James Alan Shelton - Where I'm BoundJAMES ALAN SHELTON
Sheltone Records SR1962

James Alan Shelton’s website identifies him as a “bluegrass guitarist.” But that’s way too modest. He’s an engaging vocalist and multiinstrumentalist with great talents in selecting and interpreting material. And as this CD proves, he’s quite good as a recording artist/producer.

Born in Tennessee, Shelton was raised in Virginia near the region that produced A.P. Carter. He later mastered the crosspicking guitar style of George Shuffler that became a pillar of the Stanley Brothers sound. Appropriately enough, Shelton was hired by Ralph Stanley in 1994 and remains a stalwart of the Clinch Mountain Boys.

Not surprisingly, Shelton shines here on such bluegrass and early country classics as “Cherokee Shuffle,” “Rose Conley” and “Home Sweet Home.” (Just when you think that particular musical edifice would could never get a bright new coat of paint, sure enough, Shelton applies it). But he’s also included very fine arrangements of songs that emerged from or were popular during the folk music revival of the 1950s and ’60s. “Catch The Wind” by Donovan, “Pastures Of Plenty” by Woody Guthrie and the title track “Where I’m Bound” by Tom Paxton are all beautifully realized by Shelton and his collaborators.

A genial singer, Shelton also shines as an instrumentalist. Simply put, it’s just a pleasure to listen to him. At a time when many flatpicking guitarists blitz their audiences with flashy fireworksstyle solos, it’s so refreshing to hear Shelton thoughtfully roll out a touching, nuanced, melodyilluminated version of The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow The Sun.”

The overall production deserves special comment. With a few exceptions, Shelton recorded these tracks on home studio equipment (the liner notes contain useful information about the process). And although he gets able support from several friends (notably fiddler Dewey Brown, mandolinist Audrey Ratliff, and vocalist Savannah Vaughn), Shelton is a fine oneman studio band, overdubbing lead and rhythm guitars, bass, banjo (he’s very accomplished on the fivestring), and even occasional light percussion.

James Alan Shelton is bound for greater success. Presentation skills and talent this enjoyable will just keep him traveling. (Sheltone Records, 129 Will Simpson Rd., Church Hill, TN 37642, www.jamesalanshelton.com.) RDS