Missy Raines Explores a New Frontier

Missy Raines - New FrontierSometimes, you just have to chase a dream, even if it threatens to push you – or your fans — out of the comfort zone. That’s what Missy Raines did on New Frontier, the latest Compass Records release from Missy Raines and the New Hip.

The results, to this listener, are incredibly satisfying. They won’t be to everybody, because there are very few hints of bluegrass in this 10-song collection. But she makes no apologies, and shouldn’t have to. As Missy noted in a blog post, “Even though it was going to be something very different than folks were expecting to hear, I had to say, ‘This is what I want to do, and I have to do it.’”

This article will be different, too. It’s not an objective review of the CD. It can’t be. I’ve taken bass lessons and workshops from Missy, and I count her as a mentor and a friend. Plus, I took the rare step, for me, of donating to her Kickstarter campaign that raised money for this record.

So let’s call this an appreciation rather than a review. And, let me tell you, there’s a lot to appreciate from Missy and her bandmates Ethan Ballinger, Jarrod Walker and Josh Fox.

First of all, the biggest change to me isn’t that these 10 songs have more of an indie rock edge to them than her previous recordings (though they do). The biggest – and best – difference is that Missy sings on every song. You won’t miss the driving instrumentals that are staples of New Hip collections. The voice, smoky and smooth at the same time, calls to mind Stevie Nicks, but without the flowing capes and all the baggage and angst she brought to the stage with Fleetwood Mac. This is a solid vocal performance, from start to finish, and it leaves me wanting to hear more.

The other big change from her past work is that the 10 songs collected here have a clearly defined common theme. These offerings are all about self-discovery and inevitability. The theme is laid out immediately, in the opening cut, I Learn, written by Zach Bevill of the Farewell Drifters. And it continues in the opening lines of the title cut, another Bevill contribution: “It’s been a long time coming, but you knew you’d find me here.”

But the point is driven home most convincingly in the chorus of LongWay Back Home, written by Pierce Pettis and Gordon Kennedy: “Sometimes the only difference ‘tween a pilgrim and a prodigal son is just the difference ‘tween the dream that you began and the thing that you’ve become.”

Missy’s dream, of course, began in bluegrass. Her seven IBMA bass player of the year statues make her the most-decorated female instrumentalist in the genre. And the thing that she’s become is a strong, independent band leader, unafraid to venture outside the bounds of a particular genre. For proof of that last statement, look no further than the strongest song on the CD, Ed Snodderly’s What’s the Callin’ For. This is a straight-ahead rocker, with Missy sharing vocals with Sam Bush, who also plays mandolin and slide mandolin on the track. You’ll hear this one on the radio, and it will no doubt bring new fans into her camp.

And if this is a little too edgy for you? Fear not. Missy is still planning an all-bluegrass album at some point. It’s a new frontier, but she hasn’t forgotten her roots.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.