Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers
They’re Playing My Song
4 stars (out of 5)
By Aaron Keith Harris
This five-piece band—which is based in Xenia, Ohio, the next town over from me where Joe Mullins’ radio empire is based—deservedly won the IBMA’s emerging artist award a couple of months ago, and it’s nice to have the fourth album of their short but eventful run in time for the cold winter ahead. (Read reviews of the previous three by searching “Joe Mulins” on this site.)
As bandleader, banjo picker, and lead and tenor singer, Mullins is the main attraction, all of his many talents coming together to make “Lily,” a Tom Holt/Boys from Indiana tune, my favorite. Not many talents can pick such a song from the archives, play flawless, understated banjo, and deliver a vocal that rivals the best of those done by the three other great tenor singers from the original Longview, but Mullins does on this track.
The “Osborne Brothers Medley” also has Mullins in his element, singing smooth and high lead in the trademark Osborne trio format (with mandolinist Mike Terry on low tenor and guitarist Adam McIntosh on baritone) as the Ramblers fit four classics into four minutes and thirty-eight seconds of bluegrass perfection.
McIntosh and Terry are about as solid as you can get, both instrumentally—where they nail all their breaks crisply while remaining conscious of the song as a whole—and vocally—where their effortless delivery makes tracks like “A Blue Million Tears,” “Bottom of the Mountain,” and “Granddad (the Preacher)” surefire favorites on radio and on stage.
Evan McGregor’s fiddle is always where it needs to be, especially on the classic country of “Listen, They’re Playing My Song” and the David Harvey instrumental “Cruisin’ Timber.” Tim Kidd keeps perfect time with a steady bump on the upright bass, and adds the 1950s-style snare drum to “She Left Me Standing on the Mountain,” a track from the Delmore Brothers by way of Jim & Jesse.
All but Kidd join the gospel quartet for a beautiful reading of “Moses, Set My People Free,” Becky Buller’s new telling of an old story.
I could always stand for more Joe Mullins banjo showpieces, but we get just one here: his take on Earl’s arrangement of “Steel Guitar Rag,” with equal amounts of swing and drive.
This 45-minute, 14-track disc ends perfectly for any fan of the Mullins family, with a spirited live cut of “Katy Daly,” a bluegrass classic written by Joe’s dad and mentor in music and radio, Paul “Moon” Mullins, more than a half century before.Editor’s note: The Lonesome Road Review offers its deepest sympathies to Mullins and his family on the recent loss of his mother Prudence, a great lady and an important personality in the history of bluegrass music in southwest Ohio.