Another example of how much technology has benefitted the recent generation of aspiring musicians is on display in the new CD release of North Carolina group Mountain Faith, titled Save Me. Early bluegrass musicians learned through years of trial and error, relying primarily on their own natural abilities and the influences of primarily local musicians, slowly maturing over a long period of time. With the benefit of instructional materials, hand-held video and audio recorders (many of which can slow down and loop passages), computer software that can produce written transcriptions of audio recordings, internet, teleconference video lessons, etc., the learning curve and “age of maturity” have been advanced to astounding levels.
Mountain Faith is based on the family trio of father Sam McMahan, his daughter Summer Brooke McMahan, and son Brayden McMahan. Summer, age 18, plays fiddle and is the primary lead vocalist. Brayden, age 17, plays banjo. The family is joined in the group by Paul Harrigill and John Morgan, who alternatively switch on various tracks between mandolin and guitar.
The male vocals, both lead and harmony, are very good, but unfortunately the CD liner notes do not identify which group members are providing them (on individual songs or overall). The liner notes feature rather large, and very nice, photos of each individual group member, and information about who plays what instrument on each song, but information about the vocals, as well as some background about the group, would have been nice.
After looking up their website for more information, it appears that Mr. Morgan is a ripe old 16 years old. Mr. Harrigill’s bio is not on the site, but despite the presence of a little facial hair visible on his photo, I would suspect he is not more than 20 years old. Why all the fuss about their ages? Well, to hear what is being created by 16, 17, and 18 year-olds today, is, in a word, amazing. While the word is overused (I tease my daughter about her overuse of the word), it truly fits here. Other than my minor criticism of the liner notes, I could not find a negative thing to say about this recording if I wanted to do so.
The vocals are outstanding. Summer has been heavily influenced by Alison Krauss, but at 18 she is already finding her own material and has all the tools to create her own style. Instrumentally, all the musicians have a balance between doing enough to be interesting without being “showy,” attention-seeking, or forgetting the importance of the melody.
My comments about the part technology has played in the development of musicians should not be interpreted to take anything away from Mountain Faith’s own efforts and abilities. The technology has allowed young musicians to learn at a higher rate, but has not always resulted in musicians with taste and good judgment about what to play, or what not to play — a part of the maturation process for most musicians which takes many years.
Mountain Faith is ahead of the curve in every aspect of this recording — vocals, instrumental performance, and selection and arrangement of material. There is a good balance of original compositions from the group (The Heritage, by John Morgan, and Tomorrow May Never Come, by Paul Harrigill), and familiar favorites (Peace In The Valley, Gone Away, Love Lifted Me), along with contributions from other songwriters. It appears from their performance calendar that they have been playing primarily in their home state of North Carolina, with occasional trips into South Carolina and Georgia. Mountain Faith will certainly become a nationally recognized group if they choose to seek a career in music.
Although they have primarily played bluegrass gospel, some of Mountain Faith’s Youtube videos feature them playing secular music as well. They popped up on the radar nationally in 2010 by performing a series of shows with Barry Scott after the breakup of Second Wind, an experience that no doubt benefitted them greatly.
This recording should get good airplay and introduce them to a wider audience. Congratulations to Tim Surrett, who produced the project and contributed bass and dobro to the recording, and everyone else associated with Save Me.
I look forward to hearing them in person next year.