One airing of this new recording from Michael and Jennifer McLain and you’ll know the aim is one of an older vintage. Any resemblance to contemporary bluegrass is so thin as to be wraith-like. Maybe you hear a bit on the start of “Boom Town,” but that’s about it. That’s not to say that this is an album in the style of the ancient (i.e., the ’50s or ’60s), but it definitely has that soft, gentle and direct approach of the late 1960s and early1970s.
Melody and tunefulness is key here. So are the steady rhythms start to finish, light on sudden injections of jagged punctuations, though an occasional stop-time idea creeps in here or there, and light on those watery pastiches so common today. You hear touches of country gospel on the secular “This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again)” and on the gospel of “Jesus, Hold My Hand.” And you hear slow, bluesy inflections on the lovely “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” and those propulsive “movin’ on” rhythms on “Restless” and Merle Watson’s “Southbound.”
Leading all this is the strong interplay of guitarist, banjoist Michael McLain and fiddler Dan Kelly. McLain sings lead on “Southbound,” but largely he’s the instrumental force with his straight guitar leads and his melodic banjo work. Kelly’s fiddle is equally tuneful and well-considered. Stacked atop all that and the bass of Mike Bub and mandolin of Ronnie McCoury, is the lead vocalizing of Jennifer McLain. Her’s is a wide-ranging voice, country predominantly, but certainly blues and gospel tinted. Hear her excellent rendition of the bluesy standard “Up This Hill And Down” taken over closed-chord, sock guitar rhythm. That’s representative of this whole fun and highly listenable recording. And, for fun, hear Michael and Jennifer’s twin banjo cover of the classic “Lady Of Spain.”(www.banjocats.com)BW