Eleven years, a half-dozen albums and two IBMA Awards into its stellar career, this acclaimed North Carolina-based five-piece band has come up with an adventurous alternative to the standard Greatest Hitsalbum.
Balsam Range (which in 2014 won both the IBMA’s Entertainer Of The Year and Vocal Group Of The Year) has enlisted the ten-piece Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble to underpin their vivid and emotional instrumental drive and flawless harmonies with lush yet subtle violin, viola, cello, bass, flute, oboe, English horn, French horn, trumpet, trombone, and percussive flourishes. Though this approach might seem unorthodox to some, the proof of its success is in the final mix. More often than not, all the orchestral sweeteners enhance rather than water down Balsam Range’s irresistible intensity.
The song choices (drawn from the band’s studio albums) are impeccable showcases for their deft stylistic range, top-notch musicianship, and soaring harmonies—qualities that lend themselves well to these “uptown” embellishments. There is a pair of deeply moving Civil War ballads: “From A Georgia Battlefield” (written by Rebecca J. Peck) and “Burning Georgia Down” (Milan Miller and Mark Bumgarner). And there’s the Carl Jackson/Marc Pruett/Jerry Salley-penned gem “Any Old Road (Will Take You There).” Add to that a top-notch love ballad called “Blue Mountain” (Connie Harrington), an obscure John Denver-penned inspirational parable called “Matthew,” and the bittersweet “Last Train To Kitty Hawk” (James A. Ellis and Steve Dukes). “Jack Diamond” (penned by bandmember Caleb Smith) is a gritty Wild West ballad that has all the high-plains revenge and melodrama of a Clint Eastwood classic condensed into three and a half-minutes of verse and chorus.
All in all, Mountain Overture, with its shades of Aaron Copeland, is just the sort of imaginative and adventurous outing we’ve come to expect from groundbreakers like Balsam Range. (Mountain Home Music Co., P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com.)BA