3 stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
We all evaluate the discs that find their way to our CD players. The simplest evaluation is whether you like it or not. If not, you probably won’t play it much if ever again.
The next step for some might be, “Do I want to perform any of these songs myself?” or “Would I give this to Charlie, would he like it?” This is when typing by genre becomes an issue. It’s also an issue for reviewers because (hopefully) we have some influence on the buying public. If you give the impression that the Old Crow Medicine Show is a Larry Sparks clone you’ll fast lose credibility.
Nu-Blu kicks off Nights with “I Won’t Be Around,” a number penned by their fiddle player, Greg Luck. Lead singer Carolyn Routh has a good bluegrass sound and the instrumentalists are doing a good job. Later they give a good rendition of “Red Haired Boy,” on old tune that isn’t recorded as often as it should be. They can do bluegrass.
And, in general it’s pretty good bluegrass. “Genre-defying” Nanci Griffith has always seemed to be out on the fringes of bluegrass and her “Spin On a Red Brick Floor” isn’t very ‘grassy and sounds like a misstep compared to the other numbers. The other songs on the CD vary from close to a traditional sound to much more modern lyric patterns and cadences, but you can identify them as bluegrass. The two numbers penned by Mark Brinkman are strong songs, what you can expect from him. “Try and Catch the Wind” is a hard-driving number with Levi Austin’s banjo pushing it along from start to finish, with two good instrumental breaks. “Lonesome Mountain” tells a tale of sadness with a dark, brooding sound and minor chords. This is good music.
So when does the sound go sideways?
Daniel Routh sings lead on “Lonesome Mountain” and does a credible job, but his singing is an issue on some other numbers. His voice has so little inflection from start to finish on “My Sweet Carolyn” that it just fails to excite me, I lose interest. It doesn’t compare well to Carolyn Routh’s rendition of “How Do I Move On.” The other singing issue I have is their harmonies. Good bluegrass harmony can stop you in your tracks. On “River of Love,” for example, I can barely hear the harmony and nowhere on the CD does it really rise to the top, make me stop and say, “Wow!” The other problem is subtle, but there are a number of tracks that tend to lose the vocals in the mix instead of standing out clearly.
If you love traditional bluegrass – but it doesn’t have to be Ralph Stanley – you owe it to yourself to go to Nu-Blu’s website and listen to their demo track to decide if they are for you. Nu-Blu has promise.