Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Crossroads/Mountain Home Records
3 stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
Doyle Lawson has been around bluegrass for a long time and is one of the great stars of the business. Drive Time, though, may leave bluegrass fans scratching their heads.
There is some controversy that goes along with it. Doyle has added a snare drum to his band and bgrass-l, the bluegrass listserv, was alive with comments about this – both pro and con – a few weeks ago. You can hear the snare but it’s played tastefully and I have no objections hearing it. Seeing it on stage might make me wince, but so do raggedy jeans and tee shirts that some performers want to wear.
I didn’t see a lot of conversation about his choice of basses. My preference is the big upright, but the band endorses Eminence stick (electric upright) basses and the CD package shows Corey Hensley holding a Copley Fender-style bass. Given that on the stage the bass is often amplified, anyway, any of these choices do an acceptable job in the hands of the right bass player and whoever is playing on these tracks makes it sound good.
The most curious thing about this CD has nothing to do with the quality of the product, it’s the number of tracks. There are only seven. Seven tracks on a CD if it’s a jam band (like the Grateful Dead) is one thing – the Dead could almost fill a CD with seven tracks – but these are all standard length numbers. In fairness, though, the price is reduced. Doyle’s website lists it for $13.00 compared to $18.00 for most of his other CDs. He’s using a folding CD package which probably reduces his cost a little, but it still seems he could have gotten (and given) a little more bang for the buck with a few more tracks.
Doyle plays mandolin, mandola, guitar and banjo and adds harmony vocals. Jessie Baker, late of Flamekeeper and now with a another band (Sierra Hull) that he left Michael Cleveland for, plays banjo. I first saw Jessie at Bean Blossom playing with the family band, The Baker Boys. He was with Karl Shiflett for awhile, taking lessons in showmanship.
Josh Swift (Carrie Hasler & Hard Rain) plays the resophonic guitar, bass, drums and sings bass. Jason Barie (Rocky Top X-Press, Larry Stephenson) plays fiddle while Carl White, who was with Doyle for a while in 2009, plays bass on some tracks. Corey Hensley plays bass and sings while Mike Rogers (country artist Craig Morgan) plays guitar, drums and sings. It’s interesting that the CD cover shows Doyle with six band members, the same six that appear on his website, but his website’s bio section only lists five people and Carl White is listed as a former member. That’s confusing.
The CD kicks off by ripping through Paul Simon’s (yes, that Paul Simon) “Gone At Last.” This is proof positive that you can make good bluegrass out of songs from many genre. This songs follows the old Hank Williams / Fred Rose formula of keeping the lyrics simple:
The night was black, the roads were icy
Snow was fallin’, drifts were high
And I was weary, from my driving
And I stopped to rest for awhile
The bookend is another screamer, “Gone Long Gone,” co-written by Mike Rogers. This is a hard-driving song with great harmony singing. In between is a slow, touching version of “Precious Memories” with a haunting Dobro kickoff. I’m already planning on how to use this version with my church’s praise team. “Leavin’ and Lovin’ You” (again co-written by Rogers) is a great country-tinged song – back when it was still country.
There’s another song from Rogers’ pen, “Country Store,” a song that describes the kind of country store I remember as a teenager. I like what the songs says, I like Rogers’ singing, but there’s something about the song that makes me think more of hot new country than bluegrass. Staying with that kind of song – rock ‘n’ roll gone country – they’ve included Dan Seals’ “Love On Arrival.” It was a chart topper for Seals two decades ago but I didn’t like it then, either. You can take some songs and make good bluegrass, but this isn’t one of them.
“The Greenbriar Hop” rounds out this short set. It does hop right along and it has a pretty good resophonic break in it, but the beginning and end sound more like Joe Maphis than bluegrass.
No doubt Doyle Lawson has a plan and no doubt he is happy with the music because he is a perfectionist. The parts I like I really like but that makes the CD even smaller than its seven numbers. Drive Time leaves me more puzzled than satisfied.