By Larry Stephens
Larry Sparks knows traditional bluegrass. He learned it by the side of Ralph Stanley after Carter Stanley’s passing. Jeff Brown spent some of his early years touring with Sparks so it’s no suprise that his music has a traditional sound. Listen to the title song—an excellent number with Jeff Brown singing lead and his son, Austin, playing bass (all tracks) and rhythm and lead guitar on this track. It’s message of the cabin where he grew up and the sound of the distant cannons roars as it drops in and out of minor chords. The band takes a country hit, Waylon Jennings’ “You Ask Me To” and makes it bluegrass riding on the banjo of guest Eli Gilbert. The tempo is about the same as Jennings’ version but Brown gives it a different texture, without the tough honky–tonk of Jennings.
Jeff Brown had a hand in composing several of the tracks. “Back Home To Tennessee” has a more progressive structure to its lyrics but is has a traditional message about home and family. I like how the instrumentalists — Nick Goad on mandolin, fiddler Kyle Murphy and guest Gaven Largent (resonator guitar) — drop in for a few notes then fade out to leave room for someone else. “What a Man Has To Do” touches on a favority bluegrass topic: working in the coal mines. Life is tough and the future bleak but it’s what so many have had to do to feed their family. “Soul Of a Mountain Man” includes some banjo work by bandmember Mitch Walker and ties in with the coal mining song as you think about all the lives of the people in the mountains of Appalachia, addressed in style by “Appalachia Is My Name.”
If you have any questions about the ability of the instrumentalists, including Jeff Brown playing lead guitar, Bill Monroe’s “Kentucky Mandolin” answers them—it’s expertly done at warp speed. If you like some mystery then you’re sure to enjoy the story of a train engineer who disappears from the train and becomes just a “Shadow In The Pines.” All the numbers are well arranged to bring out the best of the vocalists and the instruments.
Going back to Jeff Brown’s early years, he and his brother formed a band called the Richlands Bluegrass Boys. One of their bandmates was Wayne Taylor of Blue Highway fame. Taylor produced this CD and sings lead on a tune he co–wrote, “Back When the Bluegrass Was Green.” Adam Haynes joins the band for this track playing twin fiddles with Murphy. The song takes you back to the beginning of bluegrass with Bill Monroe and Rosine.
This is good traditional bluegrass. If you like Mr. Monroe’s music you’re going to enjoy “A Distant Horizon.”