Having performed with such acts as Randy Kohrs and the Expedition Show, Alex Hibbitts is no stranger to the bluegrass music scene. Although he has spent most of his bluegrass career as a sideman, and currently can most often be found working within his Depression Lies studio in east Tennessee, this small town musician has a lot to offer. You might not expect someone with an accounting degree to be a major practitioner of the mash, but Hibbitts fits the bill with his latest release, The Chronicles of Depression.
This record has been a labor of love for Hibbitts, and he had a hand in almost every aspect of the album, from writing, playing, and singing to recording, producing, and mixing. There’s a lot of good original material here, both from Hibbitts (he wrote or co-wrote three of the album’s eleven tracks) as well as from popular up-and-coming songwriters like Daniel Salyer and Josh Miller. There are also a couple classic bluegrass covers, including a fiery version of Monroe’s Hornpipe with lightning-fast instrumental work from Clay Hess (guitar), Brandon Green (banjo), Josh Swift (dobro), Jim Van Cleve (fiddle), and Hibbitts (mandolin and bass).
The overall sound of the album is contemporary bluegrass, with a dose of tradition and just a bit of acoustic country. Things start out on a strong note with David Carroll’s Blues Are Running Over Me Again, a nice, hard-hitting lonesome number about a down-on-his-luck man featuring Dustin Pyrtle on lead vocals. Miller’s Too Far Gone to Save is another stout track, with the desperate singer reflecting on some of the many mistakes he’s made in life.
Hibbitt’s original If I’m Alone also finds a man realizing the impact of some of the choices he’s made in the past. This song heads closer to country territory, with somewhat of a ’90s sound and even a touch of drums. Is This The End was also written by Hibbitts, and it’s one of the album’s standout tracks with its melancholy feel and story of a couple’s back-and-forth struggles. You Should See My Heart has a light sound, but follows in the tradition of many a bluegrass and country song, with its narrator fine on the outside, but still brokenhearted inside. Brandon Green’s progressive-leaning banjo playing on each of these numbers is a highlight.
While We’re Apart is a fine, traditional-leaning song with strong lead vocals from David Grindstaff. It’s a sweet plea from a man who’s ready to show someone just how much he loves her. The Stanley Brothers’ Memory of Your Smile retains some of its original feel, but is given a bit of a modern traditional update. It heads into mash territory, particularly thanks to Miller’s banjo playing and Hibbitt’s strong mandolin chop.
The instrumentation here is all well-done, with a who’s who of musicians from east Tennessee and southwest Virginia featured alongside Hibbitts. Hibbitts takes time to showcase his mandolin skills (his main instrument) throughout, but also contributes guitar, bass, mandola and both lead and harmony vocals on various songs. The Chronicles of Depression has a great contemporary sound, and fans of both smooth, lonesome numbers and heavy-hitting mash should enjoy the album.
For more information on Alex Hibbitts, visit him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mandolinist. Orders can be placed by contacting him there until it is available on iTunes in the next few days.