Lonesome River Band - Still LearningLONESOME RIVER BAND
Rural Rhythm Records RHY1065

The more some things change, the more they stay the same. Sammy Shelor has kept this band going for sometime now, and while personnel changes mark the years, like other great bands, LRB keeps playing great bluegrass. Shelor’s banjo is all tone and timing and one of the constants that defines the band’s sound. Another constant has been a varied and interesting repertory. Older gems that could have fallen through the cracks pop up like “Don’t Cry Blue” and Merle Haggard’s, “Red Bandana.” Both receive strong interpretations. Brandon Rickman turns in a great performance on the title cut, a powerful original. He has three originals on this project and they are all very good. “As Wild As I Get” is a minor masterpiece in its honesty. Rickman is an amazing songwriter.

Fiddler Mike Hartgrove has been playing great bluegrass fiddle for decades. His presence here makes the band sound great without ever compromising his tasteful style. His breaks and fills push a tune along skillfully and subtly. His work is outstanding throughout but the fun tune, “Jack Up The Jail” shows him at home racing along at breakneck speed. Shelor and Hartgrove work well together. Their take on the old-time fiddle tune, “Pretty Little Girl,” stays true to the tune while making a darned good bluegrass instrumental.

Shelor uses his banjo to find ways to express the melody and fills and are as understated as they are bold. Working within a traditional framework, he finds new ways to bring the melody to the fore. Andy Ball’s mandolin is clean and rapid and on the mark at all times. Rickman’s guitar is in the pocket with Mike Anglin’s bass, underpinning the leads and providing a strong band sound.

If you like contemporary bluegrass rooted in the tradition, this is a don’t miss release. The fine playing, the superior vocals highlight the above average material. This band charges ahead like a well-tuned internal combustion engine on the straightaway. This is one of those recordings that gets better each time you listen to it. (Rural Rhythm Records, Box 660040, Dept D, Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) RCB