By Larry Stephens
My introduction to Nothin’ Fancy was at Bean Blossom a number of years ago. I liked their music and was impressed by their interaction with the crowd. Every year I wonder why they’ve never been back. I’d like to see them again because they are an excellent bluegrass band and this CD is full of good music. It kicks off with the title song, a fast moving piece composed by bandleader, lead singer and mandolinist Mike Andes. He provides good singing and picking and this song is a tribute to your roots, the place you come from. One of his heroes is the great Charlie Waller—and they’ve included here one of the Country Gentlemen’s great hits, “Bringing Mary Home.” Co–written by another great bluegrasser, the late John Duffey, it’s been recorded by many in bluegrass and Red Sovine on the country side. It’s one of my favorites.
I enjoy visiting Civil War sites and once visited the place described in “Andersonville.” You can still feel the misery seeping out of the soil. One line from the song underlines the misery: “I’m pullin’ worms out of the mud, there’s nothin’ else to eat.” Chris Sexton on fiddle and Mitchell Davis on banjo take excellent breaks on this song by Dave Alvin. NF’s version has a quicker tempo than the 1991 original but keeps the same sense of hurt and desperation. The Wilburn Brothers, one of my favorite country duos, recorded a Damon Black song in 1972, “Simon Crutchfield’s Grave.” It’s been covered several times in bluegrass and it’s hard to beat the Wilburn Brothers in my book, but NF has recorded a great version. They also cover a song by storyteller John Prine, “The Hobo Song.” Listen for Caleb Cox’s guitar break and the support of bass player Tony Shorter.
Cox composed and sings lead on “Bus Fare,” a song that reflects the sadness of people homeless and lost. He gives some money to an old man then listens to his recollections of home and how great it will be back as soon as he has enough for a bus fare. You have to hear the end of the story. Cox also wrote a haunting story about “The Legend of Long Mountain,” a Civil War tragedy number.
Andes was the busy man with a pen, composing half of the tracks. “When I’m With You” gets off the bluegrass track a bit, recorded with a string section and with more of a modern country feel, but it’s a very pretty number. “Daddy Made Moonshine” is a banjo–driven number just as you’d suspect while “To Lay My Weapon Down” is another song of going away to war but of a different generation than the Civil War.
Nothin’ Fancy makes good bluegrass. Listen a bit and you’ll be a fan, too.