Few new voices have been embraced by bluegrass radio in recent years like that of Amanda Cook, whose first two albums from Mountain Fever Records have garnered a number of top singles over the past few years. Cook has recently released her third album with Mountain Fever, Narrowing the Gap, and from the sound of it, it seems she’s looking to continue the trend.
Several singles have already been released from Narrowing the Gap, including opening track Get On Board from Darrell Hayes and Vida Wakeman. It’s a rip-roaring number that was a great choice to kick off the album, with driving banjo from Carolyne VanLierop-Boone and a rushing melody that fits well with the train imagery in the lyrics. Trains also feature in Lonesome Leaving Train, which Cook began writing over a decade ago, and recently finished with the help of ace writer Thomm Jutz. It’s a bright tune with the heart-breaking story of a young bride who doesn’t find what she expected when she heads west to meet the one she loves. Cook’s vocals stand out on the chorus, in particular.
Listeners have also probably heard West Virginia Coal on the radio. Written by the band’s husband and wife pair, Troy Boone and Carolyne VanLierop-Boone, it’s a dark-sounding number about the pain and worry coal-mining families often face. My Used to Be Blue Ridge Mountain Home is a bit more uptempo, but has a similar melancholy feel to the lyrics, as Cook sings “the place I call home is packed up and gone, ruined and tumbled to the ground.” It’s a familiar bluegrass theme, but Cook and VanLierop-Boone’s lyrics give it a fresh feel.
Curtains, penned by Adam Larkey, is a strong acoustic country-style song, with haunting dobro from Jeff Partin. The heartbreak and pain are palpable in Cook’s voice as she reveals her role in a devastating break-up. Donna Hughes’s Where Are You Darlin’ also finds the singer searching for a lost love, but is a more straightforward bluegrass number, sure to have listeners’ toes tapping.
Throughout the album, Cook demonstrates excellent control of her powerful vocals, often staying more restrained through the verses and allowing her voice to soar on the choruses. She does a fine job filling the lyrics with emotion – it’s easy to believe that she’s singing about real experiences in her life, even on songs penned by others. Her supporting band is no slouch, either, handling driving numbers like the opening track and the more atmospheric country-style songs with equal ease. In addition to the previously mentioned VanLierop-Boone and Partin, musicians here include the late Aaron “Frosty” Foster on guitar, Josh Faul playing bass, and George Mason on fiddle. Aaron Ramsey also fills in on mandolin, guitar, and bass on a few tracks.
Listeners have come to expect solid contemporary bluegrass from Amanda Cook, and they won’t be disappointed by Narrowing the Gap. With awesome vocals and musicianship and a good selection of new and original songs, it’s sure to be quickly added to many fans’ – and radio stations’ – playlists.
For more information on Amanda Cook, visit her online. Her new album is available from several online music retailers.