For most of the last decade, bluegrass was dominated by a handful of familiar names: McCoury, Vincent, Skaggs, Stanley, and Lawson to name some of the most successful.
A changing of the guard appears underway as time catches up to some, as the impact of others fade, allowing previously less-heard artists to garner attention. Big Country Bluegrass would be one of the groups seemingly ready to take advantage of the opportunities presented.
A well-experienced band, the Virginia band’s debut release for Rebel Records is destined to become a favourite of those who love mountain-inspired, hard-driving and fairly traditional bluegrass.
The title cut- an homage to those who defined the bluegrass sound and tradition- has hit the top of the bluegrass charts and is only one of many memorable songs on an album that is consistently impressive. Vocalist Jeff Michaels, who also handles the fiddle chores, has a voice that evokes both the charming country, nasal elements of Lester Flatt and the piercing, lonesome sound of Del McCoury.
Much of the material is of the under-heard variety, recorded previously by bluegrass masters including Bill Harrell, Roy McMillan, and Jimmy Martin. Other songs are less familiar but sound instantly comfortable, including two from Tom T. and Dixie Hall. Of note is their interpretation of Tut Taylor’s “Prodigal 5.” A pair of Michaels originals close the set on up-tempo instrumental and gospel notes.
Lynwood Lunsford contributes some powerful banjo while guitarist Johnny Williams does a nice job singing a trio of songs. Band founders Tommy (mandolin) and Teresa Sells (guitar and vocals) round out the strong lineup that also features bassist Alan Mastin who passed away before the album’s release. With lively instrumental kick-offs along with arrangements that allow each band member opportunities to display their talents and distinctive vocal harmonies, the album has much to recommend it.
Nothing fancy from Big Country Bluegrass; they’re just a band that lives up to their name.