The music on Undeniable, Nothin’ Fancy’s 16th album (which marks the band’s 25th anniversary) reaches out and grabs you like a firm, friendly handshake. This five-man outfit—Mike Andes (mandolin and vocals), Caleb Cox (guitar and vocals), James Cox (bass), Jacob Flick (banjo), and Chris Sexton (fiddle, vocals, cello, and viola)—has a sound that’s a lot more sophisticated than its unassuming moniker might suggest. Undeniable is empowered with fine singing and superb original songs rich in rural imagery. All 12 tracks were written by the band’s members: four by Cox, six by Andes, and two by Sexton.
The opening track “Bailey’s Ride” (written by Cox, who also supplies the robust lead vocal) immediately captures listeners with its almost painful yearning for times long gone. It’s followed by “Detroit City Life” (Andes), which explores similar thematic territory and is somewhat reminiscent of great ballads by the likes of Tony Rice and Bobby (“Detroit City”) Bare. And, like Andes’ “Kentucky Bound” and Cox’s “Shots You Never Take,” it’s also a stirring celebration of country living.
Caleb Cox’s “Savage 29″ shifts gears dramatically. It’s a dark, gripping tale of a bootlegger who gets away with murder. Andes’ “Sing One Song For Me,” on the other hand, delivers a gentle and heartfelt gospel vibe. “Return To Dublin” (Sexton) is a sprightly, Celtic-style instrumental on which each band member gets an outing. The lively lyrics and syncopation of “Diggin’ Coal” (Andes) draws heavily on familiar imagery from classic coal mining songs and melds it into something new and exciting.
There are other down-home stand outs here, as well, such as Andes’ philosophical “Life’s Mysteries” and his self-celebratory “Here’s To My Life.” All in all, these songs add up to some mighty-fine listening. (Mountain Fever, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)BA