Summer McMahan, the fiddle player and lead vocalist for western North Carolina Gospel group Mountain Faith, has recently branched out on her own to release her debut solo album. She’s joined by several of her Mountain Faith bandmates here, and incorporates some of the same contemporary grass sounds that can be heard on the group’s albums, but also adds in a few more modern touches, making the aptly-titled The Story of My Life all her own.
Overall, McMahan offers listeners a clear, smooth, country-grass sound. Her sweet vocals fit the songs she has chosen well, including several covers of recent cuts from country artists like Lee Ann Womack and Lady Antebellum. Home is Where the Heart Is, the Lady A number, seems particularly fitting for the 20-year-old McMahan, with its story of a young woman who leaves her small hometown and finds her destiny in an unlikely place. McMahan sticks pretty closely to the sound of the original, though with an extended fiddle solo courtesy of Stephen Burrell. The Bees, recorded by Womack on her 2008 album Call Me Crazy, has a nice stripped down sound here, allowing McMahan’s vocals to shine and making it one of the album’s most enjoyable numbers.
The title track, which opens the album, was also pulled from Womack’s Call Me Crazy album. It has a gentle melody anchored by Burrell’s fiddle, and offers a positive message about living life to the fullest. McMahan also reaches back into Rhonda Vincent’s catalog for Country Rain. Here, the song has an easygoing, slightly bouncy sound with a great ’90s feel. It’s a good mix between acoustic country and contemporary bluegrass.
For most of the rest of the album, McMahan moves closer to straightforward contemporary bluegrass, more akin to what Mountain Faith fans will be used to hearing from her. Wake the Town is one of the album’s best tracks, with a driving sound and powerful message that reminds listeners that Jesus is returning soon. Love Does it Every Time offers hope and encouragement through stories of God’s intervention in our lives, while Where Angels Sing describes the rewards waiting in Heaven. The latter song is one of the most traditional on the album, and features excellent harmonies from Katie Fortner and Corey Hensley.
Another traditional-leaning number is the album’s lead single, Your Love Holds the Key. This tale of love at first sight, written by Johnny Williams, was chosen because it reminded McMahan of her parents’ love story. Balsam Range’s Buddy Melton, a fellow North Carolinian, duets with McMahan on this cheerful, upbeat track.
Although McMahan plays fiddle for Mountain Faith, she concentrates on vocals here, contributing both lead and harmony throughout the project. She is backed by several talented musicians, including three of her regular bandmates: her brother Brayden McMahan (banjo), her cousin John Morgan (guitar and mandolin), and Dustin Norris (mandolin). Hensley (bass) and Burrell (fiddle) round out the album’s band.
For more information on Summer McMahan, visit Mountain Faith’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mountainfaith.bluegrass.