CD Review: Still Learning – The Lonesome River Band

by Rich O’Hanley

Still Learning is the title of the The Lonesome River Band’s latest record, and it’s something I’m still doing, too. First, I owe the Lonesome River Band an apology. For years, without having heard them, due, no doubt, to the terrible radio reception at home, I mistook them for the Little River Band, Australian rockers of a bygone era who are still holding on, somehow. This, I think, isn’t as big a mistake as it may seem. Recall a few years ago when it seemed like everyone released a bluegrass album: Jorma Kaukonen, The Chieftains, Merle Haggard, even Robert Plant did a bluegrass album with Allison Kraus. So, it’s possible that Little River Band did, too, although I wasn’t much interested in hearing it if it existed.

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“Record Time Machine”

Unless you live in a cave, it’s unlikely that you haven’t heard of or listened to the Lonesome River Band. They’ve been around for over 30 years, and even played on Letterman. The band is banjo picker Sammy Shelor, Brandon Rickman singing lead and playing rhythm guitar, Mike Hartgrove on fiddle, Barry Reed playing bass, and Randy Jones, the newest member, on mandolin and vocals.

I’m surprised Still Learning needs a review. Since its 2010 release, it’s won a truckload of awards and hit the top of bluegrass lists, with several songs making lists as singles. I’ve listened to it a lot, and there’s nothing I don’t like. Even though they’re not given credit, I have to believe that most of the band members sing. The harmonies are really solid.

The album features three songs by Brandon Rickman: “I’m Still Leaving,” “Forty Days in the Desert,” and “As Wild as I Can Get.” They cover two songs by country legends–Merle Haggard’s “Red Bandana” and “Goodbye Wheeling” by Mel Tillis and eight other songs. The album’s opens with “Record Time Machine,” a really catchy, up tempo, sentimental tune that’s on bluegrass hit parades. It reminds me a little of Larry Cordle’s “Black Diamond Strings.”

“Forty Days in the Desert” is pulled from the New Testament about the time Jesus spent in the desert and his battle with Satan. Like the Stanley Brothers’ “The Man in the Middle,” it’s shows what a rich source of songs is scripture in the hands of a talented song writer.

Of course, no one or nothing is perfect. “As Wild as I Get” is a sappy song I’d expect from some Country pop singer. The album closes with “Pretty Little Girl,” a pretty little instrumental arranged by Sammy Shelor.

Editor’s Note:  If you want to see the band in concert around here, you’ll have to wait until November 17, 2012 when the HVBA will host the band at Christ Church in Poughkeepsie.


Rural Rhythm Records

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