While bluegrass isn’t a summer-only music, it’s no secret that the warmer months are well suited to the festivals, camping, and late-night jams beside of campfires and picnic tables that bluegrass fans love so well. Many bluegrass artists slow down during the winter, perhaps playing a handful of shows or spending time recording. Looking to keep busy, IIIrd Tyme Out banjo man Steve Dilling got together on the side a few years ago with some friends to play a few Christmastime performances. Those performances, as well as a few IBMA showcases, led to the formation of Sideline, a band that some are calling the newest bluegrass “supergroup.”
Sideline has recently released its first album, a twelve-track collection on Mountain Fever Records entitled Session I. Like several previous supergroups, Sideline has chosen to fall hard on the side of tradition with this effort, packing the album with driving, banjo-heavy numbers that are largely pulled from the past. The majority of the songs here are old bluegrass favorites, with a few well-done new tracks, leading to a strong, enjoyable modern traditional album.
Darrell Webb’s distinctive lead vocals can be found on the majority of tracks here, and as usual, he does a fine job interpreting the sounds of tradition. One of the standout songs is Marshall Wilborn’s Goodbye to the Blues. Slightly updated and a bit darker sounding than the Johnson Mountain Boys’ cut of the song, this number finds Webb being quite angry at the blues that just won’t leave him alone. Another song which is particularly strong is the old country favorite What Made Milwaukee Famous, which has a nice classic country sound and emotion-filled vocals from Webb.
Girl at the Crossroads Bar is upbeat, with tight harmonies and fine fiddling from Justen Haynes. Jimmy Martin’s classic Sophronie is also fast-paced, performed at a furious, breakneck speed. Fans of very traditional bluegrass may be a bit unsettled hearing it, but they should certainly enjoy Sideline’s straightforward, mid-tempo take on Bill Monroe/Lester Flatt song When You’re Lonely.
Of the newer tracks, The Way, The Truth, The Light stands out. It’s an enjoyable Gospel tune penned by Webb in the style of classic Flatt and Scruggs. Old Joe Clark Blues is an update on the traditional banjo tune, telling the story of Old Joe Clark, his family, and his music, while I Wonder if Our Love is the Healing Kind finds the singer musing on the state of a broken relationship.
There’s no doubt for one second of this album that the musicians here are talented. Dilling is a force to be reckoned with throughout the album, driving his banjo as hard as he can on almost every track, making this album a treat for fans of the five. Webb (mandolin), Haynes (fiddle), Skip Cherryholmes (guitar), and Jason Moore (bass) all contribute solid efforts both vocally and instrumentally, as well.
While the musicians in Sideline may play varying styles of bluegrass in their regular bands, they come together here to create a fine modern traditional album. For more information, visit the band’s Facebook at www.facebook.com/sideline2. Their new album can be purchased from various online music retailers.