According to their Facebook page, The Gravel Yard Bluegrass Band formed “unexpectedly” three years ago in a gravel lot near the courthouse square in Mountain View, Arkansas, a small town near the Ozark National Forest in Stone County, Arkansas. Hmmmm… those inexplicable origins certainly proved fortuitous, and indeed, this eponymous effort foreswears any notion that there was anything accidental involved.
That’s not to say that several songs on what appears to be their debut album suggest a decided sense of spontaneity — particularly when it comes to the series of freewheeling instrumental outlays that appear so prominently throughout this superior set of songs. The rousing revelry exemplified by such classic selections as Long Gone, Wheel Hoss and Train in particular speak to the drive and dexterity that this band — Matt Clampitt (guitar), Titus Turner (mandolin), Aaron Farris (banjo), Mary Parker (fiddle) and Gresham McMillan (upright bass) — has at its command. So too, their vocal harmonies emphasize a certain commitment to the cause, bringing a high lonesome sound to the beguiling ballads Prelude, Rock of Ages and Buelah Land.
It’s not only convincing, but quite compelling as well.
Still, it’s Parker’s lead vocals on Keith Whitley’s hit, When You Say Nothing At All, which makes for the album’s most standout selection overall. She shares her sentiment with a calm and caress that allows her singular performance to shine all on its own. And while she ably contributes to the band’s harmonies, one would hope that the group will focus on her stellar vocals far more in the future.
In the meantime however, The Gravel Yard Bluegrass Band have clearly made their mark this first time out, and given their ability to veer between emotional reads and energetic interpretations of some well-honed bluegrass standards, it’s fair to say that they have the skill and savvy to rise to the top of today’s populist plateau. If this album is any indication, Gravel Yard is skillfully ploughing a most fertile field.