It could be fairly said that all bluegrass music has roots in Kentucky. Even new music created a thousand miles and 70 years away still traces back to the commonwealth that gave its name to the sound that Bill Monroe envisioned in the 1940s.
Though Monroe hailed from the western part of the state, eastern Kentucky has its own rich vein of bluegrass, memorialized in the contributions of Keith Whitley and still epitomized by Ricky Skaggs, as does the central part of the state which produced J.D. Crowe.
And the sounds that Kentucky cultivated have now spread out across the wider world, through radio and recordings, and by the movement of Kentucky coal families around the United States.
Such is the story of Ohio singer and songwriter Mark Whitt, whose new project, Over You, is widely available now online. Though he grew up in the Dayton region, his parents were born and raised in eastern Kentucky, and shared their love of bluegrass and traditional mountain music with him as he grew up. In fact, Mark credits his dad, Vinson, appearing to him in a dream not long after he passed at 83 with spurring him to get moving and doing something with his music.
The dream, which Mark took as dad assuring him that he was doing just fine in Heaven, inspired him to write I Heard Sweet Music Playing, one of two original songs on Over You, the other being the title cut. They fit perfectly into the bluegrass canon, both mid-tempo waltz songs with a decidedly traditional sound.
This is Whitt’s second professional release, and it is tidily produced and engineered by fellow Ohioan Clay Hess, who also played most of the instruments in the studio with Mark singing lead. Hess is among our most capable bluegrass artists, and he demonstrates his talents ably on banjo, mandolin and guitar, not to mention his tenor vocal on several tracks. Joe Mullins provides guest vocals as well, adding tenor to the title track and a very engaging version of Carter Stanley’s Lonesome River.
Mark calls on the Stanleys for several songs on this project. The album opens with Let Me Be Your Friend, which Carter and Ralph first recorded in 1949, and he also includes one of their biggest numbers, How Mountain Girls Can Love. There are also a pair of songs taken from Flatt & Scruggs, My Cabin In Caroline and Blue Ridge Cabin Home, the all-time doublet of cabin songs. Mark turns in very credible readings of all these songs, and Clay displays his mastery of all the bluegrass instruments on each of them.
Tim Crouch adds tasteful fiddle throughout.
Whitt has a very appealing voice, and an abiding fondness for the music of the first generation of bluegrass pioneers which he replicates authentically here.
You can keep up with Mark Whitt online.