Kinetic Tone – Balsam Range

Balsam Range is one of a select few bluegrass bands that has maintained consistency within their personnel. That, of course, changed in late 2022 with the departure of founding member, Darren Nicholson. Despite this new chapter in the group’s journey, Balsam Range has soldiered on. With the addition of mandolin great Alan Bibey, there’s a renewed excitement within the band’s performance and their new material. The title of their latest effort for Mountain Home Music, Kinetic Tone sums it all up perfectly.

While Kinetic Tone defines the movement of sound from static to changing tone through energy, Balsam Range argues in the project’s liner notes that it could also stand for “a shared mindset of a musical group.” The opening track, Echo Canyon, by Milan Miller, makes it difficult to disagree with that statement. The chemistry between fiddler Buddy Melton, banjoist Marc Pruett, guitarist Caleb Smith, bassist Tim Surrett, and Bibey is evident from the very beginning. This enthralling song which takes place in California following the gold rush demonstrates the instrumental intensity and the smooth vocal harmonies that fans know and love.

Snake Charmer by Beth Husband and Milan Miller puts a compelling spin on the subject of lost love. Buddy Melton delivers an exceptional performance here by effectively placing himself in the shoes of the narrator and his wild contemplations.

Marshall McClain also comes from the pen of Husband and Miller and tells a great tale of an aging police officer reflecting on his career, and the things that have most haunted him since retiring from the force.

Just To Satisfy You was written by Waylon Jennings and Don Bowman in 1963. First released by Jennings the following year, Balsam Range gives the song a powerful bluegrass treatment. This track in particular is filled with strong instrumental solos from Pruett, Smith, and Bibey.

God Knows and Two Lane Highways both come from within the band. The former, written by guitarist Caleb Smith is a gospel song that discusses putting your faith and trust in the Lord during difficult circumstances. The latter, by Alan Bibey and Wayne Winkle, has somewhat of a nostalgic bent reminding those listening of the small town roads, the freedom of the road, and the destination that to which it leads.

The last three tracks on this project all come from Adam Wright. Worry is a positive song that serves as a reminder that life is too short to let worries and fears weigh us down, while We’ll All Drink Money deals with greed and selfishness. What The Years Do, co-written by Wright and his wife Shannon, tackles the theme of constant life changes, and the reality that comes with them. An earlier track, Evergreen, by Michael Hearne, Susan Gibson and Monica Smart, also relates this idea within the context of an elderly person.

Kinetic Tone not only opens a new chapter within the book of Balsam Range, but it presents them at what some may agree is their finest. Kinetic Tone covers a broad range of stories, topics, and emotions, all with the masterful vocals and musicianship the band has maintained since their formation in 2007. 

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About the Author

Braeden Paul

Braeden Paul has been involved in various capacities of bluegrass music. A Texas native, Paul has been part of several Dallas-based bands as a mandolinist. He also serves on the board of directors of the Southwest Bluegrass Club in Grapevine, TX. As a writer, Braeden has also contributed numerous music reviews to the Bluegrass Society of America Facebook page, and is the co-author of Texas Bluegrass History: High Lonesome on the High Plains.