By Larry Stephens
The Lonesome River Band has a long, respected history in bluegrass music, with their alumni often moving on to have sparkling musical careers. In 2001 three members of what was arguably their best and most popular lineup struck out on their own: Ronnie Bowman as a songwriter (country and bluegrass), musician (Lee Ann Womack) and bandleader (The Committee) and on the production side; Kenny Smith — two–time winner of IBMA’s Guitar Player of the Year and the Kenny and Amanda Smith Band; and Don Rigsby in production, as a bandleader (Midnight Call), bandmember (Longview) and session harmony singer. Now those three have joined forces in the Band of Ruhks. They are joined by a long list of respected names playing as session musicians.
While it has bluegrass elements, it’s more country than anything. Escaping the bounds of genre,“Between the Devil and the Deep” (Bowman/Kim Fox) is a heart–wrenching song about a kid from hardscrabble times who dies on the USS Arizona. Make a note of this for Veterans Day appearances. In the bluegrass arena are “Good Time Mountain Man” and “Bootleg John,” an old Stanley Brothers number the trio did in their Lonesome River Band days. It doesn’t get much grassier than “Coal Mining Man,” (not to be confused with the Ricky Skaggs song with the same title) written by Bowman and country star Mark Collie. Check out their website for a video showing featured Dr. Ralph Stanley’s intro.
“Rendevouz With Danger” (featuring Lee Ann Womack’s harmony vocal) is an interesting choice. It’s the story of two lives about to intersect because of fate and bad judgment. Does it happen? Does someone die? You have to listen to know. On the country side, though it’s often done in bluegrass, is Leon Payne’s “Lost Highway.” The seminal version is Hank Williams’ but the Ruhks’ take is going to be a favorite of mine. They also include “Danny Boy” at a fairly quick pace. Rigsby’s lead is excellent but I prefer a slower pace.
The singing is superb. The music behind it with this cast of stars is impeccable, another tribute to the artistry of bluegrass musicians. It’s not the perfect CD for me, at least one track I would cut (“Happy All The Time”) but, all in all, this is an excellent CD that you shouldn’t miss.