It’s surprising this terrific album apparently sat on the shelf for some four years, and there might be a double meaning to its name. The title song, “Looking Back,” is a great rowdy-life-to-prison-cell bluegrass burner, but singer/guitarist Scott Tackett also may have been looking back to the great 2011 sessions represented here. A native of Carter County in eastern Kentucky, Tackett conceived this as a solo project, co-produced with Dave Carroll, a fellow songwriter and a lead guitar picker. The recording brought together a talented collection of experienced pickers; they discovered an immediate chemistry and founded the popular band Hammertowne.
Tackett’s outing here as a front man doesn’t feature the entire Hammertowne lineup, but there’s enough of that band’s core to delight its admirers. Whatever the reason for the delay, we can be thankful that Kindred Records, which specializes in Kentucky musicians, has now released it. This album is so good, we can start looking forward to Tackett’s next one.
Scott, who performed with his earlier band Kentucky Sunrise and with Dave Evans & Riverbend, has the kind of outstanding bluegrass voice that’s consistently full and smooth but flavored with perfectly accented ornamentations that are pure country. You’ll hear that on every song this engaging vocalist undertakes, right down to the album’s 100-proof closer “Hand Me A Glass,” which he co-wrote. Dave Carroll’s composition “If Misery Loves Company” has the makings of a modern classic, and his lead guitar on his original “The Silver Bridge Lament” is as straightforward, solid and inspired as his song crafting.
Brent Pack, who started playing banjo professionally at age 15 with Ernie Thacker, has that classy separation to his picking that makes every note ring and shine. So does the mandolin styling of Chaston Carroll (Dave’s son), with a sound that’s woody-mellow or flint-edged as it needs to be. Doug Burchett has such impeccable and lively timing on bass guitar that I first thought he was playing standup acoustic. Ron Stewart is on top of his game here, with solos that soar yet mesh with the ensemble sound. (Stewart also did the impeccable mixing and mastering on this album.)
The resonate leads and harmony blends, sharp solos, and the arrangements are often so good and so much fun, you’ll find yourself hitting replay just to hear a standout track again and again. And if the vocal and instrumental talent is impressive, so is the wealth of original material. Tackett or Stewart wrote half the album’s 12 tracks, collaborating with Burchett on “One Month Behind,” a real highlight here. These are songs of pride and of regret, love and sorrow, all performed with driving or lonesome bluegrass timings.
Tackett’s selections of old favorites as vocal vehicles fit seamlessly into this beautifully realized solo project, notably “Miller’s Cave,” the classic tale of revenge and poetic justice by Harland Howard and William Castle’s joyful “I Like Trains.” But this leads to the one major disappointment: One of its genuine standouts among the evergreens is a thrilling, soaring, totally toe-tapping rendition of “Our Last Goodbye Today” (one that made me keep hitting replay). But its source goes totally uncredited, despite the number clearly being “Our Last Goodbye” by the Stanley Brothers. This is mentioned because, similarly, “Why Don’t You Tell Me So,” a Flatt & Scruggs classic penned by Flatt, was listed as being public domain on Hammertowne’s 2013 self-titled album. That’s too bad. Six decades from now, bluegrass fans will surely be looking back on music created by Scott Tackett and Dave Carroll. At that future date, they should be credited, too. (Kindred Records, 65 Scott Hill Rd., Irvine, KY 40336, www.kindredrecords.com.)RDS