Like many musicians and creative artists during the COVID pandemic, Aaron Foster and Troy Boone decided to record a project in order to keep themselves and other friends actively playing music, based around what the duo had been playing together at Ole Smoky Moonshine in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the fall of 2019. Aaron’s ultimate goal with Smoky Mountain Favorites was to record an album of the traditional bluegrass that he loved all throughout his life. Unfortunately Aaron, or Frosty as he was lovingly referred to by friends and family, passed away unexpectedly before the project was completed. With mixing and mastering left to do, Troy Boone used this effort to work through the grief surrounding the loss of his musical partner.
The track listing of Smoky Mountain Favorites is primarily comprised of traditional bluegrass standards. Head Over Heels In Love With You comes from the repertoire of Flatt & Scruggs, of course. It’s a strong opening track that demonstrates Boone & Foster’s capabilities as vocalists and instrumentalists. Along with Troy Boone on mandolin and Aaron Foster on guitar, the core band for this release also consists of Brady Wallen on banjo and harmony vocals, Daniel Greeson on fiddle and harmony vocals, and Aaron Ramsey on upright bass. Some of the other standards on this project include Tiny Broken Heart, Fox On The Run, Gotta Travel On, and Rocky Top.
County Fool is most likely the newest composition on this project. Written by Patrick McDougal, and first recorded by Alan Bibey on his 2000 solo release In The Blue Room, the arrangement here sticks fairly closely to Bibey’s rendition. Nonetheless it’s a great performance loaded with appropriate intensity.
Uncle Pen features some guest artists. Rickey Wasson and Ron Stewart who performed together as part of J.D. Crowe & The New South, both appear with Wasson contributing lead vocals and Ron Stewart playing fiddle, the most integral instrument to this Bill Monroe evergreen. Avery Welter of the Tim Shelton Syndicate also contributes tenor vocals to this track. Another song featuring guest vocalists is Think of What You’ve Done which includes C.J. Lewandowski and Jereme Brown of The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys. There honestly couldn’t be two better artists to render this Stanley Brothers classic, and they do a fine job.
I’ve Never Been So Lonesome was first recorded by Ted Lundy, Fred Hanna and the Southern Mountain Boys in 1962 and has been covered by several artists over the years. Boone & Foster’s rendition is somewhat subdued in comparison to other versions, but it’s still done really well.
Long Journey Home is by far the most energetic and fast paced track on this release. It’s most reminiscent of the rendition played by the Johnson Mountain Boys in Lucketts, Virginia in February 1988. This is by far the album’s standout as it captures Aaron’s enthusiasm and exuberance. It clearly rubbed off on the other musicians involved with this recording.
Though Aaron Foster departed this world all too soon, Smoky Mountain Favorites is part of the legacy of music that he’s left behind. Though it had to have been challenging for Troy Boone to see this project all the way through, it’s safe to say that his pal Frosty is smiling down from heaven, and probably chuckling a good bit at the surprise bonus track at the end of the album!