In A Groove
John Boy & Billy
4.5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
For almost forty years, Terry Baucom has become one of the most revered 5-string players on the bluegrass circuit, despite changing band allegiances frequently: in the past decade, the ‘Duke of Drive’ has joined forces with Baucom, Bibey, & Blue Ridge, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Dale Ann Bradley, and—as one of the finest freelancers about—others.
He has formidable stage presence and his studio recordings with a succession of groups have proven popular. There is something a little different about Baucom’s banjo playing, a nuance that makes the notes pop just a little more than some others while consistently remaining a complementary component of any collaboration.
This distinctiveness is apparent on In A Groove’s sole instrumental track, the title cut. Jason Carter’s fiddle is prominent, but it is Baucom’s right-hand that raises the tune above the two-dozen other bluegrass instrumentals I’ve heard this week. Drive indeed, but it is more than that- there is a charismatic quality to Baucom’s playing that makes “In A Groove” stand out.
Baucom has called on the relationships he has established over his many years as a sideman and (occasional) bandleader. Utilizing a house band of Barry Bales (Alison Krauss & Union Station—bass), Wyatt Rice (Tony Rice Unit, The Rice Brothers—guitar), Adam Steffey (AKUS, The Boxcars—mandolin), and Carter (Del McCoury Band—fiddle) establishes more than a solid foundation for the project. Bales holds down the bottom end with a solid tone, Steffey reminds us of his ability to provide bright fills, and Rice lays out some tasteful licks while contributing rock-steady rhythm.
With only a single instrumental track, Baucom most obviously made the decision to place an emphasis on the album’s vocalists; this focus makes In a Groove a most impressive project. While there are plenty of hot licks and remarkable breaks throughout the disc’s thirty-three minutes, by emphasizing songs over tunes Baucom widens the appeal of his recording without sacrificing instrumental integrity.
Singing in various combinations, Russell Moore (IIIrd Tyme Out), John Cowan and Ronnie Bowman make vocal appearances on a couple of numbers each. Bowman sings with former Steeldriver Chris Stapleton their own “Good Time Mountain Man,” an excellent song that should have been written forty years ago. Moore’s soaring vocals sets up Connie Leigh’s “Nothin’ Like the Scorn of a Lover” to be something special.
For those interested in the fibres connecting bluegrass musicians, Baucom reforms the original Quicksilver quartet for a single number, bringing in Doyle Lawson, Jimmy Haley, and Lou Reid together for a powerful vocal rendition of “My Eyes Shall Be on Canaan’s Land.” Haley and Reid also appear on the standard, “There Ain’t No Future in the Past.”
Jamie Dailey brings his patented sound to “Do You Wrong Kind of Girl” (singing with Reid and Baucom) while The Gibson Brothers offer up a devastating rendition of the Buck Owens’ 1966 #1, “Open Up Your Heart.” Don Rigsby takes the lead on another superb Leigh song, “Young Lillie’s Dreams.”
Finally, one would be remiss to overlook Baucom’s nod to the past, a spirited offering of Jimmy Martin’s “Stepping Stones” featuring not only Baucom and his spouse Cindy, but the song’s co-writer and original tenor vocalist, Paul Williams.
Often, a bluegrass instrumentalist’s recording project is a bit of a patchwork, with a variety of vocalists and approaches being employed to make the album marketable. Such isn’t the case with In A Groove: tied together by an outstanding quintet of instrumentalists, the vocal diversity isn’t jarring. Rather, with most vocalists appearing on more than a single cut, the album is dynamically cohesive.
On his first ‘solo’ outing of his career, Terry Baucom provides a template for other sidemen considering stepping out on their own: invest in the best available talent, blend old material with new, be willing to take some chances, and above all—keep it bluegrass!