Having flipped out for High Fidelity after seeing them at the Joe Val Festival in Framingham Mass. in 2019, I was eager to review their new CD Banjo Player’s Blues. At Joe Val I felt they were the most exciting new band since the Johnson Mountain Boys in the 1980s.
The new CD does not disappoint – in fact they have raised the bar in every way since their last CD Hills and Home (which I reviewed for HVBA). If their music was “driving” last time I heard them, now they are driving and “sparkling.” Each and every member is an instrumental whiz of the highest order, and their singing and arranging is at the top of the heap in traditional bluegrass style. And what especially pleases me (as an old timer) is their reliance on older uncommon songs that are far too good to be left in the archives. Charlie Monroe’s “Banjo Player’s Blues” alone is enough to endear this CD to me!
Their big feature is twin banjo playing in the extremely difficult Don Reno and Allen Shelton styles. Jeremy Stephens and Kurt Stephenson are the unquestioned kings of PERFECT high speed, tricky twin banjo breaks. Really quite breathtaking if you’re a banjo picker – it’s hard to even imagine how disciplined these two guys must be to work out these amazing duets (let alone their individual solo mastery). “The South Bound Train” is an old Jim & Jesse number driven mercilessly by the banjos. “Turkey in the Straw” is the old favorite led by Corrina Rose Logston’s hoedown fiddle, but the twin banjos will make you slap your forehead. “Feudin’ Banjos” is done in the original style of Don Reno and Arthur Smith with 5-string and tenor banjos. High Fidelity manages to just slightly out-sparkle the excellent cut Rob McCoury did of this tune several years ago on his 5 String Flamethrower CD.
All my raving about the banjo picking shouldn’t overshadow the EXCELLENT old style “hot” bluegrass fiddle of Corrina Rose Logston. Wow! She plays an aggressive style from the 1950s. Her teacher was Jim & Jesse’s great fiddler Jim Buchanan.
Daniel Amick blisters the mandolin and lead guitar. At that Joe Val show he also stood in for Kurt Stephenson on twin banjos. He recently won an IBMA Instrumentalist Momentum Award. No doubt why.
Vicky Vaughn plays the old style Nashville bass fiddle featuring not only top-of-the-beat rhythm but also notes and runs that you just don’t hear any more in bluegrass. Jeremy Stephens plays most of the rhythm guitar on an old Gibson Southerner Jumbo guitar, and he makes wonderful big bass runs like Red Smiley, Charlie Waller and Charlie Monroe.
“You Made The Break”
High Fidelity’s singing takes no back seat to their picking. Husband and wife Jeremy and Corinna Rose sing excellent COUNTRY duets (her tenor vocal tone is often easily mistaken for a male tenor, if you can figure out what I mean by that — she’s no “swooper” or “warbler”). The obscure “You Made the Break” and the old favorite “Take My Ring From Your Finger” stand out among their duets. They form up great trios in different ways, notably “Dear God” with Corinna Rose and Vicky supported by the male low tenor voice. The jam session favorite “Helen” gets a great treatment from their “standard” bluegrass trio. Their gospel quartets are especially fine – they don’t stick just to the expected Blue Grass Quartet style – they honor the older Chuck Wagon Gang style sometimes led by a female soprano lead. “His Charming Love” is a highlight.
In everything they do musically, they are not only driving and sparkling, but PRECISE, indeed “polished”. Yet their music does not sound cautious or careful; frankly it’s joyous. Traditional bluegrass comes naturally to these young people. High Fidelity is as good as anything I’ve heard in bluegrass in this century. The closing cut on the CD “Got a Little Light” is a smoking upbeat gospel duet that I had never heard, but it makes me think of Flatt & Scruggs or the Lilly Brothers doing “The Girl I Love Don’t Pay Me No Mind”. It feels great!
The CD is very well produced and engineered. The packaging and art work are also very fine. Rebel Records has a real winner on their hands here. Expect to hear lots of this fine music on bluegrass radio. I expect nominations for 2020 awards! Highly recommended. BUY THIS CD, and I guarantee before you finish your first listening, you’ll bust out an instrument and start playing along. When live shows start up again, seize any opportunity to see High Fidelity.