Balsam Range- Trains I Missed review

My first review of 2011- for a 2010 release- has been posted over at Lonesome Road Review. Check it out if you’re interested. I really like the slogan the band uses at their website: “Where the music lives, breathes, and grows!” Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Balsam Range
Trains I Missed
Mountain Home Music Company
4 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

Since their inception four years ago, Balsam Range has been a consistently impressive force within the bluegrass recording community. Their well-crafted third album furthers their effort toward becoming one of the premier bluegrass acts.

As on previous releases, Trains I Missed finds Balsam Range presenting a range of contemporary bluegrass sounds, music based firmly in the sounds of Bill Monroe (who they covered five times on their debut recording Marching Home) while embracing seemingly more progressive but equally appealing influences such as Blue Highway.

Hailing from the area of North Carolina where the Smokies meet the Blue Ridge, Balsam Range has featured a stable five-man lineup since their recording debut. Tim Surrett plays acoustic bass while adding resophonic guitar to select tracks. Buddy Melton is the fiddler with Darren Nicholson featured on mandolin. Caleb Smith handles guitar with the band’s most experienced musician, Marc Pruett, providing exceptional five-string contributions.

Everyone excepting Pruett sings lead and harmony vocals with Smith singing lead most frequently. The only guest musician invited to the proceedings is pianist Jeff Collins who contributes to “Meanwhile.”

Several tunes from this album have received considerable airplay. The title track, written by Walt Wilkins, Gilles Goddard, and Nicole Witt, may be most familiar and is a mid-tempo number that reflects on choices made, their impact on where one ends up, and the resulting blessings.

“Callin’ Caroline” has also proven to be a popular track; an up-tempo song previously recorded and co-written by Darryl Worley, it is a rather insubstantial song of the “I can’t wait to get off this highway and back to her” variety.

More significant is the inspirational “The Touch,” an accounting of the possibilities that arise reaching for the Savior’s hand. “Hard Price to Pay” and “On the Run” are lively numbers that maintain interest while exploring well-trodden bluegrass territory.

The Carter Family’s “East Virginia Blues” is dusted off and given a spirited reading. Randall Hylton’s “Gonna Be Movin’” featured on The Darrell Webb Band’s album earlier this year, is also performed and allows that band to further explore their vocal harmony dexterity.

Balsam Ridge is a banjo and fiddle-driven bluegrass band. Their vocal harmonies are superior to that which one would expect from a ‘hometown’ group, and their instrumental interplay is exceedingly engaging.

Further distinguishing themselves from the pack, Balsam Range’s approach to lead vocals is varied: Melton and Smith trade the lead position on select songs and all four vocalists are fully capable of carrying a song to fruition.

Balsam Ridge doesn’t exactly push boundaries, but they inject enough vibrant warmth into their style of bluegrass that they appear fresh and appealing. Trains I Missed is a more than satisfying bluegrass album.

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