Detour really shook up the bluegrass world in 2012 with the release of A Better Place, the Michigan band’s third album. It was remarkable for the introduction of a new voice and sound in the person of Missy Armstrong, the group’s then new lead vocalist.
With a clarity and freshness that seemed to have come out from under a rock, Missy and the Detour boys found several songs from A Better Place sticking around on our Bluegrass Today Monthly Airplay Chart, signed with a agency to represent them, and began touring nationally in short order.
The band had already set itself apart for the quality of their songwriting, primarily from founder and mandolinist Jeff Rose, and the instrumental prowess of Scott Zylstra on guitar and Peter Knupfer on fiddle. But it was Missy’s entrance that sewed it all up and turned them into radio favorites.
Armstrong tells us it that it all seemed kind of magical to her. It was the first time she had recorded on an album, though the rest of the guys had been doing so for thirty years or so.
“When the album initially hit the charts, we were all pleased, but when it stayed there, I was dumbfounded.
I was pretty new to bluegrass. Maybe ten years ago I had wanted to learn to play guitar, and found a place near me that had jams and lessons, so I went up there to take lessons. It was run by a family bluegrass band, who started bringing me out to sing with them. Before long, I formed my own band, and played with them for about two years, mostly regionally.”
But with three young sons at home, it soon became too much for her to run a band, so she let it go. Missy had developed friendships with Jeff Rose and Detour during this time, and said that since she and Jeff had both grown up singing in church, whenever they got together it turned into a Gospel jam.
And they knew a good thing when they heard it, and soon she was invited to join the band.
After a critical success like A Better Place, bluegrass folks have been waiting to see what Detour would turn out as a followup. Last month’s release of Going Nowhere Fast has made it clear that this group is going nowhere but up.
The songwriting is stellar, with all but three of the thirteen titles being written by Jeff and/or Missy. The covers include a strong reading of Traveling The Highway Home, a lovely a cappella rendition of America The Beautiful, and a powerful reworking of I Can See Clearly Now, a 1972 pop hit for Johnny Nash.
Their first single from the new record, Too Blue To Have The Blues, co-written by Rose and our own Terry Herd, has received some notice from bluegrass radio and spent some time on our chart, but it’s only one of several songs likely to make a mark on the airwaves.
For a band known for mostly positive and uplifting messages, Rose’s Juliet was something of a shock. It’s a new song in the classic murder ballad tradition, with a bit of a twist. While sounding throughout like something written in the 19th century, the ending may catch you by surprise. Armstrong delivers it with power and conviction, selling the somber story with just the right touch.
Juliet is followed by Ain’t Gonna Wait, perhaps the record’s strongest cut. It’s a vocal tour-de-force for Missy on a new, old-time Gospel number that demands to be belted out. She complies with style, starting out softly and building to a key change crescendo.
Armstrong said that she and Rose wrote that one driving back to Michigan after World of Bluegrass in Nashville.
“I was driving and Jeff mentioned that he had long wanted to write a song with the words ‘ain’t gonna wait’ in it. We set to it and and wrote the chorus and first verse on the way home.”
There is some mighty strong picking here to complement the vocals. Rose contributes a pair of instrumentals: Three, Two, One, a rip-roaring mandolin number that gives all the guys a chance to shine, and $100, delivered on guitar by Scott Zylstra.
It bears mentioning that Detour has two new members in the rhythm section these days. Lloyd Douglas has taken over the banjo spot, as has Jeremy Darrow on bass. To my ear, the band has a tighter sound on this album, surely due in part to these additions.
According to Missy, it was the band’s busy year in 2013 that forced them to find replacements for long time members Jack Grant and Kevin Gaugier.
“Last summer was really busy for us, which came unexpectedly. We signed with Jim Roe, who did exactly what he was supposed to do – book us a lot of gigs. We’re in an awkward place since we all still work full time jobs. We play enough to put a strain on home and work, but not enough to depend on it for a living.
Kevin is a court reporter, and when court is in session, he has to be there. When the touring became difficult, both he and Jack said that they didn’t want to hold us back, and stepped down.”
Another strong song is I’m Not Home Yet, one Armstrong wrote with Rose and Stephen Mougin. It’s a mid-tempo ballad with understated accompaniment telling of the long journey of life, and its ultimate goal. As with the rest of the album, the harmony vocals are noteworthy, making for a memorable track.
I suspect that I Can See Clearly Now will be a fan favorite. It’s a familiar, fun melody and it suits Missy’s style perfectly. Train, Train serves as the album’s obligatory ‘train song.’ Rose’s song asks the locomotive to please keep on going and not to let his baby ride.
Going Nowhere Fast concludes with the aforementioned America The Beautiful, which Missy says the band often does to finish up their live sets, usually followed up by an instrumental. It hadn’t even been intended for inclusion here, but the many fan requests convinced them to add it at the last minute.
There’s lots of fine picking and singing here. Check it out.