Bluegrass has long been marked by ebullience and enthusiasm, a communal bond that both listeners and players are seemingly eager to embrace. The seasoned duo that goes by the name Starlett & Big John — specifically, Starlett Boswell and Big John Talley — takes those precepts seriously, and not only uses them to their advantage, but also communicates them in the most expressive way possible. To be sure, they don’t breach any stylistic boundaries, but instead dig deep into the underlying emotions that have been tied so intrinsically to bluegrass from the beginning.
As a result, the pair’s recent album, Till the End of the Road, brings a shared sensitivity that immediately qualifies their effort as an absolute standout. The songs are both moving and melodic, often conveyed from a personal perspective that allows those that hear it share in a universal embrace. In so doing, they effectively bring an audience into their fold.
That’s not to say they they opt for a static sentimentality. After all, human behavior isn’t unidimensional. Consequently, the rousing revelry of a classic like True Life Blues, and the Jimmy Martin stylings of Heart Collector, as well as the sweet sentiment shared in opening track, I’ll Have You Back, and later, Till the End of the Road (with its all but irresistible refrain: Loving you is like a Sunday drive…from my heart from the start… I’m along for the drive until the end of the road), are tempered by songs about betrayal and shattered romance, specifically found in Doomed Love, The Children Are Crying, and Crying.
They veer into other areas as well. The Civil War saga, He Walked All the Way Home, and the Gospel hymn, Oh Lord My Soul Belongs To You, effectively encapsulate ideals that fit into a decidedly spiritual scenario.
Consequently, Starlett & Big John survey a larger palette than some might expect. That’s what distinguishes them and makes return listens somehow seem obligatory. Clearly, Starlett & Big John have a lot to offer for all of us to enjoy.