Stevie Barr

Along the Crooked Road

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First established on record as leader of the bluegrass band No Speed Limit, banjo player Stevie Barr went solo for the 2007 release Along the Crooked Road. It's not a conventional solo album in which the leader plays with a set or nearly set group of musicians, however. Instead, the 21 tracks were recorded with a rotating cast of friends from around his base of Galax, VA. It's not a conventional studio album, either, since -- in the words of Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz in the liner notes -- it was recorded "informally at various locations in contrast to formal or controlled studio settings." Also, while Barr handled banjo on all cuts, and most of them feature vocals, Barr himself doesn't sing, the vocal chores being shared by five of the musicians he used. It's an accomplished, straight-ahead bluegrass album, strongly weighted toward traditional songs. The presence of several different combinations of musicians yields more variety than many traditional bluegrass albums bear, and at times the material gets into gospel, though usually it's in a more standard bluegrass mold. Even the song titled "Viagra Blues," written by Jesse Lovell (who sings and plays guitar on some of the album), turns out to be a fairly unsurprising bluesy instrumental. Some of the other song selections could have been more imaginative, however; it's unlikely many listeners are pining for more versions of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and "Barbara Allen."

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