Twenty years is a big milestone, especially for a touring bluegrass band. Deeper Shade of Blue, based in Monroe, North Carolina, has chosen to celebrate theirs with the release of Twenty, a collection of new material that demonstrates the group’s current growth.
Although the band has had some personnel changes along the way, the current configuration of Deeper Shade of Blue is rock solid both vocally and instrumentally. Longtime members Jason Fraley, Troy Pope, and Frank Poindexter are featured on mandolin, guitar and reso-guitar respectively, along with Scott Burgess on bass who joined in 2015. Twenty also marks the recorded debut of banjoist Steve Wilson, who joined the band nearly two years ago to replace original member Jim Fraley following his retirement.
The project kicks off with a powerful grassy rendition of Broken Lady, originally recorded by the Gatlin Brothers. I loved Deeper Shade Of Blue’s arrangement here. It’s another of many examples of taking an old favorite and making it new again. This was also done with the Osborne Brothers classic, Making Plans.
The strongest element of Twenty is the amount of original material featured. A fair majority of the tracks were either written or co-written by members of Deeper Shade of Blue. Blue Was Just A Color, written by Troy Pope and Mark Brinkman, is a straightforward song about the lonesome feelings one can have after a romance has ended. Brinkman also teamed up with Frank Poindexter to write Whether Or Not, a mid-tempo piece which focuses on the uncertainty of where exactly a relationship is headed. Power In A Moment, written by Steve Wilson, is more abstract lyrically speaking, but carries a brutally honest and somewhat defeatist sensibility to it. Some of the other original songs featured on Twenty were penned by other writers, such as the self-explanatory Blue and Broken Hearted, written by Jeff Davis.
If Only You Knew and Four Wheel Drive were both composed by Larry Rice. As an added bonus, both Tony and Wyatt Rice made guest appearances on these recordings. My only issue with the physical release of Twenty is that the liner notes make no mention of which songs Tony or Wyatt appeared on. I’m sure flatpicking aficionados could discern that for themselves, but it would’ve been nice to know for sure.
Twenty is solid confirmation of how far Deeper Shade of Blue has come since their formation. It not only shows where they’re at now in the journey, but it brings excitement about what we can potentially see in the years to come.