Since the release of his first solo effort, Motley, North Carolina banjoist Andy Lowe has performed as a member of the Deer Creek Boys and was crowned the bluegrass banjo champion at the 2022 Galax Old Time Fiddler’s Convention. On his latest Mountain Fever Records release, Nervous Energy, Lowe gives us another look at his creativity on material both inside and outside of the bluegrass spectrum.
The opening track, On The Lonesome Wind, was first recorded by the Del McCoury Band in 1999. Featuring Jacob Greer on vocals, this song introduces us to the core cast of backing musicians on this record. Along with Andy on banjo, this project also consists of Jeff Partin on bass and resophonic guitar, Aaron Ramsey on mandolin, Jacob Burleson on guitar, and Jim VanCleve on fiddle.
Boatman Stomp is one of three instrumentals on this recording. This tune, along with Uptown by the late Tom McKinney, shows Lowe’s approach to traditional style playing very well.
Zip-Lock, first recorded by the pop punk band Lit in 1998, is one of the neatest selections on this recording. Featuring stellar lead vocals from Zack Arnold of Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, this is one of a few examples of Andy’s ability to masterfully convert a song from a mainstream genre into a driving bluegrass song. This track also features Lowe’s fellow Deer Creek Boy, Justin Tomlin, on baritone vocals.
Other illustrations of Lowe’s creative arrangements include Drop Dead Gorgeous and Mountain, both from the alternative rock canon and the year 1996. The former was first recorded by Republica and is powerfully delivered by Amanda Cook on lead vocals, while the latter was originally cut by Tonic. Josh Shilling of Mountain Heart provides strong lead vocals and is backed by stout musicianship from everyone on this track. Both of these bluegrass interpretations are without a doubt the highlight of this recording.
Barbry Allen is, of course, a traditional standard. Sung here by Aaron Ramsey, Andy Lowe and his cast of supporting instrumentalists put a contemporary spin on this song with a catchy mid-tempo groove.
Last Old Dollar is packed with energy all throughout. Featuring Zack Arnold and Bailey Coe on lead and harmony vocals, the intensity of everyone involved is through the roof. It’s clear from the beginning of the song where Ramsey is told the tempo is “too slow” that Lowe wants to pedal to the metal.
Nervous Energy is a captivating recording from start to finish. Like his debut project, Andy Lowe not only displays his abilities as a first rate bluegrass banjoist, but also his gift of taking songs from outside the realm and molding them into his own kind of grass. With a fine ensemble of vocalists and musicians, this recording is chock full of brilliance and originality.