Blue Highway- Some Day: The Fifteenth Anniversary Collection   Leave a comment

Blue Highway

Some Day: The Fifteenth Anniversary Collection


Several years ago, shortly after I initially and seriously delved into contemporary bluegrass, one of the first bands that caught my ear was Blue Highway. Their first three albums for Rebel were very much enjoyed, as was their sole Ceili release, Blue Highway.  But the album that really sparked my imagination was their first album for Rounder Records, Still Climbing Mountains. Since that 2001 disc, the band has continued to release bluegrass music of an outstanding quality every couple years.

Unlike many modern and equally smooth bluegrass groups, Blue Highway possesses many features that distinguish them from contemporaries.

Blue Highway sports the same lineup today that they did fifteen years ago when It’s A Long, Long Road hit the shelves. Such stability is rare and speaks to the cohesion within the group. (And, yes- I’m aware Jason Burleson left the band for a brief period of time in the late 90s.) They have three notable lead singers in Wayne Taylor (bass), Tim Stafford (guitar), and Shawn Lane (mandolin) while the supporting vocal cast of Rob Ickes (resonator) and Burleson (banjo) are very capable, with the bass vocals of Burleson especially appreciated. Their vocal diversity is one of the most appealing aspects of the group.

The most significant component of Blue Highway, for me, has been the quality of their song selection and writing, and this is admirably demonstrated within the thirteen cuts that comprise the new compilation that summarizes their decade with Rounder Records. Everyone in the band writes, with Lane and Stafford being most prolific in this area. They collaborate with only the finest, with compositions written with Steve Gulley, Larry Shell, and Darrell Scott being represented in this package. And they select outstanding, under-heard songs to cover; their tremendous rendition of Mark Knophler’s “Marbletown” represents this aspect of the group’s talent on Some Day.

Ten or eleven songs will be familiar to listeners, depending on the depth of one’s Blue Highway collection. The award-winning “Through the Window of a Train” (2008 International Bluegrass Music Association Song of the Year) and “Still Climbing Mountains” may be most familiar to casual listeners. “Seven Sundays in a Row” and the title track from their IBMA 2004 Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year album Wondrous Love are also included, as is a track featuring the band from Rob Ickes’ Big Time album, “Elzic’s Farewell.”

While one appreciates a finely crafted compilation, and there is no doubt the song selection here is balanced and thoughtful- although I would quibble with the exclusion of “Únion Man” and “North Cove”- what is equally important is the new recordings that will attract the consumer who already owns most of the songs previously released. And in this area Blue Highway has again done well.

The title track “Some Day” originally appeared on the final Rebel album Midnight Storm in 1998. This new version does not deviate significantly from that a capella rendition, although the final stanza contains more elaborately harmonized vocals to my ears; it is a pleasant interlude to the tasteful picking that comprises the bulk of the collection.

Two additional new recordings are provided and it is these that will draw the fan who already owns the band’s four Rounder albums. The disc kicks off with Lane singing his own “Cold and Lowdown Lonesome Blues,” a tune that features yet another clueless fellow lamenting the lover that has left him for another. While numbers such as this makes one offer suggestions for the betrayal- Could it be that she wanted more than a shadowy, cold cabin?- the band’s exuberant presentation, and Lane’s lonesome vocals, carry the song past cliché.

The standout track is a new song from Stafford and Darrell Scott, perhaps the finest songwriter currently working in Americana. “Bleeding for a Little Peace of Mind” features a lead vocal from Scott- a rare allowance in the bluegrass world- that ranks among his finest performance, and he has had more than a few! Scott once told me that he was amazed to be welcomed into the bluegrass world as his background isn’t bluegrass but hardcore country. It is a testament not only to his versatility but to Blue Highway’s vision that this number stands comfortably alongside the previously released songs on this ‘best of’ package.

Scott, who wrote “Long Time Gone” (Dixie Chicks), “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” (Travis Tritt), and “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” (Patty Loveless, Del McCoury), not to mention his own recordings of those songs and others including “Hank Williams’ Ghost,” Americana Music Association 2007 Song of the Year, is an accomplished, soulful country singer. On this cut he demonstrates that his seemingly effortless singing sounds just as wonderful when accompanied by a top-flight bluegrass band. Hopefully many of the thousands of Blue Highway fans listening to this album will discover Scott and be encouraged to explore his outstanding recordings.

Replete with nice packaging and extensive,  informative, and enthusiastic (if slightly fawning) liner notes from Kathy Mattea, Some Day: The Fifteenth Anniversary Collection has much to offer the bluegrass fan who hasn’t previously explored Blue Highway’s music. For the fan that already has the majority of the tunes, the acuity of the song selection and the three new recordings- especially “Bleeding for a Little Peace of Mind”- more than justifies the purchase of the album.


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