Have a listen to Leaving This Town, the stellar new release from Tommy Brown and the County Line Grass on Randm Records. If you can generate a small portion of the passion and sincerity displayed on this disc, you are well on your way to an artistic triumph.
And it’s that very authenticity that is so hard to reproduce when you study old time and mountain music from one remove. It’s something Tommy Brown has understood since he was a youngster, growing up as part of a musical family in Kentucky, learning to pick the banjo before he started school. To this day his soulful singing and Ralph Stanley-inspired banjo recall a sound kept alive by fewer and fewer exponents as each decade rolls into the next.
Leaving This Town marks the ninth release from Tommy and his County Line Grass since they formed the group in 1991. It’s become a family affair over time, with son Jereme playing lead guitar – also in the Stanley style – and daughter Rachel providing a solid bass with just the right amount of movement. They are joined by Josh Runkel, who shares both lead singing and songwriting duties with Tommy, and Wayne Fyffe providing old timey fiddle.
All play and sing expertly, but what makes this record such a treat is the material, a mix of new and old songs, all perfectly suited for a ’70s-era bluegrass treatment. The album starts out with the keen crack of Brown’s arch top banjo on Dick Reinhart’s Fort Worth Jailhouse, spelling out what is to follow. Song after song, it’s unapologetically, hard core, straight up bluegrass borrowing heavily from the Stanley tradition.
>Tom Feller, who tracked this project at his Buckaroo Studios in Indiana, also played mandolin on three cuts, including Tommy’s You’re Gonna Miss Me, and My Bible Tells Me, a church-style Gospel quartet with just guitar and mandolin accompaniment. Both could be presented as having been written 50 years ago without argument, including a chorus with a melody suited to those brilliant baritone parts we love so well.
Jereme Brown shines on the record’s lone instrumental, James Allan Shelton’s Half Moon Bay, and offers crisp crosspicking on several others. Also strong is the Jimmy Martin waltz time favorite, I’ll Never Take No For An Answer, which had served as the B side for Rock Hearts in 1958, and Memories Of Home, another 3/4 time number of Tommy’s. Rinkel and Leevon DeCourley’s No One Like You (LA) is another standout, a “moving to the city” tearjerker in the Larry Sparks tradition.
How refreshing and satisfying to hear new bluegrass music played without pretension or irony, and with such skill and precision. There’s not a weak track to be found here.
If you love old time bluegrass music with a mountain flair, you can’t go wrong with Leaving This Town. It’s available from the band online, from their label, and from digital dowload sites like iTunes and Amazon.