Cody Shuler, longtime front man and mandolinist for Pine Mountain Railroad, offers up his debut solo recording, and the results are quite good. Shuler has always had a strong presence with PMRR, writing songs for them and handling his share of the vocals. Here, he’s written all twelve tunes, ten of them vocals, and sings all the leads and harmonies, save for a cameo by former PMRR guitarist/vocalist Jerry Coles. Several other PMRR alumni (bassist Matt Flack and guitarist Eli Johnston) contribute. They are joined by banjoists Ron Stewart, Terry Baucom, Scott Vestal, and Brent Lamons, fiddler Tim Crouch, resonator guitarist Rob Ickes and, on two tracks, percussionist Scott Linton.
What makes this recording particularly attractive is that, with the exception of “Listen To The Hammer Ring,” Shuler avoids the trap of supporting an ominous story line (in this case, the mining life) with a forced and ominous musical setting. Instead, he follows the older tradition of setting his songs of ruined lives (“The Beautiful Hills”) or lost love (the 3/4 country/bluegrass of “The One That I Love Is Gone”) or problem people (the rapid “Do You Wrong Kind Of Girl”) with a rather positive feel. The story may be about trouble, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get a boost from the music. That’s the way the classic bluegrass was. Think of “Some Old Day”—suffering but jaunty. Shuler writes that way.
He also nicely builds his songs around hints of other tunes. Consider the “Head Over Heels”-style chorus of “My Home Is On This Ole Boxcar.” That makes them instantly accessible and, along with the get-up-and-go of “Goodbye My Love Goodbye” and the traditional sentimentality of “When The Bonnets Were In Bloom,” earns them highlight status on a very good debut recording. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 750, Mt. Juliet, TN 37121, www.ruralrhythm.com.)BW