Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

The Hard Game of Love

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Doyle Lawson's gospel albums have been gradually moving away from the bluegrass mainstream and toward the gospel mainstream; the last one even featured that least bluegrassy of all instruments, the piano. But traditional bluegrass fans who were starting to get nervous will be greatly reassured by this release, which is not only a solid return to straight-ahead bluegrass, but an all-secular program to boot. (On the other hand, if you were looking forward hopefully to a Hammond organ and swaying church choirs, you'll be disappointed.) While Lawson's bands are notoriously changeable, this lineup has been surprisingly stable, and that consistency is reflected in their almost superhuman vocal tightness. But the incredible harmonic blend they've cultivated through years of gospel singing may not be quite as much of an asset in such astringent lyrical contexts as "Nightingale" and the bemusedly heartbroken "Standing Room Only" as it is on more lighthearted fare like "Poor Boy Working Blues." Overall, though, there's really very little to complain about here: the picking is virtuosic without being overbearing, the songs are traditional-sounding but not actually traditional (and therefore not over-represented on other bluegrass releases), and the singing is a pure pleasure, even when it flirts with slickness. And those who prefer the straight gospel stuff have plenty of other Doyle Lawson releases to fall back on.

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