With so many subgenres and genre mixes and edge-of-this-or-that’s out there, sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and listen to straight-ahead bluegrass with a prominent five string and songs of heartbreak, hard work, and the mountains. That’s just about exactly what listeners get with The Road Back Home, the debut album from multi-instrumentalist and singer Tony Rook.
Rook, a native of North Carolina who currently makes his home in Minnesota, has performed with several regional groups over the past few decades and currently plays guitar for Dick Kimmel & Co. On The Road Back Home, he’s featured not only on guitar, but also provides banjo and bass on a handful of songs and sings lead throughout the album. Rook also gets to show off his songwriting prowess – he contributed eight originals to the project.
One of those originals starts the album off on a high note. I’ll Make Time is an upbeat toe-tapper about a man who’s trying his best to convince a waitress to come home with him, even promising to wait for her for an eternity. Graham Sones, one of Rook’s Dick Kimmel & Co. bandmates, provides nice, steady banjo, while Matt Flinner’s bright mandolin adds a bit of pep to the song. Lauralee is a reflective, gently rolling Civil War number, sung from the perspective of a Confederate soldier beginning to doubt he’ll ever return home. Rook has a hint of weariness in his voice here that suits the lyrics well. He switches gears for Appalachian Springtime, a pleasant slice-of-life song that rejoices in heading to the hills for a favorite music festival – most likely MerleFest, based on a few lyrical hints.
Another well-written song is the title track, a celebration of returning to the simple life after a lifetime of hard work and missed chances. I especially like that Rook sings of wishing to “live my life again as if it were my own.” He captures a feeling that I’m sure many listeners, caught up in the busyness of life, will identify with. Down This Road is one of those cheerful-sounding heartbreak numbers that are always popular in bluegrass. It’s a thoughtful piece that finds the singer trying to talk himself through a potential break-up. The instrumental interlude in the middle of the song is a bit odd, but this track does have more of a progressive flair than the rest of the album.
Becky Buller provides fiddle on several songs throughout the record, including the enjoyable take on folk-pop song Reason to Believe (which has been previously recorded by a number of artists, from The Carpenters to Rod Stewart), and Simple People, which opens with some classic country flavor. The latter is an earnest, heartfelt ode to folks who don’t have much in the way of material things, but make up for it with love. There’s a twist near the end that brings to mind some of James King’s classic numbers, and I could easily hear this song fitting in to the Bluegrass Storyteller’s repertoire.
On The Road Back Home, Rook gives us contemporary bluegrass with a traditional bent. He’s a capable singer and musician, and has included several top-notch original songs here. The artists who join him do a fine job of interpreting his melodies and solidifying the album’s smooth sound. In addition to those mentioned above, instrumentalists include Terry Johnson (bass), Dick Kimmel (mandolin), and Tim Carter (mandolin). This is a solid, straightforward album, and a nice introduction to Rook for those in the larger bluegrass community.
For more information about Rook, visit his website at www.tonyrookmusic.com. His new album can be purchased from several online music retailers and is available to radio programmers at Airplay Direct.