.sidelinebg.com.