Rounder Records 1166100620
Twenty-five years—a shade over 9,000 days—is a hard milestone to make in almost any endeavor. To accomplish that in the modern music business, even more so. And to do it in bluegrass earns any band, performer, producer, songwriter, or instrumentalist lifelong status among the best. With their silver anniversary celebration record, Somewhere Far Away, Blue Highway rekindles memories of the band and its fans that they hold dear, while crafting broad, rich new songs that bring the listener deep into worlds they could never have visited otherwise.
One secret to Blue Highway’s enduring success is that the group stays fresh and true to its history and musical roots by rekindling their passion of traditional bluegrass songs with a unique character or melodic twist only Blue Highway could write and perform. The topics remain well-loved and enduring—the train song, the prison song, the mama praying song, and the lone soldier on the prairie song. These songs could have come from no other band of musical brothers.
Always brilliant songwriters, Wayne Taylor and Ronnie Bowman team up to create an instant classic with “I Can’t Think Of One,” a perfect vehicle for Taylor’s crooner-smooth baritone and propulsive bass lines. “Both Ends Of The Train,” penned by Tim Stafford with Steve Gulley, imagines a post-Civil War western landscape so vivid and rich with novel-like detail, you’ll feel like you know the characters on sight by the tale’s end. Mandolinist Shawn Lane’s earthy, emotive voice goes right to the heart, like on his original “A Place I’ve Never Seen.”
Part of the band’s lasting success has always been the care and respect they’ve shown on the songs they perform. Unlike other bands, Blue Highway never sounds like they’re getting paid by the note. Even on a Jason Burleson banjo instrumental “Orville’s Web,” the band instinctively measures out each lick, run, and fill, always hewing to the song’s rhythmic structure and melody. And with four exceptional lead singers in the band, they find stunning harmony blends by using each singer as a different instrument voice. “I Already Do,” by Stafford and Guthrie, warbles a bit off-track into a tired cliche of turning down riches for the good life of the poor, but honorable.
Somewhere Far Away reminds us all that through their pens, their picks, and their hearts, Blue Highway lives and loves what they sing. And we love them all the more for it. Highly recommended. (www.rounder.com)DJM