Although Tony and Heather Mabe have been spending most of their time lately picking and singing in Junior Sisk’s band, the North Carolina-based couple have also taken the time to record a new duo record, showcasing their love of old-timey mountain music. Old Soul: A Collection of Mountain Music was recently released from Clay Hess’s 7Flat Records. Its blend of modern traditional bluegrass, Gospel, and Carter Family-style early country music is a unique one in today’s music landscape, but it’s thoroughly and completely enjoyable.
Before signing on with Sisk, the Mabes had spent most of their touring time performing in churches throughout the region, and have long been open about their faith and Christian ministry. As such, several the songs here are religious in nature. Most listeners will recognize the popular hymn Beulah Land, given a beautiful reading by Heather here. She accompanies herself on the autoharp, giving the song a peaceful feel, and allowing her vocals to shine. Another excellent vocal showpiece is Coming Home (sometimes known as Lord I’m Coming Home), performed a capella with a hint of that haunting Ralph Stanley/Primitive Baptist feel. The arrangement was a great choice, making the song truly moving.
Sea of Galilee offers listeners a duet between Tony and Heather. Again, the vocals are great, with Tony offering an earnest lead on the verses. The couple has long been influenced by Tom T. Hall, and Tony’s singing here is reminiscent of Hall’s straightforward style. Kneel at the Cross picks up the tempo a bit with the addition of some spot-on old-time banjo. It’s a catchy number, easy to sing along and rejoice with.
On the secular side of things is Alice Gerrard and Hazel Dickens’s, West Virginia, My Home. The Mabes have arranged this one with more touches of acoustic country and modern bluegrass, and Heather tackles it with ease with plenty of emotion in her voice. It could easily become a radio hit. Little Annie has a similar bluegrass treatment, guided by gentle mandolin and banjo. It’s slower and more serene than most versions of this old song are, fitting in with the feel of most of this album.
Throughout their time playing together, and with some of Heather’s solo work, the Mabes have often drawn from classic Carter Family songs and given them slight modern updates. On this album, Wildwood Flower is a highlight. While it seems like it will be an instrumental (as is usually common when this number is performed in bluegrass circles), the couple comes in with the lesser-known vocals to the song about halfway through. It’s a pleasant tune and a nice tribute to the First Family of Country Music.
If you’ve just recently been introduced to the Mabes through their work with Junior Sisk, check out this album. If you’ve been a long-time fan, check out this album. If you’ve never heard of them, but you enjoy gentle melodies and excellent singing with an old-time flavor, check out this album. Have I gotten my message across yet?
The Mabes have done a fine job with Old Soul, and I’m sure you’ll soon be hearing the album on a radio station near you.