Singer/guitarist Billy Wise developed his talents the old fashioned way, playing clubs and festivals throughout the Southeast. It’s not surprising then that there’s a certain humility that’s invested in his music, a true reflection of his modest beginnings.
Even so, that simple backstory belies a history of hit records, wide acclaim, and an intimate involvement with music that goes back to when he first became enthralled with bluegrass at the tender age of five. He grew up in a family deeply devoted to making music, and developed a love of the Stanley Brothers that’s stayed with him since. Indeed, those traditional sounds continue to inform the music he makes even now.
Wise and his band Mountain Time — which also includes Shane Cothan on banjo and vocals, bassist James Ray, and mandolin player Kenneth Newell — stay true to that roots regimen. Their new album, Lonesome, reflects that reverence for music of a decidedly vintage variety. Indeed, there are simple sentiments expressed in every song, whether it’s the down home designs of the title track, or the longing and lament shared in a cover of Bill Monroe’s mournful classic, Mother’s Only Sleeping. When Daddy Played, a tender ballad that coveys further reverence and reflection, leaves no doubt as to where his essential influences lie, given the repeated references to Sing Me Back Home and I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. The loping Beautiful Hills of Home carries the connection even further, name-checking the Stanley Brothers and their West Virginia environs that inspired them so early on.
Yet even as Wise and company offer their reflections, Lonesome finds them doing far more, by creating songs that already sound like standards.The easy ambling instrumental, When the Angels Sing, comes across like a lost classic that was unearthed from a long gone archive. So too, the heartbreaking lament, Back Home To Me, could have been borne out of the backwoods and then passed along as a family tradition that had everyone picking on a porch and sharing stories of days gone by. Not surprisingly, Cothan’s banjo picking dominates the proceedings, complementing the music’s timeless trappings.
While Lonesome isn’t the kind of album one might describe as bold or breathtaking, it communicates a true poignancy and passion for the mountain style. Ultimately, it’s the authenticity that seems to come effortlessly indeed.