Robert Hale first caught my attention with Livewire’s Wired! CD around 1990, an exceptional progressive bluegrass release that featured Wayne Benson, Ernie Sykes, and Scott Vestal, and Hale’s powerful and soulful lead vocals. The two decades since have seen Hale perform with J.D. Crowe & the New South and Wildfire, and record with Dolly Parton.
For this release, Hale has re-assembled the original Livewire band, along with Steve Thomas on fiddle, Randy Kohrs on resonator guitar, and Shawn Lane and Alecia Nugent on harmonies. The ensemble tackles 12 tunes, about evenly divided between bluegrass and country. There is bluegrass instrumentation throughout, but also occasional keyboards and fairly heavy drums on the country cuts.
On the bluegrass side, the standouts are Reno & Smiley’s “There’s Another Baby Waiting Down The Line,” the gospel song “Saviour, Save Me From Myself,” and “Waves Of Sorrow” from Vassar Clements and Jake Landers. Vestal, Benson, Kohrs, and Thomas cut loose and shine here. Of the country and non-bluegrass cuts, most notable are Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Pure And Simple” which gets a fine rendering from Hale and the banjo and resonator guitar, a driving “These Old Blues” with Hale on electric guitar (and again great work from Vestal and Kohrs), and “You’re Wrong,” a slow, powerful song (one of four originals by Hale) he sings so well. The final cut is Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” which is delightful and very nicely done.
If your mind is set on straight bluegrass, this release may be a bit bumpy, as the group ropes you in on a great bluegrass cut, and then you get country (or other) on the next cut or two. If a thoroughly mixed blend of bluegrass and country served with some great instrumentalists and fine vocals suits your taste, you may well find this release from Robert Hale to your liking. (Pinecastle Records, 2881 NC 108 Hwy. E., Columbus, NC 28722, www.pinecastlemusic.com.)AW