Right Beside You
Jeff White Bluegrass Records
4½ stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
One cannot accuse Jeff White of recording just to fill the merch table.
The last time White recorded an album, his hair was several shades darker and the year was 1999. That Rounder release, The Broken Road, was stellar. As on that recording, Right Beside You features several White originals as well as timeless pieces from the well, including ones associated with Stringbean Akeman, Bill Monroe, the Carter Family, Flatt & Scruggs, and Buck White.
Many of the White songs are more than familiar. “Blue Trail of Sorrow,” sung by Dan Tyminski on So Long, So Wrong, features an all-star cast including Tyminski (mandolin), Michael Cleveland (fiddle), Charlie Cushman (banjo), Barry Bales (bass), Jerry Douglas (Dobro), and Vince Gill (vocals) as well as Laura Weber Cash (fiddle), and White (guitar and vocals.) With the addition and subtraction of a player here and there (Johnny Warren adds some fiddle to a song, Shawn Camp vocals and mandolin), such is how the album unfolds: great players and singers collaborating in a manner that appears effortless.
Del McCoury made “The Cold Hard Facts” a standard, and White gently prises back the song that he and Ronnie McCoury wrote, while Del sings tenor with White on “Travelin’ This Lonesome Road.” Yes, that is as magnificent as it sounds. Opening this three-song circle mid-album, Ronnie plays mandolin on the title cut.
Jeff White’s incredible guitar picking is showcased throughout, although likely never so obviously as on “Buck’s Run,” with Cushman, Cleveland, Gill, Bales, and Ronnie McCoury presenting as a rollicking bluegrass combo. A pensive rumination of choices, “Another Road” features a vocal trio that one hopes to hear again: White, Gill, and Bekka Bramlett.
“Carry Me Across the Mountain,” an epic bluegrass song (again) previously sung by Tyminski, is reclaimed while the Chieftains, with whom White has often worked, add Celtic-soul to “Pretty Saro.” Completing the Earls of Leicester influence over the album, Tim O’Brien’s “Climbing Up A Mountain” is given a workout; with Gill and White singing together, one is reminded the depth of friendship bluegrass and acoustic music can foster.
“Right Beside You” is simply a terrific bluegrass album, one provided shades of influence from the Americana tree. As a result of the familiarity of the material, “Right Beside You” sounds classic. Because of the quality of performance, it is.
Let’s hope Jeff White finds time for his next recording before another fifteen years go by.