Twenty years ago, I reviewed in these pages the debut album from Colorado-based band Front Range, like this one on the Bristlecone label. The quartet, which featured the lead vocals and songwriting of Bob Amos, then released five albums with Sugar Hill and remained active through 2003, when a live release completed their recording career. Amos’ Borrowed Time marks his first bluegrass recording since then. The hiatus seems to have sparked an even deeper love for bluegrass. All but two of the cuts can fairly be described as straight-ahead bluegrass.
Amos composed nine songs and two instrumentals. Yet the one cover may prove the most original of all. He closes the CD by rearranging “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” by seminal Delta bluesman Robert Johnson into driving bluegrass. The delightful results are a far more radical transformation than most adaptations of rock or pop songs, making a blues classic sound as if it came from old-time.
The banjo picking of Bob Amos is the first revelation of Borrowed Time. Besides all the guitar, most of the lead singing (Sarah Amos sings lead on “The Road Home”) and mandolin on three cuts, Bob handles all of the five-string with far more than competence. The listener doesn’t truly notice until he kicks off the first instrumental, “Crazy Legs.” After checking the liner notes to make sure the picker is Bob, one pays close attention to the banjo playing the rest of the way.
The other revelation comes in the form of Vermont fiddler Freeman Corey. Corey learned old-time fiddling from his father and then explored Celtic and French Canadian styles before coming under the sway of Stuart Duncan and Byron Berline. The great Jesse Brock picks most of mandolin, while the project reunites Amos with the noted Front Range bassist Bob Dick.
With several harmony vocalists, Amos and this fine crew have a ball with Bob’s typical strong songs. His evocative lyrics can sound quite contemporary, such as on the bluegrass grinder “Borrowed Time,” or classic, for example on “Jenny And Jimmy” or “Walking Back To Bristol.” Others, see “Roots Of The Tree,” bring back memories of Front Range at its best. All told, Borrowed Time, proves a thoroughly delightful release packed with new material that should appeal to almost all corners of the bluegrass community. (Bristlecone Records, P.O. Box 232, Saint Johnsbury, VT 05819, www.bobamos.com.)AM