It would be hard to over-state what an impressive outing Rick Faris’s sophomore album is. Faris, IBMA’s 2022 “New Artist of the Year,” who spent 11 years as the guitarist/mandolin player/singer with the band Special Consensus, has all the right tools in his tool kit.
The Wichita, Kansas-based artist, who grew up in a family gospel band, has an utterly engaging vocal style, at times reminiscent of Ricky Skaggs or his hero Del McCoury, who guests here on one cut.
Faris is also, of course, a heck of a guitarist whose picking never seems to call undue attention to itself. On top of that, he’s an imaginative songwriter with a conversational style and a distinct perspective grounded in faith, optimism and compassion. He wrote or cowrote all but one of these 12 selections.
Some of Faris’s songs vividly convey a quest for moral and spiritual self-improvement and provide subtle road maps for moving in that direction. This quality shines through on originals such as “Don’t Hold Back” (cowritten with Evan Dickerson) and “You Can’t Slow the River Down” (one of a handful of cowrites with Rick Lang), along with Faris’s exuberant, “grassified” cover of the Huey Lewis pop hit, “The Power of Love.”
Other tracks, like the eerie “Hellfire Club” and the harrowing “Topeka Twister,” are riveting ballads more or less ripped from history. “Kansas Cornfields” is a tender tribute to Faris’s hard-working grandfather Edward who farmed by day and worked the mines at night during the Great Depression.
Yet another excellent cut is “Too Lonely, Way Too Long,” where Faris shares vocals with Del McCoury and the one-and-only Jerry Douglas weighs in on Dobro. Ronnie McCoury contributes mandolin and vocals on “Misery-Go-Round,” another forward-looking Ferris original about turning romantic lemons into lemonade.
Every bit as impressive as the distinguished guests are the musicians Ferris recruited as his core studio band: Laura Orshaw – fiddle, Zak McLamb – upright bass, Harry Clark (of East Nash Grass) – mandolin, Luke Munday – banjo and Stephen Mougin, Eddie Faris, Ben James and Dani Flowers on vocals. They all play an integral part in making Uncommon Sky the uncommonly fine work that it is.