It is hard not to think of Darren Nicholson’s sense of humor not far into his latest solo album, Man on a Mission. The opening bars of the first song, “Love is War,” start with hard driving banjo and fiddle and the sound Nicholson is known for with Balsam Range and his main side-gig, the Darren Nicholson Band.
One familiar with his stage persona can almost see the devilish grin spread when all of sudden in comes an electric guitar, drums, keyboard and an electric mandolin. What the listener gets on this six-song CD is a blend of bluegrass-rock-country-Americana—a kitchen sink sound that’s hard to resist, with great playing, powerful vocals and strong songwriting.
“It’s a Saturday night raucous party with dancing, electric guitars and fiddles twangin’ feeding your energy,” Nicholson said. “It’s rockabilly attitude, and it’s tongue-in-cheek … It’s a wide mix of music and emotion with the common thread of truth and honesty. It’s from the heart.”
With Balsam Range, Nicholson has been featured vocally more and more over the years, especially for his lead vocals on the hit song, “The Rambler.” Another side project with newly formed all-star band No Joke Jimmy’s keeps him busy—and versatile.
This EP shows a new side while also showcasing the mandolin player’s songwriting side, as he co-wrote each cut: four with former Steep Canyon Ranger/Current Songs from the Road bassist Charles Humphrey III; one with Mark Bumgarner; and one with Eric Gibson.
“Southern Ground” may seem more like the Nicholson sound fans are familiar with, the range on the album is fun and downright bluesy sounding on “Man on a Mission.” “Them Hateful Blues” is a treat for country fans and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it crossover easily.
It’s always fun to see a top-notch musician stretch out and not to be afraid to take risks. Man on a Mission is one that pays off. “I write about life and the human condition. I write about things I’ve lived, and I just try to perform them as best I can.”