We at Roots probably have you conditioned by now so that when we say “bluegrass” you know we mean the whole range, from roots to branches. Our all-bluegrass shows generally include a Greensky or a Sam Bush Band, because one of the greatest things about the field is its freedom. It’s one of the ultimate artist-driven, innovation-friendly genres and we’ll always celebrate that. But this week was different – a turn toward bluegrass fundamentalism if you will. It was all trad. No rad. And boy was it excellent.
Sammy Shelor has been leading the Lonesome River Band since 1990 and on he went, laying down the concise, accented rolls and melodic decorations that put the grease on the rails. “Thunder and Lightning” was a righteous song of bootleg whiskey and fast cars. Closer “Bonnie Brown” brought an Irish reel quality and a crushing mandolin solo by Jesse Smathers. He and Brandon Rickman traded off on the impressive lead vocals.
The pulse and pull of old time music is like nothing else, evoking a specific feeling and a certain set of dance steps as well. Little surprise that the Foghorn Stringband cajoled a group of cloggers to hop up and step to. Highlights were Nadine Landry signing high keening French lyrics in a Cajun tune and Sammy Lind offering up “Roving Gambler,” a tune I seem to keep hearing these days.
The polish and spirit of Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers may have been forged at fairs and car lot shows 10 years ago, but its name is apt because it works so elegantly on the radio. They present and project, led by the vocals of guitarist Duane Sparks. Banjo man Joe and fiddler Jason Barie paired off for a clean and driving instrumental “Stella and the Blacksmith.” The closer cranked Western swing number “Miss Molly” up to full bluegrass overdrive.
The trappings of family bluegrass gospel can be too stiff for me in many cases and the music as well. But man, the Isaacs bring loads of cool contemporary thinking and driving soul to their sweet harmony music. Opener “Walk On” roared out of the gate and featured a blazing cajon solo. Sister Rebecca sounded rich as wine on “If That Isn’t Love” and that was before the multi-layered harmony kicked in. The set was paced extremely well (they know their show business as well as their salvation) and it all grew to a heart-stopping finale on “It Is Well.”