It almost goes without saying that any heritage-respecting band hailing from Bakersfield must give Buck and Merle their due. In the case of The Roustabouts, a quintet that leans towards traditional bluegrass and features bassist/vocalist Brian Hacker, guitarist/vocalist Craig Wilson, mandolinist/vocalist Kelvin Gregory, fiddler/vocalist Paul Lee, and banjoist/vocalist Shawn Criswell, their 14-song debut does just that, covering Owens’ “Where Does The Good Times Go” and Haggard’s “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down.” They don’t belabor the point, being as they are a bluegrass band, but the association is honored and respectfully so.
Beyond that, with the exception of “Good Hearted Woman,” the music here is predominantly bluegrass covers. Everybody will recognize “Hello Trouble,” “Gone, Gone, Gone,” and “High On A Hilltop,” and “Girl Of My Dreams.” They’re about the most recognizable. A little less familiar would be Bob Paisley’s “How Many Times,” Larry Sparks’ “Lonesome Old Feeling,” and the Jimmy Martin/Buddy Spicher instrumental “Uptown Blues,” the classic bluesy ’50s sound of which the Roustabouts capture perfectly, making it one of the album’s standouts. At the more obscure end are M.T. Barnes’ “Way Down Deep” and Bill Carlisle’s poignant “Gone Home,” another standout.
First impressions can be deceptive. The first pass through gave the impression the group struggled some to make the lead singing convincing. A tentative quality popped up here and there, a lack of snap in relation to the drive of the song at hand. “Good Hearted Woman,” “Hello, Trouble,” and the Owens tune were the most obvious in that regard. Subsequent listening, however, while not completely erasing that impression, revealed more subtle phrasing at work, which if not perfectly in line with the backing, is not far off the fine ensemble work and solos and the harmony singing. A good first effort needing only a bit of tweaking to move up the ranks. (Kelvin Gregory, 6600 Cedar Crest, Bakersfield, CA 93308, www.theroustaboutsbluegrassband.com.)BW