As a string of successful albums and shelves full of individual and group awards demonstrate, few groups on today’s bluegrass scene are as popular as Blue Highway. And, as their new album Sounds Of Home proves, there are even fewer that can play a variety of music styles so well.
From Jason Burleson’s cracking banjo kickoff on the opening cut, the hard-core ’grass number “I Ain’t Gonna Lay My Hammer Down” to the wistful fadeout of the reflective “Drinking From A Deeper Well,” there’s really nothing on the album that’s redundant. And every selection seems to have been given close creative attention and a full-hearted performance.
“Only Seventeen,” a tragic coal mining tale with a lonesome duet, sounds like something the Stanley Brothers would have relished recording. Then, Blue Highway turns around with “My Heart Was Made To Love You.” It isn’t strictly bluegrass with its smooth, crooning vocals and lap steel guitar (an instrument at which resonator guitar great Rob Ickes seems equally skilled), but it’s a classic country-style cousin that fits right in.
Singers Tim Stafford (guitar), Wayne Taylor (bass), and Shawn Lane (mandolin, guitar, and fiddle) are as good here as they’ve ever been. And so is Blue Highway’s songwriting. With the exception of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” an old blues number that receives a compelling Appalachian-style treatment, all the fine material has been wholly composed or co-authored by the band’s members. That’s something rarer still—so many great songsmiths in one group. After nearly 18 years, there seems to be no end to this musical highway, and it all comes home on Sounds Of Home. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.) RDS