It’s fairly obvious that bluegrass is a crowded field these days. New bands, old bands, solo performers and varied ensembles — all compete for attention and, in the process, make music that really matters
Balsam Range is right up there with those artists that are tops in the field, evidenced by the fact that the North Carolina-based band has garnered a baker’s dozen awards from the IBMA since their formation 14 years ago. And while it would likely be easy for them to settle into some sort of formula-fed approach, their latest album, Moxie and Mettle, like all that have come before, proves that they’re not content to merely follow the tried and true. In that regard, opening track Highway Side reflects the casual optimism that’s been a hallmark of their sound since early on. So too, the lighthearted Rooster Rock shares a jaunty, old-time, glad-handed approach that’s well in keeping with their eclectic MO.
Still, even in the midst of the joy and jubilation, Balsam Range still manages to share songs with deeper meaning. The tirelessly steadfast Rivers, Rains and Runaway Trains finds the singer pondering new possibilities once he finds real romance for the very first time. The heartfelt Until I See You Again continues that theme of love and longing. On the other hand, the upbeat exhortation of Richest Man is a timely reminder that all the wealth in the world can’t buy immortality, and ultimately means little more than having earned the distinction of being the wealthiest person in the cemetery. So too, His Tomb Is Empty Now is a fine example of the great Gospel music that’s always played an essential role in their music making.
That said, the most meaningful offering of all comes in the form of the resolute Grit and Grace, the track that bears a line about “one part moxie, another part mettle,” and gives the album its title. It’s a song that could well serve as a life lesson in these troubling times, one that encourages the listener to persevere even in the face of the most pressing adversity. It’s a theme that’s also echoed in the rapid-fire revelry of Santa Barbara, a tale of yearning and desire that culminates in the realization that accomplishment is ultimately left to each individual alone.
With Moxie and Mettle, Balsam Range set a mighty fine example for us all.