My first listen to this new CD from Mountain Home Music Company was during a long, stressful, and eventful drive to Nashville. There was a ton of traffic, a scary blowout on the Interstate, and an unplanned overnight for repairs in Kentucky. The next time was on a bleak, rainy day that felt like November after returning from the funeral of a friend.
Both times, the blues and the blahs disappeared as soon as the first notes of the title cut and opener rang out. The uptempo picking and Lizzy Long’s crystal clear vocals had my toes tapping, and I could feel the tension drain away. Best of all, the magic continued through all 10 songs. Many of them are gospel or gospel leaning, which explains part of the hope and joy, I guess. But there was also a pace and delivery that, in a church setting, would guarantee no napping before, during, or after the sermon.
Roy Lewis and Lizzy Long always put on an entertaining live show, which this studio version comes very close to replicating. No surprise, since, according to the liner notes, “it’s the very first time we got in a studio with our whole band.” (Note to the studio: Do that again!)
The CD kicks off with the title cut, written by Wayne Haun and Joel Lindsey. It’s an invitation to make the best of every day, a lesson we can all use now and again, that’s driven by racing interplay between Roy’s banjo and superb mandolin work by Matthew Songmaker. My guess is this will be the band’s show opener for a long time.
From that strong start, the band leads us on a tour of do-your-best, help-those-in-need, little-things-matter instructions for living. Among the best of these is God’s Been Good, with Songmaker, bassist and bass singer Holger Olesen, and Sally Sandker layering sublime harmonies behind Long’s lead. Some extra flavor is added by tasteful piano from Gordon Mote, who also appears on a couple of other songs. Also among the best of the best are Randall Hylton’s Let Me Go, Wicked World, Merle Haggard’s Rainbow Stew, and Till the Sun Goes Down, another Wayne Haun co-write, this time with Melissa Bishop and Halga Kaefer.
Even A.P. Carter’s much-covered Give Me Roses While I Live, with Lewis adding autoharp for Carter Family authenticity, is fresh and inviting. So is Kevin Cronin’s Time for Me to Fly. It’s an upbeat take on getting out of something that isn’t working and starting over.
Somehow, through all of the music I listen to, recorded and in-person, I was slow to realize that Lizzy Long can sing with the best of the best. Her delivery here is pretty much flawless, smooth enough to carry through repeated listens, but with an emotional edge at just the right time to keep the listener leaning in. She’s also knows what to do with a fiddle in her hands and plays a solid rhythm guitar.
Outside, the rain is falling again, which means the cellar is probably damp. But who cares? I’m going to hit the replay button and bring on more sunshine from Little Roy and Lizzy. And then I’m going to figure out where I can hear them live.