Jr Williams could deservedly be called a purist. He stays true to bluegrass basics, and sources his much of his material from vintage sources. Having performed in bluegrass bands for over 35 years — most notably as a member of Newfound Road and NewTown — he possesses the wherewithal to make an album that tends to tap tradition.
That said, he varies his sources, covering songs by revered predecessors — among them, Lester Flatt, Del McCoury, Hank Williams, and Carter Stanley — as well as a pair of relatively recent songs from Thomm Jutz and Tim Stafford. He also boasts a superb backing band, one consisting of Adam Steffey on mandolin; Aaron Ramsey doling out guitar, mandolin, bass, and harmony vocals; guitarist and harmony singer Jacob Burleson; Jeff Parton on dobro, bass and harmonies; and fiddler Nathan Aldridge. Junior Sisk, Amanda Cook, and Zach Arnold make cameos on vocals, while Williams shines on banjo and does most of the singing.
One also has to credit Williams with the way he mines his material. The upbeat opener Gonna Settle Down, the album’s sole instrumental, Sledd Ridin’, the jaunty Can I Go Home With You, and the well-trod traditional tune, Worried Man Blues, are all conveyed with pure verve and vitality, the true epitome of what effectively constitutes a true down home delivery. The Don Williams cover, Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good, shares overt optimism through hopeful happenstance, while Let Me Walk, Lord, By Your Side offers spiritual solace in a most humble and disarming way.
Still, the highlight of the album overall comes with the Jutz and Stafford composition, Railroad Town Without a Train, a first person narrative about an obvious misstep that accompanied some unfettered growth and development. The incongruity could be considered ironic in a sense, and yet, it’s also a cautionary tale about what happens in the wake of urban sprawl.
Williams is well aware that music often bears lessons that need to be learned, and those are the dictates that inform Railroad Town as a whole. It is, in a true sense, a triumph at every turn.