One of the hottest new traditional bands on the bluegrass circuit is Carolina Blue, who burst onto the national scene a few years back with the album I Hear Bluegrass Calling Me, quickly racking up radio plays, award nominations, and fans across the country. Now, they’re back with more of the same hardcore traditional grass on their first album for Billy Blue Records, Take Me Back.
The lead single, Grown Cold, opens the album with hints of Bill Monroe and Del McCoury. Written by guitarist Bobby Powell, it’s a nice uptempo heartbreak number, featuring a cold-hearted woman and a man that doesn’t want to give up just yet. Timmy Jones contributes McCoury-inspired falsetto on the chorus, as well as some nimble mandolin work. The most recent single, Too Wet to Plow, from songwriter David Stewart, is much more cheerful, with a foot-tapping melody and characters who make the most of a rainy day that makes farm work impossible. Aynsley Porchak contributes some fine fiddle work throughout.
Take Me to the Mountains is a well-done number that tackles the ever-popular theme of missing a childhood home. Jones’s vocals are wistful as he sings of an old man longing for nothing more than to go back “where the hound dogs chase the possums and the mountain laurel blossoms.” Both the lyrics and the sound recall classic Larry Sparks. James McDowell’s banjo kicks off the also-enjoyable Raining in Roanoke. It’s a fun-sounding “kiss-off” song with one of the most clever lines I’ve heard in a long time: “Well, Virginia is for lovers and Lord knows you’ve had a-plenty, but you weren’t supposed to love them while you was loving me.”
The album also features several Gospel songs. March Around Jericho tells the Biblical story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho. Guided by Jones’s mandolin, it has an awesome Johnson Mountain Boys vibe, recalling Dudley Connell and David McLaughlin’s guitar and mandolin-led quartet numbers. I’m Gonna Wait on Jesus is a bouncy, uplifting number with call-and-response style vocals, urging listeners to let Jesus guide their lives.
Other highlights of the album include Lost and Lonely, a good ole pitiful heartbreak number that’s just full of lonesome, and Number 73987, told from the perspective of Bill Monroe’s famous Lloyd Loar mandolin. The latter song finds the mandolin reflecting on its “life,” from its discovery in a Florida barbershop to its current spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s a neat tribute to Monroe, sampling the music from some of his famous tunes throughout.
If you’re a traditional bluegrass fan, there’s not much – if anything- you won’t like about Carolina Blue. Take Me Back is a fine album, filled with great, classic-style singing and picking from Jones, Powell, Porchak, McDowell, and Reese Combs (bass). The band is up for New Artist of the Year at the 2020 IBMA Awards. This album helps make a strong case for them to win.
For more information on Carolina Blue, visit their website. Their new album is available from a variety of online music retailers.