With their past two releases, as well as their appearances on such TV shows as Country’s Family Reunion and Song of the Mountains, The Roys have become known for their light, often uplifting, country-style bluegrass. With their new album, Gypsy Runaway Train, they look to head closer to the traditional side of bluegrass, sampling numbers previously recorded by such acts as Blue Highway, Adam Steffey, and the father of it all, Bill Monroe.
The album is split almost evenly between originals and covers, with Lee and Elaine Roy writing or co-writing six of the thirteen tracks. These originals are similar to their last effort, New Day Dawning, in that the majority offer a positive outlook on life and are rendered in a smooth contemporary bluegrass style. For this half of the album, the two are joined by a top-notch band, including Andy Leftwich (fiddle and mandolin), Mark Fain (bass), Cody Kilby (guitar), Justin Moses (banjo), and Randy Kohrs (dobro).
Workin’ On It is written in the style of many popular country songs today, sharing the story of a man who knows he’s a little rough around the edges but is trying to do something about it. It has some clever lines (“If I wrote a book on love, it’d be one chapter long”), and is one of the more driving songs here. The title track has a similar feel, with lyrics that would seem more comfortable in a country song set to an uptempo bluegrass background. This tune, which closes the album, is a version of the familiar ‘musician’s life on the road’ song.
Half of Me, a mellow-sounding tune which speaks of the feelings which occur after a breakup, was written solely by Elaine. She delivers the song very sincerely, offering those who have felt broken a ray of hope. One of the most enjoyable songs on the album, and another which many listeners will be able to relate to, is Lee’s original number Another Minute. This piece, which is about a much-loved grandfather that has passed on, features nice harmonies from Elaine and Lee.
The other tunes on the album are mostly well-known, traditional style bluegrass pieces, and Lee and Elaine are joined by their touring band for these seven songs. Blue Moon of Kentucky starts out slow, with just Elaine and a guitar, then kicks it up just a bit as the full band joins in. Elaine’s vocals here are reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s bluegrass efforts. This is especially true on I Wonder Where You Are Tonight, which Dolly also recorded. The Roys give this song the feel of an old country ballad. Elaine finds a middle ground between Dolly and Bill Monroe for Those Memories of You, which has an interesting mandolin opening courtesy of Lee.
A few other covers don’t work quite as well, particularly Born With a Hammer in My Hand. This is one of Blue Highway’s most well-known numbers, and it’s hard to top their driving version. The Roys slow it down a bit, and Lee’s voice lacks the urgency and firmness the song requires. The same is true of What Gives You the Right, recently recorded by Adam Steffey. While the instrumentation is first rate, Steffey’s gruff and growling voice is much more believable singing about anger at an evil woman. It also seems like it’s a little too soon to be covering this song, which was released by Steffey in 2009. Those unfamiliar with the originals may form a different opinion.
Gypsy Runaway Train will be a welcome addition for fans of The Roys, and perhaps provide an introduction to traditional bluegrass for their more country-leaning fans. It’s also a nice introduction to Lee and Elaine’s band members at the time of the recording, Clint White (fiddle), Royal Masat (bass), and Matthew Downing (banjo).
For more information on The Roys, visit their website at www.theroysonline.com. Their new album can be purchased from various online music retailers.