by Rich O’Hanley
“Enter highway. Drive more than 2000 miles.”
And so begins the Dixie Bee-Liners concept album, “Susanville.” The concept is a road trip, but this isn’t Leon Copas or C.J. McCall telling epic tales of the road. There aren’t a lot of songs about trucks, or truck stops and diners, or truck stop girls, although there are token songs such as “Truck Stop Baby,” “I Need Eighteen Wheels” and “Trixie’s Diesel-Stop Café.” The concept is way too high a trajectory for me. In fairness, there is a tag line of this CD that reads, “Every car on that highway has a story.” So, maybe it’s just eavesdropping on conversations, laments, internal monologues, rants, etc. It surely isn’t like National Lampoon Road Trip, either.
Sometimes you listen to a song or an album and it totally knocks you out. Other times, you’re grateful that you borrowed it and didn’t lay out any hard-earned cash. This album didn’t initially knock me out. I was expecting a bluegrass album and although the Dixie Bee-Liners are a solid bluegrass band, this album defies easy categorization. It’s like a contemporary folk album in the sense that someone like Dave Alvin does folk albums. This is not a bad thing. After listening to this several dozen times, it’s clear the band stretches bluegrass, or the use of bluegrass instruments, in the right directions.
“In 100 yards, turn back,” the GPS instructs.
The core band is Brandi Hart, Buddy Woodward, Rachel Renee Johnson, Robin Davis, Jeremy Darrow and Casey Henry. They all have an impressive list of bluegrass credentials. They play and sing well with great arrangements of original songs. In addition, they are really talented supporting players.
Once I stopped trying to figure out the narrative of the ‘concept,’ and just listened, I decided this is a pretty good album. There are a couple of songs, especially “Restless” and “Find Out,” that have made it to my MP3 player. “Albion Road” is an instrumental that’ll please any bluegrass fan. “Trixie’s Diesel-Stop Café” evokes a ‘50s era female country singer, complete with pedal steel and Telecaster. I bet they’d be really good live at venues such as The Towne Crier in Pawling, NY, or Turning Point Music Cafe in Piermont, NY, which don’t stage much bluegrass.
“GPS signal lost” announces the GPS.
In general, I think the arrangements are better than the lyrics, which mostly seem moody and introspective, or downright silly, as though the lyricist was desperately searching for words that rhyme.
On a 1980’s teen television show, American Bandstand, the host, Dick Clark would ask what one of the kids thought of a new song. Invariably the comment was, “It’s got a good beat. You can dance to it.” So, ultimately a review is subjective: play instruments well, ✓+; sing well, ✓+; harmonies,✓+; arrangements, ✓+; original songs, ✓-.
“Arrive at destination” is the last GPS announcement.