There aren’t many people in bluegrass with the level of credibility both on stage and behind the scenes that accrues to Clay Hess. As a guitarist and singer he has been part of Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Mountain Heart, and Sierra Hull & Highway 111. With pen in hand, Clay has written songs that have been recorded by multiple artists, and in the studio, his skills as an engineer, producer, and mastering engineer are highly regarded across the industry.
And now with the release of a second album by his Clay Hess Band, we can firmly add bandleader to his list of credentials. All his myriad talents are on display on Just Another Story, most particularly his ability to choose material that suits the ensemble, and his distinctive, growly baritone voice. The album also serves as an introduction to the lead singing of Clay’s son, Brennan, who plays rhythm guitar behind his dad.
Three singles from this record have already made some noise on bluegrass radio. Cold and Lonely, the opening track, a mash-steady grasser with a number of cool key changes, and a groovin’, mid-tempo version of Jimmie Rodgers’s Blue Yodel #2 had found favor with bluegrass radio, along with a stellar remake of Waylon Jennings’ Anita, You’re Dreaming which may be the strongest song on the album.
Also strong is Someplace in France, written by Craig Market and Thom Jutz, two of the finest melody-makers in bluegrass. It’s the story of a man who survived World War II, while seeing his twin brother fall in combat, and the pain he faces to this day living without him. A beautiful song, aptly arranged, and sung with restraint by Hess. Bass player Irl Hees shines on The Field Behind The Plow, a lovely song from Canadian folk artist Stan Rogers.
Ron Block provides Tougher Than The Nails, which follows the crucifixion of Jesus as a narration from a bystander, who describes the convict as the only man he had ever seen who was what the title describes.
Clay’s guitar dominates the album, providing both solid rhythm behind the vocals, and in blistering solos throughout. It’s tough to say which is more impressive; the accompaniment is subtle but oh so effective, while the lead guitar burns brightly each time. Dustin Frame shows himself to be a fine mandolinist, as does Brady Wallen as a banjo man.
Just Another Story is a fine example of contemporary bluegrass music, and is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys a well-crafted song, expertly played.