Nowadays, a band as unassuming and unpretentious as Big Country Bluegrass really stands out. It’s not that they’re reinventing the wheel; to the contrary, they’re taking a traditional stance that is as pure and unaffected as the influences from which their music has spawned. After 30 years of pursuing their muse with honesty and integrity, they’re still content to stay true to their original intents, unaffected by any trend or trappings that dilutes the music and distances it from its roots.
Consequently, this Virginia-based band hones heartfelt emotion with a kind of vintage vitality… upbeat, vibrant, earnest and inviting. Tommy and Teresa Sells, the founders of the group, take a special joy in mining their brand of homespun nostalgia, and they do so with unabated enthusiasm. The titles to the tunes on their latest Rebel LP, Mountains, Mamas & Memories — their fifth album to date — express their sentiments succinctly. Mama’s Radio, Times Were Good When Times Were Hard, How Lucky I Was (To Be Their Son), and The Hills of Caroline share that yearning for an earlier era, when simplicity could be celebrated and there was joy and contentment to be found in tapping an age-old template.
Although the group finds continued success on the charts, it’s obvious they’re not lax or lethargic when it comes to maintaining their high standards. The high harmonies and astute instrumentation allow for a compelling connection, and one would be hard-pressed to find any ensemble that’s as tightly knit as their’s. That’s a credit to the group as a whole. For the record, Tommy and Teresa handle mandolin and guitar respectively, while Eddie Gill sings lead and doubles on guitar. John Treadway is the banjo picker, Tim Laughlin plays the fiddle and Tony Kings anchors it all on stand-up bass. All contribute to the vocal blend.
Ultimately, Big Country Bluegrass gives purists reason to cheer. Indeed, the title tells it all. It doesn’t matter whether one refers to the music as old fashioned or new fashioned, or somewhere in-between. Talent and tenacity never go out of style.
“I just keep on pickin’…singing songs by Lester and good old Bill Monroe,” they sing on the sweet serenade Carolina Traveler. That would appear to be their mantra, and thankfully it’s one that they abide by very well.