Merle Monroe is a band of country and bluegrass veterans and new talent that hopes to bridge the divide between classic country artists such as Merle Haggard with traditional bluegrass inspired by Bill Monroe. No surprise, Back To The Country features two Haggard tunes and closes with a lickety-split version of Roger Miller’s “This Town” interspersed with a variety of originals. A couple of Monroe or Jimmy Martin tunes would have been a good inclusion here, but the band clearly preferred to hew to a more country-oriented tune selection on this project.
Built around talented, long-time professionals Tim Raybon and Daniel Grindstaff, the studio band includes a skilled group of emerging musicians on guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and resonator guitar. Opening with Merle’s classic “Movin’ On,” the band definitely shows the ability to meld qualities of both outlaw country and the drive and punch of topnotch bluegrass. On “Back Where It’s At,” a popular country tune from Bobby Bond, the group utilizes its strong vocals and smart arranging skills to create a solid rendition. Raybon’s vocals and songwriting talent shine through on his original “Beautiful Kentucky,” where he’s joined by the other bandmembers in a lovely tenor harmony arrangement.
Merle Monroe doesn’t tread new ground here. But the band’s poignant, self-assured vocals, hard as No. 9 coal rhythms, and confident instrumental work should find many fans as Merle Monroe gets more exposure. (Pinecastle Records, 2514 River Rd., Ste. 105, Piedmont, SC 29673, www.pinecastlemusic.com.)DJM