Mountain Fever Records
3.5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Considering all the grousing that occurs when bluegrass musicians and bands ‘stretch’ things out a little, or appear to be putting ‘business’ ahead of whatever other factors some devotees arbitrarily deem superior—like jamming for the love of the music—there should have been much more of a rising clamour of positive accolades accompanying the release of Session 1 earlier this year. All it takes is one listen to Session 1 to know that Sideline is having one whale of a time playing a fairly traditional strain of bluegrass music.
Instead, with the nondescript names of this ad hoc band and its first release, one has to put Google into overdrive to find mention of the band and its debut recording. And with the barely-there cover art, it’s almost designed to not be noticed, like Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door.
Sideline is Steve Dilling’s band, featuring pals who have come together to play live during the traditionally slower bluegrass season prior to Christmas. Fronting the band is mandolinist Darrell Webb, while Dilling’s IIIrd Tyme Out bandmate Justen Haynes handles the fiddle. Skip Cherryholmes (guitar) and Mountain Heart’s Jason Moore (bass) round out the lineup that features everyone singing.
Most of the album’s songs should be familiar. Marshall Wilborn’s “Goodbye to the Blues” has been a jamming and performance favorite since the Johnson Mountain Boys recorded it, and every picker and singer should be able to pull out “Sophronie,” “Little Willie,” and “Girl at the Crossroads Bar” upon request.
Such selections reveal that Sideline isn’t worried about ‘the big tent’ or plowing new ground. Songs previously recorded by The Traditional Grass (“The Blues Are Still the Blues,”) Del McCoury (“Loneliness & Desperation,”) and Bill Monroe (“When You’re Lonely”) have no dust on them in the hands of this spirited quartet. I wasn’t previously familiar with the songs “Old Joe Clark Blues” and “I Wonder If Our Love Is the Healing Kind,” both written by Joe Clark, and they very nicely complement the standards.
Webb’s “The Way, The Truth, The Light” provides the requisite bluegrass gospel component.
Listening to this album, I am repeatedly reminded how darned easy bluegrass appears. In the hands of talented, capable, and amiable musicians like these, there is nothing that sounds so effortless as this music we love.
Those who appreciate Dilling’s 5-string work will find much to savor amongst Session 1‘s dozen tracks, with everyone else also provided opportunities to display their formidable talents. There is nothing here that suggests the band members were attempting to ‘one-up’ each other, but ample evidence that each is well-versed in the art of bluegrass collaboration.
With a well-received appearance at the recently completed World of Bluegrass, and an upcoming spot on Bluegrass Junction’s “Track-By-Track” program, expect to hear more from this sideline group.