Jeremy Stephens, primarily known to bluegrass audiences as the front man for the rising ensemble, High Fidelity, has stepped out front and center for his second solo release on Rebel Records. How I Hear It is a collection of material drawn from the many influences and mentors Stephens had as a young boy growing up in southside Virginia.
As a musical scholar and historian, one of Stephens’ ultimate goals is to educate the listener by breathing new life into obscure material, which he does so masterfully. A few particular examples of this are Sockeye, originally recorded by Don Reno and Red Smiley, and You’ll Be Lonesome Too, recorded by Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis as the Sheppard Brothers.
One of the main factors to these songs being performed so well is the supporting cast that Jeremy has alongside him, such as Hunter Berry, whose fiddling is reminiscent of the great Benny Martin, particularly on Could I Knock On Your Door and Virginia Waltz. Stephens’ wife and bandmate in High Fidelity, Corrina Rose Logston, provides wonderful harmony vocals and fiddle playing on various tracks. The duets between her and Jeremy give How I Hear It a really nice touch. David Grier and Mike Bub provide solid rhythm guitar and bass throughout the project as well.
There were two elements of How I Hear It that stood out, the first being the special guest appearances. Since Wedding Bells Have Rung, a wonderful duet with Stephens and Ronnie Reno, is a nice tip of the hat to the original recording by Reno and his legendary father, Don in 1966. I’ll Be Happy In My Home also has a familial connection as the song was written by Willie Brewster, the father of acclaimed vocalist Paul Brewster, who delivers a superb rendition. Beautiful Blue Eyes, recorded by Red Allen in the 1960s is sung here by Danny Davis and Stephens. Davis’ lead vocals have a striking similarity to Allen’s original performance.
The second element was Stephens’ prowess on various instruments. While this project does spotlight his signature talents on banjo and guitar, Jeremy is equally skilled on the mandolin, as showcased on Lady Hamilton and The Old Spinning Wheel, among others. Jeremy even plays twin fiddle alongside Logston on I’m Lost Without You.
How I Hear It is not only a testament to Jeremy Stephens’ musical upbringing, but also serves as an informative way of shedding light on songs and musicians that are not as familiar to listeners. With the right combination of material and a strong supporting cast of musicians, Jeremy has lived up to the title of this album by allowing us to experience his music in the way he hears it.