It ought to go without saying that the best bluegrass shares no pretensions. For all the skill and aptitude reflected by the players and performances, it’s honesty and humility that ultimately shines through.
That’s certainly been the case when it comes to LaTresa Smith and her band The Signal. Smith herself learned those lessons early on as part of a family band led by her minister father, and featuring his brothers. The group specialized in country and Gospel, but she eventually found herself drawn more towards bluegrass, and it became her dream to helm her own bluegrass band one day. She managed to achieve that in 2003 when she moved to Nashville and released her first two albums, Free Spirit and Babies, Jesus, and Sweet Potato Pie. The latter marked the debut of her work with The Signal, a band that currently includes Randy Smith on upright bass, Kyle Wood on mandolin and Markus Stadler featured on banjo and mandolin.
The Blood and the River, the group’s latest LP, also features some notable hired hands, among them, Dale Ann Bradley, Pat Flynn, Rob Ickes, Roland White, Steve Gulley, Ronnie McCoury, and Tim O’Brien, all of whom bring a rich, resonant approach to the proceedings while simultaneously offering homage to traditional trappings. Smith herself is a robust lead vocalist and a sturdy rhythm guitarist, and her soulful singing brings a bluesy flourish to several of the songs, the title track in particular.
The material hews to a timeless template and a celebratory sound that allows faith and finesse equal standing. The material, all Smith originals, is mostly imbued with spirituality and sacrament, with songs such as Lazarus, Sea of Galilee, The Valley with My Lord, My Prayer, and Would You Walk with Jesus taking their cue from various biblical passages. That’s not to say that it lacks any secular sensibilities; to the contrary, in terms of tone and temperament, it’s well served by a down-home delivery, the religious references aside.
Ultimately then, LaTresa & The Signal manage to assert their standing as a band that’s capable of covering any number of bases and garnering a broad following in the process. Fortified by both craft and conviction, their unassuming attitude ought to keep those creative juices flowing.
Editor’s Note: LaTresa announced last week that she is offering a free download of this album as a gift during the rest of 2020, hoping that the songs will bring some solace and hope during the pandemic shutdowns.