There’s always something to be said for music that possesses craft and creativity. Without those essential additives, there’s little worth in listening. Given Shannon Bielski’s background — fiddle lessons that began in her teens, a Public Performance Scholarship for the bluegrass program at East Tennessee State University, a first place win for her ensemble, Moonlight Drive, at the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Bluegrass Band Competition, and a first place win in the Deer Creek Fiddler’s Convention Songwriting Contest that same year — she certainly possesses the credence that should always ensure a quality contribution.
Indeed, her band — Kyle Windbeck on mandolin, guitar, and harmony vocals, Greg Muller on bass and harmonies, and Rob Benzig on banjo — have the means to guarantee that the quality quotient remains intact. However, to their credit, Bielski and company offer something that skill and savvy don’t always provide — that is, an emotional connection that makes every song on their wonderful new album, Tennessee Heart, a delight to hear. It’s a feeling of connection and inclusion that thoroughly engages its listeners, while inviting them to share in the sentiments that the music tends to express. It’s more than a matter of a robust performance — although there’s certainly no shortage of those — but rather a sense of sincerity and commitment that finds the emotion to be a dominant factor throughout.
That quality is evident at the outset given the joyful title and a ringing delivery that’s conveyed through feelings of exuberance and enthusiasm. These Memories of You is both sincere and celebratory, awash in sentiment and celebration, just as it was when The Trio first cut it. Her minor key rendition of East Virginia is a vivid vision of the place Bielski calls home, and though it references the folk classic, Dark Hollow, the upbeat and effusive motif offers a clear contrast to the imagery shared in that original rendition.
Other songs follow suit, from the easy stride of Angelina Baker to the sprightly instrumental, Greenridge, the rapid-fire revelry found in Moonshiner and Tuscarora, and on to the energetic outpouring of Without Law. Even the album’s most winsome ballad, the tender Loving You, eschews any mournful melancholia that a slower song might entail.
Not surprisingly then, Tennessee Heart is a rewarding encounter overall, one that boasts equal parts prowess and positivity. It’s an infectious enthusiasm, one that fully reflects Bielski and her band’s sheer joy and jubilation.