Review: Lonesome River Band – Outside Looking In

The newest CD from the Lonesome River Band, Outside Looking In, is now in release and as of this writing, it is the number one bluegrass album on Billboard. It comes on the heels of the bands award-nominated Mayhayley’s House. If you are new to the bluegrass genre or don’t know much about the Lonesome River Band, they are Virginia based and formed in 1982, a long run for any band. LRB is ground zero for today’s modern bluegrass sound.

Sammy Shelor is the bands’ leader, bass singer, and multi-awarded IBMA Banjo Player of the Year. He always assembled great musicians as the band changed over the years and former members read like a veritable who’s who in the bluegrass world. His current band is no exception. Lead vocals for the past 12 years is singer-songwriter and guitarist Brandon Rickman, who comes from Purdy Missouri. Mandolin and tenor are covered by the talented Jesse Smathers, a North Carolina native who won the 2017 IBMA Momentum Vocalist of the Year Award. Barry Reed plays a driving “in the pocket” bass and sings baritone. He joined the band in 2010 after playing with Michael Cleveland. Mike Hartgrove, an “as good as it gets” fiddler was a founding member of IIIrd Tyme Out.

Outside Looking In thematically explores heartbreak, betrayal, murder, and prayer: themes often popular in, say, prison. It may dawn on you that only three of the four are legal. Surprising. They should all be crimes except true love, right? Who hasn’t fallen in love and then had their heart stomped flat as a tortilla when your lover betrays you (“Wreck of My Heart” and “Circle of Lies”)? Check. Then to top THAT off his/her memory haunts you everywhere like Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven (“Your Memory Wins Again” and “Little Magnolia”). Check. And now it is time to murder somebody. Sometimes it’s someone who is no good and they just need it (Murder ballad genre: “Outside Looking In” title track). My one unchecked category thank goodness. Then, as required by southern law, a mention of the Civil War (“Casey’s Prayer Book”) and Elvis (“Calling Elvis”). Taken together, Outside Looking In roughly rounds out to a Modern Southern Gothic style–but with an upbeat bluegrassy feel.

I enjoyed many of the songs on the CD. I would have preferred them to go “all in” for Southern Gothic. Also, on the title track “Outside Looking In,” I had a difficult time making out all the words. Since it is a story song, that’s important. But who can argue with success? Outside Looking In is a fine album and stays true to that longtime Lonesome River Band signature sound.

Mountain Home Music

Jon Mark Fletcher

Jon Mark Fletcher is a writer/editor who has played banjo for over 25 years. He is active in the New York bluegrass scene and has been for many years. Originally from Tallahassee, Florida, he plays with John McEuen, Martha Redbone, All Night Cookin’, and many more. Jon has appeared on NBC and worked on the film documentary, “A Night In the Ozarks” with the Dillards. Jon Mark was taught by Scott Engstrom, Alan Munde, and Tony Trishka, He is also an accomplished painter.

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