Welcome to 1967.
All Suited Up screams nostalgia, as do most every part of The Kody Norris Show’s presentation and live appearances.
The emerging Mountain City, Tennessee quartet has chosen to represent the honky-tonkified, sparkly clothed, big hat ‘n sound, the “Hit Parade of Love” manner of what is now often viewed as traditional and quaint bluegrass, and they do so with no little bit of confidence and aplomb.
Having raised himself on the sounds of the Stanleys, Mr. Monroe and–most significantly to his approach–Jimmy Martin, Norris is the stalwart, large-voiced frontman for his band, laying out the lead guitar runs and rhythm in the manner we expect from a bluegrass band.
There is little subtle about his approach, although he modulates his vocal tactics to suit the requirements of the song. This quality is noted in the approaches taken on the album’s singles: playful and light (“Love Bug,” a Norris original, not the George Jones number) one moment (there’s the Martin influence) plaintive and sincere the next (“Ole Carolina,” evoking Mr. Monroe’s manner, perhaps) with a lively and unaffected, straight-forward Carter Stanley manner coming through elsewhere (“Kentucky Darlin’”).
The Kody Norris Show is comprised of Norris (lead vocals and all guitar), Mary Rachel Nalley-Norris (fiddle and mandolin, as well as vocals), and the personable Josiah Tyree (banjo and harmony)—his banjo strings absolutely pop throughout, including on “Uncle Bill’s Still” and “Whatcha Gonna Do”) with Mark Fain handling the bass for this recording. Co-producer (with Norris) Darin Aldridge also contributes mandolin and harmony with Jason Barie providing harmony fiddle on a number of tracks.
Thematically, All Suited Up ticks most of the bluegrass boxes: love and courting (“Let’s Go Strollin’”—with engaging three-part harmony on the chorus from Tyree, Nalley-Norris, and Norris—and “Love Bug”), rural experiences including agriculture (“Farmin’ Man”) and illicit activity of the medicinal sort (“Uncle Bill’s Still”), longing for home (“I’m Going Back to the Mountains” and “Virginia Bound”) and heading to the city to make it big (“Brand New Hit in Nashville,” the latest single, I believe.) A murder of retribution is also inserted in the form of Bill Grant’s exceptional “In the Shade of the Big Buffalo,” last heard from David Davis & the Warrior River Boys on a Rebel Records release some fifteen years ago; an amazing song, and while the version here isn’t going to make me forget Davis’ take, this one is still mighty fine.
The only number that leaves this listener wanting is “Lady of the Evening,” a Norris song of the ‘barroom judgement of the fallen woman’ variety, the type we really don’t need more of in 2021. Naturally, given my track record, it is likely to be the album’s most popular number.
Greg Cahill’s introductory essay adds perspective and value.
The Kody Norris Show pulls us willingly into bluegrass’ music’s past, ably demonstrating that there is a lot of life left in the venerable, old sounds. A creative, dynamic, and bright sparkle within the modern bluegrass prism, The Kody Norris Show are, and All Suited Up is a fine representation of their lively blend of definitive sounds.