The Blue Canyon Boys
Next Go ‘Round
4½ stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Those who have been involved in the bluegrass world for longer than twenty minutes recognize many universal truths. One of these is that our new favorite band is often just one mail delivery away.
Now five discs into their career, the Blue Canyon Boys have only recently come to my attention. I believe they were recommended to me as a band to pursue for a concert booking a few years back, but so were the original Quicksilver, the Osborne Brothers, the Bluegrass Cardinals, and Jimmy Martin; like those, the suggestion didn’t get too far past a polite, and I hope not dismissive, smile. We bluegrass folks also have our fair share of universal regrets. Because, dang me—the Blue Canyon Boys are a group we all should direct some attention toward, and I wish I had listened a little less smugly to the suggestion.
Categorizing the group is relatively pointless, but if forced I would suggest “contemporarily traditional.” The quartet is well-rooted in the sounds of the past, but isn’t afraid to sweeten and broaden their approach with effects (the sampling of seascape sounds that open “Down Along the Cove,” for example), subject matter (the title track, inspired by the realities of drug addiction), and vocal treatments (four-part a cappella on the album-closing “I Bid You Goodnight.”)
Like any bluegrass band worth extended listening, the Blue Canyon Boys aren’t any one thing. Yes, they appear young, but only when compared to the median age of a blue-haired festival. Yes, they wear suits on stage, but they don’t appear to be doing so with any sense of irony. Yes, they are great musicians, but they also concentrate on ensuring that their vocals are creatively arranged and pointedly executed. Yes, they admire the Country Gentleman (covering “Darling Alalee”), but—well, there is no “but” to that one.
In searching the shelves here in the Bluegrass Bunker, I came across the group’s 2005 debut, Just an Ol’ Dirt Road; apparently banjo-less at the time, the group now features Chris Elliot (Spring Creek) on the 5-string. The Blue Canyon Boys’ sound has developed in the eight years since that album was released—fuller with more drive—but the heart remains consistent: it is all about the song!
The band frontloads this 46-minute offering with original material: five of the first six songs come from within the band. While the majority of the set is comprised of covers, there is neither a measurable difference in the quality of the writing and presentation nor a feeling that one has “heard” all of this before elsewhere.
There is honky-tonk swing plainly evident within “Heartaches Welcome” (“The sign said, ‘Heartaches Welcome’ as I walked in that barroom…”), and that theme nicely complements a rendition of Buck Owens and Don Rich’s “Before You Go,” which is kicked into overdrive by the 5. Both sung by Gary Dark (mandolin), the songs reveal the country influences of these Colorado-based bluegrassers.
Equally “hard country” is Jason Hicks’ own “Like a Heart That’s Grown Weary of the Blues;” that one is pure lonesome. “Going Up,” is borrowed from the Gosdin Brothers, while the brothers Stanley give them “Nobody’s Love is Like Mine” and “Harbor of Love,” although Drew Garrett (producer, bass) notes they learned the latter from the Bray Brothers. In these years following “the year of Bill Monroe,” an interpretation of “Sitting Alone in the Moonlight” remains particularly welcome, while Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys have their “Roustabout” taken for a twirl.
Not that it is a competition, but I found myself repeatedly drawn to the songs of Jason Hicks. His “Down in the Misery” utilizes working in a mine as a metaphor for life’s challenges, while the “final wishes” of “Up On the Hill” are rich in imagery, and the harmony vocals are killer—a brave choice for an album opening track.
With Next Go ‘Round, the Blue Canyon Boys have most assuredly earned my attention. Highly recommended.