Bluegrass Unlimited - Wildfire - Crash Course In The BluesWILDFIRE
Lonesome Day Records
LDR 034

To mark its first decade as a band, Wildfire has come through with a mighty impressive album powered by assured singing and picking along with inspired song choices including gems by Vince Gill, Keith Whitley, Steve Wariner, Bill Howard, and a pair of exquisite originals from Wildfire co-founder Robert Hale. Hale, who sings and plays guitar, previously founded the band Live Wire.

Wildfire is rounded out with Hale’s fellow co-founder Curt Chapman (who, as a bass player, previously spent 15 years with J.D. Crowe & the New South) and the more recently arrived Steve Thomas (mandolin, fiddle, and vocals), Johnny Lewis (banjo), and Matt Despain (reso-guitar and vocals). There are also guest appearances by Scott Vestal on banjo and Chris Davis on vocals.

What really stands out here is the range and subtlety of emotion that the band delivers on songs running the gamut from lighthearted (Bill Howard’s “She Burnt The Little Roadside Tavern Down”) to sorrowful and tragic (“Lies That You Told,” a sardonic murder ballad penned by Hale, and a confessional of barely endurable heartache called “Used To The Pain,” written by Anthony Jerome Martin). They even manage a convincing bluegrass retrofit of “Oh No,” a syrupy Lionel Richie pop ballad of yesteryear.

Wildfire also evinces a magical touch for down-home nostalgia on Keith Whitley’s “Daddy Loved Trains” and Hale’s “In This Town,” while also taking an excursion to the dark side with Vince Gill’s haunting “Lifetime Of Nighttime.” By any measure, the performances on Crash Course In The Blues demonstrate that Wildfire can hold its own in any lineup of bluegrass’s hottest contemporary mainstream bands. (Lonesome Day Records, 143 Deaton Rd., Booneville, KY 41314, BA