Clay Hess has come a long way since playing guitar with Ricky Skaggs. Here, along with his current band, Hess brings a hard-driving guitar style and earnest singing to a varied set of bluegrass. They don’t break any new ground, but do put their stamp on each piece. Along with his son Brennan Hess, Clay and his band members present a fine vocal sound. Irl Hees provides two lead vocals on “All Of The Time” and an especially nice reading of Stan Rogers’ “Field Behind The Plow.”
Brady Wallen drives the banjo, finding ways to get to the core of the song without sounding contrived or clichéd. Dustin Frame rips it up on the mandolin, driving as hard as Hess’ guitar, then as called for, he plays it mellow and melodic on “Heat Of The Morning.” Luke Montgomery adds a nice tenor vocal to “Next Train To Anywhere.” The band does a fine job on the Ron Block number “Tougher Than The Nails,” that sounds reminiscent of another crucifixion song, “The Man In The Middle,” but takes another point from the subject matter.
The two closing cuts are strong and show two sides of the band nicely. On Carl Perkins’ “Restless,” they drive it all the way down the highway. Then they take a tender turn on Waylon Jennings’ “Anita, You’re Dreaming,” ending this project on a wistful note. Hess and company are playing some mighty fine bluegrass as this project aptly reveals. (Pinecastle Records, 2514 River Rd., Ste. 105, Piedmont, SC 29673, www.pinecastlemusic.com.)RCB