Make no mistake — the Allegheny Drifters have no allusions about being nu-grass, grassicana, Americana, or for that matter anything other that what they are, which is traditional bluegrass. Some might deride them for making no attempt to push the parameters, especially given the fact that so many bands these days are trying to do just that. At the same time, however, the charm and enthusiasm the group expresses on stage and on record more than makes up for any old fashioned, Pollyanna-like sentiment. The songs they share on Rolling On reflect a distinct down home mentality bound up in familiar themes — love of home and hearth, a connection with nature, a fanciful fascination with trains, and their faith-based devotion — and given their deft interplay of fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, and bass, they convey their convictions with skill and sincerity.
“Life lessons learned by the choices we’ve made, some bring us joy while others bring us heartache,” they suggest on Life Lessons, a song that more or less sums up their simple, straight-forward tenants, along with a kind of innocuous innocence. And it has little to do with whether one shares the religious references shared in a medley that combines a giddy Happy Gospel with the devout indulgence of Hide You in the Blood. Either way, there’s no denying the beauty of their lockstep harmonies and the pervasive delivery that accompanies them.
It’s that idyllic innocence that matters most, and whether its the effusive exuberance of Westbound 109 and the dazzle and drive of Mountain High and Valley Low, or the wistful reflection of Blue Ridge, and overt optimism of Heaven’s Green Fields, the players are absolutely on point and bound up in the full flush of absolute enthusiasm. Not surprisingly then, the set list boasts an equal number of originals and stoic standards culled from the public domain. David Wiffen’s perennial favorite Lost My Driving Wheel is given an especially rousing treatment, and when they tap into the traditional trappings of a song like Miss McCleod’s Reel, their affinity for genuine folk finesse is absolutely in evidence.
Ultimately, the Allegheny Drifters garner their appeal by disregarding flash, frenzy and most other additives of contemporary credence and simply by sticking with the basics. Whether that’s enough to win them favor with younger audiences and those who view bluegrass as just shortcut towards achieving populist appeal is a matter of conjecture. Rolling On finds them happily rolling on regardless.
The album is available from the band’s web site, where audio samples are available, or at any of their live shows.