Review: Sideline – Colors & Crossroads

The six members of bluegrass group Sideline include seasoned musicians who have been on the scene since the 1980’s, a few 30 something guys who have had bluegrass in their blood since childhood, and a youngster who plays fiddle so well for his age that I’m torn between being inspired and wanting to feed my fiddle to the hound dogs.  From their first two CD’s, Sideline I and Sideline II, to this one, their third and newly released CD Colors & Crossroads, they have a sound that defines the style of bluegrass that I like the most.  For those of us who were drawn into the genre by its founders years ago, groups like Sideline keep many of us from drifting away from the current scene. They are basically traditional with the added inventiveness heard in the 1970’s – 80’s when second generation bluegrass bands emerged in the DC area and on the west coast.  Add to that the somewhat crisper and creative instrumentals, the slightly tighter vocals, and that is Sideline.  With their distinct sound, and with a new member added who plays resonator guitar, on this new CD they continue to become more impressive.
Bass player Jason Moore along with banjo player Steve Dilling started Sideline 4-5 years ago as exactly that; something to do outside of their regular bands.  It has evolved into a full time effort on par with the best.  The current band members were raised and live in North Carolina (native Californian member Skip Cherryholms now also resides in NC).

Jason Moore, a 23 year veteran bluegrass bass player, joined James King’s band in 1993 and went on to being involved in projects with Michael Cleveland, the group Mountain Heart and many others. He’s been nominated four times for IBMA Bass Player Of The Year.

Steve Dilling first played banjo with Stoney Runn, then The Bass Mountain Boys, then The Lonesome River Band.  His solid banjo playing later became a 20 year staple of Russel Moore and IIIrd Time Out. Now as a founding member of Sideline, his banjo playing and talent as a front man lead their live performances.

Member Brian Aldridge, who first played on stage with his dad Mike in the Bass Mountain Boys, plays mandolin with that seasoned pop and ring and his soulful, energetic vocals give Sideline its strong country flavor.

Younger member Skip Cherryholms, of The Cherryholmes Family (a band that has had five Grammy Award nominations) also worked with Lou Reid and Carolina. Playing since he was 9 years old, some consider Skip to be one of the most under-rated bluegrass guitar players.

Youngest member of the band and younger brother to Brian, is high school student Nathan Aldridge. Simply put, in spite of his young age he plays the fiddle like a veteran, whether he’s playing hot licks or lamenting passages, and his own particular style continues to develop.

Brad Hudson on resonator guitar is the newest member of the band, joining this past summer. He has worked with The Larkins, Don Cox, The Gaithers, Jeff & Sheri Easter, Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road, and Dolly Parton.  He’s been nominated for Dobro Player of the Year and now adds even more to Sideline’s sound.

On two tracks of the new CD, Sideline brings in guests Dudley Connell (an original member of the Johnson Mountain Boys and a member of Seldom Scene) who sings lead on “Unwanted Love” and Aaron Ramsey (member of Mountain Heart) who plays mandolin on “Colors And Crossroads” and “Beggar In Heaven.”  Song credits go to various bluegrass and country artists who have written and/or performed these selections over the past 50 years, except for “Darlin Corey” which is in the public domain.

The CD opens with “Uphill Climb” sung high and lively by Brian with everyone trading fills and splitting breaks. “Colors and Crossroads,” the title track with Brad singing lead, is their tribute to home and the pride they have in it.  The lyrics describe the beauty and patterns found in the Carolina landscape in autumn, and releasing their CD at this time of the year is perhaps a nod to that.  “You Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone” features Brian’s high and mighty lead singing and his brother Nathan’s strong fiddle breaks and Brad’s masterful Dobro. “Beggar In Heaven” is perhaps the most moving song on the CD. It’s the echo of a man who has lived a good part of his years and has come to realize what is most meaningful to him.  Steve Dilling’s rustic vocals coupled with the harmonies and sparse but stark instrumentation are all well suited to make this song the most haunting piece that Sideline has recorded to date, and hours after listening to the whole CD, this is the song that is still in my head.  “Are You Waiting Just For Me,” where new member Brad Hudson sings lead, shows that his voice is a good blend with the band’s harmonies. On “Unwanted Love,” guest singer Dudley Connell’s lead vocal is highlighted by Nathan’s fiddle playing. “Darlin’ Corey” has some new punch added when Brad sings this traditional moonshiner ballad. “Bittersweet Memories Of Home” is a common theme revisited from a new angle, with Brian singing lead. In “The Blame,” a country/bluegrass number, Brad sheds a different light on love lost. Jumping ahead to “This Kind Of Life,” Brian sings a great lead backed by those equally great Sideline harmonies.

“Bittersweet Memories of Home”

Not surprisingly, a Sideline performance or CD wouldn’t be complete without a couple of gospel songs.  Skip, who is a fine vocalist, sings “Lord Of All Men” with energy and conviction.  The last track, with Brad singing lead, is an apt conclusion to this collection, demonstrating the conviction that these men have for their faith.  Whether you believe or not, you’ll know that they do when you hear them sing “I Believe.”

Mountain Fever Records

Garry Moore

Garry Moore was raised in the Watchung hills of New Jersey and began playing folk and bluegrass music at a young age. He attended the University of Kentucky from 1968 to 1973 where he was exposed to real old time fiddle music. He’s been playing for contra dances and shows with various amateur bands for about 35 years and has gone on tour in England as a member of an Appalachian clog dance group. He still works part time in the clock business that he started in 1986. He and his family’s time is split between activities in NJ and in the southern Adirondacks of NY.

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