All too often, critics, pundits and the public as a whole seem intent on defining music by genre, opting for generalization simply for the sake of confining certain sounds to a comfortable niche. That, of course, isn’t only unfair, but it also denies opportunity to get to know the music for the quality and creativity that went into its making.
In the case of Blue Highway, those stereotypes shortchange the songwriting that’s so essential to what this band has always been about. Granted, they have a decided allegiance to bluegrass, replete with all the instrumental additives and regalia needed to serve the sound. Guitar, bass, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin are their essential ingredients, and the group’s songs about rural life and the hills and fields of idyllic environs are often their inspiration. Now 25 years on in their prolific career, Blue Highway have tapped into an easy, accessible style that ensures a quick connection. Given to songs that provide contemporary credence, they exemplify the essence of grassicana, a sound that offers reverence to tradition while offering audiences versatility and variety rather than any strict adherence to a predefined style or structure.
As its title suggests, Somewhere Far Away takes a ready nod to nostalgia, especially in such selections as Dear Kentucky, In Texas Tonight, I Already Do, and Ain’t No Better, Ain’t No Worse. Both tender and touching by design, they find a fine fit with the more spiritual sentiments expressed in Life Song and That Sounds More Like Heaven To Me, songs that draw decidedly from the Gospel tradition. They turn to history for inspiration as well, with Both Ends of the Train and Cochise County sharing an image of outlaws as the stoic symbols of America’s new frontier.
Indeed, emotion is at the core of much of this material, and while ballads take precedence, there’s also enough upbeat energy to affirm their skills and savvy. The album’s sole instrumental, Orville’s Web, draws on that dexterity with an exceptional combination of flourish, frenzy and nuance. Ability and agility find equal weight in their musical MO, and Blue Highway use them to their advantage.
That, in essence, is what makes Somewhere Far Away so immediate… and so essential.