On their last album, Gypsy Runaway Train, The Roys enlisted the help of two different bands. One half of the album featured seasoned bluegrass pros backing up the siblings on a set of originals, while the other included Lee and Elaine’s touring band picking some old bluegrass favorites. For their newest release (and fourth for Rural Rhythm), The View, The Roys mesh the two halves into one, offering fans an all-original record that utilizes their regular road band on every song. The result is a helping of something old combined with a little something new.
The View, like their previous albums, is filled with largely cheerful songs with a positive outlook. They still maintain the contemporary, country-tinged sound that their fans have come to love. In fact, they seem to lean a little closer to the country side of things here at times, featuring co-writes with the legendary Bill Anderson and up-and-coming vocalist and songwriter Josh Thompson. On several songs, Elaine’s vocals bear a resemblance to Dolly Parton, a country star who has flirted with bluegrass more than once.
One of the places that the Parton sound really comes out is on the lead single, No More Lonely. An upbeat number written by Elaine and Lee with Steve Dean, it finds the singer thanking her new love for bringing her out of a time of sadness and heartache. It’s bubbly and toe-tapping. Mended Wings is another co-write with Dean, and again is somewhat Parton-esque. It’s a country-style Gospel song, expressing the thought that even if we make mistakes, we still have the hope of heaven.
Heaven Needed Her More, written by Lee and Thompson, has a neotraditional country feel – heavy on fiddles, courtesy of Clint White. It’s a sweet song about mourning the loss of a loved one, but realizing that they will be better off in heaven. Sometimes is another song about loss, but through the onset of Alzheimer’s instead of death. It has a cheerful melody, with country-influenced rhythm guitar.
>No More Tears Left to Cry is one of the most bluegrass-sounding songs on the album, steered along by former band member Daniel Patrick’s banjo. It has a harsher feel than many of the other tracks, although its message is fairly positive as the singer tells of letting go of her fears. Black Gold, another banjo-guided number, shares the story of a lifelong Kentucky miner while mashing together several bluegrass/Appalachian coal mining song tropes: digging “in the hole,” a mine collapse, and “dirty” coal. There’s even a reference to Shady Grove.
That song, along with The View (the co-write with Anderson, a soft, gentle “going home” song, filled with imagery of hills and valleys), are two of the only pieces here that contain standard bluegrass themes. The other is the album’s closing track, Mandolin Man. It seems that scarcely an album comes out these days without a tribute to Bill, Earl and Lester, or Carter and Ralph – some more well-written than others. As you might guess, this one goes out to Bill Monroe. It’s toe-tapping, and pretty traditional, and features guest vocals from another mandolin legend, Doyle Lawson. It’s not the freshest idea for a song – although I do like the description of Monroe’s playing as being like “hot grease poppin’ in a pan.”
On the surface, The Roys seem to be a long way from Bill Monroe, the man they say “made us wanna learn to play, made us wanna start a band.” Their music, both instrumentation and vocals, has a strong acoustic country flavor. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re not talented. Both Lee and Elaine are fine vocalists, and the musicians (Elaine on guitar; Lee on mandolin, mandocello, and mandola; White on fiddle; Patrick on banjo and dobro; and Erik Alvar on bass) are obviously skilled. The View will likely ensure continued success for The Roys, particularly in acoustic country circles.
For more information on The Roys, visit their website at www.theroysonline.com. Their new album is available from a number of online music retailers.