All I can say after listening to this album is: finally.
Finally, Justin Moses has struck out on his own and defined his vision, skillset, and identity within the bluegrass genre. Finally, Justin Moses—who a lot of my picking pals until recently referred to as Sierra Hull’s husband—has a modern, full-length album to stand out among his long list of accolades. Finally.
This album is more than another feather in the cap of a multi-instrumentalist whose achievements include a credit on Dan Tyminski’s 2009 IBMA “Album of the Year” winner, Wheels, as well as two IBMA dobro player of the year awards for 2018 and 2020—not to mention his membership in some of the acts that define modern bluegrass.
For the uninitiated, Justin Moses is a proper multi-instrumentalist. He plays killer banjo, fiddle, dobro, mandolin, and guitar better than most of us could ever hope to play just one of those instruments. But his incredible range doesn’t stop there, as his songwriting chops are also top-notch—as you quickly find out by listening to Fall Like Rain.
This album isn’t Moses’s premier record, however: his first outing, Dusty Roads, received praise upon its release, and I still listen to it when I have a hankering for mid-2000s bluegrass. But the man has obviously evolved musically in the last decade and a half, which is why I was so excited when I heard about his upcoming sophomore effort.
Fall Like Rain is full of rich songwriting, luscious instrumental musings, and innovative performances by its entire cast. It perfectly showcases the huge musical range that Justin Moses commands. The ten cuts on the record evoke so many of his contemporaries—from the plaintive stylings of Jordan Tice and Sarah Jarosz to the relentless drive of Jake Workman and Russ Carson—that it’s undeniable that Moses has a keen finger on the pulse of modern bluegrass. He’s clearly a great listener as well.
This album really surprised me with a true first in my many years of bluegrass listening—the sound of an oud! The nylon-stringed lute cousin kicks off the album’s fourth track, “Walking to Lebanon.” That’s definitely not something you hear every day in this genre.
Besides being full of surprises, this album also features great collaborations with musicians who clearly mean a lot to Mr. Moses. One of them is his wife of three years, Sierra Hull, who lends her mandolin picking efforts to this year’s first great instrumental ear-worm: “Taxland.” The pair play the swing-inspired tune with such great fleet-footed proficiency that their solos blend together, as if only one mandolin is in action rather than two.
My favorite cut off the album is a lush trio between Justin, dobro player Jerry Douglas, and Blue Highway guitarist Shawn Lane entitled “Looking for a Place.” This song is a perfect example of how bluegrass can be just as good in its most relaxed moments—with just a dobro, a pair of guitars, and a pair of voices—as in its most brash and energetic tours-de-force.
Speaking of great guest appearances, Fall Like Rain has plenty more up its sleeves. “Between the Lightning and the Thunder” features that good old Dan Tyminski, who brings a hearty helping of his powerful vocal stylings that made him a standout member of Alison Krauss and Union Station—a notable achievement given that AKUS was a group of standout members. Later in the album, Del McCoury lends his efforts to “My Baby’s Gone,” a harmonically playful song with masterful singing and instrumental solos.
Fall Like Rain is definitely 2021’s first bluegrass smash-hit, with every song finely crafted to showcase both Justin Moses’s abilities as well as those of his collaborators. It’s the rare album that feels detail-oriented without sacrificing a solid sense of fun—a compliment I usually point in the direction of Bela Fleck, so you know this album’s gotta be good.
Mountain Fever Records