Kentuckians are notoriously proud of their home state. The innumerable odes to the Bluegrass State sung by bluegrass musicians can testify to that. However, there are perhaps few prouder than Gary Brewer, a native of the Louisville area. On the latest release with his band The Kentucky Ramblers, Homestretch, he captures much of what he loves about the state he loves and the music it’s known for.
Brewer’s sound will surely appeal to bluegrass purists – the songs here are reflective of the early years of bluegrass, with a nice traditional feel. Brewer obviously has a great respect and love for the musicians who came before him, and has put his own twist on the music of Bill Monroe and others and called it “brewgrass.” The “brewgrass” here is a family affair, with his two teenage sons Mason and Wayne and his father Finley helping out on sixteen tracks of almost all original music.
The album starts out with Brewer’s original Derby City Flash, a Monroe-esque number that nods to his life as a bluegrass musician in Louisville, the “Derby City.” The track is a nice foot-tapping, fiddle-guided piece that works well to kick things off. There are several other songs here that share Kentucky stories, with Doc Brown, Kentucky Outlaw being one of the most intriguing. Written by James Hines with music by Brewer, it tells the tale of one of the most violent men in Kentucky history who, according to the song, started out as a cattle thief and worked his way up to murderer. Green River is another collaboration between Hines and Brewer, and is an easygoing ode to a river in south-central Kentucky, while West Point, Kentucky speaks of Brewer’s hometown. The latter is a nice snapshot of a small town, with mentions of Brewer’s family and friends, and a bluesy guitar opening.
>One of the highlights of the album is the well-written The First Day of the Rest of My Life, a working man’s realization that he needs to “live today for today and hope for tomorrow.” It’s got a bit of a classic country feel, particularly thanks to fiddling from Dan Boner. Also enjoyable is Brewer’s take on the traditional Rake and the Rambling Blade, an old ballad which finds a thief reflecting on his misdeeds, and an uplifting, strongly traditional version of the familiar Gospel song Lord, You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.
Brewer and the Kentucky Ramblers also include a number of original instrumentals, including the cheery, upbeat Brownlo from Brewer and Salt River Stomp, a somewhat dark mandolin tune from his son Mason. The instrumentals are a chance for the band members to show off their chops, and they do a fine job. Mason’s no-frills take on the Monroe style fits the band’s music well, while Brewer’s other son Wayne provides solid bass work. Other Kentucky Ramblers include Brewer’s father Finley, who contributes classic country-influenced lead vocals on two songs, banjo player Larry Beasley, and fiddler Dan Boner. Brewer handles guitar for most of the album, but switches with Beasley to play old time banjo on the final track, Run Johnny Run.
For more information on Gary Brewer and the Kentucky Ramblers, visit Brewer’s website at www.brewgrass.com. Their new album is out now from Stretch Grass Music and can be purchased from a variety of online music retailers.