Red Beet Records
4 Stars (out of 5)
The Skylighters might not be a familiar name, but some familiar names comprise the quintet: bluegrass stalwarts Mike Auldridge and Jimmy Gaudreau and three members of Nashville’s Last Train Home: Eric Brace, Jim Gray, and Martin Lynds. Their self-titled studio release captures the magic of their infrequent on-stage get-togethers.
Oddly enough, the album’s lone original – Brace’s “See What Love Can Do” – sets the tone, with Brace backed by Auldridge’s (resophonic guitar) and Gaudreau’s (mandolin) bluegrass breaks while bassist Gray and percussionist Lynds keep time. From there, it’s as if The Skylighters is an in-house all-request hour; as the collective culls bluegrass, country, folk, gospel, honky-tonk, and swing gems into a cohesive collection of terrific music.
Selections span four Louvin Brothers classics, Eric Anderson’s “Close the Door Lightly,” Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart’s “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” and Avril Gearheart and Ralph Stanley’s “Going Up Home to Live in Green Pastures.” The mix also affords less common configurations. Auldridge’s pedal steel transforms Norman Blake’s “Last Train from Poor Valley” and Jim Croce’s “Maybe Tomorrow” into classic country weepers. Gaudreau sings lead on five tracks and plays electric guitar on “Dear One.”
The driving force behind this music is the music itself. Fancy licks are few; these tremendously talented musicians simply are playing songs they love with passion and sincerity. Consequently, the Skylighters have whipped up a winner!
by Tim Walsh