When I was asked to review this book, "High Lonesome Below Sea Level," by Marieke Odenkerken & Loes van Schaijk, I quickly agreed. Having been a bluegrass musician (fiddler for Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys 1965-66), an author ("I Hear A Voice Calling," shameless self-promotion) and photographer, I am acutely aware of the difficulty in producing a book about musicians that balances the writing and photographs to allow each to provide character and insight.

The photos in this book are all portraits of the musicians. But rather than the plastic and contrived album cover shots we so often see coming out of the Nashville music establishment, these images are shot with natural light with a white background and are all in black & white which, to my eye, is perfect for capturing the colorful characters in this book.

Well, it takes some kind of hubris to review an album from a band as successful as the Lonesome River Band, but here goes: this is an album well worth a listen. The band (Sammy Shelor on banjo and vocals, Brandon Rickman on guitar and vocals, Mike Hartgrove on fiddle, Barry Reed on bass, and Randy Jones on mandolin and vocals) is really everything you want in a bluegrass band – sharp, tight picking, lovely vocals and harmony, and great taste in songs.

When it comes to mixing genres you're going to have to decide if this album is bluegrass with a country twang, or high and lonesome country. There is a fine line between good old-fashioned country music and traditional bluegrass, and this album does a great job in straddling it.

Lorraine has been fronting Carolina Road for 15 years now, and not only are all the parts working well together, but the awards and recognition are rolling in; the latest are SPBGMA's 2015 Female Traditional Vocalist of the Year for Lorraine, 2015 Song of the Year for "That's Kentucky," and 2015 Banjo Player of the Year for Ben Green. Besides Lorraine (lead vocals and mandolin) and Ben (bass vocals along with banjo) the band is the award winning Josh Goforth on fiddle and baritone vocals, Tommy Long on lead guitar and vocals, Jason Moore on bass and Brad Hudson on dobro and lead vocals. I have to note that in reading through the band's bios that the James King Band comes up more than once, and that's got to be a sign of the band having a great foundation in traditional bluegrass.

I’m pretty sure that the Hudson Valley has fewer Christian Bluegrass fans than other parts of the country, but I’m sure I’m not the only one here who loves gospel bluegrass songs. And if you’re on the fence – you like gospel or sacred harp but you’re worried about over the top bible-thumping or the kind of intolerant Christian lyrics that we all fear – this may be the album for you. While there’s plenty of old testament God-fearing lyrics, for the most part these are light, optimistic, loving lyrics sung to perfect old-time harmony.

I’ll be honest: before I heard this album I had never heard of Vern Williams and Ray Park. To me, it just sounded like Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick were singing the songs I heard while I was growing up. It was like finding an old Pete Seeger songbook on a high dusty shelf in the library of my new town: suddenly I can hear the soundtrack of my childhood. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience when you’ve heard “Little Birdie,” “Old Kentucky Home,” “Black-eyed Susie,” or “Oh, Susanna.” My 1960’s activist/folk music childhood came back in a (simple) rush.


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