While it’s a well known fact that traditional bluegrass has always had elements in common with folk music of a vintage variety, it takes an outfit like the Songs From The Road Band to make that connection consistently clear. On Road To Nowhere, their fourth album to date and clearly their most confident, this all-star conglomerate tows a fine line between Americana, grassicana, and contemporary country. In so doing, they purvey an earnest intent that finds ready comparisons with newgrass outfits such as Town Mountain, Steep Country Rangers, and other like-minded contemporary combos that bear reputations as festival favorites.
The aforementioned similarities come as no surprise considering that bassist Charles R. Humphrey III is a veteran of the Steep Canyon Rangers, as well as an IBMA award and Grammy recipient. The fact that Town Mountain’s Phil Barker also contributes vocals, mandolin, and guitar to several songs helps enhance that familiarity factor as well. Other known names are also involved — Jonathan Byrd, Shawn Camp, Jon Stickley, and Andy Thorn among them — but the band itself is no slouch as far as their accredited personnel. Each member — Humphrey (bass), Mark Schimick (mandolin), Ryan Cavanaugh (banjo), Sam Wharton (guitar), and James Schlender (fiddle) — have accumulated kudos on their own and in supportive roles with others. Humphrey does most of the songwriting, but the input from outside sources helps assure variation in tone and treatment.
To that end, it’s the songs themselves that bear distinction, and while there are certain instrumental elements that are particularly prominent in the mix — banjo, fiddle and mandolin chief among them — the music that results isn’t necessarily of the back porch variety. Songs such as Lesson I Can’t Unlearn, Road To Nowhere, and Comes In Waves are measured but distinctive, excellent examples of a kind of that aforementioned folksy finesse.
Likewise, a track like Around Like Vinyl allows opportunity for some seasoned sentiment to be expressed as well. After all, any band that’s willing to share appreciation for spinning records deserves its fair share of kudos right form the get-go.
Their unassuming handle aside, the Songs From The Road Band achieve their credence through both consistency and clarity. Are they the next big name? Suffice it to say, they have all the savvy needed.