The Darrell Webb Band has become a performing tour de force in the past several years, serving as a house band of sorts at the popular Old Smoky Moonshine distilleries in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, as well as keeping the roads hot with appearances at festivals and other venues all over the country. One of the reasons they’ve captured the attention of so many fans is their finely honed “mashgrass” style – full of energy, drive, and skilled instrumentation. Their new album from Mountain Fever Records, Lover’s Leap, captures that sound perfectly, offering listeners eleven tracks of top shelf modern traditional grass.
Lead single If You’re Thinking You Want a Stranger was a great choice for the group. A remake of an early eighties George Strait number, it’s a cheerful, positive twist on a cheating song that finds the singer realizing his wife might be getting tired of his wayward lifestyle. Webb loses the original’s eighties vibe, speeds it up, and delivers a textbook example of country grass – it’s good stuff. Webb’s original Nothing Like a Woman to Bring You Down takes a different view of love, however. A snappy, bluesy number guided by Tyler Collins’s dobro, it’s the woman that’s doing wrong, leaving Webb’s narrator to remind his listeners that “she’ll take your world and spin it round and round.”
Forty Acre Blues, from Jeff Barbra and Thomm Jutz, is a rollicking look at farm life with feverish picking in the neighborhood of 180 bpm. It’s also a well-written song, contrasting the physical struggles of running a farm with the desire to keep a family tradition alive. Hard work and family are also examined in Josh Miller’s Diggin’, a straightforward coal mining song with a dark, angry vibe. Another look at family comes in Daddy’s Drinking Shoes, penned by the late Harley Allen and John Wiggins. Told from the perspective of a young boy who is tired of his father’s drinking habit, it has an evocative melody and shares a story that will surely pull at listeners’ heartstrings.
Cody Hill’s banjo kicks off an enjoyable version of I’m Going That Way, a Gospel number recorded by Ralph Stanley among others. While Stanley’s version has a strong dose of his signature mournful, mountain sound in it, Webb’s cut is upbeat and uplifting. Jared Hensley and former band member Kameron Keller offer clear harmonies. The group also pulls from Norman Blake (by way of Tony Rice) with Orphan Annie, a light, melodic song about a musician wishing to be home in Nashville. Hensley, whose guitar playing is always impressive, does Rice proud here. It’s one of the album’s best tracks. Another highlight is the title track, penned by Webb and his wife Amanda, which shares a version of the “lover’s leap” legend. In this story, a Native American woman falls in love with a white farmer, and they choose death rather than living their lives apart. The melody moves from haunting to angry to suspenseful, with the musicians setting an atmosphere that matches the storytelling perfectly.
Webb and his band are probably best known for their aggressive, driving style of playing. There’s plenty of that here, and it’s all done well. However, they also remind listeners of their skill with other varieties of modern traditional grass, like the softer melodies of Orphan Annie and the country-tinged sounds of If You’re Thinking You Want a Stranger. Webb does a fine job with vocals throughout, as well, putting plenty of emotion in every note. Lover’s Leap is a solid collection from one of the hardest-working bands in bluegrass.
For more information on the Darrell Webb Band, visit www.darrellwebbband.com. The new album is available from several music retailers.