It’s a safe bet that no one will ever accuse the Spinney Brothers of straying from traditional bluegrass, as shaped by Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
Album after album, show after show, the Canadian band stays faithful to the roots of bluegrass, not just in theory but in every single measure of every single song.
Evidence of that unbreakable bond is all over the band’s new recording for Mountain Fever Records, Tried & True. It’s in the performance of each of the dozen songs, for sure. But it’s also spelled out in a short liner note: “No matter what the crop of new songs may be, we will always stand by the merits of traditional bluegrass music,” the Spinneys wrote. “Our goal is to always deliver the music that is in our hearts, music that has stood the test of time, music that is tried & true.”
And just in case that’s not enough to prove their bluegrass fidelity, it’s spelled out explicitly in the Bill Castle-Steve Watts song, My Music Comes From Bill. Yep, that Bill, with guest appearances by Lester and Earl.
Within the bounds of tradition, though, the Spinneys go on quite a musical journey here, matching the many thousands of miles the quartet racks up on the road every year. It’s all here, except for a murder ballad. There’s a train song, a road song, songs about pining for the one that got away, a Gospel song, a parable and much more.
Most of those songs are wonderful, easy-to-listen-to choices. Worth special mention: Thank God for the Highways, a Pete Goble-Leroy Drum song that kicks off the CD, Tracey O’Connell’s Sweet Hazel Moore, Ed Hamilton’s Gonna Catch a Train (Leavin’ You Behind) and Choices, written by Billy Yates and Mike Curtis.
>Each of those songs showcases the full band: Allan Spinney on guitar, Rick Spinney on banjo, Gary Dalrymple on mandolin and Terry Poirier on bass, along with superbly tasteful guest fiddling by Ron Stewart and outstanding resophonic guitar work from one of the best in the world, Rob Ickes. The brothers handle the vocals, keeping with another delicious bluegrass tradition.
To me, though, what sets this record apart from fine performances from other strictly traditional bluegrass acts are two songs that focus on issues that don’t get addressed every day.
The first is She Doesn’t Mourn Anymore, by Allan Spinney and Paula Breedlove. It tastefully deals with dementia. The song is tender from start to finish, but the highpoint is its achingly beautiful chorus:
Now she doesn’t mourn for him anymore
In her mind he still walks through the door
Though his memory lives on
She’s forgotten that he’s gone
So she doesn’t mourn anymore.
The second song, from Rick Spinney, is Proud to be Your Dad, a loving tribute from stepdad to stepson. Here, too, are some special lines: “You’re the best son that I never had. Although I’m not your father, I’m so proud to be your dad.”
Tried & True is aptly named. If traditional bluegrass is your thing, you’ll want this one in your collection.