The Darrell Webb Band
5 stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
As soon as “I’m Bringing Home Good News” kicks off you know you’re in for a ride and it’s on a bluegrass train. Darrell Webb took a good Merle Haggard song and gave it a triple shot of Red Bull.
Darrell Webb has been making a splash in the bluegrass world since he joined the Lonesome River Band two decades ago as a youngster. Stints with JD Crowe, Wildfire, Rhonda Vincent and Michael Cleveland’s Flamekeeper band, as well as a regular jam gig at The Station Inn have kept him in front of crowds for those twenty or so years, and now he’s formed his own band. When I think of him, though, I think back to the Galt House and IBMA. Music was being played in all the hallways, innumerable rooms, in every nook and cranny. There was smoke and beer (and more) and sore fingers. It was enlightening to see how many ways bass players can dress up their blistered fingers. And there was Darrell. He had traded in his mandolin (this was his Wildfire days) and was playing banjo. Like so many bluegrass musicians he is an excellent singer and can play multiple instruments with equal ease and ability. In bluegrass you can watch stars on the stage and a little while later be jamming with them in a hallway or around a campfire.
While it’s not uncommon in country music to use studio musicians on a recording and different musicians on the road, in bluegrass you usually hear the same people on the road as on the CD. With the exception of guest Jim Van Cleve on fiddle, this band is the band, on stage or in the studio. While Asa Gravely on guitar (Galax Little Leaves), Jeremy Arrowood on bass (Closer Walk), Chris Wade on banjo (Alecia Nugent band) and Tyler Kirkpatrick on resophonic guitar (Julia Ann & Laurel Ridge Bluegrass) are not household names across the bluegrass world, they don’t take a backseat to anyone. They can play and sing with the best of them. This a great band, from the instrumentals to the tight harmony vocals. (Tyler has left the band, replaced by Jacob Joines.)
Bluegrass has strong gospel roots. The Darrell Webb Band is no exception, with Jeremy coming from a gospel music band and Tyler appearing with some of the top names in Southern Gospel music. The liner notes all reflect their faith and they include two gospel numbers here. “Gonna Be Moving” (co-penned by the late Randall Hylton) is a fine example of their harmony singing and “If You Don’t Believe the Bible” (Carl Jackson/Glenn Sutton) showcases their vocals with minimal instrumentation.
This CD is also evidence of the close ties between bluegrass and country music. This isn’t surprising since they share common roots such as Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. “I’m Bringing Home Good News” goes back to Haggard’s 1968 “Pride In What I Am” album. “To See My Angel Cry” (titled here as “To See an Angel Cry”) was co-written by Harold Jenkins (Conway Twitty’s real name) and a giant hit for him as well as country artists like George Jones and Jack Greene. Darrell’s bluegrass adaptation is just as beuatiful as its country counterparts. Another example is “Heart Trouble”, penned by Jack and Jim Anglin and Johnnie Wright (Johnnie & Jack). The version here isn’t too far removed from the Johnnie & Jack’s version you would have heard a half century ago. Swap a few instruments and Darrell could be singing “He Can’t Fill My Shoes” at Billy Bob’s alongside Jerry Lee Lewis.
The title cut, “Bloodline,” stereotypes a “country” family:
Daddy’s daddy was a Baptist preacher
While Mama’s father made Kentucky ‘shine
While one was telling others of redemption
The other was in prison doing time
The song goes on to tell how the singer is just a product of his bloodlines – not a bad description of the yin and yang found in the rural communities that gave birth to bluegrass. He takes a different tack on “Kings of Orebank,” penned by Jimbo Whaley, who often writes beautiful songs just a bit off the centerline bluegrass track. A quiet, reflective tale of youth – “We could ride all day long on fifty cents of gas” – it tells a tale of growing up on Orebank Road. “You’d go to church then go to the store, and everybody knew your name.” That line alone is enough to take me back fifty years and my dad gone almost twenty years, my grandparents even longer. Yeah, that’s just the way it was.
This CD is nothing but great music, but what else could you expect from Darrell Webb?