If There’s a Will There’s a Way – Junior Sisk

The newest offering from Junior Sisk on Mountain Fever Records is the masterfully recorded and produced, If There’s a Will, There’s a Way. Junior shared, “We played and sang our hearts out, and strived to come up with the best project for all our fans and many radio listeners.” This is a winsome 10-song bluegrass project that you will want to keep on repeat, with two very special appearances. More on those later.

Junior and his band are top level singers and players, and, together, they have built a fine body of work. Johnathan Dillion is an absolute stud of a mandolin player who brings hard-driving chops and fluid solos that are “Whoa, Nelly” fast. Curt Love is becoming one of the premier bass players in bluegrass – his tone, accuracy, and rock-solid rhythm remind me of a younger Jason Moore. Junior tells me that Tony Mabe is a bluegrass “Swiss Army knife” – he can play any instrument and sing any part. Heather Mabe is more than a harmony singer; check out her lead vocal on Bluegrass Country. Dare ya’ not to tap your foot along! Lawd, that song is good! Interestingly, Del McCoury released it in 2001 under a slightly different name, The Bluegrass Country. Young mandolin players, take note of Johnathan’s rhythm on this cut. 

Tim Crouch sits in on the fiddle. He has played with Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Ricky Skaggs, and Marty Stuart, to name a few, and was the Grand Ole Opry’s staff fiddle player. Enough said.

Junior has an iconic voice. Such rare voices are immediately recognizable due to their unique character. Think of Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Ralph Stanley. Add Junior to that elite group. No one in bluegrass sounds like Junior. Whether singing an old Stanley Brothers tune or a new one he just wrote, Junior’s voice transports you back in time to a 1950s gospel sing on Smith Ridge deep in the Hills of Home. It’s his unique sound, feel, and honesty.

The late Ralph Stanley gave sage advice in his autobiography Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times.

“Dad taught me to pick songs to suit my style. I don’t understand why so many singers don’t know this and try to sound like someone else. It’s best to find your own voice and stick with it no matter what. . .”

Junior has done just that! Like his hero, Ralph Stanley, Junior’s voice is his own . . . haunting, soulful, lonesome, country, and hard forged in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Junior Sisk and his A-list bandmates wisely travel in the traditional bluegrass lane. According to Junior, even his redos of forgotten country songs are re-recorded “in the Junior Sisk Style,” to introduce them to traditional bluegrass fans.

The tracks are heartfelt and, in places, even “lonesome,” but not depressing. 

Junior and Heather call us, convincingly, to thankfulness and joy in the opening track, What a Wonderful Life. Matt Lindsey sent this song to Junior in 2012, but a band from Nova Scotia recorded it first. So, Junior wisely sat on it until now. How providential is this song, with its message of joy, to resurface now when we are in a time when our country is divided, discouraged, and on edge? The title cut, If There’s a Will, There’s a Way, also a message of encouragement, reminds us that in the Savior, there is always hope, always a way forward . . .  

Two titles on this album quickly grab your attention. Both are big-time “surprise” duos. A Man Like Me features Junior singing lead with Dan Tyminski singing harmony. Memories of Mother features Junior singing lead with Ricky Skaggs adding a chilling Stanley-esque harmony. This may be one of Junior’s all-time bests. It is reminiscent of Skaggs and Whitley singing with Ralph in the early 1970s. That two bluegrass and country music megastars were delighted to sing with Junior on this album shows the respect they have for him. 

A Man Like Me, an old 1958 Roger Miller song, was first recorded by Johnny Paycheck. The cry comes from a man walking alone, unable to mend his broken heart in the honky-tonks, and instead turns to the Heavens . . . Junior is passionate about taking honest country songs lost to this generation and Sisking them into “new to us” bluegrass numbers.

The hidden gem on this album is These Are They. Junior heard the McPeak Brothers sing this gospel song in 1996. While this song is a “sacred” number based on Revelation 7:9-17, it is not preachy. That’s not Junior’s style. Instead, These are They, is a joyful, toe-tapping shout-out to the faithful disciples who served the Lord well and await their great reward. Goodness, the hairs on your arm will stand up:

These are they who’ve won the battle;
these are they who’ve stood the test,
clothed in garments pure and spotless,
the redeemed, the pure and blessed.

If you only have time to listen to one song on the album, listen to Junior and Ricky Skaggs harmonizing on the 1956 Carter Stanley tune Memories of Mother. Listen to Junior sliding into notes, and especially listen for the harmony which begins at 0:50 . . . it will give you chills:

Mother’s at rest in a lonesome old graveyard,
on a hill far away, there stands her white tomb
with the grass covered o’er, it seems so neglected.
When the spring seasons come, sweet flowers will bloom… 

Well done, Junior. Well done, band. Sweet flowers WILL bloom.

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About the Author

Quigg Lawrence

R. Quigg Lawrence is a lifelong bluegrass lover (his wife says "addict" is more accurate) who grew up immersed in bluegrass music, listening to his dad Quigg Lawrence, Sr.'s albums, and also listening to his dad's band, Blue Ridge, play Stanley Brothers and Flatt and Scruggs tunes. Lawrence's day job is being a pastor of Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke, Virginia and bishop of 41 churches in our region. During the pandemic, Lawrence formed a bluegrass group called BENT MOUNTAIN and released an album called COME HOME which features his pals Russ Carson, Scott Mulvahill, Justin Moses, Sierra Hull, Annie Lawrence, Eric Imhof and The Brothers Young. Hobbies: Bluegrass, Worship, Hunting, eating, and napping