The next CD project from Mountain Heart, Wide Open, was originally slated for release on Skaggs Family Records in January of 2006, but has been pushed back to February 14. This one marks a departure of sorts for the band, as the material and the production are more ambitious and far-reaching than anything they have done to this point. The CD was produced by Mark Bright, whose previous work has been for more mainstream country artists such as Rascal Flatts and Jo Dee Messina.
Bluegrass Today received an advance copy of Wide Open, and found it to be a uniquely solid recording, with strong material, memorable performances and some fairly challenging and adventurous arrangements. There is no doubt that some traditionalists will fret over the band’s move to embrace music other than straight ahead bluegrass, but anyone who can be open to the music moving in a slightly different direction will find this to be real gem.
The boys don’t run from banjos and fiddles, and percussion is only used sparingly and on a few cuts, so grassers will feel at home with sound. It may be the arrangements that diverge most glaringly from what you would expect from a bluegrass band, and this may also be the project’s strength. Instrumental signatures are used as often as common bluegrass-style breaks, key changes occur at unexpected times, and duet and three part harmony pop up on both verses and choruses alike.
The cleverness and care with which the songs were written also bears note – no cabin songs to be found. I Remember You, Here I Am and Travelers Prayer deserve particular mention in this regard. It seems that banjo player Barry Abernathy is featured a bit more prominently as a lead vocalist, in addition to guitarist Steve Gulley. Mandolinist Adam Steffey gets his time as well, turning in very strong tracks on Here I Am, an interesting twist on the “good and evil” story, and Town That isn’t There, which is very much in the style of Mountain Man from the last their No Other Way CD.
Skaggs Family intends to promote the CD to Americana radio, but has no plans to push it as a country release. Nothing solid on the possibility of a video from Wide Open either, in large part based on the dwindling number of videos being played on CMT of late. There are no audio samples up yet on the band’s or the label’s web sites, but you can expect to find them as the street date of 2/14 draws near..