Had you been thinking, “I wonder what happened to Gold Heart?” I know I had when I ran into them at the IBMA’s World Of Bluegrass convention last September in Raleigh. Tori Gold, the eldest of the three singing Gold sisters told me that she hears that everywhere they go… “Where have you guys been?”
In truth, they had been continuing to tour from their home base in Northern Virginia, and had just completed a new project which had consumed a lot of their time. It’s just that after their prior release with Rural Rhythm, My Sisters And Me, had it’s run in 2009 – and nobody was crowing about them anymore – it felt a bit like they had dropped off the map.
But Tori assured me in September that they were still going strong, and indicated that they were at WOB shopping a new album to record labels. Mountain Fever won that battle, and has recently released Places I’ve Been.
For this latest album, the girls have assembled another fine collection of their original material, arranged and recorded in an aggressive, modern bluegrass style. Ron Stewart produced and played banjo, and pulled a first rate performance from this talented trio, with the assistance of their Dad, Trent, on bass.
Tori is on mandolin, Jocey on guitar, and Shelby on fiddle. All three swap out singing lead and harmony, and their voices are similar enough that they not only blend seamlessly in the trios, but allow for a consistent sound from one track to the next, regardless of who is taking the lead.
The only guests on the CD are Rob Ickes, who lays down reso-guitar on four tracks, and Josh Shilling, who provides an eerie duet with Shelby on O.K. Corral, her telling of the infamous shootout in Tombstone, AZ back in 1881. It’s doubtful you could count all the treatments of this story that have been captured in song, and Shelby’s is surprisingly mature for such a young lady, rendered here as a bluesy, mid-tempo, key-of-D ballad.
The record opens with Ain’t That Crazy, written and sung by Jocey, which has served as the album’s first single. It has a familiar pentatonic, contemporary bluegrass feel, while Jocey sings about the playtime fantasies of a little girl. Perhaps you would expect a song with such a theme to be all sweetness, light, and butterflies, but this one is punchy, gritty, and what Adam Steffey likes to call “mean.”
Steam Engine seems like a dead cinch for the next single, a fast-moving song which Tori sings about meeting a cowboy who helps a lady off a train, and before long, the two are running off together. Two other tracks have travel and roaming as a theme as well. The title track is a sort of stream-of-consciousness number of Shelby’s about… well, places she’s been. Jocey’s Back With Me is a relaxed, tuneful song about all the places the singer can imagine running across a lost love. Stewart’s banjo is brilliant on this one. Is there any other bluegrass picker more on top of their game right now?
Weather and the seasons also receive the Gold Heart treatment. Joey and Shelby wrote Late December, a fast-paced song of regret about a loved one who died in wintertime, and Jocey and their mom, Kim, wrote one titled Summertime, a happy celebration of the season.
I know better than to ask a young lady’s age, but be assured, these ladies are young. When I first encountered them at Cabin Fever ten years or so ago, they were even younger, and they have since all three grown into confident, serious professional bluegrass artists with something to say.
One note: the song sequence on the disc doesn’t match the listing in the printed insert owing to the inclusion of a brief intro to track 2, which gets its own track ID on the CD. Don’t let it foul you.
Places I’ve Been is a strong release, with a fresh sound and engaging new songs. Sounds like a can’t miss to me.