In 2010, Josh Williams received the most prestigious honor in his long career: the International Bluegrass Music Association's "Emerging Artist of the Year" award, despite the fact that he'd been playing professionally since he was ten. To make things even stranger, he hadn't even issued a recording under his own name in five years. The work for Down Home began for Pinecastle in 2006, and was scheduled for a February 2009 release. However, due to the failing health of owner Tom Riggs, the label shut down and the disc was shelved. Rounder eventually purchased it. Williams produced the set himself, and chose 12 songs that range from traditional bluegrass to old-school country, written by legendary songwriters: Jimmy Martin, the Delmore Brothers, Tom T. Hall, Flatt & Scruggs, Vern Gosdin, Tommy Jackson, and Carl Jackson, to mention a few. Williams plays guitar, mandolin, and banjo, and sings lead in his open tenor. He is backed by an all-star unit that includes alternating bassists Mickey Harris and Tim Dishman, banjoists Greg Cahill and Aaron McDaris, fiddlers Jason Carter and Stuart Duncan, guitarist Randy Kohrs, and pedal steel boss Doug Jernigan. There is also a guest performance by Tony Rice on the stellar, swinging “Blue Railroad Train.” Rage bandmate Rhonda Vincent provides harmony vocals on three of the albums best cuts: opener “Lonesome Feeling,” “Kodak 1955,” and “Polka on the Banjo.” Tommy Jackson’s “Cherokee Shuffle,” features Williams on all three of his instruments backed by Duncan and Harris in a dizzying display or musicianship. The uptempo bluegrass reading of Homer Joy's classic “Streets of Bakersfield” is presented in a striking arrangement with Kenny Ingram on fiddle juxtaposed against Jernigan’s steel. Williams' playing throughout is typically astonishing. Though capable of throwing down with the very best on any of his chosen instruments, he never plays more than necessary to get a song across. Check the title track written by Carl Jackson; it’s a ballad with wonderful interplay between Williams' guitar and mandolin, Duncan’s fiddle, and Jernigan’s steel; the harmonies by the author, Williams, and Tina Adair are deeply moving. Down Home is the fulfillment of the vast potential Williams has shown throughout his career as both a sideman and a solo artist.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek