Lonesome River Band,
Talkin' to Myself
(Sugar Hill, 2000)

Here's a bluegrass band that started off great and just keeps getting better. Every member is a superb instrumentalist: Don Rigsby on mandolin, Sammy Shelor on banjo, Kenny Smith on guitar, Rickie Simpkins on fiddle, Ronnie Bowman on bass. And their vocal sound is an absolute treat. Bowman seems to have pulled back the country nasality that he'd used previously, and now boasts one of the clearest, richest lead voices in bluegrass (or maybe I've just gotten used to it).

"Swing That Hammer" is a great start to a great CD. It's classic bluegrass with a modern edge. The picking and singing rock righteously, and the vocal blend is superb. There's not a second-rate voice in the bunch here, and the harmonies are tight and perfect. The title track, which comes next, would have worked well as a straight country song, but it's a blessing that bluegrass got it first. Again, the harmony vocals are so polished and clean that it's like hearing one singer with four throats.

An oldie is next -- Ray Cline and Ralph Stanley's "Dog Gone Shame." Even though it's an old tune, the band brings a real freshness to it with hot solo picking. The fadeout works well here, making you think that this is a song that has always and will always be sung. "The Place Where You Can Bury Me" shows off Dan Tyminski's tenor in the harmonies. It's a good ballad that oddly and effectively ends on an unresolved vocal chord that the instruments resolve. Some good ol'-fashioned sounds follow with "No One Can Love You, Dear," a great back-porch song heightened by terrific vocals and immaculate instrumentals.

"Mary Ann" is next. I've heard the Jimmy Martin version many times, but here the band makes it their own, bringing it to another level. (The song is an out-and-out classic, with the great line, "If teardrops were pennies, I'd be a wealthy man / From the tears that I've cried for Mary Ann.") Don Rigsby works wonders in his solo on "Are You Ashamed to Call Me Darlin'." It's concise and clean and crisp and tasteful and absolutely right without approaching clichˇ. The whole song is a standout, a perfect example of the old definition of bluegrass as "folk music in overdrive."

"Harvest Time" gives us a moonshining song with a lot of spirit, and "The Crime I Didn't Do" provides a good murder ballad, both stalwarts of bluegrass music. And speaking of murder ballads, "Willow Garden" is the granddaddy of them all. This is a great interpretation, filled with emotion. We enter gospel territory with "Do You Want to Live in Glory," a traditional sounding song performed flawlessly, and finish up with an energetic, up-tempo "I Won't be Calling For You." Sammy Shelor shows himself as the top-notch banjo player he is on this one.

If you like bluegrass, you won't want to miss this one. Lonesome River Band continues to amaze, and Talkin' to Myself is one more step on their ladder to bluegrass perfection.

[ by Chet Williamson ]



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