James Reams & the Barnstormers know how to fill a song with mountain soul. Take the first few notes of "Freight Train Blues." Mark Farrell hits several low, bluesy notes on his fiddle, perfectly setting the stage for Reams' deep country vocal. This authentic playing and singing isn't a put on or a product of the latest neo-traditional upstarts. Reams grew up in London, KY, on a farm near coal-mining country, but was later transplanted, like many rural farmers, to the North. Music became the best way to preserve his roots. A flavor of rural life can be discerned in lyrics like "Cigarette in the morning/Cold coffee at noon/Bourbon at quittin' time/I'm digging my tomb" from "Coal Dust in My Soul." Instrumentals, including the title cut and "Black Mountain Blues," give fiddler/mandolin player Farrell and banjoist Mickey Maguire a chance for spirited picking. Originals like "Buffalo Creek Flood," along with classics like "Black-Eyed Suzy," hark back to the '40s, capturing the traditional bluegrass sound. The band also remembers their mountain roots by including gospel-tinged numbers like "Is She Praying There?" and "Dogwood Tree." After a number of years of performing in the big city (New York) and making appearances at a number of festivals, the band plays and harmonizes as a unit. Barnstormin' succeeds as bluegrass ready for prime time, sure to please fans who enjoy the real thing.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.