Rock Hearts- Starry Southern Nights review

Rock Hearts Starry Summer Nights

Roaring out of New England, Rock Hearts present two-thirds of a terrific bluegrass album.

I say ‘two-thirds’ because, well- that’s all there is: eight songs, just under 27-minutes. And it is great, songs of yesterday music made for today’s ears. There just isn’t quite enough of it, you ask me.

A very professional-appearing project, Starry Summer Nights contains a couple band-written originals and astutely-chosen outside songs. The title track, written by guitarist Alex MacLeod and inspired by an uninvited jam visitor, is a beauty of a number, a lonely widower slowly waltzing with an absent partner and his memories; if it doesn’t make you tear-up just a little, you need to check your pulse. MacLeod has a fine voice, perfect for the song—naturally pleasant without prettiness mucking up the works.

Rock Hearts have the ability to make songs written by others completely their own, even when a song has been previously heard (including definitively) two hundred fifty-seven times. The Osborne Brothers get a tip of the hat on “Don’t Let Smokey Mountain Smoke Get In Your Eyes” (with lotsa fiddle!) as do Lester and Earl within “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee.” These songs, as well as “Whispering Waters,” are ample demonstration of the group’s skills as bluegrass musicians and singers. The lead number, “99 Year Blues,” is an interpretation of the familiar Julius Daniels song from1927, with an additional verse.

The instrumental “Juxtaposed,” from banjoist Joe Deetz, moves along at breakneck speed, while their arrangement of “Stagger Lee” is similarly impressive; interesting to this roots nerd is that both “Stagger Lee” and “99 Year Blues” were featured on the Anthology of American Folk Music. Townes Van Zandt’s “Don’t Take It Too Bad” is given a gentle bluegrass interpretation; lovely. Rock Hearts give us clean and aggressive ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ bluegrass, driving music within a contemporary palate.

I don’t know why a band, availing themselves of Ned Luberecki to produce, would say, ‘Yup- we got enough’ after just eight songs, especially when what they already captured is as strong as what is contained within Starry Summer Nights. Obviously they had their reasons; I just wish they had kept the tape rolling for another 15 minutes.

There is a lot to appreciate within this EP/mini-album. Solid and energtic bluegrass of the kind we most enjoy at Fervor Coulee.

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