“The Young Fisherwoman” by The Country Gentlemen, “Chicken Reel” by Curly Ray Cline and “Bluegrass Memories” by Dave Evans

The Country Gentlemen
The Young Fisherwoman
Rebel Records (digital download only)
4.5 stars (out of 5)

Curly Ray Cline
Chicken Reel
Rebel Records (digital download only)
3.5 stars (out of 5)

Dave Evans
Bluegrass Memories
Rebel Records (digital download only)
4.5 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

One commends Rebel Records for enriching the bluegrass marketplace by to pulling classic, out-of-print recordings from the vaults. Several digital reissues have come our way recently and each has much to recommend them.

Dave Evans’ 1984 Rebel issue was Bluegrass Memories. A handful of tracks from this album are on the Classic Bluegrass disc, but several of the songs will be new to those coming to Evans late.

Aside from sporting one of the finest bluegrass album covers I can recall, the 12-song set is without fault. Three Evans originals anchor the set and each provides essential listening: “When the Snow Falls on My Foggy Mountain Home” and “If I Ever Get Back to Old Kentucky” capture phrases and images not unique to Evans, but his vocal performance—augmented by superb fiddling—on these numbers raise them above others’ songwriting.

“My Bluegrass Memories” serves as a tribute to the founding fathers of the genre and a more sincere and expansive recognition is now difficult to imagine, and Evans isn’t above dropping in a reference to his own “Highway 52.” Aside from these, the highlight may be the distinctive performance of “Down in the Willow Garden,” one of the finest interpretations of the song ever heard.

True to the album’s title, songs from times well before the 1980s are included. “Tragic Romance,” “Sweet Thing,” “Someone Took My Place with You,” and “Six Feet Under the Ground” require no introduction to even the most casual of bluegrass listeners. Sung by Evans, the songs sound even more impressive; not intimidated by tradition, Evans’ distinctive voice makes each of these songs his own, if only for a few minutes.

Now, if Rebel would follow the lead of other labels and artists—Smithsonian Folkways, Rounder, Chris Jones, among others—and offer up liner notes for downloads, one will be more satisfied and be able to answer queries including: Who is singing lead on Bluegrass Memories’ “Rock Bottom?” Jim Rigsby, perhaps?

Curly Ray Cline recorded several albums for Rebel Records and his first—1971’s Chicken Reel—is again available.

According to the one-sheet, these dozen tracks feature the Clinch Mountain Boys of the era, and a finer backing band for Cline’s old-time inspired sounds is difficult to imagine: Ralph Stanley (banjo), Jack Cooke (bass), Ricky Skaggs (mandolin) and Roy Lee Centers and Keith Whitley (guitar).

Largely instrumental, a couple vocal numbers are included including “Walkin’ in My Sleep.”

Not professing to be any kind of fiddle expert, the tunes and renditions included here don’t sound especially original or distinctive, which isn’t to imply they aren’t thoroughly enjoyable. One always appreciates hearing “Soldier’s Joy” and “Leather Britches,” but one imagines the album was created more for table sales than as an artistic statement on the state of bluegrass and old-time fiddling circa 1971.

His rewriting of “Black-Eyed Susie” as “Blue-Eyed Vertie” is certainly a nice addition to any collection, as are the performances of “Carroll County Blues” and “The Old Rugged Cross,” the latter of which features fine accompaniment from Stanley.

Made up of studio tracks from the very early 1960’s, 1970’s The Best of the Early Country Gentlemen, retitled The Young Fisherwoman in this Rebel campaign, is simply an outstanding example of the classic Country Gents presentation. Listening to these songs almost fifty years after they were recorded reminds one that the harmonies of this outfit set new standards within bluegrass.

The performances, once considered progressive, have now become as traditional as those of the Stanleys and Bill Monroe, albeit with an entirely different sound. Obviously a product of its time, the recordings have such a heavy vocal folk sound—The Kingston Trio are never far from mind—that when an Eddie Adcock banjo run comes to the fore, as in “500 Miles,” one is a little taken aback.

If only for the title track, which according to the label hasn’t been available for some thirty years, “Copper Kettle,” and as a remembrance of the majesty of the original Gents lineup—Adcock, John Duffey, Tom Gray, and Charlie Waller—The Young Fisherwoman is appealing. Fortunately, there is much more within these 36 minutes.

Keep the rereleases coming, Rebel.

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“Country Classics With a Bluegrass Spin” by The Grascals

The Grascals
Country Classics With a Bluegrass Spin
BluGrascal Records
4 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

For shoppers: This is only available at Cracker Barrel stores.

We’re seeing a flush of bluegrass-classic country couplings. Dailey & Vincent issued their cover of the Statler Brothers. I love the CD and apparently a few other people do, too, since it has a Grammy nomination, a SPGMA nomination and one of the cuts is nominated as SPGMA song of the year, and it’s the current IBMA album of the year. Not too shabby.

Nathan Stanley cut a CD of My Kind of Country (recently reviewed here) using a number of guest artists to accompany him, some from the country world (like Gene Watson), some who work in both bluegrass and country (like Marty Stuart) and some bluegrassers (like his dad and granddad). Unlike the Dailey & Vincent CD which was bluegrass renditions of Statler Brothers’ hits, Nathan’s CD is pure classic country, not bluegrass.

While there is temptation to throw Bobby Osborne’s Memories (also recently reviewed here) into this mix, that would be an inaccurate assessment. While country-type instruments like a piano were included on that CD, country-sounding bluegrass has always been a part of the Osborne’s music.

Now we have the Grascals with a bevy of country music guest stars. (And Steven Seagal singing on “I Am Strong.” What’s that about?) This is a Cracker Barrel-only CD so maybe it’s intended to rely on but be divorced from their bluegrass music.

It’s entertaining stuff. “I Am Strong,” one version with Dolly and a bonus track featuring a long list of performers, are special cuts. Co-composed by Jamie Johnson, the inspiration was a visit to St. Jude’s Hospital. It’s an inspiring song in support of a very worthy cause.

But “Folsom Prison Blues” gives me pause. Kent Well’s (Dolly Parton’s band and, wow, you have to see her website. It leaves me speechless.) electric guitar kickoff takes you back to the Johnny Cash version but then you hear guest Dierks Bentley with Terry Eldridge taking the second verse. Eldridge sings a great bluegrass song but the singing here just isn’t working for me. It lacks the tired worldliness of Cash. The music, on the other hand, is good listening. I like the mixture of acoustic bluegrass and electric country. Maybe it should have been an instrumental.

“Tiger By The Tail” (with Brad Paisley) is okay. Maybe it’s just me, but that song just isn’t the same without Buck Owens and Don Rich singing it. The more I listen the better I like it but I keep seeing these ghostly images of Buck and Don …

The best number on the CD is “Cracker Barrel Swing.” I become sinfully envious every time I see the Grascals and watch Terry Smith on the bass and it’s struck again. This is an instrumental I put up on the same shelf with “Jerusalem Ridge” and my other favorites with a great bass line and solo. “Pain of Lovin’ You” works well as a bluegrass-country song, which isn’t surprising since they sing with Dolly and she and Porter Wagoner wrote it and had a hit with it. The same can be said with “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died” with composer and hit-maker Tom T. Hall. The history of songs crossing the ambiguous border between bluegrass and country is as old as the genre and songs like these two hardly recognize the boundary. “White Lightning” with Daryl Worley (who sounds faintly like George Jones here rocks along. They’ve been doing this song on stage for some time.

Songs done with the original artists, like “Leavin’ Louisiana In Broad Daylight” with the Oak Ridge Boys will be enjoyed by Grascals’ fans, and “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” with Charlie Daniels should have been a bluegrass song from its inception.

I like it. I liked it better the second time through so it grows on you. Other than “Folsom Prison” the only question I have left is why use an electric guitar and steel guitar at all? They could have gone all-acoustic and made this close to mainstream bluegrass. I don’t need to hear someone emulating Don Rich’s kickoff – do something new with it.

“Del McCoury” by Del McCoury

Del McCoury
Del McCoury (digital download only)
Rebel Records
4 stars (out of 5)

By Aaron Keith Harris

After a stint as Bill Monroe’s lead singer and guitarist in the early 1960s, Del McCoury formed his own band, the Dixie Pals, and that unit recorded their first album for release on Rebel Records in 1975. Now it’s been re-issued as a digital download.

“Rain and Snow” kicks off this 12-track, 38-minute set, and it makes it easy to see what Monroe and other fans of hardcore bluegrass heard in McCoury: the proverbial high, lonesome voice that was yet strong enough to strip the paint off the walls. There’s a little bit of echo on McCoury’s voice and Bill Poffinberger’s fiddle here, giving the classic folk song the ominous tone it warrants. The arrangement remains popular in McCoury’s live sets to this day.

“Andy’s Honey” follows next, a quickstepping banjo tune showcasing not only Bill Runkle’s dexterity on that instrument, but Donnie Eldreth’s sprightly, clean mandolin backed up by Dewey Renfro on a thumping upright bass. Runkle also leads the pack on “Loggin’ Man,” a tune outlining what McCoury has done at times to pay the bills over the years in a vocal more expressive and less hurried than the take years later on The Cold Hard Facts.

The slight echo effect is prominent again on the soaring words of “Springtime of Life,” one of the two excellent Ola Belle Reed songs chosen for this project. The other, “I’ve Endured,” is the album’s penultimate track, satisfyingly testing the band’s drive and McCoury’s voice at the highest register.

Another highlight is the McCoury-penned “Rain Please Go Away,” a tune with a slow groove that has been covered by Alison Krauss + Union Station with Dan Tyminski on lead vocal. The rest of the tracks are all eminently suitable for the brand of bluegrass McCoury shot for and attained here, less refined—and therefore tastier at times—than the excellent sound this master of the genre presents these days.

“My Kind of Country” by Nathan Stanley

Nathan Stanley
My Kind of Country
Nathan Stanley Entertainment
3.5 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

It seems like only yesterday that I first saw Nathan Stanley on stage with Dr. Ralph, smiling and banging the spoons. That was the mid-90ss. Have you noticed the older you get the more often you ask, “where does time go?”

This is Nathan’s fourth CD and his first in the country genre. He loves classic country and I can appreciate that. I really like what he’s produced with My Kind of Country but I have to wonder what market he’s aiming for. Most of the entertainers from classic country days have all but disappeared except for small venue shows and appearances on the Opry. Unless you listen to a few select channels on XM Radio you won’t hear this music on the radio except for an occasional number that people like Alan Jackson manage to slip into the mix. If you can get RFD-TV then you can watch TruCountry from Hamilton, Texas where a number of new and classic entertainers (like Tony Booth) are keeping the sound alive.

In that vein, it would be interesting to see one of his shows to learn what he wants to do (at least for now) with his musical career. The inside cover of the CD jacket shows a marquee where Nathan apparently headlined a show that included Ben “Cooter” Jones of Dukes of Hazzard fame. I don’t know but I’m betting I wouldn’t hear a lot of mountains-flavored bluegrass.

As an aside, you may come away confused if you read the liner notes and have some familiarity with his start in the business. Nathan writes, “For the past sixteen years I’ve been traveling around the world performing shows … I may be only 17 years old …” I checked his page on Dr. Ralph’s website where someone wrote, “He quickly picked up the spoons at six years old …” I really don’t remember him at age two performing up on the stage with Dr. Ralph.

The music is good. He’s backed by Jeff Branham (Bill Anderson, Aaron Tippin) on the piano and Mark Stephens on guitar. Glen Harlow plays drums, harp (I believe they mean mouth harp) and mandolin with Ronnie McCoury appearing on “Angel Band.” Dewey Brown, from the Clinch Mountain Boys plays fiddle. Eddie Trent (who goes back at least to 1971 when he was with The Kingsmen Quartet) and Tony Dingus play steel with Tony doubling on the dobro. While these may not be the most recognizable names in the business (at least to people outside the music business) they do a good job. The music is well performed.

Guest artists are many and famous. Connie Smith sings with him on his version of her big hit, “Once A Day.” Vince Gill teams with him on an old great-uncle Carter number, “The White Dove” while Jimmy Dickens helps him sing Jimmy’s hit, “May The Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” Grandpa Ralph helps on a song he wrote, “The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn” while Nathan goes alone on Porter Wagoner’s hit, “A Satisfied Mind.” No one can complain about being given short shrift for their dollars because there are twenty-one songs on the CD.

He gives us touching songs like “Soldier’s Grave” with harmonies by The Isaacs. Hmmm, more confusion. The CD credits Carley Moore and Bill Napier with the song while a quick search finds “Searching For A Soldier’s Grave” recorded by Hank Williams and also by Kitty Wells, both credited to Roy Acuff. A search at Harry Fox finds both titles, each credited as listed here and with Dr. Ralph shown as recording each. If you’ve ever tried to track down a song to pay royalties this is an example of how frustrating it can be. I’m betting this was supposed to be Charlie Moore and Bill Napier (a former Clinch Mountain Boy, by the way). Who wrote it and who put their name on a variation is probably long lost in the ’50’s now.

Nathan has a good voice, more like his father’s than his grandfather’s, easy to listen to. Listen to “Think of What You’ve Done” and his duet with Larry Sparks, though Sparks upstages him just a bit with his distinctive voice. He matches well with Gene Watson on “Don’t Let Me Cross Over.” I like the arrangements. Listen to the mandolin on “The White Dove” or the kickoff on “Soldier’s Grave” and the overall arrangement on “Satisfied Mind.” There’s some good stuff here.

If I’d produced this CD I would have reached out more to the classic country world and less to the bluegrass world for guest artists, but that’s a minor point and, in his favor, using bluegrass voices and some novel arrangements does give some new life to these songs. My biggest knock on the CD is recording twenty-one songs that have been recorded and played so often and so long that their notes are bent. There are new songs out there with the classic country feel, and there are a lot of obscure songs (like Ray Pennington’s “The Memory”) that would have added interest to the CD.

It’s a good CD as long as you don’t mind covering a lot of familiar territory.

“Memories” by Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press


Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press
Memories
Rural Rhythm Records
4.5 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

I like Bobby Osborne’s new CD, Memories. It has some songs and arrangements that I’ll want to hear many times over.

But, as soon as I started listening, I had a question. Bobby Osborne is an iconic figure in bluegrass. The banner for this new CD is about celebrating Bobby’s 60th anniversary as a professional entertainer. I remember seeing Bobby and Sonny in the old barn at Bean Blossom over forty years ago, sometime in the late ’60’s.

And that brings me back to my question: why did this giant in the bluegrass world choose to use a number of instruments on this CD that are viewed askance by staunch bluegrass fans: fiddle trios (all played by Glen Duncan), piano and keyboard (also played by Glen), steel guitar (Mike Toppins), drums (Harry Stinson of Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives) and a shamisen (Takeharu Kunimoto).

Bluegrass, like many musical genre, escapes any strict definition. Based on what I see at festivals, shows and on CDs, I believe the majority of fans and practitioners hold to the line that bluegrass means a banjo, mandolin, guitar (but not too much lead guitar), fiddle, bass and maybe a resophonic guitar. Anything else just “ain’t no part of nothin’.” That’s the easy part. Trying to define what a bluegrass song should be is pretty much impossible.

It usually comes down to bluegrass is what I want it to be, charcterized by “I know it when I hear it.”

An obvious question is, why worry about it? I believe there are at least two reasons. One is we need labels to direct our attention. When I select stations on XM I usually stay away from “Hair Nation” but “Willie’s Place” is a favorite. Think where we’d be if we didn’t have labels to direct us to the bluegrass section and away from Rap. There are times I’ve believed the label and been disappointed in the product – which illustrates both the power and danger of labels.

Another reason is the fear that bluegrass might go the way of country music. Country music changed to reach wider audiences. Sons of Sylvia’s “Love Left To Lose” is a far cry from Faron Young’s “Step Aside” and a lot of oldtimers (me included) just don’t like where country music has gone.

But back in the 1960’s and 70’s some of the now-iconic figures in bluegrass tried to juice up their bluegrass to reach wider audiences: Jim & Jesse, Flatt & Scruggs (who leaned toward folk music – “Blowin’ In The Wind”), Mac Wiseman (“Love Letters In The Sand”, and, yes, the Osbornes. In Glen Duncan’s words, “‘Rocky Top’, the Osborne Brothers biggest hit, had steel, electric bass and drums on it. This was in 1967. Bobby considers the sound he had on Decca with Sonny – using the steel, electric, piano and drums – to be his signature sound.”

Has bluegrass music suffered because of this? Has “Newgrass” (“White Freightliner”) made incursions into bluegrass? Progressive/jam band bluegrass? What aboout the direction the Cherryholmes or Mountain Heart have taken? (For the record, their sets were well attended last year at Bean Blossom but I heard a lot of grumbling about the music.)

I don’t see the heart of bluegrass – Bill Monroe’s bluegrass, Ralph Stanley’s mountain music as examples – disappearing. I see young fans being attracted to the music. Part of what drove the change in country was large-scale media, radio and TV, and bluegrass (unfortunately, for the artists trying to make a living at it) doesn’t have those factors driving it.

So, did Bobby Osborne commit heresy with this new CD?

Not at all. As Glen Duncan points out, he wanted to reflect his entire career and a big part of his career has been music just like you’ll hear on the CD. “Bobby and Sonny always thought of themselves as a country music act, until the bluegrass festival boom of the 1970’s. They toured with Merle Haggard as his opening act, and did all of the country package shows with the other country acts from the late ’50’s until the early ’70’s. The Osborne Brothers played electric instruments on all of their live appearances, including the Opry during this time. That was always really the Osborne Brothers ‘hook.’ Even when they starting playing acoustic instruments in the late ’70’s, their show was alway programmed like a country act.”

Bobby is in excellent voice and he, Bobby, Jr. and Glen did a great production job with this CD. In his career retrospective you would expect to find “Rocky Top,” “Ruby,” “With A Pain In My Heart” (see a great retrospective with Sonny on banjo) and “Mountain Fever” (done here with Russell Moore splitting the lead) and you won’t be disappointed. “Up This Hill and Down” is a great cut with one of the most interesting instrumental breaks on the CD. Maybe it’s the shamisen. Maybe some banjo players should start looking at this instrument.

I’ve never understood the fascination bands have with “Turkey In The Straw” and “Sally Goodin'” when they could be playing “Jerusalem Ridge” or “Lost Cave” for their instrumental showcases.You can now add another number to the list of great instrumentals: “Man From Rosine” written by Duncan and played here by by Bobby, Glen, Ronnie McCoury, Sammy Shelor, David Harvey (mandolin, mandola and mandocello) and David Grisman. Nuanced with minors and multiple sections, most bluegrass bands will leave out the first and last few measures (keyboard) but it still makes a fantastic bluegrass instrumental.

If you like ballads you’ll love Bobby’s duet with Patty Loveless on the title number. As much country as bluegrass there was a time when it would have climbed the country charts. Duncan plays a high-string acoustic guitar on this number, adding to its classic country sound. Another country-tinged number is the Glen Duncan penned “Bring Back Yesterday,” a beautiful ballad that so fitting with the theme of this CD. Keeping with the country sound is “Memories of Yesterday,” penned by Bobby and played with a bluesy, loping melody.

The CD closes with a Bobby and Glen song, “When I Meet Mother In Heaven,” which is mostly as bluegrassy as you can get. From Tim Graves dobro kickoff to the classic bluegrass question, “will I meet mother in heaven?” this could have been done by Mr. Monroe as easily as on this CD – except for the mostly part and this is my only gripe about the CD. Perhaps this falls into the “music I like” category, but I really dislike the mindless chuck-chuck of the drums on this number (as in the majority of country music these days). Harry Stinson is a good drummer but it sounds like there’s a robot playing on this track.

But, hey, one percent gripe, ninety-nine percent love it. I’m going to play the coating off this CD.

“Old Country Church” and “Lonesome and Blue” by Ralph Stanley

Ralph Stanley
Old Country Church (digital download only)
Rebel Records
4 stars (out of 5)

Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys
Lonesome and Blue (digital download only)
Rebel Records
3.5 stars (out of 5)

By Aaron Keith Harris

Old Country Church (1972) was Stanley’s second all-gospel release for Rebel Records, following closely on classic Cry from the Cross. While not quite as good as that classic of the genre, this project, newly reissued only in the digital download form, features one of Stanley’s best bands and is a great representation of his evolving sound in the years after brother Carter’s death ended tremendous creative run of The Stanley Brothers.

With Roy Lee Centers on guitar and lead vocals, Curly Ray Cline on fiddle, Keith Whitley on lead guitar, Ricky Skaggs on mandolin and Jack Cooke on bass, this was surely one of Ralph’s best incarnations of the Clinch Mountain Boys. The only quibble is that Whitley and Skaggs do not feature vocally on this effort, content to contribute bouncing George Shuffler-style lead guitar and clean, Monroe-style mandolin, respectively.

Instead, most of the vocal duties fall to Centers, whose sonic resemblance to Carter Stanley is almost spooky. “Old Country Church” opens the album with Centers and Stanley belting out that classic brother band sound, which continues with “My Lord’s Been A-Walking” and “I Hold a Clear Title,” a sadly little-remembered piece with a halting chorus that jumpstarts at the end.

The call-and-response of “Standing By the River” gives way to the echo-touched vocal of Centers on “10,000 Angels,” which in turn gives way to the album’s centerpiece, the five-minute-plus “Village Church Yard,” an a cappella arrangement in which Stanley “lines-out” each lyric before the rest of the quartet follows with it. This sort of thing was new to bluegrass at the time, and shows Stanley’s creative courage as he chose to reach back before Monroe for inspiration for his solo material.

The upbeat spiritual “Honey in the Rock” and the thoughtful “Give Me the Roses While I Live” are two more Centers leads, with Stanley retaking the vocal helm on “Green Pastures in the Sky,” a retelling of the 23rd Psalm accompanied by high fiddles and loping guitar, and “These Men of God,” a hybrid between the Monroe and Stanley styles of gospel quartet arrangement.

Centers is back with “Hide Me Rock of Ages,” then the 12-track, 34-minute album closes with “When I Get Home,” another stunning a cappella.

Lonesome and Blue is Stanley’s 1987 release, a secular bluegrass album again featuring stalwarts Cline and Cook, and with Junior Blankenship on lead guitar and Charlie Sizemore on guitar and lead vocals.

Stanley’s vocal presence is much greater on this album, and his voice is more textured than in his glory days, which makes for an distinctly different feel throughout. Sizemore’s vocals are as mournful and brother Carter and Centers, but they are a little more modern.

Many of the album’s best moments are when these two rich voices kick off a song in duet fashion, such as on “Lonesome and Blue,” which contains the great line “I never rode a boxcar / Until she turned me down,” “Wicked Wine,” a sequel to the Stanley classic “Little Glass of Wine,” “Who’s in You Heart,” the sweetly lilting “Somebody Loves You Darlin’,” and “So Blue,” which borrows its arrangement from the Stanleys’ cover of Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Ralph also takes the lead on a straightforward take on “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and the nonsense clawhammer song “True Blue Bill,” but his best vocal performances are on the steamy “It’s a Hot Night in August,” the simmering “Room at the Top of the Stairs” and the sheriff-shooting “Old Richmond Prison.”

With 12 tracks clocking in at almost 28 minutes, Lonesome and Blue is a fast, crisp look at an artist in his mature prime.

“Trains I Missed” by Balsam Range

Balsam Range
Trains I Missed
Mountain Home Music Company
4 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

Since their inception four years ago, Balsam Range has been a consistently impressive force within the bluegrass recording community. Their well-crafted third album furthers their effort toward becoming one of the premier bluegrass acts.

As on previous releases, Trains I Missed finds Balsam Range presenting a range of contemporary bluegrass sounds, music based firmly in the sounds of Bill Monroe (who they covered five times on their debut recording Marching Home) while embracing seemingly more progressive but equally appealing influences such as Blue Highway.

Hailing from the area of North Carolina where the Smokies meet the Blue Ridge, Balsam Range has featured a stable five-man lineup since their recording debut. Tim Surrett plays acoustic bass while adding resophonic guitar to select tracks. Buddy Melton is the fiddler with Darren Nicholson featured on mandolin. Caleb Smith handles guitar with the band’s most experienced musician, Marc Pruett, providing exceptional five-string contributions.

Everyone excepting Pruett sings lead and harmony vocals with Smith singing lead most frequently. The only guest musician invited to the proceedings is pianist Jeff Collins who contributes to “Meanwhile.”

Several tunes from this album have received considerable airplay. The title track, written by Walt Wilkins, Gilles Goddard, and Nicole Witt, may be most familiar and is a mid-tempo number that reflects on choices made, their impact on where one ends up, and the resulting blessings.

“Callin’ Caroline” has also proven to be a popular track; an up-tempo song previously recorded and co-written by Darryl Worley, it is a rather insubstantial song of the “I can’t wait to get off this highway and back to her” variety.

More significant is the inspirational “The Touch,” an accounting of the possibilities that arise reaching for the Savior’s hand. “Hard Price to Pay” and “On the Run” are lively numbers that maintain interest while exploring well-trodden bluegrass territory.

The Carter Family’s “East Virginia Blues” is dusted off and given a spirited reading. Randall Hylton’s “Gonna Be Movin’” featured on The Darrell Webb Band’s album earlier this year, is also performed and allows that band to further explore their vocal harmony dexterity.

Balsam Ridge is a banjo and fiddle-driven bluegrass band. Their vocal harmonies are superior to that which one would expect from a ‘hometown’ group, and their instrumental interplay is exceedingly engaging.

Further distinguishing themselves from the pack, Balsam Range’s approach to lead vocals is varied: Melton and Smith trade the lead position on select songs and all four vocalists are fully capable of carrying a song to fruition.

Balsam Ridge doesn’t exactly push boundaries, but they inject enough vibrant warmth into their style of bluegrass that they appear fresh and appealing. Trains I Missed is a more than satisfying bluegrass album.