Ad Astra Per Aspera

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Don't be fooled by the album's title, which translates "to the stars through difficulties." For his second outing under the name "Bingo," Kevin Richey keeps things pretty down-to-earth. Joined by his Freak Mountain Rambler and former Golden Delicious bandmates, Richey trades the sitar and exotic Eastern textures of H-Om for simple fiddle, mandolin, and pedal steel guitar accompaniment. But Richey makes alternative country uniquely his own. His cover of Elizabeth Cotten's "Oh Babe, It Ain't No Lie" swirls with psychedelic guitars, only to be followed by a sparse banjo-and-mandolin version of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times." Richey's own songs fall somewhere in the vast middle of these extremes. "So Moved" communicates an entire range of emotions using just three lines of lyrics. "Sunset" is a slow shuffle about lost love, lost time, and flying too near the sun. When Richey's baritone breaks into a sweet falsetto during "Walk a Mile," there's little wondering how the song's story will end. A batch of old folk tunes and love songs may seem like a step backwards after Richey's adventurous debut, but that's okay. Sometimes it's necessary to take a step back, if only to get a better (or at least less difficult) look at the stars.

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