Within the first four tracks of the debut recording from Abingdon, Va. based Susan Brown And Friends, the band lays out its strengths and all but demands the listener hang around until the last fading note. All four tracks are covers. “Jolene,” the Dolly Parton hit, establishes that the band has leanings toward the contemporary end of the bluegrass spectrum and that principal lead singer Susan Brown has a silky voice, reminiscent at times of Claire Lynch. It’s kind of breathy, but in a compelling way. Norman Blake’s “Last Train From Poor Valley,” sung with great feeling here by guitarist Claiborne Woodall, shows that the band can bring that contemporary sound to a more traditionalsounding tune and succeed in making you hear this version instead of the original. They next cover “Marie Laveau” and reveal a grittier, funkier side of the band, one they should explore more fully on future albums.
From there to the end, band originals alternate with covers that include “Early Morning Rain,” a rhythmic, slightly jazzy “Wichita Lineman,” “How About You,” “Ready For The Times,” and an a cappella lament over the degrading of the environment, “The Wood Thrush’s Song.” All of them are, as with the opening four tracks, worthy of many repeated plays. Among the originals, on the other hand, mandolinist Mike Brown had one wellabove average and one above average tune. “When It Rains” with its exploration of love and aging and change, is a tightlywritten, first-class piece with its good melody, fine lyrics, and nice arrangement. His other original, “Coal Town,” was a solid effort, as well.
Reso-guitarist/harmony singer Joe Dinkins and bassist Dave Reimer round out the band with good playing on what is an enjoyable debut of contemporary bluegrass. (Mike Brown, 16413 Old Timber Rd., Abingdon, VA 24120, myspace.com/susanbrownandfriends.) BW