The title songs of each of their last two recordings reached number one for a time on the bluegrass charts; one of them, “Trains I’ve Missed,” earning an IBMA Song Of The Year award. Can Balsam Range make it three-for-three? That’s a tall order, but “Papertown” the song, essentially a true-life ode to the people of Canton, N.C., told through the resilient history of the local pulp mill, has much in its favor, including the love-of-home sentiment, the rich detail, and the emotional performance, particularly that of singer Buddy Melton. Time will tell, of course, but its ultimate chart fate is irrelevant; good is good.
My own feeling, however, is that several songs here are of equal, perhaps greater quality, one of them from the writer of “Papertown,” Milan Miller. Interestingly, his “I Ain’t Leavin,” also sung by Melton, mines the same love-for-home theme, but may actually make the stronger statement. It certainly has the more memorable chorus and melody. Right there with it is “Any Old Road.” Guitarist Caleb Smith sings that one, and the baritone range of his voice lends the airy, cutting-ties message an appropriate feeling of resignation. Smith takes the lead as well on the jaunty Marc Pruett tune “I Could Do You Some Good.” Again, his voice is well-cast, this time being necessarily sly. It should prove a favorite, clad as it is in a honky-tonk style and possessing a fine hook line.
The band gives a vibrant reading to another song with a great chorus hook—Ashley Caudill’s gospel “Row By Row.” Melton, who has one of the more distinctive tenor vocals, takes the lead and brings to it joyful intensity. Add in Julie Miller’s paean to keeping on, “Wide River To Cross,” and probably as fine an acoustic cover of Elmore James’ “One Way Out” as you’ll hear anywhere, and you have an album that can stand equally beside Balsam Range’s previous two recordings. (Crossroads Music, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.balsamrange.com.)BW