This collection marks this multi-IBMA Award-winning, western North Carolina-based ensemble’s tenth album for Mountain Home Music, and it’s safe to say they sound better than ever.
The addition of mandolin master Alan Bibey seems to have provided a fresh injection of energy and inspiration. These tracks sizzle with drama and pathos in the form of first-rate songs with intriguing lyrics, world-class picking and bracing production dynamics.
The opening track, “Echo Canyon” (written by Milan Miller), is an eerie tour-de-force charged with exquisite harmonies and hypnotic sonics. The depiction of a barren landscape littered with prospectors’ bones where truth and time stand still almost feels like a countrified 21st century sequel to the Eagle’s “Hotel California.”
The super-charged “Snake Charmer” is the lament of a man in search of a new identity (snake charmer / palm reader / honeybee farmer … gotta find somethin’ else to do …) where he can escape the pangs of severe heartache.
“Marshall McClane” is a stirring saga of an old lawman being chased by his own legend. “Just to Satisfy You” is a bold bluegrass reconfiguration of a Waylon Jennings classic.
Alan Bibey takes a turn on lead vocals on an ode to wanderlust called “Two Lane Highway,” which he cowrote with Wayne Minkle. Vocalist-guitarist Caleb Smith handles the lead on his own “God Knows,” a soothing and reassuring gospel outing.
There are more gems. “Running Out of Reasons” (Milan Miller and James Ellis) is the heartbreaking portrait of a beloved yet beleaguered small town that’s beset by drug dealers, rising crime and abandoned storefronts and factories.
“Evergreen” (Michael Hearne and Susan Gibson) is an introspective and philosophical number that uses the metaphor of a dying leaf stuck out on this limb, dancing in the wind to convey the longing for an “evergreen” rejuvenation.
“We’ll All Drink Money” (Adam Louis Wright) is a searing and cynical critique of conspicuous consumption and all the excuses and rationalizations we use to monetize and squander precious natural resources. It envisions a time when we’ll be selling off pieces of the sky and quenching our thirst with the profits when the water runs out.
“Worry” (Adam Wright) is a bouncy, bluesy commentary on the futility of excessive fretting with an irresistibly upbeat arrangement. It features sprightly guitar and mandolin solos and some great acapella refrains.