The name Dowdy has long been associated with hardline, traditional bluegrass. Brothers Victor and Robert Dowdy helmed southwest Virginia’s Bluegrass Brothers for many years, and Victor’s sons Steven and Donald have been part of the band more recently. Now, Steven and Donald have set off on their own, launching The Dowdy Brothers and quickly loading up their touring schedule. They’ve also just released their first album, a self-titled record filled with good, lonesome traditional bluegrass.
The majority of the songs here are easily familiar to bluegrass fans; Nine Pound Hammer and Pretty Polly sit alongside Reuben and Farewell Blues. It could be easy to write the album off as a compilation of fiddlers convention favorites, but there’s a reason songs become standards and classics – people like to hear them, especially when they’re played well, and The Dowdy Brothers certainly play them well. The musicians are no slouches, playing with drive and heart throughout the album.
Things start out with a rollicking version of Cold Wind, guided by Mason Fisher’s banjo and the steady rhythm of Steven Dowdy’s bass. Particularly of note here – and on most of the songs – is the tight, traditional harmonies, meshing Steven’s lead with Donald’s tenor. The vocals also stand out on Crazy Heart, both the harmonies and the earnest lead – James King would be proud. Jerry Wood’s snazzy fiddle provides nice backing, as well.
Donald Dowdy’s mandolin sets the tone for the band’s cover of the old Grandpa Jones number Raining Here This Morning. Performed in the style of an old-timey brother duet, the song reaches out and tugs on the listener’s heartstrings. The instrumentation is stripped back throughout the song, though the guitar and mandolin solos are worth a mention. Overall, it’s definitely one of the best songs on the album. Another strong showing is Steven Dowdy’s original 30 Years of Trouble, with hints of Jimmy Martin in its tale of a relationship gone bad. Donald Dowdy also contributes and sings a nice original, the gentle Virginia, a wistful love song accompanied by lilting mandolin and fiddle.
Any traditional bluegrass album worth its salt needs a couple good Gospel numbers, and the Dowdys don’t disappoint. When My Savior Reached Down For Me could have been ripped straight from a 1970s Ralph Stanley LP, with soulful, pure lead vocals. Also included is a rip-roaring cut of Crying Holy Unto the Lord. It’s good stuff – energetic and aggressive both in vocals and instrumentation.
The Dowdys, along with Fisher, Wood, and Thomas Conner on guitar, don’t disappoint. They’re straight-ahead traditional bluegrass, strongly in the Stanley tradition, and they surely know their stuff. Fans of that style shouldn’t miss out.