Blue Highway

The Game

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Blue Highway have been practicing a delicate balancing act for the past 20 years, paying homage to the history of traditional bluegrass with timeless precision, but while writing strikingly original material that is gently progressive and modern, even though the songs often feel like they came out of the century before. It's a pretty neat trick, and one that Blue Highway continue to pull off with grace and intelligence on The Game, the group's 11th album, released in the 20th anniversary year of the band's existence. All of the songs here, save one, the haunting shape note-sung and fiddle-augmented traditional "Hicks's Farewell" that closes out the album, were written by one or more of the bandmembers, which is part of why Blue Highway are so unique on the contemporary bluegrass scene. They write good songs, songs that are more than mere facsimiles of traditional bluegrass, and there's enough pure country singing in the lead vocals and harmonies of Tim Stafford, Wayne Taylor, and Shawn Lane to almost call what Blue Highway does "pop bluegrass," in the best sense of what that might mean. The Game is yet another fine set that shows off the group's intelligent songwriting and precision playing and singing, from the haunting mountain drone ballad "Where Jasmine Grows" to a pair of bending, swaying, and jaunty instrumentals, "Dogtown" and "Funny Farm." The opener and title tune, "The Game," a roving gambler-styled ballad that sounds older than the Appalachian Mountains but is a completely new song, as much about what is now as it is about what was then, sets the stage. This is the natural and graceful musical balancing act Blue Highway have always done so wonderfully for so long, and as this 20th anniversary release shows, they aren't about to stop doing it.

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