With “Danville Prison Grave,” this album starts slow. That its tempo is slow is not a problem. Starting an album with a slow song is no crime, and there are several songs included here that could have filled the bill, such as their fine cover of Tim O’Brien’s “Wishin’ Hard” or their equally fine rendering of guitarist Brandon Adams’ “Please Go Slow.” Tempo aside, what makes “Danville…” a slow opener is a modal melody and a set of words that sound both shopworn and like any number of similarlythemed songs. Compared to Johnny Cash’s “I Got Stripes,” a song also about prison life that comes later on the CD, it is no contest. If a prison song was what they wanted to use for an opener, “Stripes” would have been a better choice.
Fortunately, over the next four songs the band moves through three tunes that cry out for attention, deservedly so, beginning with Adams’ lilting and airy “Yesterday’s Gone” and soon followed by their vocalonly cover of the traditional spiritual “Angels Watching Over Me,” followed in turn by the album’s lone instrumental, “Hillbilly Water Park.” The latter two, for differing reasons, merit comment. “Angels…” is one of those feel-good gospel singalong songs that lifts the spirits, and the band gives it an especially bouyant reading. “Hillbilly…” succeeds on a solid drive, on the nice interplay among the soloists and on the work of mandolinist Zach Rambo. Throughout the recording, it is his mandolin work that garners the highest praise.
The album then drifts a spell, then closes well with the aforementioned run of “I Got Stripes,” “Wishin’ Hard,” and “Please Go Slow.” A brief slow start to get past, but once past, this album rewards with solid overall playing, some standout mandolin, and quite a few toprate songs. (Blue Circle Records P.O. Box 681286, Franklin, TN 37068, www.bluecirclerecords.com.) BW