Bassist, singer/songwriter Ray Cardwell is making his return to bluegrass. He started in that field some many years ago, playing first with his father, then with his siblings (including long-time IBMA staffer, Nancy). Then it was into the world of rock and reggae. Now, like many other wanderers, Joe Diffie among them, he’s back in the fold.
Easing his re-entry are friends and associates, almost all of them stars in the bluegrass world. There are Pat Flynn and John Cowan from NGR, mandolinists Danny Roberts and Jesse McReynolds, fiddler Andy Leftwich, banjoist Scott Vestal, resonator guitarist Rob Ickes, and vocalists Claire Lynch and Ronnie Bowman.
Cardwell wrote nine of the twelve songs, and covers Mitch Jayne’s “Whole World ’Round,” which he gives a sharper, grittier read than The Dillards. The majority, particularly those tunes with Cowan and Flynn, are decidedly newgrass. Some returnees try to play up the bluegrass end. Cardwell chooses to let his recent musical background stand as who he is, albeit placing it in a bluegrass context. That starts with his voice. While the opener, the gospel “His Will,” has arguably the strongest bluegrass feel, it’s not long before the rock/newgrass side takes over. Songs such as the slow, anthem “Open Your Eyes” or the energetic cover of Kyle Wood’s “Cry” or Cardwell’s own cautionary song of love, “Stop, Look And Listen,” are heavy on rock influences, having the brassy, bluesy, polished quality similar to Cowan’s and recalling such ’70s groups as Styx and Kansas. He also includes a bluegrass/reggae crossover titled “Sing It To The World.” All of those are standout tracks. Also standouts, and perhaps the most counter to the overall sound of what is an entertaining recording, are two four-part gospel songs, “Sailin’ For Glory” and “New Jerusalem.” (www.raycardwell.com)BW