Poplar & Pine

It’s my honor to get to listen to this project by Caleb Bailey of Virginia, who has assembled 10 original vocal tunes into a must-have CD.  Bailey presents listeners with an all-star cast of artists who lend their musical and recording skills, resulting in one of the more memorable projects I’ve heard in a while.       

This project will appeal to bluegrass and Gospel fans alike, as it honors traditions, yet stands out because of the Bailey-penned wide-ranging lyrics delivered by an authentic vocalist who gets his important messages across with mature and heartfelt song writing and singing. He’s got his own style and messages to share, seemingly beyond his years.      

Make no mistake about it; Bailey is a man for all ages, a storyteller, who often delves deeply into the moral and spiritual realm, with vocal chops, enhanced by the nuanced playing of his band. The song arrangements and dynamics display a high level of musicianship across the entire project.

The cast involves Bailey, Jason Barrie, fiddle, Austin Brown, bass, Caleb Cox, guitar, vocals and sound engineer, James Cox, bass, John Cox, drums, Jonathan Dillon, mandolin, Nick Goad, mandolin and tenor vocals, Gaven “Gravy” Largent on Dobro, banjo and production, with Wayne Taylor, featured vocalist on “United Flight 93.”

The technical quality is excellent, as recording engineering and mastering are done well. Each track can stand on its own, while there is a synergistic effect when the project is absorbed in its entirety. The program and song sequencing are superior.      

The title cut, “Poplar & Pine,” opening with haunting twin fiddles, tells a story about two brothers who lost their way and ended up being hanged for their crime. Bailey weaves a story telling us how he got to be looking at two coffins, from the hanging tree, one for him and one for his brother. It’s quite a moving tale of the consequences of sin.     

The first track, “Grim Reaper,” leads off with somber dual banjo and Dobro, an appropriate way to begin this song about the eventuality of death. Here, Bailey not only takes a broad view of life and death, but reminds us that the Reaper is an unfortunate reality of life, at all stages.  Bailey has carefully put his spiritual and social conscience front and center.     

“Ghost of Eli Jones,” is a story of an alcoholic mountain man who overindulges, loses his way, and whose body is never found. With his words, Bailey paints a real life picture of haunting, with a lyric “hair on the back of our neck,” making the listener feel like a ghost could be standing next to them. The dynamics and ebb and flow on this cut are superior.     

“House of the Lord,” is a song which should be listened to multiple times, as the story is carefully crafted, and relevant in historical and modern times. The instrumentation is designed carefully to stress the lyrics and is purposefully sparse so the listener can focus on the messaging in this excellent song. Listeners will undoubtedly do an immediate gut-check of their own values and behavior and are carefully warned about the ultimate value of one’s soul.     

“United Flight 93,” which harkens us back to 9/11, is well-crafted, and enhanced by Bailey and Wayne Taylor trading verses. Bailey and Taylor take us back to when they viewed the plane going down on what is now sacred ground. Bailey’s songwriting skills really shine when he tells us that, “The silence is louder than the noise.” The vocal harmonies are so well-blended, again showing that not only does Bailey have the songwriting skills, his vocal capabilities are mature beyond his age.

I recommend any bluegrass and Gospel fan purchase this great recording, Poplar & Pine.

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