Buncombe Turnpike gives us a lot to like in They Passed It Down. Most of all, I appreciate their ambition. They sound like they’re trying on their seventh album to create a distinctive sound while remaining well within the bounds of the bluegrass genre. Taking advantage of a blend of youth and experience, the twenty-year-old band mixes elements of contemporary and classical bluegrass to do so.
The remarkable and too little-known Don Lewis of Ralph Lewis & the Sons of Ralph delivers the most crucial traditional element with his fiddling. The greatest joy of this album comes from fiddle being all over it. Seth Rhinehart, one of the younger members, and guest George Buckner provide banjo playing strongly influenced by classical bluegrass. Band founder Tom Godleski similarly keeps the bass understated, making the others sound good.
The singing, on the other hand, finds Buncombe Turnpike strongly influenced by modern sounds while using the sequencing of solo and trio voices in creative ways. Band members composed fourteen of the fifteen tracks. Godleski wrote ten of them and sang lead on twelve. Mandolin player and tenor singer David Hyatt wrote three, singing lead on a pair. Lewis penned the lone instrumental “High Green.”
Among these many positive attributes, the CD contains too many songs. I would drop the two Christmas songs (“Christmas In The Mountains” is outstanding) from the album and release them as a single each December. I don’t want to hear Christmas songs driving down a country road in 94-degree summer heat. That aside, They Passed It Down is an excellent album by a very good band. (www.buncombeturnpike.com)AM