Fans of the Lonesome River Band were in for a treat(-ish) last night (Wednesday, October 1), when the LRB guys chose to premiere their new album from Mountain Home Music Company, Turn on a Dime, as part of the Bluegrass Ramble at IBMA World of Bluegrass. Although the album won’t officially be released until October 14, the band played the entire record live to a packed house at Raleigh’s Architect Bar and Social House.
I arrived at the Architect just in time to catch the end of a set by one of the official Bluegrass Ramble showcase bands, The Railsplitters. Their fun mixture of traditional bluegrass and folk/Americana is quite different from LRB’s patented contemporary bluegrass, but their high energy performance was enjoyable and definitely captured the crowd’s attention.
Mountain Home Music Company’s portion of the evening began with Lexington, Kentucky-based Newtown (who are signed to Pisgah Ridge, an imprint of Mountain Home), who took the stage for a short opening set. Jr. Williams and Kati Penn-Williams are both fine singers, and their band (which also includes Tony Mowell, Clint Hurd, and C.J. Cain) is excellent live. They ran through several songs from their recent album Time Machine, including crowd favorites All I Was to You and Dublin Blues.
After a brief soundcheck, the Lonesome River Band set about doing what they do best: playing good, solid bluegrass. Although fans might have been eager to hear some of the band’s biggest hits, this set was completely devoted to the songs that the group chose to include on their brand new album. They kicked things off with the upbeat title track, a sweet number about a woman who cares more about spending time with the man she loves than how much money he spends on her. Bonnie Brown, however, is the complete opposite. This toe-tapping traditional piece (which guitarist Brandon Rickman said was originally done in more of a country style), tells of a woman who has the singer “down to my last dollar bill.”
Rickman seemed to have fun with Every Head Bowed, a tongue-in-cheek number about Sunday as a Baptist child (The first chorus: “Amazing grace, don’t make a sound, or mama’s gonna wear that backside out while shouting hallelujah”). The group fittingly followed that up with a country-tinged Gospel song, Holding to the Right Hand. Other highlights of the show included the Shannon Slaughter-penned A Whole Lot of Nothing, with mandolin player Randy Jones on lead vocals, and Merle Haggard’s Shelly’s Winter Love, which has been given a bit of a funky groove that Rickman said made him think of both late-night talk radio and Saturday Night Live’s “Ladies Man.”
Although LRB (and the other bands I had a chance to see) seemed to be in top form last night, it was pretty hard to tell at times. The Architect Bar is small, and was standing room only for most of the night, with many folks circulating in and out, having their own conversations, and paying little attention to the bands on stage. This, combined with a poor sound system, made it difficult to hear the bands at times – especially the vocals. I’m glad I was able to get a copy of the new album – otherwise, I’d have had no clue what most of the songs actually said. If they hadn’t had ear monitors, the band probably wouldn’t have either. It concerns me that, especially for newcomers to the genre, one of the best groups in the business might have sounded like just another bar band.
However, it still seems that the Lonesome River Band has turned out another winner with Turn on a Dime. Advance copies are available now at live shows, and the album can be pre-ordered from iTunes and Amazon.
For more information, visit www.lonesomeriverband.com.