Josh Slone has ascended, quite rightly, to a national label, and his resulting debut is a good one. It’s not a classic, but is certainly one that should make the bluegrass community notice his talents as a lead singer and front man.
Backing him solidly are current Coal Town banjoist Ollie Rinser, several former members of Coal Town and several guests, including fiddlers Ron Stewart and the late Gerald Evans (his final recording).
Making this record go are the emotionally-flexible and invested vocals of Slone and the expert lyric writing of Mike Wells, who contributes eight songs, each of which makes good use of the vernacular for telling stories in concrete imagery. The potential hit is “Virginia Bound” in which a man is cheating with a Kentucky miner’s wife and has to kill the miner when he comes home early. He’s soon “Virginia Bound” with a posse after him and a lesson learned. To this sordid little tale, Slone brings a fretful mood well in keeping with the killer’s predicament.
On an equally high level is Wells’ “Daddies Don’t Cry.” Fathers worrying when their children are raised by another man is a common reality, and this song captures the situation in all its sorrow, describing poignantly the father driving past his old house or fretting or trying to “make the most of every other weekend.” Here, Slone vocally adopts a feel of frustration and embarrassment and solidifies the song’s mood. Throw in Wells’ portrait of a woman who marries for money, but immediately runs back to her lover (“A Lovin’ Man”), his play-on-words, lament of a cheater whose fibs result in someone else taking his place in bed (“Where I Used To Lie”) and his story of a girl falling for a musician (“Bluegrass And Me”), all appropriately addressed vocally by Slone, and you have a quality debut punctuated with several exceptional songs. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 660040, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) BW