Each year since 1991, new members have been added to the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. Since the inaugural class of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs, numerous other bluegrass and traditional music greats have been honored for their roles in shaping the music we all know and love. Junior Sisk and Joe Mullins, two of today’s top preservers of bluegrass music’s traditions, have recently chosen to honor quite a few members of the Hall of Fame in their new release, Hall of Fame Bluegrass!
Fans of traditional bluegrass will be hard pressed to find a better collection than what Mullins and Sisk have put together here. The thirteen tracks pull from a who’s who of first generation bluegrass musicians, as well as a few early second generation artists. They could have very easily put together yet another tribute album composed of old standards that anyone who’s ever been to a bluegrass jam is familiar with. They’ve chosen to go in another direction, however, and the majority of songs will likely be unfamiliar to those who didn’t grow up listening to bluegrass’s founding fathers.
Wild Mountain Honey, an upbeat love song from the Osborne Brothers and Red Allen, opens the album. Sisk takes the lead on this tune, while Mullins contributes nice high harmonies and tasteful banjo. This is a great track to start the album out with, and has also been released as the first single. Another nice, cheerful love song, also with Sisk on lead vocals, is the Flatt and Scruggs number No Doubt About It. It’s obvious the group is having a lot of fun with this tune, and they do a fantastic job of capturing the Flatt and Scruggs sound.
The Carter Family’s Single Girl, Married Girl is another top-notch song. Here it’s given the Stanley treatment, particularly in regard to the guitar solos. Sisk’s mournful lead vocals suit the song well. Mullins offers his smooth, high lead vocals on I’ll Be There, Mary Dear, a sad tale of a soldier returning home to find his beloved Mary has passed away which was previously recorded by the Country Gentlemen and Bill Clifton. Mullins also does an excellent job on the Del McCoury number Don’t Let My Love Get in the Way, definitely channeling some of Del’s vocal nuances.
As is to be expected on a traditional bluegrass album, there are a few Gospel numbers, including Reno and Smiley’s I’m So Happy. This song is definitely a highlight of the album, with Sisk’s and Mullins’s voices blending perfectly and Mullins hitting some fine high notes. Mullins also provides an enjoyable banjo solo. Their version of Jim and Jesse’s They Can’t Love Jesus More Than Me is just as good, again finding just the right spot with the harmonies.
Sisk and Mullins first got the idea for this collaboration when they worked together on an old Stanley Brothers duet, Lover’s Quarrel, on Sisk’s latest album. That track was certainly well done, but this album takes it to another level. Hall of Fame Bluegrass! is completely top-notch all the way through. The two singers’ voices match each other extremely well, and both men obviously have a strong knowledge and command of the traditional style. The musicians they selected to join them, including Dudley Connell (guitar), Marshall Wilborn (bass), Jesse Brock (mandolin), Jason Carter (fiddle), and Rob Ickes (dobro), are also masters of the traditional sound and it certainly shows here.
Hall of Fame Bluegrass! is out now from Rebel Records and can be purchased from a variety of online music retailers. Do yourself a favor, go out and buy this record!