I think every bluegrass band could take a lesson from Blue Highway, and here’s why I think that is: they put the content, and the storytelling, before everything else. And, frankly, storytelling is what this kind of music, if not every kind of music, is really all about. At least I think so, and clearly Blue Highway does as well.
“It’s a similar formula to what we’ve had in the past,” says Tim Stafford of this new album, titled The Game. “It’s mostly original songs—that’s one of the strengths of the band and it has been from the beginning.”
No doubt it is. Indeed, there have been many songs along the way that really stand out in memory, not because of a great lick or grandstanding, but because of the stories that they tell. If you’ve been listening to Blue Highway over the years, all you need are the titles of the songs to bring the emotions and the ideas flooding back: “He walked all the way home,” “Homeless Man,” “Lonesome Pine,” “Before the Cold Wind Blows.”
“A Change Of Faith In Tennessee”
The Game —thankfully, delightfully—brings more of the same. It is another set of stories to get lost within, delivered impeccably. Really. Truly. Fantastic. You know the players, as they’ve been around a while and have played with everybody and won all the awards. Even better, this is a formation that, as is often said, have remained together, without any personnel changes, since they formed in 1994. I can’t think of any other band in the bluegrass world that even comes close. The result is a chemistry, and a level of comfort with who they are, that really sets them apart. The writing, the arrangements, and the deliveries are so crystalline, so mature, that they give you goosebumps. Just when you are drooling over Rob Ickes’ dobro, as on “A Change in Faith in Tennessee,” then there’s Shawn Lane on the mandolin. Then they go back and forth and do it again.