Rebel Records REB-1865
In the liner notes, Mark Kuykendall (guitar) and IBMA Hall Of Famer Bobby Hicks (fiddle) note that combined, they have 110 years of performing and recording bluegrass music under their Blue Grass Boy belt buckles, and it shows. Hicks, the legendary fiddler whose effortless style simply defines double-stops (although he will tell you Dale Potter holds the “king of double stops” title), is known for his masterful work with Bill Monroe, Porter Wagoner, and Ricky Skaggs, among others. Kuykendall also played with Monroe and Jimmy Martin.
The two band leaders along with members of Asheville Bluegrass (Nick Dauphinais on bass, Mike Hunter on mandolin, and Seth Rhinehart on banjo) are evenly matched instrumentally—a huge compliment for any mere mortal playing in a band with Bobby Hicks. They play traditional bluegrass music with seasoned grace. From the first staccato mandolin riff, answered by the crack of a banjo roll and quickly followed by an authoritative guitar lick that kicks off “Roustabout,” listeners know they’re in store for some exciting and authentic bluegrass music.
Kuykendall’s pleasant tenor lead vocal is perfect for bluegrass; a unique voice that brings new life to old favorites from the repertoire of Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Ernest Tubb, and more. Dauphinais’ tenor harmonies are simply flawless, and his contribution is their secret ingredient. That, and the double-stops, of course. Kuykendall shows off his talents as a songwriter on “I Don’t Have The Want To Anymore” and “Forever And A Day.” Both could well be standards in the future. “Remember Me,” the Lulu Belle and Scotty standard (also recorded memorably by Mac Wiseman and Jim & Jesse), is performed in a bouncy, optimistic tempo. “I’ll Follow Jesus,” written by Jake Landers, is a simple statement of practical, daily faith.
Hicks’ mind-blowing backup work and breaks shine throughout the album. But he steps to center stage instrumentally with a poignant rendition of “Ashokan Farewell,” proving that a simple melody played with pure tone and emotion can be more effective than bells and whistles at breakneck speeds. His original, “Zuma Swing,” features a melody that struts, swaggers, and swings and even borrows half a phrase from “Suwannee River” at one point. A fine ride on the mandolin and creative banjo flourishes round out the tune, with a trademark twin-fiddle break (on one fiddle) from Hicks at the end.
There’s a nod to classic country music with Mark’s fine performance of Hank Williams’ “We Live In Two Different Worlds” and Bobby’s lead vocal on “They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me,” written by Leon Payne and the album’s saddest song. (Hicks’ fiddling as a sideman over the years has perhaps overshadowed his talents as a lead singer, so play this track twice.)
Two more gospel songs are included: Jim Eanes’ heartfelt “In His Arms I’m Not Afraid” and Monroe’s “Wicked Path Of Sin,” featuring Hicks on bass vocals and high flying tenor from Dauphinais. Another Bill Monroe song, “Mary Jane, Won’t You Be Mine,” is executed perfectly and bookended with double-stop fiddling. Mark also sings the rambunctious “Sally, Don’t You Grieve,” penned by Woody Guthrie and Malvina Reynolds. Keep this album easily accessible where you can find it for repeated playing. (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906, www.rebelrecords.com.)NC