Some CDs are just meant to be played in front of a cozy fire on a wintry evening, when the listener has time to settle down and sink into the music. Small Town Dreamer, the second Pinecastle release from Daryl Mosley, is just such a project, warm and inviting.
The 12 songs, all written or co-written by Mosley, are a good match for the holidays, too, when thoughts tend to turn toward home, loved ones who are gone, and trips down memory lane to the way things used to be. The musicianship, from top-tier talent, is the main selling point here, especially when Justin Moses (reso-guitar), Adam Haynes (fiddle), and Danny Roberts (mandolin) are featured. On song after song, the instrumental mix is sublime, not only a tribute to the skill of the pickers but also to the production values of Mosley and Roberts.
The vocals are a selling point, too. Mosley’s voice is smooth and pleasant, and harmonies from Jaelee Roberts and Jeanette Williams are about as good as anything you’ll find on a bluegrass project in recent years. The sum of the parts is a solid trio.
The playing, singing, and writing all come together on such songs as Transistor Radio, Bringing Simple Back, and He’s With Me. All three are collaborations of Mosley and Rick Lang, a recent nominee for IBMA Songwriter of the Year. Transistor Radio, which kicks off the CD, is a strong contender for Song of the Year in my estimation. Anyone of a certain age (well north of 50) remembers hiding a radio under the covers, listening to the wondrous sounds pulled in from far-off stations long after curfew. The lyrics recapture that magic, which can never be matched by streaming.
Bringing Simple Back is another reminder that the old days were better, at least in the 20/20 vision of hindsight and selective recall. And He’s With Me is the kind of Gospel song I’ve come to expect when Lang is involved. The message is deep yet approachable, and filled with optimism.
Of Mosley’s solo writes, the best to me is The Last of His Kind. Its message is along the lines of the terrific Susan Werner-penned song, Barbed Wire Boys, about a generation of hard working, dirt under the fingernails men who are disappearing from our lives. It’s poignant but not maudlin, and certainly gives the listener plenty to think about while staring at the dancing flames or the bottom of a glass.
The other songs are good, but they don’t live up to the ones I’ve singled out above. There’s a sameness to a couple, and lyrics that don’t reach the depth of storytelling that the first half of the record led me to expect. It’s not a deal breaker, by any means, but it is noticeable.
If the last six songs were as good as the first six, in fact, I might be talking about Small Town Dreamer in terms of IBMA Album of the Year. As it is, the project is a solid sophomore effort from the former member of New Tradition and The Farm Hands. There’s enough good stuff here to make me eagerly await what Mosley comes up with next.