Most artist management and music business consultants will tell you that an identifiable vocal sound is the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd most important element in an artist or band sound. The ability to immediately recognize a vocalist is said to be key to success on the radio.
Likewise, having multiple lead vocalists in a band is said to be a bad move, resulting in confusion among consumers and radio listeners, something to be avoided at all costs. Bluegrass acts have honored this credo largely in the breach over recent years, however. Starting as early as Seldom Scene, we have embraced groups with more than one primary singer, with current examples like Lonesome River Band, Blue Highway and The Boxcars continuing the trend.
One More Road, the debut album from Shannon and Heather Slaughter & County Clare, is another example of doing this right. Their two voices couldn’t be more different; Shannon’s with a gravelly edge, Heather’s sweet and pure. But the husband/wife duo harmonize beautifully, and their distinct vocal styles offer the band the ability to mine more than one vein in the bluegrass world.
But you still need a good cast of backing musicians, and strong material, to make a stellar album.
Fortunately, Shannon is a first rate songwriter, something we have discussed here many times in the past, and works with a number of compatible co-writers. 7 of the 12 tracks on the new record come from this well, with help from Shawn Lane, Dale Felts, Mike Bentley, Terry Foust, and Heather Slaughter.
And County Clare provides all the support you would expect from a crack rhythm section. Ronald Inscore is on mandolin, Casey Murray on banjo, and John Boulware on fiddle, with Shannon on guitar and Heather on bass. Also assisting in the studio were Rob Ickes on resonator guitar, Tina Steffey on clawhammer banjo, and Mike Johnson on pedal steel guitar.
The songs fall into a number of categories. Shannon sings The Lives of the Innocent, Ballad of Johnse Hatfield and Daddy Killed The Calf, which all present as historical fiction, telling stories of hard times in an earlier age. Shannon really shines as a writer in this setting, combining his own study of American history with a vivid imagination and an obvious compassion for his subjects.
From Heather, I Might Be and You An’t Going Nowhere are both hopeful and upbeat, while the poignant They Never Got The Chance carries a strong pro-life message, minus the finger-pointing and recrimination you might find in a political debate.
Banjo players, and fans of Earl Scruggs (which is everyone reading this, yes?), will enjoy When Scruggs Made Me A Star, a tribute to the late banjo man told from the perspective of the 5 string banjo he elevated to prominence.
For the most part, the Slaughters take their turns singing lead, but pair up for a a duet on Tom Hardin’s If I Was A Carpenter, a hit in 1970 for Johnny Cash and June Carter.
All the picking is superb, but special kudos go to Inscore whose mandolin sparkles throughout.
One More Road is a serious and effective launch for County Clare, and a sign that the Slaughters are likely to leave their mark on bluegrass music for many years to come.