The first two times I listened to this CD, I didn’t like it. It struck me as derivative, precious and not particularly interesting. Perhaps that’s because the opening track, “Flowers on the Wall,” hews very close to the original, and I wasn’t sure what Dailey and Vincent were adding to the performance. Then, on about the 3rd or 4th listen, I realized what D & V were up to: not exactly reinterpreting these songs, but allowing the bluegrass format of acoustic music, with its lighter, less enveloping orchestration, to liberate the songs from their heavily produced, Nashville-syrupy originals.
Not only that, but I finally realized something about these classic Statler Brothers songs: they’re often about or in the voice of deluded or disturbed individuals, which the sprightly arrangements can sometimes conceal. There’s a dark undercurrent to the jokey line about the loner who watches Captain Kangeroo, smoking and brooding in his solitude, just as there’s a kind of obsessive unreality to searching across America for a pretty face, seen only once, in “Do You Know You Are My Sunshine.” It took me several hearings to realize the point of the song isn’t sunshine at all, but rather perpetually unrequited and wholly concocted love–a nice lonesome theme for a bluegrass song if there ever was one. (Think Travis Bickle touring with a gospel group.)
“Too Much On My Heart”
That’s not to say that all these songs are high and lonesome; “Hello Mary Lou” and “Thank You World” are celebratory and carefully use banjo and acoustic guitar, respectively, to signal the ebullience of the emotions. That contrasts with the prominent mandolin riff in “Too Much On My Heart,” a wistful and plaintive song that uses mandolin tremolo to evoke a kind of wavering emotion. It’s to D & V’s credit that almost none of these songs pass around the breaks for the different instruments like so many bluegrass bands do; they choose the sound they want and each song tends to highlight different parts of the band.
Let’s be clear: D & V are top-notch bluegrass singers, with the kind of eerily close harmonies usually associated with brother acts (a comparison which they welcome), and the singing and playing on this CD is just about the best that bluegrass has to offer. It might take a few spins in the CD player to hear Dailey and Vincent, rather than the Statler Brothers, but I’ve been hooked, and have heard more in these songs than I think country radio could even imagine.