Blue Circle Records
Feller and Hill break from the gate with a sparkling debut that immediately drags you back to the classic era. Feller is Tom Feller, a respected sideman who has played with, among many, Rhonda Vincent and Larry Stephenson. He plays mandolin and bass and sings most of the lead vocals. Hill is Chris Hill, a tenor singer of exceptional range and control. He plays banjo and has done so with a number of groups, including Karl Shiflett. Together, they offer up 13 tracks of ear-catching bluegrass and country the way it was done from the early ’60s on back.
A large chunk of the songs here date from that time period and reflect the duo’s affinity for the great singing acts. One of the best was, of course, the Delmore Brothers, and Feller and Hill open with a vibrant cover of “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar,” followed by their jaunty and wistful “Southern Moon.” That gives way to Buck Owens’ “Together Again,” which is often covered, but when done this well, deserves another airing. Also deserving high praise are Don Gibson’s “Wasted Words” and Carl Story’s call-and-response gospel “My Lord Keeps A Record” performed with just mandolin and guitar.
With the exception of Mark Brinkman’s “The Old Kentucky Man,” which is a contemporary ballad modally-tinted to sound old, even the recently written tunes sound like they date from pre-1965. That includes the George Jones-esque “Those Old Things” from Tom Holt (one of three he contributed), Tom T. and Dixie Hall’s ’50s-style country waltz “Big Blue Roses,” and Judith Feller’s “What Will You Bid For My Old John Deere,” a hard-times song of high quality.
While the instrumental work (supported by guitarist Brian Blaylock, fiddlers Steve Thomas and Michael Cleveland, and resonator guitarist Glenn Gibson) is stellar throughout, it is the wonderful singing, particularly the seamless harmony work, that drives it. Get this if only for the singing. (Blue Circle Records, P.O. Box 681286, Franklin, TN 37068, www.bluecirclerecords.com.)BW