Athens, Georgia has long been known for its diverse music scene. From pop and rock bands like the B-52s and R.E.M. to alt-country group the Drive-By Truckers, Athens has been the home base for multiple popular artists throughout the past several decades. One of the newest bands to form there is bluegrass group The Welfare Liners, a traditionally influenced band which has just released its first album, High on a Hilltop.
The Welfare Liners, which formed in 2010, first gained a regional following playing old standards by Bill Monroe, Jim and Jesse, Flatt and Scruggs, and other first generation groups. With their new release on Ghostmeat Records, they have taken the skills they honed learning those tunes and created a 14-track album full of original compositions based in the sounds of early bluegrass. With songs speaking of murder, love, and lonesomeness, the band’s high harmonies and energetic singing and picking make High on a Hilltop a fun and entertaining album for fans of bluegrass and old time music.
Like many bluegrass songs, several of the tunes on this album share tales of unfaithful lovers. Boulevard offers the interesting story of a man whose wife heads off to town with a silver dagger when she finds out he has another woman. In Darker Than the Night, it’s the singer who’s been done wrong when he starts putting together the clues that the girl he loves is simply playing with his affection. Dust Broom Blues features another cheating woman, whose unfaithfulness takes her husband from pushing a broom in a sawmill to pushing one in jail.
The band does take a break from the murder and cheating for a few sweet love songs. I’ll Be Standing By is the cheerful-sounding tale of a man who is home waiting for his woman to return from fighting overseas. The album’s title track is another tender tune, in which the singer is “high on a hilltop,” far away from any worries or cares, whenever he’s with the one he loves.
Even though many of the songs have a dark feel, the majority of the tracks on this album and upbeat and catchy, with tight, brother-style harmonies and a strong bass and banjo background. The band shows off their skills on their respective instruments throughout the album, including traditional-sounding fiddling and several Monroe influenced mandolin breaks. The album’s closing track, The Welfare Express (headin’ down the line) is one of the most interesting sounding, with a bass, banjo and dobro intro which mimics the sound of a train.
The Welfare Liners represent their musical hometown well. Band members Rob Keller (vocals and bass fiddle), Wayne Wilson (vocals, banjo, and guitar), Russ Hallauer (mandolin and guitar), Mark Cunningham (guitar), and Adam Poulin (fiddle and guitar), as well as special guest William Tonks (dobro) have come together to create an album which grabs the listener’s attention from the first track.
For more information on The Welfare Liners, visit their website at thewelfareliners.com.
High on a Hilltop can be purchased from their website, iTunes, and other digital music stores.