Volume Five is one of those acts that consistently turn out headliner-quality music, but have seemed to be stuck in a second tier status. Their original music is clever and compelling, they can pick with the best of them, and their vocals are top tier. What gives?
Perhaps their latest CD, Voices, will be the one that earns them the wider recognition they deserve. Released earlier this week on Mountain Fever Records, the album highlights their skill at writing, selecting, arranging, and performing modern bluegrass with a distinctive sound.
Things start out with a solid reading of roots rocker Dave Alvin’s King Of California. It’s a great story song that fits into a grass vein like it was meant to be. Returning guitarist Colby Laney’s Going Across The Mountain follows, with an eerie tale complete with low-tuned banjo and slick reso-guitar licks.
Dream Softly My Love is a lovely Randall Hylton song recorded by The Lost & Found almost twenty years ago, and the V5 guys resurrect it as a classic. Fiddler Glenn Harrell’s voice is perfectly suited for that sort of love song, just as it is on Strangest Dreams, from Hal Ketchum.
Rhonda Vincent joins the group for a spirited rendition of Dolly Parton’s Daddy Was An Old Time Preacher Man, as a duet with Harrell. Older readers may recall Dolly singing this one with Porter Wagoner in the ’70s, maybe a bit faster than Rhonda and Glenn.
Volume Five reso-man Jeff Partin contributes one of the albums most interesting songs, Crazy Night, which had been released as a single back in November. It tells the story of a man who is imprisoned, or perhaps kidnapped, and what he experiences while chained to his bed. Like a great short story, Partin describes pain, uncertainty, and horror without ever revealing what is actually going on. That is left to the imagination of the listener.
His two other songs on Voices are equally strong. Satan’s Ridge is in a similar vein as Crazy Night, speaking of hearing voices and nightmares. Perhaps it is the prequel? The closing track, Faithfully, has more of an ominous old time vibe, but played as a groove-heavy contemporary grass number.
Colder And Colder (Steve Wilson) sounds like a folk song converted to bluegrass, a bit like Bob Dylan’s Fare Thee Well, so memorably recorded by Tony Rice. Harrell’s deep voice conveys the true sadness in the song while Patton Wages lays down the perfect banjo track.
The album’s lone instrumental is Sam’s Gap, a strong guitar tune from Laney. Chris Williamson plays bass and Harry Clark mandolin to complete this fine group.
Every song here is a winner, perfectly executed and recorded. I hope to see several tracks on the charts over the course of this year.