A new group made up of familiar names, the Highland Travelers offer the variety of two generations melded with the unity of being from northeast Tennessee. From The Boxcars come guitarist Keith Garrett, Gary Hultman on resonator guitar, and the best-known Highland Traveler, Adam Steffey. A noted mandolinist and singer for three decades, before The Boxcars, Adam belonged to Alison Krauss & Union Station, Mountain Heart, and several other ensembles. Banjoist Jason Davis and bass player Kameron Keller spent long tenures with Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice.
It goes without saying that these veterans offer a high level of playing and singing throughout the project, mixing traditionally-inflected performances with others strongly influenced by the post-Rounder 0044 bluegrass sounds that matured during the 1980s. Only, the too prominent chop-rhythm on many of the tracks detracts from otherwise outstanding performances and arrangement.
On my first listen, “The Little Tennessee” stood out, and it became the first single off the album. Garrett (who composed the Tennessee Valley Authority history-themed song with Jeff Baker) sings lead, as he does on seven of the ten vocal tracks. Gary handles the lead on “World So Full Of Love,” a Roger Miller/Faron Young composition, while Adam does the honors on “Girl That Loved Me” and “I Guess I’ll Go On Dreaming” (a 1947 Bailes Brothers B-side). Those choices exemplify the strength of the band’s wide net for material. They go deep into classic country music for tunes that not only haven’t been over recorded, but also need to be brought to the forefront. They compose their own songs and also draw from contemporary sources within (Tim Stafford) and outside (Dolly Parton) bluegrass. The Highland Travelersis a strong album by highly-skilled, seasoned practitioners. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd.NW, Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)AM