John Lowell’s name may not be known to most folks, but that doesn’t negate the fact that he’s a superb singer and songwriter who’s drawn the respect and admiration of his musical peers. A glance at the list of those that contribute to his alluring new album, This Long Stretch of Gravel, caps that credence and reflects the respect he’s attained, not only in bluegrass circles, but in wider realms as well.
It takes little more that listing those names to help induce interest. The album features a veritable who’s who of accredited players, among them, eight-time IBMA Award winner Becky Buller, seven-time IBMA winner Missy Raines, the legendary Darol Anger, renowned singer/songwriter/banjo player Ron Block, IBMA winner and Grammy nominated player/producer Greg Cahill, award-winning clawhammer banjo player/songwriter/vocalist Chris Coole, Grammy and IBMA winning fiddle player/writer/singer Jeremy Garrett, IBMA winner/broadcaster /songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Chris Jones, IBMA and Grammy-winning dobro player/vocalist/songwriter Andy Hall, IBMA winner and stellar singer/songwriter Claire Lynch, Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne, IBMA and Grammy winner/Juno nominee/mandolin player John Reischman, and acclaimed mandolin player Joe K. Walsh, among the many.
That’s a pretty remarkable roster to say the least.
Lowell, a longtime resident of Bozeman, Montana, taught himself to play guitar at age 12 and found himself inspired by the influence of John Denver. He’s plied his craft over the past 35 years, playing with a variety of bands, and eventually released his first solo album in 2012, while also recording with several integral ensembles, some of which bear his name. He’s performed at any number of topflight festivals, and in recent years, got the rare opportunity to do a solo showcase at the IBMA.
That said, This Long Stretch of Gravel may well prove to be his most auspicious effort yet, not only due to the company he keeps, but to a series of songs that evoke the jubilation and joy of Montana’s majestic mountains, and the feeling of clarity and contentment that have always lured folks to western realms. Consequently, the songs are conveyed mostly through a gentle caress, and while they retain the signature style of a bluegrass ballad, the sweet, supple melodies all but assure an unerring appeal. The music takes on a sepia hue, and given the relatively unadorned arrangements, songs such as Fergus County Line, Bodie and A World Far Beyond capture a forlorn folk sound that’s authentic and illuminating all at the same time. Other offerings — The Daydreamer’s Waltz, New Phase of the Moon and Velvet Western Sky/Black Eyed Susie — glide by with a gentle caress that’s as uniformly beautiful as it is beguiling.
Credit Lowell with creating a minor masterpiece. If justice prevails, This Long Stretch of Gravel will be a quick route towards wider recognition. It couldn’t be more deserved.