Bluegrass Unlimited - Joe Diffie - Homecoming: The Bluegrass AlbumJOE DIFFIE
Rounder Records

As the title says, this is country music star Joe Diffie’s homecoming to his bluegrass roots, and because of those roots and because of his considerable singing talents, the result is a good one with several very good to excellent tracks. There are 12 songs of which only one, “Lonesome Tonight,” is a standard. One other, Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle,” is far outside the pale, but translates to bluegrass well. Rock fans will most likely recognize it as a hit for the Black Crowes in the 1990s. Diffie takes the song at a brisk pace and with auctioneer-like vocals, giving it just the right amount of chutzpah and makes it a rousing album closer.

All the other songs come from contemporary bluegrass songwriters such as Harley Allen, Larry Cordle, Shawn Camp, and Carl Jackson. Three are co-written by Diffie himself. Allen’s story of a “Tall Cornstalk” and its fear of butter and salt and windstorms is a standout track for both the spirit and vocal bends that Diffie brings to it and for the clever lyrics. Allen’s other contribution, “Free And Easy,” which nicely juxtaposes the concept of free (spirit) and paying (a cost), is also on that level, as are Jackson’s portrait of a street preacher, “Fit For A King,” Camp’s “Stormy Weather Once Again,” and Galen Griffin’s “Route 4 Box 109.” The latter is like those catchy memory/catalogue-type songs the Statler Brothers made famous. It should prove a favorite.

All of those suit well Diffie’s low and buttery vocal timbre and the phrasing he has honed over many years of singing country music. In fact, with the exception of “Somehow Tonight” on which that phrasing betrays him slightly, Diffie backed with high-quality from Sutton, Ickes, Haynie, Compton, Cushman and Fain, and on one track by the Grascals, turns in a solid vocal performance throughout this recording. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, BW