Not being a bluegrass aficionado, I always find myself cataloging the quintessential elements in my head: banjo, check; fiddle, check; mandolin, acoustic bass, and guitar, check, check and check; high-tight harmonies, ballads and hot-picking, check, check and check. And it’s right about that last check that I start to get the feel of a bluegrass record, sinking into its joys and loneliness, sensing the country roots beneath the Kabuki-like constrictions laid down by the genre’s founders. The checklist comes to life with harmonies squeezing out tears and musicianship advancing from a display of expertise to an emotional outpouring. And so it was with Blaylock’s second album as a group leader, his first release for Rural Rhythm.
Blaylock’s played with Jimmy Martin and Rhonda Vincent, is a four-time nominee for IBMA guitar player of the year award, and an IBMA instrumental group award winner with Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper. His band is a quartet of young hotshots who dazzle listeners with their instrumental prowess and surround Blaylock with old-soul harmony singing. Though the group can sing traditional high-low duets, it’s the four-part harmonies, such as the a cappella gospel “Who’ll Sing For Me?” that really show what they can do. Blaylock’s selected songs from country, gospel and bluegrass, emphasizing up-tempo fiddle and banjo tunes, but providing balance with ballads and mid-tempo waltzes. The band’s high-energy tunes are sure-fire festival favorites, but it’s the ballads you’ll savor.
Blaylock opens Lester Flatt’s tearful “My Darling’s Last Goodbye” with a plaintive solo vocal before finding comforting harmony on the chorus, and the call-and-response of Jimmy Martin’s “Goodbye” provides the warmest of send-offs to the hereafter. Better yet are the rich harmonies that underline the wishful memories of Roy Acuff’s “My Blue Eyed Darling.” The album’s upbeat tunes harbor dark tales of cheating lovers, estranged affection, suicidal thoughts and death, and are sweetened with chipper harmonies and energized picking. Blaylock’s a fine vocalist with ears that are superbly tuned for both fetching material and extremely talented accompanists. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]