The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys- Never Slow Down review

The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys Never Slow Down Smithsonian Folkways

East Tennessee’s The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, despite their on-stage lightness and good humour, take their bluegrass seriously. This is their career, and they are focused and single-minded in the sensible pursuit of not only financial stability but musical ideals.

Several albums into their career including a one-stop stay with Rounder Records, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys have continued to experience success on the bluegrass charts. The original “Missing Her Has Never Slowed Me Down” hit the charts running when released last year, and additional songs have continued their string of hits including the current “Blues Are Close At Hand.”

Just before the pandemic shut down much of the music world, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys introduced the newest member of the group, fiddler and vocalist Laura Orshaw. Seeing the band in late January, 2020, it was apparent early that this addition was just what the band needed to further define an individual niche within the crowded bluegrass field.

The momentum provided by Orshaw’s addition is apparent throughout Never Slow Down, including on her three lead vocal tracks. “Where Grass Won’t Grow” and “Ramblin’ Woman (ahh, Hazel Dickens!) are ideal showcases for Orshaw’s homey and entirely welcome vocal style, while the album closing “Old Time Angels” (a very familiar song from Jim Lauderdale) allows her to ‘get back’ her own with the likes of Pretty Polly, Omie Wise, and Little Maggie.

While Orshaw’s presence is notable, that isn’t to take anything from the four-friends who formed this group in 2014. C. J. Lewandowski, the group’s founder, is a big fan of Jimmy Martin’s style of bluegrass, and that comes through clearly no matter who is singing the songs, or from where they originated. Josh Rankel’s “When Are You Gonna Tell Me?” could be from a Decca or Gusto album of Martin’s, while their rendition of Ralph Stanley’s “Lonesome” is an improvement on the original. Rankel has one of the finest voices in the business with a country timbre ideal for these types of bluegrass songs, and with Lewandowski and banjoist Jereme Brown harmonizing on the chorus, something close to perfection is achieved. Jasper Lorentzen rounds out the group on bass and harmony vocals.

Brown’s take of “Blues Are Close At Hand” is another standout on an album without blemish. A pleasant surprise is found mid-set when the group presents Barnstar!’s “Take My Ashes to the River.” This Mark Erelli and Jonathan Kingham ballad of devotion (from Barnstar!’s debut of a decade ago) is a stellar song, and the performance here is exceptional, with Orshaw again prominently featured vocally aside, I believe, Lewandowski. Set alongside the murder ballad “Little Glass of Wine,” the pairing can’t be happenchance.

While the inclusion of “Little Glass of Wine” would suggest otherwise—and this is a more than fine performance of the Stanley Brother classic—The Po’ Ramblin Boys are song-hounds of the highest calibre. With only two original numbers this time out, they have searched for songs that will complement their already stout repertoire. Chris Brashear’s “Mason’s Lament” (with Brown on lead) and “Woke Up With Tears In My Eyes,” (sung by Lewandowski) recorded by the (to most of us) fairly obscure Don Brown & the Ozark Mountain Trio in the early 70s, are just two examples where the band elevates themselves via under-heard material. The singing on “Mason’s Lament” is out of this world. Seriously powerful.

I make no pretense of not being a fan of The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys. When I first heard and saw them live in 2016, I suspected they were going to be something special. I was right then, and I am confident that I am again correct stating that Never Slow Down will be near the top of the list when 2022’s Bluegrass albums are under discussion for IBMA and Grammy recognition.

(reviewed from supplied download)

The source for “Woke Up With Tears in my Eyes.” We live in the best of times for finding obscure music at the touch of a few buttons. So glad that I was introduced to this via Po’ Ramblin’ Boys; Tall Pines is a great album!
A recent live set featuring several songs from Never Slow Down

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