Mountain Home Music

I’m of the opinion that you could pretty much lock any random handful of A-string country and bluegrass pickers in a rehearsal room and they could quickly meld themselves into a band with a distinct sound. But as often as not, such super-picker bands tend to have short shelf lives. That’s where that mysterious element called “chemistry” comes into play. It is, as far as I can figure out, an elusive combination of enthusiasm, fellowship, shared musical sensibilities, and a fierce commitment to compromise and collaboration.

If that’s what chemistry is all about, then the Boxcars sound like they possess an abundance of it. It’s Just A Road, the quintet’s new release, is impeccable in both conceptualization and execution. The 12 songs feature brisk, clean arrangements and deliver a carefully balanced stylistic and thematic variety shot through with contagious energy, confidence, and enthusiasm. For instance, compare the delightful contrast between the pure, good-hearted nostalgia of the Boxcars’ rendition of “Southern Train” (penned by Jimmy Delman Atkins) with the desolate contemporary despair of “Careyville” (co-written by Chris West and bandmember William Keith Garrett) or the sinister tragedy of “The Devil Held The Gun” (an original from bandmember Ron Stewart).

The Boxcars—John Bowman on fiddle, banjo and vocals, Ronnie Stewart on fiddle and banjo, Adam Steffey on mandolin and vocals, Keith Garrett on guitar, and Harold Nixon on bass—bring similar vitality and subtlety to several classics. The band’s subtle rendition of A.P. Carter’s “Coal Miner’s Blues” transforms this old Appalachian ballad into something new and contemporary. (Crossroads Music, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704,

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