Heartaches and Dreams: Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice

“Who is Junior Sisk?” I asked Bob Milliken, as he told me the song he just sang was by Sisk. To me, Bob comes up with the best selection of songs I’ve ever heard played at a bluegrass jam, and this one was great. Bob replied, “Junior has a band called Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice.”So I did a little homework and found that Junior has been very successful in bluegrass as a songwriter and singer. Besides his own band he has played with Wyatt Rice and Santa Cruz, Lost and Found, and Blue Ridge. Junior is from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, as are all but one of the musicians in the current configuration of Ramblers Choice. The sound this band embodies harkens back to the sound of the Stanley Brothers, and captured today by The James King Band. Juniors voice is central to the sound of his band. It is intense, full, and strong, and carries the signature sound of the Virginia hills.

Junior’s right hand man, and bass player, is his cousin Tim Massey.   These two have formed the core of the band, and various musicians join them on their two most recent recordings, Heartaches and Dreams, and Blue Side of the Blue Ridge. The first Blue Side of the Blue Ridge quickly became one of my favorite CD’s, with 8 out of the 10 songs earning highest praise in my mind for every aspect; from song content, and tasty licks, to great harmonies. When the newest recording, Heartaches and Dreams, appeared, I was eager to acquire it and do a review. I must say Junior has done it again! This CD delivers the same level of artistry, vocal perfection, and all around musicianship as Blue Side of the Blue Ridge.

“Humble Man”

The songs on Heartaches and Dreams are all strong instrumentally and vocally. The CD starts out with a song by Tom T. Hall called “Train Without a Track,” that grabs you with a catchy rhythm and perfectly executed vocals. It slows to “Humble Man,” sung in a first person context, as an apology for wayward behavior, to someone he loves dearly. I think when you listen to this one you realize how Junior is a master at conveying emotion in his voice. Next, “Working Hard Ain’t Hardly Working Anymore,” is true blue collar blues, and right for the current state of our economy.  Skipping to track six, “The Lowest Valley,” I have to admit I’ve played this over and over.  It’s an excellent gospel song, and the singing is featured with sparse guitar accompaniment.  Track six gives the CD breath halfway through, and from track seven it jumps up-tempo with the title cut “Heartaches and Dreams.” Lastly, the CD ends with a ripping version of a tune made popular by Bill Monroe “Let the Light Shine Down.”

We are very fortunate to have Junior Sisk and Rambler’s Choice coming to play for us in Poughkeepsie on Sept. 4th at the Sugar and Spice Café. I highly recommend both the CD, and the upcoming concert, you can’t go wrong with either.

David Angell

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