Lonesome River Band are one of those rare contemporary bluegrass outfits that have the means of combining old school precepts with a decidedly modern melodic sensibility, without sacrificing the integrity of either. It’s a difficult juggling act to be sure; on the one hand, they want to avoid upsetting the purists, but on the other, they’ve found the need to entice a younger audience that’s not yet acclimated to music of a more vintage variety.
With Outside Looking In on Mountain Home Music, they’ve come as close as they could to towing that tenuous divide. The instrumental elements encompass what one might expect in a bluegrass setting, with guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin maintaining the front line. Drums are also incorporated into the mix, which in itself marks a departure from traditional trappings. Likewise, the band serves the songs as much or more than simply demonstrating their dexterity. Yet while most of the material comes from outside the group’s ranks, it doesn’t necessarily deviate from the norm. A take on Mark Knopfler’s Calling Elvis is an interesting move, but in execution, it veers more towards a down home delivery rather than the Dire Straits dynamic.
This is after all Lonesome River Band, and not the similarly sounding Little River Band we’re talking about here.
In the liner notes that grace the inside sleeve, the group refers to their desire to find a happy medium without sacrificing any reverence for the roots. “We are going to continue to hold true to these traditional values and deliver great material the best way we know how,” they insist. At the same time, they are, they declare, “singing about love, prayer, heartaches, murder, cheating, betrayal, the king of Rock and Roll, and everyday life.”
That’s a heady mix of course, and while some subjects fit the bluegrass template, others, of course, do not. No matter though. In listening to the good natured sounds of Generosity Killed This Cat, New Ballards Branch, If I Had a Cheating Heart, and the easy, amiable title track, it’s evident that their determination to convey a freewheeling, unpretentious sound is at the top of their agenda.
So where do they stand in terms of towing the line? Ultimately it doesn’t matter. Good music is really all that makes any difference.