In contrast to their 2011 debut that focused on recasting old standards, Driven has made a complete about face, writing all 12 songs for their follow-up. Ten of those are from bassist Blake McLemore, while banjoist James Campbell contributed the ballad-tune “Matfield Green” and guitarist Jake Workman wrote the lone instrumental “Hollow Point.”
The band has a good grasp of both traditional and contemporary stylings, bolstered by good vocals and solid musicianship, particularly the clarity of lines from guitarist Workman and mandolinist Brandon McLemore (best shown on the uptempo and attacking instrumental “Hollow Point”). Both “The Old Man & Me,” “Love Another Day,” and the ripping “’49 Gold” are of the straighter bluegrass side, as is the prisoner-on-the-run song “Breaking Yuma.” By contrast, the heavier medium beat of “You’ll Be Lonely, I’ll Be Gone” and the slow and flowing lilt of “Runaway” sung by fiddler Rebekah Workman have decidedly contemporary leanings.
Driven is at its best here on the title tune, “The Old Man & Me,” and on the gospel tunes “John 6” and “Worry For Tomorrow.” The other tunes have their moments, but those four go a step beyond, either thematically, emotionally, or with their arrangement. “The Old Man & Me” works very well because of the quality of its theme. It reaches outside expectations and finds the reality, in this case of a young boy finding friendship with an old man of whom everyone labels as mean. That goes worlds beyond standard “lost love” or “memories of home” type songs. Equally good is the smooth, almost Take Six-style arrangement and emotion of the gospel tune “John 6.” Had this recording had a few more tunes of that level, it would have been a notch higher. It’s still, however, a well-played and enjoyable album. (Driven, 162 N. Karren Ct., Wichita, KS 67212, www.drivenbluegrass.com.)BW