“Bridging the Tradition” by the Lonesome River Band

Lonesome River Band
Bridging the Tradition
Mountain Home Music Company
3½ stars (out of 5)

By Aaron Keith Harris

Though the Lonesome River Band roster hasn’t exactly been stable since the days when it included Don Rigsby, Kenny Smith, and Ronnie Bowman (now recording as Band of Ruhks), Sammy Shelor’s leadership and hard-driving banjo has consistently kept them on everyone’s short list of most exciting modern bluegrass bands.

Their take on Ralph Stanley’s “Rock Bottom,” along with new songs “Anything to Make Her Mine,” “Old Swinging Bridge,” “Thunder and Lightning,” and “Runnin’ from the Blues” are right in that classic LRB groove, featuring plenty of Mike Hartgrove’s sharp fiddling and strong vocals from Brandon Rickman (guitar) and Jesse Smathers (mandolin). (Some might wonder why there’s some percussion adding a little drag to tracks that will no doubt show even more life on stage.)

Though his voice retains a strikingly similar timbre to Bowman’s, Rickman has matured into a fine singer and songwriter in his own right, and much of this album sounds more like his record than a band effort—not that that’s a bad thing. “Showing My Age,” “Mirrors Never Lie,” and “Waiting on My Heart to Break”—cowritten by Rickman with Jerry Salley, Larry Cordle, and Curtis Wright, respectively—are all strong songs, arranged with drums and, sometimes, piano added for a hybrid bluegrass/acoustic modern country sound.

After a few listens, this project’s title and cover art make quite a bit of sense—Bridging the Tradition features two kinds music that are both squarely inside the country tradition while remaining quite distinct from each other.