When a Lonesome River Band CD pops up in the mailbox, I have a pretty good idea what to expect: Impeccable picking, impressive vocals and some of the best banjo picking this side of Earl Scruggs, all expertly recorded and mixed and ready to climb the charts.
LRB’s newest, Mayhayley’s House, is exactly that. The Mountain Home Music project will quickly find a place with the band’s legion of fans, though the drums and percussion across many of the tracks are likely to cause angst among bluegrass traditionalists. For the most part, I think fretting about percussion is a losing battle. It’s here, it’s becoming more common and isn’t likely to go away. Fortunately the beats laid down by Tony Creasman for the most part contribute to the music rather than detract from it. (Not always the case when it comes to bluegrass and drums).
The CD kicks off with Wrong Road Again, a banjo-fueled song from Allen Reynolds about a poor chap who heads down the wrong road one more time, “even knowin’ where it will end.” Been there, done that, haven’t we?
One of my favorites here is the title cut, about an eccentric woman who was a farmer, lawyer and politician, but was best known as a fortune teller. This is a solidly constructed story song from Adam Wright, and as some regular readers know, I’m a sucker for a good story song. This one has the added entertainment value, for me at least, of having a dastardly rich man named John Lawless as the villain. There’s no evidence that the scoundrel is modeled after Bluegrass Today Editor John Lawless. But in case part of it is true – the rich part – I’m asking for a raise. (Editor’s Note: No.)
Another favorite is Old Coyote Town, written by Larry E. Boone, Gene Nelson and Paul N. Nelson Jr. This nod to strong men in fading towns is so expertly mixed that it wasn’t until the second or third listen that I heard something that sent me scurrying to the credits: Piano, played here by Jeff Collins. It adeptly fills space without sticking out, so the song should still be stellar when the band plays it on stage without the keys and percussion.
Also worth noting are Diggin’ from Eli Johnston and Kevin McKinnon, about the universal plight of not having enough money, As the Crow Flies by Melba Montgomery and Billy Wayne Yates and a tasty drinking song from Shawn Camp and Gary Nicholson, It Feels Real Good Goin’ Down. Here’s the money line: “another jug of wine to get you off my mind, and it feels real good goin’ down.”
Just one thing about this CD left me cold, and it has nothing to do with the music. In the bluegrass stratosphere, where Shelor, Brandon Rickman, Mike Hartgrove, Barry Reed and Jesse Smathers have resided for some time, we expect flawlessness. That makes two incorrect song titles (right in one place, not in another) and a grammatical error or two glaringly obvious. As a songwriter, I’m probably more tuned in to those things than most fans. And, as noted, it doesn’t change a thing about the music. But they shouldn’t happen at the top, and make no bones about it, the Lonesome River Band, is right up there with the best.