Over the past few years, bluegrass and independent labels have been adopting a policy long employed by the mainstream record companies of not releasing new titles in the latter parts of each year. They correctly presume that media folks are often away from work between Thanksgiving and New Years, and that new projects could get lost in the holiday shuffle.
Of course, that means that we get a slew of new releases each January, making it equally difficult to keep up with all of them. We have received a dozen new CDs (at least) at Bluegrass Today since the New Year, and we will be mentioning and reviewing many of them over the new few weeks.
One that I have been awaiting for quite some time is the new album from Josh Williams, Down Home. Josh started on this project shortly before he left Rhonda Vincent’s employ in 2007. Its release has been repeatedly delayed, but it is official from Pinecastle that it hits on February 23.
This is a plainly delightful album. It showcases Josh’s skill as a singer on 11 tracks, and his fine picking on the lone instrumental (Cherokee Shuffle). Actually, his instrumental prowess is featured throughout as well. Most tracks have Williams on both guitar and mandolin, and he also plays banjo on Cherokee Shuffle. He tackles mandolin alone on a version of Blue Railroad Train, where Tony Rice plays guitar.
Most of the banjo comes from Kenny Ingram, who was a member of The Rage when Josh left Rhonda’s band. In fact much of this project was recorded while Josh was still riding the Martha White Express. Mickey Harris plays bass on all but two tracks – which feature Josh’s former Special C band mate Tim Dishman – and Rhonda provides harmony vocals on three songs, with Harris singing the third part.
There is a mix of styles, all placing Williams in his wheelhouse. Several cuts are solid, traditional bluegrass (Polka On A Banjo, The Last Song, Cherokee Shuffle), with some strong contemporary material (Lonesome Feeling, Dream Of Me), and a couple of new, country-flavored songs (Kodak 1955, Carl Jackson’s Down Home).
Other notable tracks are We’ll Burn That Bridge (Tom T. & Dixie Hall) where Dailey & Vincent add harmony vocals, and a grassy remake of the Buck Owens hit, Streets Of Bakersfield. Both Bakersfield and the Special C reunion track, Stealin’ Away, show the clear influence of the late 70s editions of JD Crowe & The New South, who Josh has long claimed as an ideal. Jason Carter’s fiddle is brilliant on the more traditional material, and Stuart Duncan nails his parts on the modern stuff.
Josh’s version of The Last Song, Jimmy Martin’s melancholy look at life on the road playing bluegrass, strikes me as the real standout here. It is a difficult song to sing, as the range is very demanding, but Josh is dead-on with every note, displaying a gorgeous tone and a great deal of agility. I saw him perform this with his road band at IBMA in 2009 and wrote then about how powerfully he delivered it.
Here’s a sample from the CD, and a piece from Streets Of Bakersfield.
The Last Song – Listen Now [http://media.libsyn.com/media/thegrasscast/the_last_song.mp3]
Streets Of Bakersfield – Listen Now [http://media.libsyn.com/media/thegrasscast/streets_of_bakersfield.mp3]
Be on the lookout for this one on Pinecastle, February 23. Don’t wait long to pick yours up.