High Fidelity Hills and Home Rebel Records
Every decade or so, Rebel Records signs a performer with limited national presence and assists them in ascending the bluegrass ladder: Steep Canyon Rangers; Chris Jones; Lonesome River Band; Lost & Found; Cliff Waldron…
This time out, that band is High Fidelity.
High Fidelity’s second album, Hills and Home (named for the John Duffey composition originally recorded by the Country Gentlemen for Starday in 1959, and included here) serves as an appealing and versatile introduction to this rather youthful quintet’s energetic, foundationally strong, and vocal-focused representation of contemporary bluegrass. Hills and Home affirms the promise of their sparking, self-titled debut of 2016.
Built around the complementary vocal duo of Corrina Rose Logston Stephens (fiddle) and Jeremy Stephens (guitar and banjo), High Fidelity also features Kurt Stephenson (banjo and guitar), Daniel Amick (mandolin and guitar), and Vickie Vaughn (URB), who some will recall from her self-named group and EP. The group most obviously presents bluegrass that captures the old-time sounds of bluegrass influenced by Reno & Smiley, with shades of the Louvins in some of their arrangement choices and production approaches. Their focus is capturing a vintage sound is apparent throughout the album’s fourteen songs, perhaps never so strongly as on “Gotta Get You Near Me Blues,” a Buddy Holly song by way of Bob Montgomery, which shines with a Louvin aesthetic.
“I’ve Changed My Mind” is a master course in vocal harmony with the Stephens spouses seamlessly exchanging leads on the chorus. That the group fully accepts the message of this redemption song is apparent not only in their masterful delivery, but in the fact that half the songs contain messages of faith. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” is featured with a rarely encountered verse included.
High Fidelity’s duo and trio singing is pleasingly presented on songs including “I Will Always Be Waiting For You,” “The Leaf of Love,” and the very strong “My Saviour’s Train.” Jeremy Stephens has a strong, confident voice, and Corrina Rose is a perfect foil with a sharpness in her delivery that is atypical and so terribly welcome. She doesn’t have a prototypical ‘pretty’ (and consequently, bland) bluegrass voice; rather, she could be the high harmony singer on a ‘fifties radio show recording, cutting through the gloom and distance from a far-away station. As a result, her voice is memorable and even beautiful.
High Fidelity’s versatility is revealed in their approach to these (mostly) seldom encountered songs. Charlie Monroe’s 60’s song “My Mother’s White Rose” is given an ‘old-school’ performance that evokes images of a (seemingly) less complicated time. Jim & Jesse’s “I Will Always Be Waiting For You” receives similar treatment, while “Maple On The Hill” is given a bit of juice to get it over the rise. “Grey Eagle” not only gives Logston Stephens a chance to cut loose, the entire group digs in for an elaborate breakdown of distinction.
Hills and Home is an exciting bluegrass release from a group that creates the kind of bluegrass too seldom heard today. Like the Johnson Mountain Boys and Longview before them, High Fidelity is bringing bluegrass music’s rich history forward to today’s audience.