The Blue Highway guys have been busy over the past year. In addition to releasing The Game, an excellent album which garnered them multiple IBMA award nominations for 2014, three of its members have recorded their own albums. Tim Stafford dropped Just to Hear the Whistle Blow in July, while Rob Ickes has a duet album with Trey Hensley set for release soon. Shawn Lane, the group’s mandolin player, fiddler, and sometimes-guitarist, also has a new release. Mountain Songs, his second solo record, is a twelve-track, almost all-original collection that puts Lane in the spotlight.
Lane is one of the best (if somewhat underrated) male vocalists in bluegrass music today, and his voice is shown off on the majority of the tracks on Mountain Songs. He’s also a noted songwriter, with cuts by Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs, and Blue Highway, among others. Many of his best songs have been historical, heart-rending, or both. There are several that fit that mold here. Charlestown, the story of a young man whose family was forced to move from their home, sounds somewhat similar to Blue Highway’s Sycamore Hollow. On his website, Lane describes the song as what happened when he tried to cross Bob Dylan with Ralph Stanley. Journey of a Soldier is a fine historical piece, co-written by Lane with Gerald Ellenburg. Its stripped down arrangement (just Lane on guitar and vocals) suits its haunting Civil War narrative.
The mountains are a constant theme on the album, befitting Lane’s southwest Virginia roots. Mountain Songs of Yesterday, the opening track, reminisces on the stories of weekend music-making Lane’s grandfather told him about. It’s a neat expression of how music can offer some relief from the struggles of everyday life. Hidden Valley is Lane’s attempt at creating his own version of a fiddle tune his grandfather and others of generations past might have played. It has a definite old-time feel, with a bit of a Celtic flair. Lane’s son Grayson joins in to provide a nice mandolin rhythm.
>Top of the Mountain features another memory of Lane’s grandfather, this time of hunting, fishing, and camping in the hills of Virginia. It’s a gentle, easygoing song that will likely strike a chord with many listeners who may share similar memories of their own fathers and grandfathers. Just Not Today has a darker, driving feel, and tells of a side of mountain life that has become quite popular recently – moonshining. It’s told from the perspective of a moonshiner who livelihood and health is based around the product he makes.
One of the most striking songs here is A Mother’s Prayer. Written by Lane and Ronnie Bowman, it was released by Ralph Stanley several years on his acclaimed album of the same name. It’s overwhelmingly a Stanley-style song, down to Lane’s fine guitar playing and the harmony vocals from his brother Chad, and is one of the album’s best cuts. Also of note is the album’s final song, a sparse Amazing Grace featuring Grayson on lead vocals.
Mountain Songs doesn’t necessarily introduce fans to anything new about Shawn Lane, but instead serves as a reminder of what a solid, talented, all-around musician he is. He has also surrounded himself with a number of other fine musicians, including Barry Bales and Marcus Smith (bass), Rob Ickes and Jimmy Stewart (dobro), Patton Wages and Josh Miller (banjo), and several members of his family: brother Chad (vocals, guitar) and children Grayson (mandolin, vocals), Garrett (mandolin, vocals), and Gracie (vocals).
For more information on Shawn Lane, visit his website at www.shawnlane.net. His new album can be purchased from his website, as well as several online music retailers.