It seems to be a a life cycle that must occur for those artists who got their start in bluegrass music but transitioned to the country music world, to return to bluegrass when their country career is over. At times it doesn’t work so well, but other times it turns out for the best in a big way (consider Ricky Skaggs).
Joe Diffie is the latest artist to follow this road. Diffie got his musical start playing bluegrass in central Oklahoma. As a young man, he decided to pursue a career in country music and moved to Nashville. It worked out pretty well for him. He accumulated twelve #1 hits, twenty top 10’s, and four gold and platinum albums. Not bad at all.
On August 24, 2010 though, Diffie returns to his roots with the first bluegrass record ever released under his own name. 25 years ago he was a part of The Special Edition, along with Billy Joe Foster, when they released an album by the same name. Now Diffie is releasing his own bluegrass recording appropriately entitled, Homecoming. The album will be released by Rounder Records with a street date of August 24, 2010.
The album is a 12 song bluegrass tour-de-force. Diffie reprises one tune from the original Special Edition record, renders an excellent remake of Larry Cordle’s I Know How It Feels, turns in a stellar performance on the Flatt & Scruggs standard Somehow Tonight, and introduces a few new tunes as well.
[http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/Somehow_Tonight.mp3] – Somehow Tonight
The picking is excellent, featuring such notable musicians as: Rob Ickes, Aubrey Haynie, Mike Compton, Bryan Sutton, Mark Fain, and Charlie Cushman.
The harmonies are great as well, with The Grascals, Rhonda Vincent, Bradly Walker, Alecia Nugent, and Harley Allen.
Speaking of Harley Allen, one of my favorite cuts on the CD is Allen’s Free and Easy, a tune I first heard several years ago on a demo. I liked it then, and I like it now. It’s an excellent song, and Diffie did it justice with this version.
Any good bluegrass record must include a murder ballad, and Diffie doesn’t disappoint. He brings us the vivid 3/4 time number ‘Til Death. This one can only be done justice in print if I quote a few of the lyrics.
Near the beginning of the song we hear where this is going to end up when Diffie sings this line.
“I’d lost my darling girl.
Right then I vowed my own true love’s
not long for this old world.”
Then the final lines of the song conclude the story arc.
I shot her through the heart,
remember what that preacher said,
‘Til Death do us part.
Now that’s lonesome!
[http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/Till_Death.mp3] – ‘Til Death
Perhaps my favorite cut on the CD is the one that is most closely tied to the album title, Route 5 Box 109. It’s a “take me back” kind of tune in which the singer is driving on the highway and thinking about home. The imagery employed appealed to Diffie, I’m sure, in the same way it did to me. It reminded me of my second home with my close friends the Carney’s in Velma, OK. It sure made me want to show up for one of Mom’s home cooked meals and a conversation about Andy and Barney!
[http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/Route5Box109.mp3] – Route 5 Box 109
If you’re a fan of either Joe Diffie and/or good bluegrass, I suggest you give this album a listen. You won’t be disappointed. Homecoming is sure to be one 2010’s memorable recordings.