by Roy Streever
It seems like just a few short years ago that I attended a concert at Wilkes Community College. Looking back, I guess it was 1994 or ’95, I was there to see the band Seldom Scene, with new members Dudley Connell, Fred Travers and Ronnie Simpkins making their Scene debut. But, the opening act blew me away, for it was the first time I had heard Blue Highway. I came away with an autographed copy of their CD A Long, Long Road and a feeling of excitement for what would become one of my personal favorites. That first Rebel Records recording was followed by two more Rebel releases and, then, a compilation of “the best of” the first three.
“Seven Sundays In A Row”
Now, after four highly successful Rounder record label recordings, Rounder is releasing on January 19th, Some Day: The Fifteenth Anniversary Collection, which contains thirteen tracks, including nine cuts from previous Rounder releases. The other four tracks are “Some Day,” a holdover from the Rebel days; “Elzic’s Farewell,” from a Rob Ickes solo album; and two new releases: “Cold And Lonesome Lowdown Blues,” and “Bleeding For A Little Piece Of Mind”, the latter co-written by Darrell Scott and Tim Stafford and featuring Scott on lead vocals and guitar.
The nine tracks previously released on Rounder recordings are the title cuts from Still Climbing Mountains, “Wondrous Love”(with guest vocalist Alan O’Bryant), “Marbletown”, and “Through The Window Of A Train”, as well as “Monrobro”, “The Seventh Angel” (guest vocals by Alison Krauss and Sonja Isaacs), “Sycamore Hollow,” “Seven Sundays In A Row,” and “Wild Urge To Ramble.”
I am generally not a fan of “best of” projects, since I usually have all of the albums from which the songs are selected, but this is an exception. For those of you who do not already own any or all of the four previous Rounder releases, this is a must-have addition to your collection. Remarkably, these five musicians have kept this band intact for fifteen years with no personnel changes, and they continue to improve with age like a fine wine. Tim Stafford (guitar, vocals), Wayne Taylor (lead vocals, bass), Shawn Lane (tenor vocals, mandolin, fiddle and guitar), Rob Ickes (vocals, dobro, Scheerhorn Acoustic Slide Guitar), and Jason Burleson (vocals, banjo, guitar, mandolin) are all at the top of their game and have either written or co-written all but two of the selections (“Marbletown” by Mark Knopfler and an arrangement of the traditional “Wondrous Love”). For those Blue Highway fans who already own any or all of the four Rounder projects, the two new selections alone are worth the purchase price. “Cold And Lowdown” kicks off the CD in high gear in the typical, hard-driving, Blue Highway fashion, while “Bleeding” is absolutely mesmerizing. From the first listening, Scott’s lead vocal will lure you in; he sounds like he’s been performing with these guys his whole life. In between, the familiar tunes are in fact, greatest hits, to the extent that bluegrass music has “hits.” Listening to this CD is like going to a concert of your favorite band where they perform all of your favorite songs.
To my ear, none of the re-releases have been re-mastered, but why tinker with perfection. The combination of cuts, together with the new releases, gives the album a new feel. As always the Blue Highway arrangements and harmonies are tight. Their instrumentation is flawless and unique to the musicians. My advice is, come January 19th, log on to your favorite mail-order service or head out to your local retailer and get a copy of this excellent recording.