For most bluegrass musicians, jamming is an essential part of life. Pickers get together once or twice a week and simply enjoy being able to play music with friends. However, some jammers take their casual love of bluegrass music a little farther. Just a few years ago, the members of Rockford Express, a new band out of Yadkinville, NC, were just a group of guys who met up to jam each week. With the recent release of their debut album, Straight for Bluegrass Hill, Rockford Express is set to begin making their name as a full-fledged band.
Rockford Express offers up eleven tracks, including three originals by guitarist Joey Hall and an interesting variety of classic tunes. With a nice modern traditional sound, following in the footsteps of such bands as IIIrd Tyme Out and Blue Highway, it’s apparent that Rockford Express knows their bluegrass.
Straight from Bluegrass Hill includes a number of older bluegrass songs which many fans of traditional bluegrass will be familiar with. Their driving, mid-tempo version of Little Maggie doesn’t have the haunting sound of the original Stanley Brothers recording, but is still filled with pain and lonesomeness and features some enjoyable instrumental solos. There’s also a version of Scotty Wiseman’s composition Brown Mountain Lights, a song which gives an explanation for the mysterious floating “ghost lights” which many have seen on Brown Mountain in North Carolina. This tune has an old-time feel and great high harmonies, and also features some fine fiddling from band member Rick Lowe.
Two of the album’s standout tracks are also older songs, one a popular public domain tune which has been recorded by many artists over the years and the other a slightly lesser-known Gospel song. Rockford Express provides a strong, banjo-heavy rendering of John Henry Blues and channels Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver for a spot-on performance of the original Quicksilver lineup’s On the Sea of Life, including nice four-part harmony.
That isn’t the only Gospel track included on the album. In fact, Rockford Express features five Gospel songs total, including the album’s three original songs (album opener On Your Way, Drivin’ Nails, and The River) which are solid bluegrass with a Gospel message. Drivin’ Nails makes a nice connection between the popular bluegrass theme of hard work with a hammer and nails and the hammer that nailed Jesus to the cross. A stripped-down version of the hymn Precious Lord is sung with feeling and is another nice addition to the record.
With their debut album, Rockford Express proves they know the meaning of “drive.” Each of the musicians (Joey Hall on guitar, Andy Lowe on banjo, Randy Willard on mandolin, Tim Parks on bass, and Rick Lowe on fiddle) seems to give their all and enjoy every minute of it. Fans of traditional bluegrass will surely enjoy this new North Carolina band.
For more information on Rockford Express, check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RockfordExpress.