Seven years have passed since I last reviewed Lonesome Highway. In that time, they have released a second recording, shifted from essentially being a cover band and made several personnel changes. On this their third release, only banjoist John Arnold and mandolinist Jimmy Kountz remain of the original group. Guitarist and alternate lead singer Buddy Dunlap, who joined in 2006, also returns, but the group has now added bassist Cody Brown and fiddler Mason Wright. Moreover, eleven of the fourteen tracks are now band originals, ten of them from Dunlap and one from Arnold.
Where this band excels is with its instrumental skills, which are solid all the way around, with Dunlap’s clear, inventive guitar solos garnering the most attention. His uptempo instrumental, “Diggin’ Iron,” showcases his technical facility, but it’s his solos on vocal numbers, such as at the end of the title tune, that his musical understanding and maturity comes through best. Another positive is the vocal work of Jimmy Kountz. When he sings the lead, as he does on Dunlap’s “That’s The Way” or the lyrical “If You Don’t Love Me Anymore” (also by Dunlap) or on the standard “Come Early Mornin,’” he offers a warmth and solidity important to putting the song across. Any one of his leads has merit.
Dunlap continues to develop as a songwriter. At times, he falls victim to overused phrases and ideas, but then he’ll turn in a strong piece, such as “The Striking Man,” and it all comes together. On “The Striking Man,” he offers a thoughtful take on the plight of a strikebreaker, showing that it’s not always a right or wrong situation. Had this album had a few more tracks of that quality, and perhaps a few well-chosen covers, its appeal would have been greater. (Lonesome Highway, HC 66 Box 20, Romney, WV 26757, www.lhway.com.) BW