If it sometimes seem like Steve Gulley is literally everywhere, well suffice it to say there’s good reason. Aside from his regular morning presence as a DJ on one of East Tennessee’s most prominent radio stations, WDVX, he was practically born into bluegrass as both a performer and presenter. Indeed, his father was a member of the prominent bluegrass band, the Pinnacle Mountain Boys. Nevertheless, it quickly became clear that he didn’t have to rest on anyone else’s laurels. He made his mark early on, and once he joined Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, his reputation was well established. That led to his essential role in the founding of Mountain Heart, a band he helmed as its lead singer. He subsequently helped formed the group Grasstowne where he again took a prominent role.
Eight albums on, he’s now fully involved with New Pinnacle and once again establishing his own singular sound. The band’s new album on Rural Rhythm Records, High Peaks and New Ground, provides another ideal showcase for an award-winning vocal sound that’s fully capable of wringing emotion on the one hand, and expressing abject enthusiasm on the other. There’s no better example of that verve and versatility than the energy exerted on Drowned in Sorrow and Leaning Toward Leaving, and the fact that they sandwich the sweet sentiments of Not Now in-between. It’s a mark of the band’s ability to share concise, clearly crafted songs that convey a wide range of earnest expression. In essence, Gulley and company sum up that sentiment with Aim High, a song that can clearly serve anyone as far as a mantra for motivation is concerned.
So too, Gulley & New Pinnacle clearly choose their outside material well, be it the Gospel revelry of The Raging Storm or the pensive and plaintive tones echoed in the Thom Jutz/Jon Weisberger cowrite, Moonshine or the Coal Mine. Notably though, fully half of the set is comprised of Gulley originals, mostly written with his steadfast writing partner, Tim Stafford. It’s little wonder; Gulley’s songs have been recorded by any number of notables, and he and Stafford claimed honors for IBMA’s 2008 Song of the Year, courtesy of their composition, Through the Windows of a Train.
Of course the present is the thing that matters most in bluegrass or any other genre, and with High Peaks and New Ground, Gulley and the group fulfill the promise that the title so assuredly suggests.
Here again, they rise to the occasion.