Guitarist Audie Blaylock and his hot-shot bluegrass group return with their second release in as many years, and it’s another fine album of feeling vocals, tight-harmonies and finely crafted musicianship. The quintet’s been reduced to a quartet with the departure of mandolinist Jason Johnson, but their sound doesn’t suffer, as fiddler Patrick McAvinue performs double duty. The group’s instrumental talents live up to their hot-picking name, but it’s the more reserved playing that’s their real strength. McAvinue’s work on the lovelorn and lonesome “All I Can Do is Pretend” and Evan Ward’s laconic banjo picking on “Talk to Your Heart” are graceful additions to the songs rather than flashy look-at-me solos, and group’s vocal blends impress with their subtle textures.
A couple of new titles mix with selections from Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, the Stanley Brothers and others, and the thematic focus, as Johnnie & Jack’s title tune suggests, are troubles of the heart. There’s bitterness born of loneliness in “Matches,” betrayal in “Stay Away From Me” and omnipresent dark clouds on “Troubles Round My Door.” The album’s remedies include facing one’s demons (“Can’t Keep on Runnin’”), a healthy dose of prayer (“Pray the Clouds Away”), and devotion to faith ( “He is Near”). The closing instrumental gives the players a chance to hot things up, but it’s the emphasis the group puts on singing that gives the album its warmth. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]