Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers
For the Record
Billy Blue Records
Banjoist Joe Mullins has long been a Fervor Coulee favourite. From his Traditional Grass recordings through seven albums with his Radio Ramblers, and side projects including with Longview and Junior Sisk, Mullins has built a formable and appreciated bluegrass legacy.
For the Record is an imperfect recording, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying its positives.
Nope, focus instead on what sounds like some large fun in the studio with Del McCoury (the playful, chart-topping “The Guitar Song,” recorded in different form by songwriters Bill Anderson and Jamey Johnson a decade ago) and the bass (Randy Barnes) and fiddle (Jason Barie) sounds on Sarah Jarosz’s appealing and old-timey “Tell Me True.”
Guitarist Duane Sparks and Mullins trade off the lead vocal position effortlessly. “Bacon In My Beans” is a fine-sounding slice of bluegrass frivolity, and “Georgia Slammer” is a terrific bluegrass ‘gone wrong’ number featuring sparkling instrumental performances.
A new song from Dewitt Johnson—the homespun “Dreamers Hill”—and an old one from The Boys From Indiana—“Things That I Like”—evoke the memories of yesterday and simple pleasures for which bluegrass is well-known, and do so without being patronizing; every album needs songs like these. “That Old Wheel”—recorded by Johnny Cash thirty-plus years ago—provides the album with a powerful, inspired kick-off, and the group’s pride in “O-hio” is readily apparent.
Joined by Mike Terry (mandolin), two songs of faith—“Acres of Diamonds” and “I Want to Know More About My Lord”—feature outstanding vocal harmony and are powerful testament to the group’s common belief.
“Here and Now” and “A Folded Flag” work individually, but are excessive.
With sacrifices of the past as a binding thesis, the songs have well-intentioned foundation. But select lyrics, including “the sacrifice of those before us forgotten quick somehow” and “some say ‘wars we don’t need ‘em,’ but they sure do love this freedom” have little basis in reality.
Across North America, we are surrounded by the obvious gratitude we feel for the fallen, spoken and unspoken remembrances, observations, and appreciations of those who served; we also know there has to be a better way forward, and that recent wars have had little to do with freedom. These songs sell short contemporary society. In taking this path, and condescending to the audience, the songs falter.
Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers are one of the strongest bluegrass outfits working. They have recorded several substantial recordings, and this release continues that streak. Your mileage may differ, naturally, but a couple songs falter. Still, the overwhelming effect is positive, and I’m willing to attest to that For the Record.
[Review based on supplied download.]