Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass
Done right, bluegrass sounds simple.
We know it isn’t, of course; anyone who has watched a talented group working up a new song is aware of the incredible complexities that go into making a pure and natural bluegrass song.
Some people are convinced that bluegrass needs to be altered and intensified with additional, progressive elements in order for the music to continue to advance within a broader marketplace, and perhaps they are correct. Still, few things sound as wonderful, as clean, and—yes—simple as a bluegrass band at the top of its game, creating music that is entrenched in a tradition that stretches back seventy years and more.
A bluegrass band that has no pretense about it, one that knows that every song needs to be individual within a sound palate that is as deep as it is wide: is there anything better?
Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass are one sterling example of such a band.
Weary River was released in late 2015, too late to be considered for most year-end lists, but one hopes the album will received its due in this new year. For those who continue to appreciate bluegrass unadorned by passing-fancy, Weary River has much to offer.
It contains several songs from the repertoire of The Southern Grass, a Paisley-Lundy family entity since the 70s, including the spirited lead cuts “Darling Nellie Across the Sea” and “Uncle Ned,” as well as the sentimental “Mother Knows Best.” Three instrumental tunes are sprinkled throughout: “Grey Eagle,” featuring T.J. Lundy sawing a storm, a new one entitled “Fall Branch” from creative banjoist Mark Delaney, and one of Bill Monroe’s signature tunes, “Come Hither to Go Yonder,” featuring each instrumentalist, but none so obviously as the youthful Ryan Paisley on mandolin. Doug Meek plays the majority of the fiddle parts throughout the album, while Russ Hooper adds Dobro in a few places.
As great bluegrass does, Weary River takes listeners on a journey to the pits of despair. The title cut is a new Chris Stuart number: one may recall that Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass performed Stuart’s (with Ivan Rosenberg) 2009 IBMA Song of the Year “Don’t Throw Mama’s Flowers Away” on a previous album. “Weary River” is not only an exceptionally well-written song, but Paisley’s soulful lead vocal performance is equal parts aching (for what is missing) and devastated (by that which has been lost): there is not one iota of joy or light within its four and a third minutes. The fact that “Weary River” could serve as soundtrack to my yet-to-be completed novel of matrimonial strife, idealistic duplicity, and childhood neglect is simply a bonus.
Alongside “Weary River,” “The Letter Edged in Black” almost sounds uplifting, while Ringo Starr’s “Don’t Pass Me By” is positively hopeful: not sure how Del McCoury missed out on ‘grassifying this White Album track. The vocal and bass contributions of Eric Troutman are an outstanding addition to The Southern Grass for this recording, while Paisley remains one of those wonderful, under-heralded bluegrass rhythm guitarists.
Like Road into Town and The Room Over Mine, Weary River is a truly impressive modern, straight-ahead bluegrass recording.