Through the Window of a Train
4 stars (out of 5)
With a lineup that’s been remarkably stable since 1995’s debut masterpiece It’s a Long, Long Road, it’s no wonder that Blue Highway has been able to craft a sound that’s one of the most distinctive of it’s era.
Bassist Wayne Taylor’s criminally unheralded lead vocals and Rob Ickes’ panoramic Dobro playing are the most noticable parts of that sound.
But then you have Tim Stafford (lead guitar) and Shawn Lane (mandolin, fiddle) and Jason Burleson (banjo, guitar, mandolin), all remarkable instrumentalists and harmony singers.
Lane and Stafford are also fine lead singers, giving Blue Highway the same sort of vocal versatility that The Band had.
Through the Window of a Train makes their signature sound even more personal, with each of a dozen tracks written or co-written by a member of the band.
Lane’s lead vocal and the straight-ahead grass of “Life of a Travelin’ Man” is, both lyrically and musically, a perfect tone-setter for other tales to follow of men going somewhere they may or may not want to be.
Burleson’s banjo rings out on his instrumental “The North Cove” and on Stafford’s “Blues on Blues,” Lane’s “Sycamore Hollow” and the Taylor/Lane duet “Just Another Gravel in the Road.”
On the title track and “A Week from Today,” which seems to have been inspired by a character in The Shawshank Redemption, Taylor nails the nostalgic vocal, avoiding the sappiness that traps so many bluegrass singers.
Taylor also sounds great on “Homeless Man,”about a Vietnam War veteran, though “Two Soldiers” is more emotionally powerful. Co-written and sung by Stafford, who kicks it off with a gorgeous guitar filigree, the story two servicemen who personally deliver death notices every day, is a fresher and more immediate message.
While everything on this project meets the high standard Blue Highway fans come to expect, there are two cuts sure to become favorite radio and festival requests: Lane’s lighthearted, but sincere gospel quartet “V-bottom Boat,” which has both the narrator and Noah happy to go to Heaven as long as they get to do a little fishin’ on the way and “My Ropin’ Days are Done,” a modern-day cowboy ballad written by Staffor and Bobby Starnes, that George Strait wishes he could sing as good as Wayne Taylor.
by Aaron Keith Harris