On their new CD, Wild Mountain Honey, Riverbend steers a course sticking close to the traditional bluegrass found on their earlier disc. Populated with strong (mostly) covers of traditional bluegrass tunes from Mac Wiseman, the Delmore Brothers, Bill Monroe and more, Riverbend blends classic and contemporary influences into a strong original sound. The band’s instrumental skills are on display throughout the 12 tracks included here, such as the title cut’s strong Monroe-influenced mandolin solo from Andy Navaro. Resophonic guitarist Blake Korte has mastered much of the pre-Flux sounds of Dobro that recall Uncle Josh on the band’s excellent rendition of “Bad Day With You,” or Mike Auldridge on his solo on “Oval.” Fiddler Thayne Bradford also drops in a strong solo on the band’s original “Oval.”
Riverbend delivers “Steppin’ Stone,” a legendary Jimmy Martin/Paul Williams tune, with best intentions. Here, the vocals approximate the piercing, nasal tenor of the song’s cowriting, hell-raising lead singer, but this falls into the close but no cigar range in capturing the original’s vitality. That’s not the case, however, on “Don’t Let My Ramblin’ Bother Your Mind,” where the band delves into the Delmore Brothers’ repertoire. It’s a highlight of the CD, with nice call and response vocals and slim fit tight brother harmonies.
Riverbend doesn’t take many chances musically, preferring to focus on a strong core sound based in traditional bluegrass. There’s not much original or inventive here, but that’s a deliberate choice. This new CD will appeal to many fans of bluegrass undiluted by modern influences and musical styles. Wild Mountain Honey will certainly please their existing fans, and could be a career milestone for Riverbend. Expect more of the same from this traditional Midwest bluegrass band.