Nothin’ Fancy leans heavily on band originals for Where I Came From, their latest project for Mountain Fever Records. With six songs from mandolin player Mike Andes, and two from guitarist Caleb Cox alongside a few covers from artists like the Country Gentlemen, John Prine, and the McPeak Brothers, the popular Virginia-based group has put together a strong mixture of enjoyable traditional-leaning songs.
Andes penned the title track, which also opens the album. Kicked off with peppy banjo from Mitchell Davis, it finds Andes longing for the hills of his “old Virginia home.” It’s written in the style of classic “going home” songs, with a catchy beat and a snappy fiddle break from Chris Sexton. The main character of Cox’s Bus Fare, a homeless veteran begging for change, also longs for the home of his youth: “A pie in the oven, a country girl’s lovin’, away from the cold city stares…. Hey, won’t it be fine when I have enough for a bus fare.” It has a pleasant melody but tells a pitiful story (with a bit of a twist at the end) that will tug at listeners’ heart strings. Cox has a warm, earnest country-style voice (reminiscent of Josh Williams) that suits this song well.
Friends and Lovers, another cut from Andes, has an energetic groove that matches its story of a man finally realizing he’s in love with a woman he had considered just a friend. You can hear both apprehension and excitement in Andes’s voice as he sings “I know what they say about friends and lovers, they go hand in hand with each other, and I’m so glad I discovered you, my friend.” Another love song is When I’m With You, which has a calm, gentle feel and brings to mind the peace often felt when spending time with a loved one. The song has a clear, contemporary sound, calling upon Sexton’s classical violin background and enhanced by a guest string section from Ohio’s Centerville Alternative Strings. Crisp mandolin from Andes is also enjoyable.
On the more traditional side of things is the excellent original Gospel number Lord Hear My Plea, which features strong harmonies and tasty guitar backing from Cox, and the bouncy, banjo-guided Daddy Made Moonshine, a fun little number about a moonshiner who always stayed in his customers’ good graces and a couple steps ahead of the revenuers. The classic Bringing Mary Home is another strong track, heavily influenced by the Country Gentlemen’s version. Andes channels Charlie Waller’s phrasing and tone for an enjoyable cover of the song.
Cox tackles Damon Black’s eerie Simon Crutchfield’s Grave, probably most recognizable to bluegrass fans from the McPeak Brothers’ recording. It’s a solid cut of the song, and kudos to the band for choosing a song that hasn’t been covered by every band in the last twenty years. Davis’s cheery banjo and Sexton’s mournful fiddle create an interesting atmosphere for the song. One of the album’s best tracks, however, may be the haunting Civil War song Andersonville, written by Dave Alvin. There’s plenty of pain in Andes’ voice as he tells of the horrors experienced by a soldier in the Andersonville prison camp, and it slides toward desperation as he notes that some men were born to preach, others to kill, while he “was only born to die in Andersonville.”
Where I Came From is a very good album from a talented band. The two lead vocalists have very different styles, but both are strong singers and the difference in their sounds lends a little variety to the project. The musicianship here is strong, and the original songs are engaging and well-written. Overall, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable album.
For more information on Nothin’ Fancy, visit their website at www.nothinfancybluegrass.com. Their new album is available from several online music retailers.