Mountain Heart has undergone considerable changes throughout their 20 year history, transitioning from a traditional bluegrass band to one whose broad sweep now includes not only bluegrass, but a hybrid grassicana sound that incorporates the wider berth of Americana as well. That can be attributed to the fact that the band has, quite literally, entirely transformed over the years, with the group’s current personnel wholly different from the membership that originally initiated the outfit in 1998. The most distinctive transition came about when singer Josh Shilling took over the lead vocal chores in 2006, but so too, it’s worth noting that none of the original musicians remain in the fold today.
While that could have proven fatal in some cases, in truth, the band is no worse for wear. In fact, as demonstrated on their exceptional new album Soul Searching, they’re capable of creating quite a diverse musical mix, one that can easily incorporate their bluegrass origins on You Can’t Hide a Broken Heart while easily accommodating Shilling’s fluid keyboards through Curly Headed Woman and Restless Wind in particular. The rich, resonant vocals frequently bring comparisons to another refitted bluegrass band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, a similarity that’s also shored up through their distinctive diversity and emotional impact as well. It’s a sound and stance that resonates most notably through the affecting sounds imbued in their ballads — the mostly instrumental Amicalola Falls, the dramatic title track and the mournful Stars as well.
While Shilling is often the one that comes to the fore, his fellow band members deserve credit for their contributions. Jeff Partin locks down the sometimes stealth-like rhythms on bass while adding extra tones and textures with resophonic guitar, lap steel, and his shared lead vocals. Aaron Ramsey also contributes lead vocals, as well as a fluid mandolin. Seth Taylor provides deft leads on acoustic and electric guitar, effectively filling out the sound with his rootsier regimen.
Ultimately, Soul Searching is an album that bows to the sentiments expressed in its title, bringing the band to a new plateau of conviction and connectivity that began with their previous album, Blue Skies, which, in turn, marked their first new release in five years. Their transformation complete, Mountain Heart is now beating stronger than ever.
Soul Searching releases August 10 from Compass Records. Pre-orders are available online.