Bill Emerson / Bill Emerson & the Sweet Dixie Band / Sweet Dixie

The Touch of Time

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Former Country Gentleman Bill Emerson has been playing banjo professionally since the early '50s. The covers of rock and soul tunes he added to his sets since the start of his career prefigured both newgrass, progressive bluegrass, and today's modern bluegrass. Emerson and the band offer a few covers on The Touch of Time, but Emerson wrote most of the tunes here, with a few co-writes with fellow bandmembers. The feel is traditional, even on the covers, and the subject matter tends toward issues of loss, limitation, heartache, and (implicitly) aging, all familiar topics in mountain music. Covers include "My Baby Thinks He's a Train," given a snappy reading by bass player Teri Chism and featuring blazing mandolin work by Wayne Lanham. Chism also takes the lead on Dolly Parton's inspiring love song "You're the Highlight of My Life" and "The Rope," a gospel-flavored Stephanie Davis tune that Martina McBride had a hit with. The ensemble's harmonies give the song a sanctified feel, with Chism's lead full of warm, round sustained notes. Wayne Lanham's instrumental composition "Castle Hayne" reminds one of the Celtic roots of bluegrass with its opening jig, and gives Jenny Obert and Chris Stifel a chance to show off their chops on fiddle and guitar, respectively. "Today I Turned Your Picture to the Wall" sounds like it could be a new standard for the band, a tale of love gone wrong with a strong lyric and a compelling lead vocal from Chris Stifel. Emerson also contributed three instrumentals that allow the band to show off their tight ensemble work. "Home Sweet Dixie Home" starts slowly with Emerson playing solo and borrowing from the melody of "Home Sweet Home," then takes off into a midtempo romp featuring Lanham's mandolin, Obert's fiddling, and the subdued virtuosity of Emerson and guest picker Bill Evans. "These Ones" and "Electric Avenue" are more uptempo, and give everyone in the band a chance to shine, with Emerson showing off his particular prowess with the diversity of sounds he gets out of his banjo on "Electric Avenue."

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