Gary Ruley and Mule Train is a large, somewhat free-floating ensemble of talented musicians from in and around Rockbridge County, Virginia.
Some eleven names are listed in their press notes, and five of them, plus two guests (fiddlers Nate Leath and Shannon Wheeler) appear on this CD recorded live at the Southern Inn Restaurant in Lexington, Va. On stage for this show, along with Ruley and the fiddlers, are guitarist Larry Keel, mandolinist Danny Knicely, bassist David Knicely and banjoist Will Lee. Ruley, Keel, and Danny Knicely handle the vocals.
Anyone who has been to see a band in a bar or restaurant will recognize the feel and sound and intent of this recording. Because of the setting, the band aims to win over a crowd that has different expectations than it would in a concert venue. Such aims are not a bad thing, especially since being entertaining is the role of any band, but it does often result in the inclusion of quite a few standards. That’s what we get here.
From the bluegrass side come “Uncle Pen,” “Slew Foot,” “Little Maggie,” “Cincinnati Rag,” and “Pike County Breakdown.” From the rock and contemporary bluegrass come “Hard Days Night,” “Steam Powered Airplane,” “Great Balls Of Fire,” “Traveling Kind,” and “No Expectations.” Those recognizable tunes and the fact that 12 of the 13 songs are given fast and faster arrangements had the crowd worked up. Again, that’s not bad, but the crowd noise comes through the microphones and muddies the sound. Throw in the usual problems of recording acoustic instruments live in an uncontrolled space and the proceedings get wild, real quick.
Buried within are some excellent individual performances—particularly the mandolin work of Danny Knicely—while among the songs “Cincinnati Rag,” “Great Balls Of Fire,” and “Matterhorn” work best. In sum, you’d have to classify this as the kind of recording you buy at the show as a memento of your evening. (Keel Enterprises, 163 Little House Lane, Lexington VA 24450, www.garyruleyband.com.) BW