Since its founding in 1982 by Jack Tottle, the Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Program at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) has helped to further the careers of many of today’s prominent bluegrass and country musicians, including Adam Steffey, Barry Bales, and Tim Stafford. Haley Stiltner, whose first solo project Good Friends, Good Times was released June 29, is part of the most recent group of talented musicians to emerge from this program.
Haley, who first became interested in the banjo at age nine, displays her excellent musical skills, both instrumentally and vocally, throughout the album. Having toured with Rhonda Vincent’s daughters in The Next Best Thing for the past two years, her new project was released on the Upper Management Music label. Artists like Adam Steffey and Hunter Berry, along with many other up-and-coming musicians, join Haley on this twelve-song compilation.
While Haley’s treatment of well-known bluegrass tunes like Redwood Hill and Love for an Angel are good interpretations of earlier recordings, it is the originality on this record which makes it stand out. The tracks on Good Friends, Good Times range from pop and country covers given a bluegrass treatment (like The Eagles’ Take it to the Limit) to sacred songs like When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.
Also included are several originals by other students in the Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Program: senior Emily Willis both wrote and sang the beautiful gospel piece Perfect Love, while Colby Laney contributed Sam’s Gap and Dark and Shady. Steffey’s count off, followed by a syncopated instrumental intro, leads into the polished, country-flared vocal of Brent Burke, all of which make Dark and Shady, a mid-tempo piece concerning failed romance, one of the best pieces within this set of music. Recorded at 160 BPM, Laney’s tune Sam’s Gap is a particularly complicated instrumental piece named after a local landmark between Johnson City, TN and Asheville, NC.
Haley’s version of Take it to The Limit, which was originally released on the Eagles’s fourth album in 1975, is a superb arrangement. The twin fiddle treatment by Hunter Berry, coupled with an affectionate lead vocal sung by his wife Sally, makes this tune instantly sound like a bluegrass standard. A contemporary adaptation of the Country Gentleman tune Redwood Hill is also included as the closing track of the album. Haley’s modern rendition of this classic piece, with lead vocals provided by David Grindstaff, maintains its original integrity but adds a more current tempo and phrasing.
Within the last year, Haley has performed on the Grand Ole Opry with multi-award winning performers Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, filling in for Aaron McDaris. At the young age of 23, there is no doubt that Haley, who is a graduate student at ETSU and works as a banjo instructor and graduate assistant in the Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Program, is just getting started on her musical pathway. Good Friends, Good Times definitely showcases her enormous talent.
For more information regarding this new release, visit Haley online.