Review: Summertown Road

Last October while attending the IBMA’s annual convention in Nashville, TN, I heard a group of musicians picking and singing in a lounge area of the second floor of the Renaissance Hotel. I moved closer and found myself captivated by their sound–especially the banjo playing. I watched the white-haired gentleman picking the 5 string with obvious ease and grace, but drew a blank on who he might be. I asked my friend Ron Barnett, standing next to me, if he knew, and he said he wasn’t sure but thought they were from Kentucky. Then Ron asked someone he knew, and whispered back to me, “Jack Hicks.”  Well, the last time I saw Jack Hicks was when he was playing banjo with Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys between 1971 and 1973. Those dates coincide with the years I made annual pilgrimages to Bill Monroe’s festival in Bean Blossom, Indiana. Jack was one year out of high school back then, and, as I recall, had jet-black hair.

Well, he may be older now, but Jack Hicks can still deliver the goods. Together with Bo Isaacs, Jonathan Rigsby and Randy Thomas, they are Summertown Road, and they’ve recorded a terrific debut CD filled with mostly original music. There’s a lot of depth here, things you’ll only notice after repeated listening. And while they’re all steeped in traditional bluegrass music, this group doesn’t sound like anyone else. Jack Hicks is a banjo player’s banjo player, and his playing here is tasteful and solid, with plenty of hot licks ornamenting his solos. Jon Rigsby more than holds his own on both fiddle and mandolin, as well as singing powerful lead and harmony vocals. Bo Isaac is a strong rhythm guitarist and singer, and Randy Thomas anchors it all on the bass guitar. The harmony vocals exhibit great blend between Bo and Jon, with Jack contributing nicely on the trios.

The CD begins with a burner, “If I Win,” and then downshifts to a 3/4 tune “Right Back To The Start.” One of my favorites is “You’re Not Easy To Forget,”  first recorded by Kitty Wells in 1953, and later by Red Allen. The mastery of different time signatures is something often not appreciated until attempted. Summertown Road demonstrates it can do it all.

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“You’re Not Easy To Forget”

A lot of thought went into this project, and this band may have an approach that will resonate for a long time to come.

Highly recommended.


Rounder Records

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