Balsam Range - Last Train To Kitty Hawk

Balsam Range - Last Train To Kitty Hawk


Mountain Home

Western North Carolina ensemble Balsam Range announced their debut with authority on 2007’s acclaimed “Marching Home.” That album originated as a solo effort for fiddler and versatile singer Buddy Melton. Their sophomore outing, “Last Train To Kitty Hawk,” presents a true ensemble. The band spreads the vocal work to terrific effect. They (including Melton on vocals, guitarist Caleb B. Smith, and bass and resonator guitar player Tim Surrett) move effortlessly from driving bluegrass (“Julie’s Train”) to contemporary ballads (Somewhere In Between”) to 21st century bluegrass (“Last Train To Kitty Hawk”).
Melton and Smith trade the lead singing between verse and chorus on four of the first six songs, creating a hallmark of the still emerging Balsam Range sound. Smith figures prominently as lead vocalist, along with former member of the Kingsmen, Surrett, who sings lead on Ralph Stanley’s “I’m Lonesome Without You” and “Don’t Take Me Tonight As I Am” by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell. Southern gospel superstar Karen Peck Gooch provides the harmony on “The Holy Hills (A Tribute To Dottie Rambo).” Mandolinist Darren Nicholson also takes lead vocals on “Spring Will Bring The Flowers” by Timothy W. Smith. Marc Pruett, ranked among the most respected bluegrass banjo players for almost forty years, completes the fivesome.

Charlie Monroe’s “Down In Caroline,”  is presented in a rousing version featuring Buddy, Tim, and Darren. The same trio sound equally powerful, but totally different in style on “Somewhere In Between” written by the SteelDrivers’ Chris Stapleton. Melton has cowriter credit on “Julie’s Train” and Smith has solo credits for “Jack Diamond” and the instrumental closer, “Jaxon Point.” The collection also contains a halfdozen outstanding outside compositions. Milan Miller, who wrote two songs on their last album, comes through again with the immediately memorable modern murder song, “Caney Fork River,” placed right behind the infectious title track, written by James Ellis and Steve Dukes.

Indeed, the album easily passes the singalong test. You’ll find yourself singing along spontaneously to songs you haven’t even heard before. “Last Train To Kitty Hawk” demonstrates significant growth over a successful debut, expanding their use of vocal power while increasing the amount of contemporary material. (Mountain Home, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, AM