Ohio-based band Nightflyer has named their second album Rail River & Road – a fitting name that neatly sums up the themes of the majority of the thirteen songs within. They sample from a number of popular bluegrass songwriters here, choosing tracks that lean pretty heavily toward the lonesome side of things. Overall, the five-piece group offers a nice, cohesive modern traditional album.
The album opens with a song from the “rail” portion of the title, Train, Train from southern rock group Blackfoot (perhaps better known to bluegrass fans from the Dolly Parton version). Nightflyer has added in a heavy dose of banjo to pump up the song’s drive, though the arrangement is fairly similar to Parton’s. Two other train songs can be found back-to-back in the middle of the album. The Paula Breedlove/Brad Davis co-write Life is a Train uses a one-way track as a metaphor for life, while Joe Richardson’s Train Whistle Blowing finds the singer leaving a woman who didn’t love him like she should have. Both numbers have a somewhat dark feel and feature strong musicianship, especially from dobro player Tim Jackson.
On the “river” side of things, there’s an enjoyable version of Hazel Dickens’ Old River. Banjo player Ronnie Stewart takes the lead here, and his smooth, mournful voice both fits the song well and matches nicely with the tenor of Richard Propps. Propps actually sings lead on the majority of songs here, and his voice has a slight growl that brings to mind Dave Adkins. It’s a style that’s just a bit different from most of what can be heard on the radio today, and it gives an extra edge to attitude-filled songs like the thief’s lament Coos County Jail and the upbeat White Lightning Blues (which has a good groove and a great ’90s vibe).
The “road” comes into play with songs like the bluesy Keep it in the Middle of the Road, featuring Jackson on lead vocals, and Gospel song The Road to Glory, another Breedlove/Davis collaboration. The latter has a dark feel, but an uplifting message, with the singer telling of Jesus’ redeeming love that is present even in hard times. One of the album’s most enjoyable songs is Greg Luck’s Lonesome Wind, sung here by mandolin player Rick Hayes. It’s a well-written piece that makes good use of Stewart’s banjo.
Hayes, Jackson, Propps, Stewart, and bass man Tony Kakaris are a well-rounded group with solid musical chops. Guest guitarist Clay Hess (who also helped produce the album) adds a dose of his signature style throughout. Fan’s of Hess’s music, and other similar modern traditional groups, will likely enjoy this sophomore effort from Nightflyer.
For more information on Nightflyer, visit their website at www.nightflyerband.com. Their new album is available from several online music retailers.