Hagar’s Mountain Boys
3 stars (out of 5)
We first saw The Hagar’s Mountain Boys, in one of their very first performances, at the Rivertown Bluegrass Society in Conway, SC about four years ago. At that time they were raw, just beginning to feel their way into becoming a band. A year or so ago, at the Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival in Roxboro, NC they were schedule for six sets over three days. This heavy duty schedule stretched their repertoire and their voices to the breaking point. Nevertheless, their work showed an increased maturity of vision as well as vastly improved performances and musicality. The addition of Blake Johnson on vocals added significant talent to their sound.
Now, with the release of their new CD Forever Yours, under the guidance of founder and front man Ricky Stroud has produced a fine, traditional bluegrass album that should have broad appeal.
Produced by Jason Moore , Mountain Heart bassist, Forever Yours offers four originals, one penned by Blake Johnson and the others carefully selected, as well as several appropriate covers that span the bluegrass waterfront pretty well. Except for the appearance of Jim Van Cleve on fiddle, the present recording displays the talents and skills of the band you’d see and hear at bluegrass festivals or other performances.
As news of this young band gets around, they are being seen more widely, including an appearance in Florida this winter. The tempos and strong rhythm the band generates captures the excitement of traditional bluegrass with most songs having been written fairly recently.
Blake Johnson shows a first class high baritone bluegrass voice with good timbre and plenty of soulfulness, communicating emotion and commitment to the song. It’s an honest and strait forward voice that’s easy to listen to and rewarding. His range of emotion and ability to sell content adds a fresh dimension to the genre. His singing on Travis Tritt’s “Anymore” reaches out to a listeners heart. He does a creditable job on bass.
Ricky Stroud plays solid and tasteful mandolin as well as contributing a good lead on one song. His harmonies are dead on and he’s to be commended for having the humility, as the band’s founder and front man, to leave the heavy vocal lifting to the very talented Johnson.
Mike Johnson, Blake’s father and the band’s guitarist, contributes three leads and offers solid harmonies. The band shows its musical versatility on the traditional a capella gospel song “Lord, Don’t Leave Me Here,” Cliff Smith on banjo offers capable work along with good vocal harmonies.
Forever Yours is a very pleasing effort by the Hagar’s Mountain Boys. It has been released on a private label, and can be obtained from the HMB Web site. Steve Gulley wrote the liner notes. This CD presents a refreshing new band in a good light. It’s worth your attention.
by Ted Lehmann