If you think a band carrying the name Wilson Banjo & Co would be a hard driving, banjo based bluegrass band you'd be on the right track. Steve honed his bluegrass and luthier skills while with Gibson in Nashville, and last year released an EP with friends as a way to promote his custom banjos.
When the EP started drawing radio attention it was time to put together a full-time band, in addition to Steve the band is Joey Newton (guitar and vocals), Sarah Logan (fiddle and vocals), Dylan Armour (Dobro), Rob Walker (bass), Brandon Couch (mandolin). And while the band may be banjo driven, there is much fine picking going on with these great musicians.
You'll recognize many of the tunes on this album; "40 Years Of Trouble" and "Catfish John" being the two opening tunes. "Carolina In the Pines" and "Ain't No Grave" also take on prominent places. Most importantly to any band expecting to go places, you can't just cover a tune, you need to make it your own, and this band succeeds quite nicely, adding a fresh spirit and a bit of a punch to all their tunes.
Then there are the harmonies and vocals, with five of the band members singing. Steve picks up on "Railroad Man" and his own well written "Shiner's Mountain." Brandon Crouch takes on the title tune "Spirit In The Hills" and "When He Reached Down His Hand" and makes them shine.
The vocals and harmonies blend well together and stand right up there with the great playing of these musicians, something that not every band can pull off.
"Forty Years of Trouble"
The nicest surprise on this album is Sarah's vocals. Sarah is a "down-east" Mainer attending East Tennessee State University with a bluegrass major (in addition to playing with her dad's band when she's back in Maine). Now, I don't really know how to describe Sarah's vocals other than "non-traditional," or maybe I should say "old-traditional?" There are the ages (and edges) of the hills in her young voice. It's a voice that would fit right in with some of the new alt-string bands, but she brings an timeless wisdom along with her vocals. After my initial double-take I felt right at home, and the band and I both think Sarah has a very bright future in bluegrass.
Keep and eye on this band, I sure expect them to go places. And if you're lucky enough to have the chance to catch them live, don't pass it up!
Mark Hudson is a long time local HVBA member and music lover who, unfortunately, had to move away. He misses the local scene but will look for you at Greyfox!.
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