Front Range,
Silent Ground
(Sugar Hill, 2000)

What a great bluegrass CD this is! It's such a pleasure to find a bluegrass album with a traditional sound, yet which exudes a feeling of freshness and a sense of never-heard-it-before. Front Range has been together for a long time, and they sing and play as a perfect, cohesive unit.

Guitarist Bob Amos has written the lion's share of the originals here, and the CD starts off with his "Montana Gal," a song that sounds both old and new at once, filled with great harmony vocals. Amos's "Leave Me to Cry" is a real bluegrass wailer, inspired by Bill Monroe. It would be real easy to imagine Mister Bill doing this one, although maybe (blasphemy, I know) not as well as Front Range. "Sing Me a River" is a lovely ballad by Amos, with sensitive instrumental work and gorgeous vocals.

"Cowtown Boogie" is a western swing gem by banjo player Ron Lyman, and it perfectly resurrects the spirit of Bob Wills & Co. The Bob Amos-penned title song, "Silent Ground," is one of those instant classics. It's a haunting and eerie ghost/murder ballad that marks Amos even more as the epitome of current bluegrass songwriters, and the performance equals the song. The entire last minute is a vocal without words that's both sublime and chilling at the same time.

Lyman's "Dust Devil" is an instrumental that gives everyone a chance to do some flashy solos, while "Let Me Rest At the End of My Journey" brings back the sound of the old brother duets perfectly, with the underlying instrumental work played impeccably -- a perfect recreation of an old and honored style. "Been Down So Long" is a jazzy, contemporary song, done just as well as the others, with some nice bluesy fiddle work by guest Ron Stewart.

Robert Johnson's blues classic, "Love In Vain," is turned into a country blues that seems to owe more to Jimmie Rodgers than Johnson, but works well nonetheless. Next is another Lyman instrumental, "Silver Plume," melodic and charming, with some sly harmonics on the banjo. It's followed by "The Sweetest Flower of My Heart," another lilting Amos ballad.

Two spiritual songs close the set. "My Lord, What a Mourning" is sung in the tradition of southern gospel a cappella, with tight harmonies and perfect intonation. The last number, "Roll Call," is an intelligent contrast to the often judgmental "Christian" songs that some other bluegrass artists have been doing lately. "Roll Call" looks at the generous and caring side of Christianity, and the idea of doing good for those in need. An excellent song, very well done.

I have nothing but praise for Silent Ground. Bob Amos, Ron Lynam, Mike Lantz and Bob Dick can be very proud of this album. It's one I'll play often, and if you like new, fresh sounds in bluegrass, this is a must-buy.

[ by Chet Williamson ]

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