Those familiar with the recent concert DVD of Joe Mullins saw four-fifths of this current lineup in a performance that featured guitarist/vocalist Duane Sparks early in his band tenure. Sparks has since blended confidently into his role as the principal lead singer.
Here he leads seven tracks. With but a couple of exceptions, most specifically his expert reading of the soldier’s funeral song “The Last Parade,” those songs have a vibrancy to them. They fall sort of halfway between the softer, introspective leads of mandolinist Mike Terry and the bluesy, high-register numbers that Joe Mullins handles. The opener, “Now The Summer’s Gone,” is a good example. Its infectious old-time dance feel demands a forceful, rhythmic delivery to succeed. Sparks provides that. To the title tune, an album standout, he brings a necessary warmth and lilt. Elsewhere, he drives propulsively through the Western Swing standard “Miss Molly,” a track on which the lead instruments have plenty to say.
As noted, Mike Terry takes the softer leads. He gets three. The best of them is the standout “Through A Coal Miner’s Eyes.” There have been many coal miner songs through the years. This is one of the better compositions, strong in detail, and one that Terry digs into completely. Rounding out what is an all-around success of an album are the four leads from Mullins. It’s no secret that Mullins takes it to another level on gospel tunes. That is certainly the case here, be it the old-sounding new composition “Hymns From The Hills” or the a cappella “The Dearest Friend I Ever Had.” But Mullins’ rich tenor lead also shines brightly on their tribute cover of the Osborne Brothers’ cover of Hank Williams’ “May You Never Be Alone” and on the bluesy, 3/4 bounce of “Eat, Drink And Be Merry.” (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7405, Charlottesville VA, 22906, www.rebelrecords.com.)BW