“Colors & Crossroads” by Sideline

Colors & Crossroads
Mountain Fever Records
4 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

Sideline continues to make good bluegrass music with the introduction of their new CD. They deliver what you expect with nationally–known bluegrass veterans like Steve Dilling, Jason Moore and Skip Cherryholmes, the excellent musicianship and harmonies that make good bluegrass.

Anchored by Jason Moore (James King, Mountain Heart plus many other projects) on bass, they make an excellent bluegrass song out of an old (1944) Ernest Tubb number, “Are You Waiting Just For Me,” putting some fire into Tubb’s laconic ballad and kicked off by Nathan Aldridge on fiddle. Aldridge, still a teenager, has been playing fiddle since he was four years old and has stage experience playing with his father, Mike Aldridge. He’s joined by his brother, Brian, playing mandolin. This band is not as anchored in twist-your-heart tradition as James King was but avoid the edginess that Mountain Heart has evolved into. The title cut is a Brink Brinkman ballad about the beauties of North Carolina and features Dilling on guitar. It’s one of those tunes that just begs you to close your eyes and let it draw the images on your mind. It’s not something Dr. Ralph would have sung but it will reach many bluegrass fans. While the role of the bass is sometimes overlooked by fans Moore always makes his role interesting, not overplaying but finding just the right combinations of notes.

B. Aldridge jumps to banjo on “Beggar In Heaven,” a gospel number expressing the opinion that “I’d rather be a beggar in heaven than the richest man down here on earth” with Dilling singing lead. Dilling, who started with the Bass Mountain Boys (Mike and Brian Aldrige’s former home), moved on to the Lonesome River Band and then spent twenty years with IIIrd Tyme Out. He sang baritone with 3TO but rarely lead and on this track his voice is very raspy. That combined with the songs narrow range of melody (it’s not a drone but a first cousin to one) may remind you of some of the mountain songs you’ve heard.

Dilling is the mainstay on banjo with Sideline and you hear him kicking off “Uphill Climb,” a song by Chris Jones. He didn’t hold the banjo slot in 3TO all those years with bad picking and he shines again on this outing. You get to hear some tenor lead on this song about life on the road, and it’s not always a lot of fun.

Turning the clock back twenty-five years, Highway 101 had a minor hit with The Blame“. None of the band will match the looks of Highway 101’s Nikki Nelson — just sayin’, guys — but they do a good job of singing on one of my favorite country numbers with some good fiddle work by N. Alridge. If you like Dobro, they offer an old standard, “Darlin’ Corey,” that has the Dobro playing of Brad Hudson and Skip Cherryholmes showing his skills with clawhammer banjo. It becomes repetitious saying how good bluegrassers play but, in most cases, that’s true and accurate and it is with Sideline.

Keep in mind that many fans listen and say “that’s good picking” while a few will express opinions of over production, the use of special effects, bowing techniques, the type of picks used, and so on. I like their picking and I don’t know what kinds of picks they use.

Cherryholmes, first known to the bluegrass world playing with his family, plays guitar and sings on the CD. He joined Sideline after a stint with Lou Reid and Carolina. Listen to his break on “You Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone.” The Cherryholmes family were immensely talented but, as the kids grew older, they moved away from traditional bluegrass to more of a newgrass and sometimes nograss sound. Playing with Sideline, Cherryholmes is in step with the early days of the family band.

They cover several numbers, including a recent Del McCoury number, “This Kind of Life” and a Bass Mountain Boys’ song, “Bittersweet Memories of Home.” Both cuts showcase the topnotch playing and harmony skills of the band. I especially enjoy “Unwanted Love,” a Reno & Smiley number from the ’50’s because it features guest vocalist Dudley Connell, one of my favorite bluegrass singers of all time. Also appearing as a guest musician is co–producer Aaron Ramsey playing mandolin and Weissenborn guitar. For touching your heart, it’s difficult to top Jimmy Fortune’s “I Believe” and they turn in a very good performance of this great song.

If you like traditional bluegrass you need to hear this CD. They mix in some newer grass sounds and country-to-bluegrass, but it’s all good music.

Sideline- Colors & Crossroads