Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bluegrass Soul Pickers - If I Ever Get Home - CD Review

The Bluegrass Soul Pickers debut album with Tom T. and Dixie Hall's Blue Circle Records presents a balanced set of fine songs sung with distinctive instrumental and vocal versatility while remaining right in the middle of a traditional bluegrass groove. The Bluegrass Soul Pickers have heretofore been a regional gospel band. With the release of “If I Ever Get Home” they have selected a variety of songs that display their versatility and tunefulness. They’ll be showcasing at IBMA ‘s World of Bluegrass later this month in the Good Homegrown Music room. They’re worth more than a casual look.

The majority of the song writing chores are shared between Buddy Mason, a member of the band, and songs by Tom T. and Miss Dixie Hall, who have released their latest CD. The singing and musicianship is strong. Both Buddy Mason and Shane Norman have distinctive singing voice, and their harmonies blend well.

“Usually Green” is sung by Buddy Mason who has a strong baritone country voice well suited to bluegrass. It’s a bluesy sound perhaps a little reminiscent of Waylon Jennings, especially with the baritone growl that appears just often enough. The song tells the story of a young couple buying an old, worn out farm from an old worn out man. He’s too old to tend the farm, or his parents grave on the hill. He knows the house has a better future and he has to leave. The sadness of his leaving is made bearable by the sense that the buyers will honor its past. It’s usually green this time of year/but too many winters have taken their toll./The crops will come back, but not for me/It’s time to walk on/It’s usually green. This is a haunting original delivered with conviction and emotional depth.

The Bluegrass Soul Pickers
Publicity Photo from Band Web site 

“If I Ever Get Home” is the title song of this album, and represents a solid effort. This original sung by Shane Norman, whose pleasant baritone voice has a catchy bounce to it while voicing the theme of yearning for the place of our origins, a universal one that each person feels tugging (or sometimes repelling). This is a driving tune with featuring vivid images. If I ever get home, I'll never leave again/ Set around and dream about the places that I've been/Pet the dog, feed the bird, and visit with my friends/If I ever get home I'll never leave again.

Kenny Loggins' “Please Come to Boston” shows this band's versatility in being able to take the rocker's song and turn it into a very good bluegrass song that expesses the yearning of the singer for his loved one to make the move that would show her love.

“Mom’s an Angel” opens with placing a rose on Momma’s grave plays the typical bluegrass trick of taking a somber occasion coupled with personal sadness and cloaking it with the bright, happy rhythms of the genre. Shane Norman’s easy to listen to voice manages to show emotion while reminiscing on the values coming from a mother’s love.

“Here I Am” by Shawn Lane and Ronnie Bowman is one of the most frightening bluegrass songs ever written. Shawn describes writing the song from a hotel room overlooking a baseball stadium in Los Angeles experiencing the sense of danger even as they wrote this powerful piece about the devil doing his work in the world. While this version of this powerful song, previously recorded by Adam Steffey when he was with Mountain Heart, is not as menacing as it is when sung by Steffey or Bowman, it still has the power to raise the hackles on the back of anyone's neck. A singer deciding to offer this song takes on a significant risk with commensurate rewards if properly delivered. This one works.

Tom T. Hall contributed “I’m Not Living Life (It’s Living Me), previously recorded by Bo Isaac. This song captures the sense of lack of control we all experience in life and suggests the power of religious experience to give sense to being out here on a boat on someone else’s sea while going through the daily routines of meeting daily responsibilities."Another Town" is a Tom T. cover also. 

The fourteen songs on this album present a band ready for prime time. Many were written by Shane Norman or Buddy Mason, while Tom T. Hall contributed a couple, too. An important factor in making a new band stand out is its ability to present new and interesting material that leaps out and identifies the band as well as to select covers it can deliver with a creative and interesting interpretation. “If I Ever Get Home” by the Bluegrass Soul Pickers delivers on both counts.