By Donald Teplyske
Nu-Blu’s backstory is one that publicists salivate over.
A young band, founded by a couple soon-to-be in love and just starting their journey in the bluegrass world, is derailed by a life-threatening catastrophe only to persevere to be the initial signing of a resurrected label.
While it may not work as fiction, the tale of Nu-Blu’s Daniel and Carolyn Routh makes for captivating reading. Shortly after striking out on their own as Nu-Blu, Carolyn suffered a pair of strokes which cost her her voice, the use of her right side, and very nearly her life. During recovery, Daniel was a faithful companion and the pair married a few years later. With several years on the circuit under their belts, the North Carolina-based group was the first band to be signed when Pinecastle was re-launched a year ago.
Nu-Blu’s overall sound is hardly high and lonesome, but works well within the contemporary definition of bluegrass. With definite country overtones and a bluegrass approach that has been influenced by, one imagines, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Nu-Blu’s The Blu-Disc should appeal to a wide segment of the bluegrass population. Heck, “the storm is raging”—from the pen of Mark Brinkman but a line written for RV if there ever was one—even appears in “Must Be The Wind.”
“Any Stretch of Blacktop” and “Every Shade of Blue” are up-tempo songs that contain unrestrained bluegrass drive while “That’s Who I’m Supposed to Be” and “Look to You” feature more subdued approaches. Finely performed, the former song attempts to provide a face to the recent and ongoing financial crisis; instead, the song’s protagonist comes across as a self-deluding complainer and provides the album with its least-satisfying moments.
Coming from the same songwriting team—Marc Rossi and Donna Ulisse—that produced “That’s Who I’m Supposed to Be,” “The Guitar Case” is more successful. The story isn’t unique, but buoyed by Daniel’s vocal performance accompanied by lonesome fiddle from guest Greg Luck, the tale of lost affection, a motel room, and drinking resonates as genuine.
Among the album’s finest songs are two which feature Carolyn’s expressive vocals. “Family Quilt” is as the title suggests a retrospective of the memories and meanings of the fabrics that bind a family. “Roses and Rust,” paired with gravel and dust, provides insight to the life of one who outlives her peers.
Carolyn Routh (bass and vocals) and husband Daniel (guitar and vocals) are augmented throughout by Kendall Gales (mandolin) and Austin Levi (banjo, reso, and vocals) who also takes the lead vocal spot on “Lonesome Heartache Blues,” another album highlight. Greg Luck provides fiddle on a number of cuts while Rob Ickes makes a handful of appearances on Dobro. Christy Reid sings harmony on “Other Woman’s Blues,” a song that has generated airplay.
Nu-Blu doesn’t play the brand of bluegrass I usually find appealing, but their ability on The Blu-Disc to engrain their music with a variety of voices, tempos, and approaches eventually won me over. It is most definitely an album that became more appealing with multiple listenings.
I’m glad I didn’t rush to judgement because Nu-Blu has certainly produced an album of which they can be proud.