After a hall of fame career, recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts, more IBMA awards than one guy can carry, two Grammy nominations, and credit for launching more bluegrass careers than you can count on two hands, Doyle Lawson doesn’t have a single thing to prove to anyone.
Apparently, though, Doyle never got the memo. He works the way he always has, like his place in bluegrass depends on how his music is received. No resting on his laurels for this guy.
The latest evidence of his unwavering work ethic comes in the form of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver’s Life Is A Story from Mountain Home Music. The concept album, tracing the triumphs, tragedies, love and loss that footnote every life, is among the band’s best work – quite a feat, given that DLQ has about three dozen recordings to their credit.
Doyle is one of the few exceptions to my rule that a musician shouldn’t produce his or her own CD. The production values here are superb, the musicianship is first-rate and the song selection – often the difference between a good record and a great one at this level – is brilliant. It helps, of course, that just about every songwriter in bluegrass lines up to pitch to him. Still, he manages to pick not just any song from Harley Allen, Jerry Salley, Donna Ulisse, Dale Pyatt, Paula Breedlove or Brad Davis , but the perfect song for the record.
There isn’t space to write about every one of the dozen songs on Life Is A Story, but there’s no filler here, so I could easily do that.
But I do have two clear favorites, Kids These Days by Alex Dooley, Tom Botkin and Kevin Denny, and Life to My Days from Jerry Salley, Lee Black and Devin McGlamery. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if either or both of these gain traction in IBMA’s song of the year voting next year.
Kids These Days reminds us of how good it was in the good old days — or at least how good we remember it being — and how today’s youngsters just don’t understand. Maybe it’s my approaching geezerhood, but this song really resonates with me.
It occurs to me that the relentless march of time might also be responsible for the impact Life to My Days has had since the first time I heard it. None of us knows when we’ll breathe our last, so we’d all be wise to accept the approach outlined by Salley and his co-writers: “I can’t add more days to my life, so I’ll add more life to my days.” I might have to hang a sign with those words above my bathroom mirror.
Another gem is The Guitar Case from Donna Ulisse and Marc Rossi, which offers a surprise twist to the well worn story of a man who leaves a woman behind in search of something else. Yep, in this one, the guy sees the light and returns home.
Finally, I want to mention the R&B classic What Am I Livin’ For, because it demonstrates how Lawson hears a song. He could have simply grassed up the version that Chuck Willis recorded and Fred Jay and Art Harris wrote. Instead, in a stroke of genius, Lawson reimagined and rearranged it as a waltz. Like I said, no resting on his laurels for this guy.
From start to finish, Life Is A Story, tugs at your emotions. I laughed, smiled, tapped my feet, sang along and got a little teary eyed while listening. Unless you’ve stopped adding life to your days, I’m betting you will, too.