The five members of Gravel Road, a youth bluegrass group “hailing from the Floyd/New River Valley area of Southwest Virginia,” look so young you’d expect to see them standing outside the middle school gym at a chaperoned dance. The anchors of the group seem to be guitarist/singer Nick Weitzenfeld, mandolinist/vocalist Addie Levy, and banjo player Adam Bishop. Bassist Jared Houseman and fiddler Lydia Bowman are newer to the game but already capable of holding up their share of the blend.
On their newly released CD First Time Around, the band attacks a variety of material, some newer songs, some old, but all in the traditional vein of mountain gospel, bluegrass, and old-time. One of my favorites is a sprightly “Winter’s Come and Gone,” sung by Addie Levy and written by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Weitzenfeld plays some especially tasty breaks on the guitar; mandolin and banjo also shine. The girls’ vocals are as green and yearning as a baby sparrow trying to flutter out of a high nest. In contrast, “Blue Ridge Mountain Girl,” features a smoky Son Volt-like vocal sung by Nick Weitzenfeld.
“Winter’s Come and Gone”
The group shows off their instrumental chops on favorite, “Old Joe Clark,” and dig in very nicely on the traditional locomotive-driven “Reuben’s Train,” which features some tasty minor/modal turns. Banjoist Bishop is a Scruggs-picking force throughout, especially on a short romp through the Stanley Bros. “Pig in a Pen.” Fittingly, “Ashokan Farewell” is the last tune on the disc, and is given a sweetly elegiac turn by fiddler Bowman, who plays solo until Weitzenfeld’s guitar slides tastefully in beneath, providing supportive rhythms and a tender break of his own.
On the wide spreading tree of American popular music, some branches may wither and eventually die, while others keep sprouting new buds. Since breaking through with Bill Monroe in the forties, bluegrass (and its predecessor, old-time) have inspired generation after generation of youngsters–some prodigies, all enthusiasts. It goes without saying that the five kids on First Time Around are worth watching and waiting on: and they’re coming down that Gravel Road fast!
GRB Sound Guy: For more on Gravel Road, go to www.gravelroadbluegrass.com. CDs are available on the web page and they have a great Electronic Press Kit on the web site for those interested. Testimonials from Jeff Brown, Junior Sisk, Balsam Range and more.