Close Kin is definitely a concept recording; it even comes with a 15-minute DVD about the project. There are 16 tunes and songs performed by 29 musicians with old-time and bluegrass roots in combinations that mix people with different musical backgrounds. Take Adam and Tina Steffey, Jeanette and Johnny Williams, members of Skeeter and the Skidmarks, the Wolfe Brothers, the VW Boys, the Snyder Family Band, Rich In Tradition, along with Eddie Bond, Brian Grimm, Jim Lloyd, and more and put them together with people they have not played with before, and you get the music of “Close Kin.”
There is one major flaw in this concept, an important way in which bluegrass and old-time have diverged. All the music is in a bluegrass framework, ie., musicians take breaks. While you can find old-time bands and jams that take breaks, it’s not common. Most contemporary old-time musicians play in unison and weave together a composite sound. If you accept that limitation, there is some very appealing music on this recording.
They begin with a high-tempo version of the old-time classic “Chilly Winds,” with vocals by Johnny Williams, who also produced the album. Then Jeanette Williams sings a lovely version of Martha Scanlan’s “Little Bird Of Heaven.” There is a nice banjo/fiddle duet by Edwin Lacey and Brian Grimm on “Tennessee Grey Eagle,” but it is still in the “break” context. “Old Horse And Buggy” also has some nice fiddle/banjo work by Jerry Correll and Dale Morris, along with the breaks. There is very nice lead singing by Tiffany Hurt, Adam Steffey, and Samantha Snyder, among others. “Walk Along John To Kansas” has new lyrics written by Jerry Correll and sung by “Fat Albert” Blackburn and more old-time banjo/fiddle duets. The recording closes with a vocal duet on “Say Darlin’ Say” followed by the instrumental “Holly Ding.” If you like to listen to some hybrid old-time/bluegrass music performed by excellent musicians, give this one a listen. (Mountain Roads Recordings, 392 Hwy. 421, Bristol, TN 37620, www.mountainroadsrecordings.com.) SAG