Credit Alan Sibley & The Magnolia Ramblers for finding the ideal combination of rowdiness and reverence on their new LP, Sounds Like the South, a heartfelt set of mostly uptempo songs that allows the album title to express its own truth in advertising. Then again, Sibley, a musician from Mississippi, has plenty of experience and expertise when it comes to mining more sacred realms. He began his professional career at age 15, accepting the role of mandolin player with The Sullivan Family, a Gospel group of considerable renown. He later moved on, taking turns with The Larry Wallace Band and Jerry & Tammy Sullivan, two prominent bluegrass bands that also made their mark by touring the deep south.
After seven years of service with the latter two outfits, Sibley opted to form a band of his own, Alan Sibley & The Magnolia Ramblers. The band’s been active for over a decade, and the current album shows just how effectively they’ve developed their craft, especially while ploughing a divide between the secular and the sacred.
Still, the thing that’s most notable, especially on first hearing, is how the band takes a kind of fatalistic philosophy even while pondering the inevitable — death, displacement and loneliness in particular —and yet they still manage to relay the music with upbeat circumspect. On songs such as Little Old Log Cabin, Maple on the Hill, and No One Knew My Name, they sing from the vantage point of people who have come to terms with their day of reckoning, while still managing — through faith or fortitude or both — to reconcile their fate and find happiness in what lies beyond. Most of the material is culled from the public domain — and previously played on the RFD-TV program, Bluegrass Trail, a series Sibley hosts on a consistent basis. Yet despite the vintage origins, the band’s instrumental interplay makes every track sound spirited and celebratory in a contemporary context. Sibley’s fluid guitar and mandolin dominate the proceedings, but the lively arrangements allow each musician an opportunity to individually stand out.
Each of these offerings shine through a sepia hew, capturing in the aural imagery a rugged, rural glimpse of America’s southern divide. In tone, treatment and tempo, Sibley and company make Sounds like the South from Noxubee Hill Music Group more than a blanket claim.