The first time through on Balsam Range’s Five, my thought was that the recording may fall way short of Papertown. The second time through, the vocal and instrumental talents and the Balsam Range sound, all among the best in the business, had begun to work their magic, and I remembered I’d had a similar experience with Papertown. Even then, I was still on the fence as to where this one stands.
The performances and the vocals, particularly the Rodney Crowell-style tenor of Buddy Melton, are, as I said, magical. The attention to arrangement details is almost as good. And there are some very good songs here. “Chasing Someone Else’s Dreams,” a song from Milan Miller about the difficulty in doing what you want while you work for someone else, is excellent in its message and easy quality. Melton’s a cappella gospel “Stacking Up The Rocks” is of the same high level, full of ear-catching harmony shifts. “Songs I’ve Sung,” arguably Tim Surrett’s best lead vocal to date, hits home. That’s followed by “Too High A Price To Pay” (Darren Nicholson on buttery lead vocals) and by Mickey Newbury’s doleful “The Future’s Not What It Used To Be.” You can include the bluesy stomp of “Monday Blues” and the wistful “Everything That Glitters” on there as well. Right there, you’ve got seven first-rate songs. Eight if you count, “From A Georgia Battlefield,” a Civil War-themed song, and a good one at that.
So I gave it a couple more spins and several more tunes fell in line, including the bounce of “I Spend My Days Below The Ground,” the band original instrumental “Backdraft,” John Denver’s lilting “Matthew,” and, finally, “Moon Over Memphis.” Now, only one remains unimpressive and probably will remain so. Of course, there’s always time. As good as this recording is, and it is exceptionally good, my nod still goes to Papertown. (Crossroads Distribution, P.O. Box 829, Arden NC 28704, www.crossroadsmusic.com.)BW