An odd recording, this. And I use the word ‘odd’ deliberately and without negative judgement.
Six Degrees of Separation is odd because, well—we just don’t get that many bluegrass albums built around one man’s banjo creations. Steve Wilson is a recognized master at building the 5-string banjo, and this album brings together a few banjo professionals—Dale Perry, Gena Britt, and Tony Wray—to demonstrate the sound of the Wilson banjo. Wilson plays on the majority of the album’s tracks, and I gotta say, not only do the banjos used sound great, so does the album in its entirety.
Wilson Banjo Co. is a bluegrass band although this release showcases many of the friends and musicians that Steve Wilson has encountered. South Carolina-based, Steve Wilson’s name is found on many recordings as an engineer and he has played with Dale Ann Bradley and Deeper Shade of Blue. Just a few seconds of listening to Sarah Logan’s voice lets one know she is someone special, and bassman Michael ‘Porkchop’ Branch keeps the beat moving forward steadily.
The album opens with a killer pair, the atmospheric and alluring “When the Crow Comes Down” and a cover of Hot Rize’s “Midnight on the Highway.” Logan has an exceptional voice, earthy and still absolutely note perfect.
Mid-set she brings a Melanie and Steve Wilson song to life. The gentle and sweeping “Colours of My Life is a lovely song given a delicate performance, with Dale Ann Bradley and Dale Perry being heard within the vocal harmony of “Just a Few More Miles,” unsurprisingly the highlight of the album for this listener. Donna Hughes’ “Autumn Leaves” also sounds quite special as sung by Logan while Toby Lightman and Marc Copely’s “Long Hard Day” receives two interpretations, one with Wilson on banjo, the second with Tony Wray mixed in. Did I mention that Sarah Logan can sing?
Guest Clay Hess sings another original from the Wilsons, “She’s A Gambler”—another really interesting and well-written number—while Shawn Lane brings his smooth lead to a faith-based number, “The Ambassador.” Additional highlights are Severin Theinert’s lead singing on his “Old Fashioned Ways” and Colton Rudd’s performance of “Wrong Turn That Led Me To You,” written by Steve and Brittany Wilson.
And, in case all that doesn’t sound good enough to draw your attention, Michael Cleveland fires up his fiddle on the instrumental “Issaqueena” (a piece that showcases Wilson’s playing) which also features Alan Bibey, while reigning IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year Deannie Richardson plays fiddle on the mood-establishing “When the Crow Comes Down.” Richard Bennett plays much of the lead guitar.
Wilson Banjo Co.’s Six Degrees of Separation has an unusual premise, but is inarguably a stunning bluegrass release. Sarah Logan is a vocalist for the ages and Steve Wilson can and does pick with the best. ‘Musician-driven’ the one-sheet states; I would add ‘song-focused and vocally-impressive’ to this most enjoyable collection. Unquestionably, one of the bluegrass highlights of 2021 at Fervor Coulee.