Musicians talk about trying to catch lightning in a bottle during a show or with a hit song and sometimes with an album. Appalachian Road Show’s third album, Jubilation, does that and no doubt will find itself on the shortlist for album of the year at the 2023 awards shows.
After country music legend Dolly Parton opens the album with a narration of the band’s themes and purpose and the music—which the website says is to “celebrate the spirit of the Appalachian People”—the banjo cracks on the first tune and never lets up. The group played on Parton’s Run, Rose, Run album, a project tied to her novel with James Patterson.
“Blue Ridge Mountain Baby,” co-written by band members Barry Abernathy and Jim VanCleve, sets the tone for Jubilation, the follow up to 2021’s Tribulation. Appalachian Road Show road that momentum of several hits to IBMA’s “Instrumental Group of the Year” and “New Artist of the Year” last year.
Abernathy (banjo/vocals) and VanCleve (fiddle/vocals) also co-wrote “Tonight I See You in My Dreams,” while VanCleve penned the lively instrumental “Graveyard Fields.”
Listeners might think they’re in for a break when they see a “ballad” coming up at the fifth track, but it is merely sleight of hand. “Ballad of Kidder Cole” instead transports one to an old-time square dance. On a CD with no filler, “Troubled Life,” written by Rick Lang and Tim Stafford is yet another winner.
Even the covers are dynamite. The band takes a chance with a swing tune by Pokey LaFarge, “La La Blues” and creates a surefire live show hit. They even take on Bob Dylan’s “Only a Hobo” and Led Zeppelin’s “Gallows Pole”—showing off quite a range for gathering material.
Jubilation drives all the way to end of the album, picking up speed through “Hard Times in the Mine” and doesn’t slow it down until the powerful public domain song, “Brother Green,” the last track about a dying soldier.
Grammy winner VanCleve and Grammy nominated Abernathy are joined in Appalachian Road Show by Grammy winner Todd Phillips (bass/vocals), mandolin virtuoso and bluegrass voice Darrell Webb and Zeb Snyder (guitar/slide guitar/vocals). Since a writer never gets to use “nosehorn” and “vibraslap” in a review, it should be noted that Abernathy and Phillips add these instruments as well, respectively.
Joining this powerhouse band as guests, in addition to Parton, are instrumental heavyweights Stuart Duncan (clawhammer banjo/fiddle) and Ron Stewart (banjo). Out just after the 2022 award season, Jubilation looks to have legs for a long run and is an album that will still be talked about next year at this time.