beyond-the-blueBEYOND THE BLUE

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With seven years together, Beyond The Blue from Elkin, N.C., has settled into a comfortable groove that shows itself on this their third recording. As they state in their press notes, this one follows much in the lines of their first two, in this case mixing traditional tunes such as “I’ll Stay Around” and “Orange Blossom Special” with gospel tunes such as “Let’s Meet By The River” and “I’ve Got More To Go To Heaven For” and with rock and country such as Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road.”

Instrumentally, the most forward-leaning efforts on the recording are the two instrumentals, “Orange Blossom Special” and banjoist Don Bryant’s original “Exit 14.” The former showcases the emerging talent of Mary-Claire Hooper, the band’s 12-year-old fiddler. The latter gives reign to all the soloists. Both are solid performances all around.

On the majority of the remaining tracks, the approach of the soloing is largely direct, melodic, and of limited frills over a lightly-pulsing rhythm support. That pairs well with the singing, both the lead and the harmony. Usually on regional and local band recordings you come across a slip or two vocally. That’s not the case here. Between lead vocalist Robin Hooper, and harmony vocalists Anita Carter and Rita Wiles, Beyond The Blue has some of the smoothest vocals on any level. Theirs, particularly the low and resonant lead of Hooper, is one of flowing lines and long drawn-out notes, with impeccably-held pitch and very few clipped notes or phrasing. This ties in well with the material they’ve chosen, be it “Seven Bridges Road,” the slow and pensive “Place No Wreath Upon My Door,” or the lilting, pleading bounce of Dolly Parton’s “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind.” Even on “Little Black Train,” a tune generally given an edgy reading, the result is more flowing and good-time gospel-tinged. All that results in a very listenable recording. (Don Bryant, 426 Possum Trot Rd., Thurmond, NC 28683,

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