“Audie Blaylock & Redline” by Audie Blaylock & Redline

Audie Blaylock & Redline
Audie Blaylock & Redline
Rural Rhyhm Records
4 stars (out of 5)

Is it just me, or have we been waiting for this album for bloody ever?

Since parting ways with Rhonda Vincent half a dozen years ago, Blaylock has seemingly struggled to find his own path as a band leader. Having spent time working with former Rage compatriot Michael Cleveland, Blaylock now seems to have his feet under him and is bringing his version of hard-driving bluegrass to the fore.

I’ve been a fan of Blaylock since the first time I heard him sing live more than eight years ago as a member of Rhonda Vincent & the Rage. Vocally, he possesses a tone and approach that fits with the fine legacy of non-high lead bluegrass singers, and as a guitar picker he has always demonstrated security within his non-flamboyant leads and rhythm. His work on A Tribute to Jimmy Martin ‘The King of Bluegrass’ with other alumni of the Sunny Mountain Boys was positively stunning.

With a young band of capable sidemen assisting, Blaylock demonstrates that no matter his stature, a bluegrass bandleader needs to trust his touring band. On this fine debut album’s dozen tracks, it is just Audie and the boys picking and singing in the finest of bluegrass traditions.

Evan Ward on 5-string is especially notable in his contributions, taking the banjo on syncopated journeys that are tremendously satisfying to this listener. His work on “You’ll Never Be the Same” and the lead track, “Whispering Waters”, are impressive and captures the classic sounds that will (hopefully) forever be associated with Sonny Osborne.

The album is deftly sequenced. Up-tempo numbers — which of course in bluegrass doesn’t necessarily imply light-hearted — such as “Lonely River” balance weepers like “My Blue Eyed Darling”, about as smooth and sentimental as a bluegrass song of heartbreak can rightly allowed to be. “Goodbye,” one of two songs on the album from the repertoire of Jimmy Martin (the other being the a capella gospel song “Who’ll Sing For Me?”) is followed by “Roll On Blues,” an older song that has enlivened many a bluegrass set. While several of the songs are familiar from recordings by Flatt & Scruggs, Doyle Lawson, the Osborne Brothers, and the Johnson Mountain Boys, none are of the over-done variety.

Audie Blaylock has a rare and exceptional bluegrass voice. He can flat-out sing, and that he has worked as a professional bluegrass singer for so many years to so muted acclaim borders on criminal. He doesn’t twist songs to fit his own particular style so much as he adjusts himself to the needs of the song.

Late in the set, Blaylock steps aside to allow mandolinist Jason Johnson to take a pair of leads, including on the disc closer “Mountain Laurel in Bloom;” if this song hasn’t yet received significant bluegrass airplay, programmers and hosts need to give it another listen.

Audie Blaylock & Redline doesn’t break any new bluegrass ground, and it wasn’t intended as such. It is a better than average collection of spirited, fiddle-rich bluegrass music executed at a very high level of competency.

by Donald Teplyske

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