In a recent conversation with Joe Mullins about his latest album, Let Time Ride, he told me, “I’ve never been more excited to lead a group of musicians than I am now.” I have to say, I agree with those sentiments. Let Time Ride, recently released by Billy Blue Records, is hands-down the best album ever released from Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, and the musicians here truly make all the difference. With fresh songs and arrangements, several solid lead vocalists, and the strong traditional-style bluegrass Mullins is known for, there’s not a misfire on the album.
The title track is a top contender for my favorite on the album. Written by Mullins’s daughter-in-law, Santana Mullins, several years ago while she was a student at ETSU, it’s a toe-tapper guided by Mullins’s banjo and Chris Davis’s warm lead vocals. It quickly takes listeners through several stages of life for the song’s narrator as he embraces growing older and the life changes he encounters. Another fine track, and one which Mullins says may be his favorite here, is the Gospel number, The Glory Road. Written by Marty Stuart, Paul Martin, and Harry Stinson, it’s a newer song with a classic first generation feel. Mullins has one of the strongest vocal groups currently performing in bluegrass music, and this track allows them to show off in full force. Davis and McIntosh trade off lead vocals throughout the song, while Mullins adds in a crystal-clear tenor.
Another unique vocal arrangement can be found on Play the Wildwood Flower, written by Conrad Fisher. It’s a sweet love song that Fisher wrote after hearing the story of a woman who agreed to marry a man because he could play Wildwood Flower. Though it’s definitely a bluegrass song, autoharp from guest Lizzy Long and the brother-duet style vocals on the chorus add an old-time flavor. Also with a vintage feel, or as Mullins put it, “it sounds like it was written 150 years ago,” is Forsaken Love from Canadian folk/old-time duo Pharis and Jason Romero. Whereas the original has a haunting, stripped-down arrangement, Mullins has mixed fairly straightforward bluegrass instrumentation with vocals that are again reminiscent of old-time country brother duets.
Several songs here were released as early singles, including the radio hit, Big City. Written by Paul Williams when he was a staff writer for Decca Records, it was recorded by several country artists, including Ernest Tubb, in the 1960s. The Radio Ramblers have kicked the tempo up quite a few notches and added some hot percussion from Mike Rogers – sort of a later-career Jimmy Martin vibe. Another well-received single was I’ve Been Down That Road, a classic country weeper featuring McIntosh on lead vocals. From the all-star writing duo of Jerry Salley and Larry Cordle, it’s an outstanding track on an album packed full of well-written songs. Jason Barie’s triple fiddles and solid bass from Randy Barnes help enhance the country feel.
I’ve always enjoyed albums from Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, but Let Time Ride has me truly excited. It’s one of those rare albums that can be listened to from start to finish, and then started over, again and again. Mullins told me that this lineup of the band has inspired him so much, and the crisp arrangements and excellent song selections here make that obvious. I’m looking forward to what the Radio Ramblers have coming next – which Mullins hinted was a Christmas release, as well as more hardcore traditional bluegrass.