Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road
Blue Circle Records
3 stars (out of 5)
Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road have undergone some major personnel changes since their last album. All the problems and joys that come with such changes are evident on their latest release.
The good news is that the single, “Can’t You Hear the Mountains Calling,” features an understated yet soulful vocal from new guitarist Jerry Butler (late of Pine Mountain Railroad). In Butler’s hands, familiar themes like the pull of home and the pain of loss are just as compelling as they were when the founding fathers of bluegrass were singing about them.
Speaking of the founding fathers, songwriter Jerry Williamson has a potential standard on his hands here – one that’s every bit as good as Carter Stanley’s similarly-themed “The Fields Have Turned Brown.”
Gorgeous twin fiddle work from Josh Goforth and new bassist Todd Meade (who played fiddle with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys) burnishes the traditional glow.
Butler offers another subtle, lovely vocal on Tom T. and Dixie Hall’s “Come and See Me,” while lead vocalist Josh Goforth shines on the traditional “Frances Lee.”
Gospel tunes seem to galvanize this band, and they turn in two solid quartets with Mark Brinkman’s “When You’re Looking Up” and the traditional “Jesus Said Go.”
As can be expected from a band with three 2008 SPBGMA nominees (Jordan, Goforth, and Meade – and, for what it’s worth, Butler, and banjoist Ben Greene should also have been nominated) for instrumental work, the playing is consistently crisp and hard driving. When the instruments and voices combine, though, “Carolina Road” runs into problems.
On numbers like “Run Little Fox,” and the title track, the mellow, even static vocal delivery is at odds with the driving fiddle and banjo.
“Which Way To Go” (another outstanding Jerry Williamson composition), and Don Reno’s classic “Maybe You Will Change Your Mind,” show a similar contrast between the group vocals and the keening instrumental backing. These latter two suffer additionally from stiff, under-nuanced phrasing. Other vocals (“Carolina Rain,” “Carolina Hurricane”) are surprisingly unremarkable.
Jordan has assembled a first-class band. She has a genuine talent for writing great material (the album’s whiplash closer, “Carolina Hurricane” is the sole example here), and for collecting songs from writers with fresh, innovative ideas (The two Williamson tunes and Becky Buller’s detail-rich “Carolina Rain” are the standouts).
Perhaps time will see Jordan and this promising band cohere into a more dynamic unit.
by Maria Morgan Davis