Crash Course in the Blues
Lonesome Day Records
4 stars (out of 5)
By Aaron Keith Harris
The foremost thought in my mind whilst listening to the latest from Wildfire, a band that has been around about a decade by now, is what an underrated lead vocalist Robert Hale (guitar) is. His singing is both sensitive and sturdy, with a little bit of a classic rock edge to it, making it easy for him to put across the varied material selected for this 12-song, 39-minute effort.
The only other original member of this unit is (I believe) bassist Curt Chapman, who booms out the bottom end on each track, but the rest of the picking remains strong with Matt Despain (Dobro, vocals), Steve Thomas (mandolin, fiddle, vocals) and Johnny Lewis (banjo).
The title track takes us to the very un-bluegrass venue of Hollywood & Vine (and features Scott Vestal on banjo), but the troubles that ensue there are the same you could meet with in a beer joint in Hazard or Harlan. Hale’s “Lies That You Told” and the traditional “Paint This Town” are similarly hard-edged, with the hard-driving Lewis back in the driver’s seat. “She Burnt the Little Roadside Tavern Down” is also likely to get its share of airplay as it effectively straddles the line dividing honky tonk from modern bluegrass.
Vince Gill’s “I Wanna Know Your Name” has a Lynyrd Synyrd-like boogie beat that suits Hale just fine, and the band also does justice to Gill’s “Lifetime of Nighttime,” a ballad about the hardships of blindness.
Two more highlights are a wistful reading of Keith Whitley’s “Daddy Loved Trains,” a truly great bluegrass song, and a heartfelt turn on the gospel chestnut “When He Reached Down His Hand for Me,” with Hale injecting just the right amount of country soul.