The Dixie Bee-Liners
4 stars (out of 5)
Susanville is a grand recording, a concept album within a field where such is uncommon.
Its premise is one each of us has likely considered while staring through the windshield at the black ribbon: what are the stories of the faces we see sharing our road? The Dixie Bee-Liners—primarily Brandi Hart, Buddy Woodward, and Rachel Renee Johnson with a talented slate of supporters—delve into the idea that “every car on the highway has a story;” Susanville is their attempt to capture these in a loose narrative.
A dramatic bluegrass and Americana band, The Dixie Bee-Liners’ second album (an eight-song EP was the band’s introduction in 2006) is a departure from their previous Pinecastle album, 2008’s Ripe. The band has pulled back a bit from typical bluegrass trappings, successfully aiming toward an “acoustiblue” recipe that is more in keeping with that of Robinella or The Everybodyfields. This disc appears to be a continuation of select stories captured on Ripe; “Down on the Crooked Road” and “Lost in the Silence” would nicely complement these tales.
The band begins their two-thousand mile journey across the United States with a Steve Earle-inspired mando lick kicking off “Heavy.” This song allows Hart to introduce the first of her several voices; the youthful adventurer of this song is a very different character from the road-weary highway veteran following a “string of rubies trailed in the dust” in “Brake Lights.” Woodward takes a few lead vocals, most passionately on “Down” and when revealing the grim desperation of “Truck Stop Baby.”
Naturally, Susanville works best when as a continuous listen, when one can absorb the emotions and experiences that connect the various travelers. The dozen songs are bridged by instrumental snippets and GPS directions linking the loose narrative. Guest vocalist (and 1965 Academy of Country Music Top New Female Vocalist) Kay Adams gets the juiciest song, the lively “Trixie’s Diesel-Stop Café”; singing of her ‘Tiger Puddin’’, one discovers that Ms. Adams’ (best known for “Little Pink Mack”) might still make a trucker blush. Her voice remains distinctively sassy.
Nonetheless, most of the songs stand on their own. A lone extended instrumental entitled “Albion Road” holds the listener’s attention with intriguing flatpicking and mandolin. “Lead Foot” brings Simon & Garfunkel sweetness in the harmony while Sam Morrow’s banjo runs through. Other songs such as “(I Need) Eighteen Wheels,” “Find Out” and the title track could develop into radio favorites.
Susanville is a quality project, one whose very ambitions may out-strip its commerciality. Those who take the time to experience the disc will find lovely vocals, spirited and challenging instrumentation, and perhaps a perspective on those we pass within the bustle of our lives.
by Donald Teplyske