James Alan Shelton has come a long way from the young boy who worked in tobacco fields to pay for his first guitar. In 1994 he brought his distinctive crosspicking style into Ralph Stanley's top-notch band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, and he continues to record the occasional solo effort. On his latest album, Song for Greta, Shelton is joined by a number of friends for a dozen instrumentals and songs. Two self-penned tunes kick off the album, "North Fork of the Holston" and the title track. The first teams Shelton with guitarist Tim Stafford and bassist Barry Bales for a jaunty, joyful pick fest. The remainder of the album features fuller arrangements, with anywhere from four to six players on guitars, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle. From the instrumental make-up and the presence of a piece by Bill Monroe, one might guess that Song for Greta was a bluegrass outing. While the multiple players give cuts like "Faded Love" and "The Sunset Trail" a full-bodied sound, Shelton's approach is more mellow and relaxed. Guest vocalists include Gillian Welch on a lovely version of "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room," Stafford on "Shady Grove," and Ralph Stanley II on "Long Journey Home." Shelton is the glue that holds the effort together, delivering his guitar work with a sure hand on fun pieces like "Scarborough Fair" and "Back Up and Push." Whether one is looking for good music or dependable entertainment, Song for Greta fits the bill. Aspiring guitarists, traditional music lovers, and the curious will want to pick up a copy.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.