Taking the name of his new band from the title of his debut album, Scott Slay makes an impressive bow with The Rail, 13 easily accessible songs that effectively affirm his gift for composition and craft. A veteran of the Telluride and RockyGrass festivals in his native Colorado, Slay’s skills on guitar and mandolin are apparent throughout, even as he purveys his sound with both subtle suggestion, and a clear and confident style.
That’s not to say that Slay doesn’t have help here. Indeed he does. An impressive array of contributors, including Sierra Hull, Andy Hall, Mike Munford, Scott Vestal, Josh Shilling, and Brandon Rickman, lend support via various cameo appearances throughout. Even so, it’s the songs themselves that effectively impress. The scenic references found in such songs as Devil’s Backbone, Remember Her, Green Valley and Dog River convey a clear sense of time and place. It’s hardly surprising that Slay hails from Colorado, given his obvious enticement with those spacious environs, and his desire to share the lofty legacy the western mountains have in common with bluegrass, especially in recent times.
At the same time, other influences abound as well. Hints of the Steep Canyon Rangers, Punch Brothers, Town Mountain, the Infamous Stringdusters, the Sam Bush Band, Mountain Heart, and other champions of newgrass and grassicana leave their obvious imprint. That’s especially evident in both the tone and tempo, especially when it comes to the instant appeal of Runaway Move, the terrific title track, and the carefree caress found in Moonshine Feel, Railroad Blues, Drink It Up Men, and, for that matter, every other song in the set. Indeed, there isn’t a single selection here that fails to convey Slay’s unquestionable ability and his knack for assuring an unassuming sound.
It’s rare to find a first album that makes such a formidable impression, but The Rail does just that. It’s not only supremely satisfying, but also an indication of a talent that already sounds timeless. It’s as if this music’s been residing in the ethos forever, simply waiting for the opportunity to present itself. If the pundits have begun tallying their picks for most deserving newcomer of the year, they’d be wise to consider Slay their top contender.