Wednesday, December 8, 2010

River Boy - CD Review

Like many debut bluegrass albums, the eponymous CD, River Boy, covers the bluegrass subject matter well with examples across the genre, but, in this case, with a difference. Distinguished by some twists and turns in subject matter as well as very good singing and instrumental work, the CD forges new ground while adhering to the forms and sounds of bluegrass music. Singer/songwriter Shayne Floyd grew up listening to bluegrass music, but, unlike many young enthusiasts, was not a picker himself. After college at South Carolina's Clemson University, he moved to Colorado to pursue his career in business where he became more deeply interested in bluegrass music and began writing. When he relocated to Charleston, SC, he was ready to begin spreading his songs while playing with a local band called YeeHaw Junction. Over time, the eleven original songs on this CD emerged, and Floyd, with some help from his friends, put together this collection of his works.

All but one of the tracks on River Boy are Shayne Floyd originals. Most tell stories well within the traditional content of bluegrass music, but expressed with something of a twist that makes them intriguing and original. Dennis Jones, well known host of several bluegrass shows on WNCW - FM radio says, “"It's a very strong project, great song writing and a wonderful Contemporary spin on The Traditional." This is a studio album on which, Shayne modestly says, his own guitar playing didn't quite “make the cut.” Walter Biffle, a Charleston musician and owner of Biffle Art and Furniture contributed guitar, banjo, and most of the bass on the CD. Bob Sachs played the lovely, fluid mandolin on this project. Other instrumental contributions come from Gary Hewitt on bass and Allan Thompson on fiddle and Dobro. The instrumental work is satisfactory, although I might wish that the mix displayed a more ensemble sound. Shayne Floyd's lead singing is more than adequate for interpreting the fine songs he's written. 

Walter Biffle, R. Shayne Floyd, Bob Sachs

Generally, Shayne Floyd's tunes show a sure sense of melody consistently supporting the content of the lyrics. The lyrics, though, are what make this CD stand out. In telling his stories, and marrying them to his melodies, Shayne has called upon his experience away from the home of bluegrass music to bring interesting and thought provoking content to the songs. The work shows the influence of Floyd's extensive travel and intensive work on writing and polishing his songs. Individual songs I found particularly impressive:

“Rice Fields” takes the standard bluegrass story of a rural person moving to the city where life is unpleasant and degrading, leaving the person yearning for the simpler life back home and turns it into a larger, more important story. Because I'm familiar with the region surrounding Charleston, I thought the rice fields referred to the plantation region near there. But no, Sara Buri is a rural region in Thailand. The girl in the song goes to the city where she becomes a prostitute, a serious social problem there. She is rescued by a loving man and now her soul is healing in the mountains of Carolina. The song adds social consciousness to the standard tale, taking it to a new level of significance and importance. The tune is affecting and settles easily into a listener's consciousness.

“Proudest Cowboy “ depicts the difficulty, hardship, and pain of riding the range. The haunting tune along with Shayne's voice helps capture the impossibility of the cowboy's attaining his goal of his own spread, a home, and a family. Fiddle, Dobro, and the incessant western beat coming from the guitar provide droning sound to highlight the hardship.

Darrel Scott's “You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive” is one of my favorite songs, a deeply moving piece about the cost of living in coal country widely covered. “Harlan, KY” gives Shayne Floyd a chance to effectively portray the hardship of the life there from a different perspective and with a different outcome as he tells of a proud man caught in a barroom dispute that leads to murder. Same desperation, different story.

Other songs portray lonely unrequited love, the coming of civilization to a California gold rush town, another killin' and cheatin' song, and an excellent gospel song featuring a strong a capela gospel quartet. The rendition of Ian Tyson's “Summer Wages” does a good job covering Tony Rice, never an easy task. There's a very strong sense of melody and story telling built into songs that are not over-written and are solidly produced.

Here's a video of the song Caroline, from the CD:


River Boy can be purchased on line from the band's web site. Shayne Floyd is eager to tour in support of the CD and continues to write new songs. Give it a look. 

The River Boy Logo