By Larry Stephens
Runkle stepped up his game in the bluegrass business in the ’70s with Del McCoury and his Dixie Pals. Later, he left to help form two other groups, then left the business for a number of years. He’s back with a new CD and his own group, Smith Hollow, which includes Patrick McAvinue (though I suspect he’s really a session player on the project) playing fiddle, Jeff Kidd on mandolin, Larry Conner playing guitar and singing, and Judy Winters adding bass. Winters does a competent job but she’s kept so low in the mix that she has little impact on the recording.
All but three tracks on this one are instrumentals, and the instrumental work is good. Conner takes a number of excellent guitar breaks, including a hot one on “Hello Trouble.” McAvinue has an impressive resume and, Audie Blaylock is quoted on his website, saying “[He’s] the most inventive fiddle in bluegrass today.” However, the arrangements are pretty standard, leaving McAvinue little space to do more than provide conventional backing fills.
Of the vocal tracks, the best one is “Lonesome Feeling,” an Osborne Brothers’ number, with good harmony singing. “Hello Trouble,” a Buck Owens hit, is okay but the beat is too fast for my taste; I like Owens’ take better. The singer (either Runkle or Conner; no track–by–track is given) manages to get all the words in without stumbling but the piece doesn’t reach out and grab you to say, “listen to me!” Jimmy Martin liked to write simple rhyming lyrics and Runkle copies that style with “I’m Lonely Tonight” with the inimitable Danny Paisley singing lead.
I’m lonely tonight thinking of you
Dreamin’ while we’re far apart
I miss you, my dear
I wish you were here
I’ll love you forever, sweetheart
Included are several of Runkle’s banjo compositions, “Jackrabbit, ” “Marching Through Glenville,” and “Carocus.” The last number seems to be the same as “Caracas” on Rob McCoury’s The 5 String Flame Thrower CD. Listen to both and you’ll see what I mean about lack of space on Runkle’s version — but it’s still good instrumental work. He also covers Dr. Ralph Stanley’s “Hard Times,” an instrumental cover of Flatt & Scruggs’ “Someone Took My Place With You,” and three public domain numbers: “Bully of the Town,” “Billy Boy,” and “Black Mountain Hop.”