Summertown Road

Summertown Road

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Summertown Road Review

by James Allen

In an era when the term "bluegrass" is too often applied to pretty much anything with a fiddle and a mandolin, it's heartening to know that not only are there still some trad-bluegrass vets out there keeping the classic bluegrass sound alive, but there are new groups coming together to make sure the old-school style of bluegrass keeps on going in years to come. The debut album of Summertown Road shows the quartet to be very much in the latter camp. Most of the band hails from Kentucky -- ground zero for the high, lonesome sound -- and the members have some pretty impressive pedigrees, which include work with everyone from Ralph Stanley to Bill Monroe and Jim & Jesse. The sound they create on their first outing is steeped in the world of the Monroe Brothers, the Stanley Brothers, et al, but most importantly, Summertown Road is full of distinctive stylists. In a genre where you stand or fall by how well you swing your axe, they're solidly ahead of the game. Banjo man Jack Hicks in particular turns out to have one of the most original styles to appear in the trad-bluegrass scene in some time -- visceral and full of surprises as well as technically impressive. True to their Kentucky roots, the harmonies of guitarist Bo Isaac and fiddler/mandolinist Jonathan Rigsby ring out pure and clear. Most of the tunes here are originals penned by the band, and they mesh perfectly with Summertown Road's tradition-minded sound, the only misstep being "Two Medals," which ventures too far toward a folkie, newgrass ballad style. Rounding things out with songs learned from the likes of Tom T. Hall and Bobby Osborne, this promising debut offers hope to those who fear for the continuing good health of bluegrass in the 21st century.

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