Sideline- Breaks to the Edge review

Sideline Breaks to the Edge Mountain Home

Having started to fill side gigs during bluegrass shoulder season, Sideline is headed toward a second decade for full-time members Steve Dilling, Jason Moore, and Skip Cherryholmes. Unfortunately, their sidemen roster has proven to be significantly less stable.

Breaks to the Edge was recorded with Troy Boone (mandolin) and Bailey Coe (guitar) handling the vast majority of the lead vocals; neither remains with the band as we head into the 2020 touring and festival season. Also departed is fiddler Daniel Greeson (now with BlueChip Picks in Knoxville), and according to the notes Aaron Ramsey (Volume Five) also contributed mandolin to this fifth Sideline release. Such is the lot of bluegrass band leaders: an album is ‘in the can’ awaiting release, singers and players depart, and the folk expecting to hear the band as presented on stage (or on record) are in for a surprise.

Nonetheless, and as they have since early 1948 or thereabouts, bluegrass bands persist. Breaks to the Edge is undoubtedly Sideline’s strongest release to date. Powerful, straight down the gullet bluegrass without affectation or compromise.

The core trio of Sideline remains Steve Dilling (banjo), Skip Cherryholmes (guitar), and Jason Moore (bass), and all continue to sing harmony parts; “I’ll Live Again” is an excellent example of the group’s vocal dexterity. Cherryholmes takes the lead on the guitar-rich “Crash Course in the Blues”—released as a single many months ago—and one continues to wonder why Skip doesn’t take more of the Sideline lead work, especially given the challenge of maintaining consistent vocal fronting.

Bailey Coe is a fine high tenor singer, and he takes the majority of the leads including the chop-centric album opener “Digging My Own Grave” and the closing, impressive rendition of “Down in the Willow Garden.” Both performances are captivating, with Sideline going deep to find a groove ideal to their sound. “Someone Like You,” a quiet love ballad, and “Your Selfish Heart,” from the Stanley tradition, showcase Coe’s impressive vocal range. Troy Boone (now with the Amanda Cook Band) takes three leads, including the rarely encountered Canadian song (from Grasstic Measures, I do believe) “Square Dance Town” and the plaintive “Amy.”

Naturally, Dilling’s banjo playing rings true throughout the album. Cherryholmes’ guitar parts are notable: on “Crash Course in the Blues,” he plays off (I am led to understand) Boone in a dual-guitar showcase. Numbers including “Twister (Devil’s Dance)” and “Southern Wind” feature impressive playing from both Dilling and Cherryholmes, but really, there is something ear-catching within each of the dozen tracks.

Introduced via atmospheric fiddle tones, “Return to Windy Mountain,” a ‘come home again’ song sung by Boone, is presented as an homage to bluegrass pioneer Melvin Goins; written by Delnora Lynn Reed and Carl Jackson, it is one of the album’s strongest songs, espousing “I’ll return to Windy Mountain before I die.”

Nothing fancy. Just bluegrass done right. Would love to catch this band live.

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