Lou Reid & Carolina
My Own Set of Rules
Rural Rhythm Records
4.5 stars (out of 5)
It has been four years since the last release from Lou Reid & Carolina, 2005’s excellent Time. Unlike that star-studded album, My Own Set of Rules features the touring line-up of Carolina augmented by only guest fiddler Ron Stewart. The result is a cohesive, focused presentation of traditionally-rooted but thoroughly modern bluegrass.
The lineup of Carolina has remained quite stable in the interim. Fronted by bluegrass and country music veteran Lou Reid (Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Ricky Skaggs, Seldom Scene) on mandolin, Trevor Watson continues as the resident 5-stringer. Mrs. Reid — Christy — has moved to the bass position with Lonesome River Band alumnus Shannon Slaughter taking over the guitar position while also providing outstanding vocal harmony.
The addition of Slaughter, one of bluegrass music’s under-valued voices, is a boon for Reid and Carolina. Slaughter has a distinctive baritone voice that moves down to bass and up to tenor throughout the project. Taking only a single lead spot, on his own “Blue Ridge Girl,” Slaughter is a nice complement to Reid’s tenor, especially on mid-tempo tracks such as “Picture Me There.”
While many contemporary bluegrass instrumentals serve as little more than digital filler, Watson’s “Beat the Train” is not only a lively banjo and fiddle showcase, the song has a couple changes of pace that sustain interest. Slaughter’s guitar break is impressive while Stewart’s signature fiddling imprints the tune in the listener’s consciousness.
The album contains several songs of a gospel nature.
A song from 2009 MerleFest/Chris Austin Songwriting Contest winner Dennis Duff, “Daddy Tried,” provides both the faith- and family-based sentiments largely required from bluegrass albums. While the message and even arrangement is familiar, the band’s restrained execution and Reid’s controlled delivery maintain the song’s integrity. Especially impressive within this number is the tone Stewart achieves, working with the voices of the singers to create a fiddle sound that approaches perfection.
The a cappella “It’s Hard to Stumble (When You’re Down on Your Knees)” features a quartet arrangement that is quite unlike anything I can recall hearing on a bluegrass album, and clearly delivers the message that this edition of Lou Reid & Carolina are not afraid of risk-taking. The result is a remarkably crafted and memorable vocal treatment of another Slaughter original.
The recently popular southern gospel tune “John in the Jordan” features a four-part harmony on the chorus that is as pleasing as every other element of the disc.
The lively tune “Left Handed Dreamer” gives the album its title: “My own set of rules seem to keep me on the inside, chasing after some elusive dream.” A free-spirited ode, the song captures the essence of this album: take life as it comes, and hit the road again tomorrow!
Christy Reid’s vocal harmony contributions add a different sound to the band, a softer but lively female presence that is not only appealing but very effective.
Perhaps what is most remarkable about the strength of My Own Set of Rules is that it has been executed while Reid continues as a member of the bluegrass super-groups Longview and the Seldom Scene. While those outfits record and tour sporadically, more than one bluegrass performer has seen his career sidetracked by attempting to spread himself too thinly. This disc contains no evidence that Reid is in any danger of succumbing to such a fate.
A high-quality bluegrass album, My Own Set of Rules demonstrates that Lou Reid & Carolina remain one of the finest outfits on the circuit.
by Donald Teplyske