Pressing play on the debut album from the Great Smoky Mountain Bluegrass Band is like taking a time machine to the 1950s. This four-piece group, based in the Tri-Cities region of East Tennessee, is writing and playing tunes straight out of the first generation of bluegrass music. With high harmonies, first-rate instrumentation, and a nice combination of traditional songs and band originals, the Great Smoky Mountain Bluegrass Band’s brand of “busthead bluegrass” is perfect for fans who have found themselves missing “the good old days.”
They kick off the album with two traditional tearjerkers: Cryin Heart Blues and Put My Little Shoes Away, both featuring lead vocals from Greg Fields. Also included is The Carter Family’s Are You Tired of Me?, which tells the story of a man who thinks his wife may regret the decision to marry him, and Over the Hill to the Poorhouse, modeled closely after the Flatt and Scruggs version.
Truelsen also contributes a couple of original tunes to the album, both featuring him on lead vocals as well. All That Remains is a somewhat bitter tune about a man whose true love has passed away, leaving him with “a stone with your name, empty nights, and these memories of you.” Also written by Truelsen is If Only My Heart Could Forget.
Anyone who has caught the band’s live show knows that they enjoy playing Gospel songs just as much as they do straight-ahead bluegrass. Several Gospel tracks are featured here, including two originals by banjo player Richard Hood. Hood, a former English professor, features interesting word play, including “There will be one congregation at the great transfiguration” in Every Knee Shall Bow. This tune also showcases the band’s harmony vocals. Another nice addition is the album’s closing track, a rousing version of the hymn Blood of the Lamb.
Band members Jeff Elkins (bass), Greg Fields (guitar), Richard Hood (banjo), and Kris Truelsen (mandolin) seem to keep time-honored traditional ways of performing music at the forefront of their creative style. Between George Shuffler-style guitar playing, Monroe-style mandolin, and the high lonesome sound of their group harmonies, this new self-titled album seems to fill the niche for fans of bluegrass music’s first generation.
There are a few audio samples online, and you can get a feel for their sound in this video performance of Bill Monroe’s Wicked Path Of Sin.
For more information on the Great Smoky Mountain Bluegrass Band, visit their website at www.smokybluegrass.com, where the album can be purchased.
Fans in East Tennessee can pick up a copy at The Down Home in Johnson City on Thursday evening (11/8) at 7:00 p.m., when the band hosts an official CD release party.