It took me just seconds to break into a broad smile the first time I listened to Many a Mile, the recent release from Eddie & Martha Adcock with Tom Gray and Friends (Patuxent Music). As soon as Eddie’s banjo kicked in on the introduction of the title track, it was clear Eddie was back!
Eddie’s return from brain surgery has been long and arduous, but judging from Many a Mile, his first release in eight years, the journey was successful. And the record – interrupted twice for follow-up surgeries – was worth the wait. Eddie can’t break the speed limit with banjo licks like he used to, but he can still play. Man, can he play!
All of these songs made regular appearances on Country Gentlemen albums and set lists back in the day when Eddie, Tom, Charlie Waller and John Duffey made up the “classic” lineup of that band. Some of the songs have a quaint feel to them now, but in the 1960s, they were somewhat revolutionary in their approach, and they helped revitalize a bluegrass industry that was reeling from Elvis and about to be run over by rock ‘n’ roll. Some of these songs, especially This Morning At Nine, Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight, and Duffey’s haunting Bringing Mary Home, still get trotted out regularly on the air or in jams.
All of the hallmarks of the Gents in their prime can be heard here. Eddie’s clear-as-a-bell banjo, a folky sound that separated the band and one of its offspring, the Seldom Scene, from their contemporaries, and Tom’s signature walking bass lines that earned him praise and ridicule all at once – and led, as he sometimes jokes, to his firing for playing too many notes. Tom plays on about the half the tracks here. But Missy Raines, who counts Tom as a major influence, plays the other songs with such aplomb that it’s difficult for this bass player to tell them apart. So don’t try to tell ‘em apart. Just enjoy.
This time, though, there’s one graceful addition that takes these songs beyond a mere replication of some fine Gents’ tunes – Martha’s warm, comfortable lead vocals. On Two Little Boys, I Am Weary, Let Me Rest, and This Morning at Nine, her interpretations are stellar.
But after many listens, it’s still the title track that gets me the most. The song echoes Eddie’s medical story – “Many a mile I have been on this road, many a mile I have gone.” And, thanks to the former prizefighter’s stubbornness and the miracles of modern medicine, he’s still going.