If you ever get the chance, see the Hillbilly Gypsies live. You’ll want to hear them, too, of course, but you’ll be in for a real treat when you watch them. They are masters of the single microphone style, with the awards to prove it. It’s mountain ballet at its finest.
You can’t see the ballet on the band’s latest recording, West Virginia Line. But you can hear the energy that makes them a regional favorite.
The West Virginia quintet is built around the vocals of Trae Buckner and Jamie Lynn Buckner. Their hills-and-hollers roots are evident throughout this self-released project, but it’s Jamie Lynn’s edgy, rough-around-the-edges that drives the mountain sound and provides many of this recording’s finest moments.
The project is a mix of standards – How Mountain Girls Can Love, Bluegrass Breakdown, Worried Many Blues, John Henry, etc. – and newer material, including a handful written by Trae Buckner. The unifying theme, running through most of the material, is West Virginia. From Hills of Home, written by Hazel Dickens, to West Virginia Line, written by Trae, the CD tells of home, hills and mines.
My favorite cut on the album is Don Devane’s Listening to the Rain, which Jamie Lynn sings superbly. The title cut, with Trae singing, is strong, too.
The picking by Trae Buckner (guitar, clawhammer banjo), Dave Asti (banjo, guitar and mandolin), Ty Jaquay (fiddle) and Ryan Cramer (bass) is, for the most part enjoyable.
Two nits to pick, though: The mix can be a bit overbearing at times. On some songs, the fiddle, especially, is so far forward that it buries everything else. Also, though it’s hard to fault a band that routinely packs 20 or so songs on a disc – that’s a lot of music for your money – I’d love to hear what the Gypsies could do if they concentrated on a dozen or so songs and spent the studio time massaging them. There’s a lot of talent here, and that record could be a great one, especially if it focused on material you don’t hear at the weekly jam. (Hint: Write more song, Trae!)
Those are just minor distractions, though. It’s obvious from first listen that the Gypsies are talented and know how to have fun with music. I’m willing to bet that by a couple of songs into West Virginia Line, you won’t be able to sit still.
The CD is available at shows and on the band’s website, www.thehillbillygypsies.com. The Hillbilly Gypsies also have a big presence on YouTube, where you can get a taste of their one-microphone mastery.