I grew up playing guitar in rock bands, and though I was aware of bluegrass through the same channels as everyone else (Beverly Hillbillies, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Bonnie and Clyde), I didn’t pay much attention to bluegrass until I heard the Del McCoury band. In the early 1990’s, I owned a guitar shop in Philadelphia and my partner and I hired a drummer from South Carolina to man the front counter while we stayed in the back repairing instruments. Since he had the closest access to the boom box, Russell controlled the music we listened to all day. Russell loved Steve Earle, Guy Clarke and outlaw country bands and played them all day. But one day, he dropped a Del McCoury CD in the changer, I think it was The Cold, Hard Facts, and my life was forever changed. I’m not sure what it was about that CD that struck me; it could have been Del’s voice, the interplay of the instruments or the songs themselves. But from that moment on, I was hooked. I ran out and bought The Cold, Hard Facts and Blue Side of Town and listened to them endlessly. As a sidenote, I also picked up Ricky Skaggs’ Bluegrass Rules at the same time; another CD that stayed in steady rotation.
Since then, I have bought (and nowadays streamed) every Del McCoury Band album as soon as it came out and have never been disappointed. From one release to another, the DMB has been able to maintain their classic sound while adding songs from well outside the bluegrass cannon to their repertoire. They have pushed the envelope by recording and touring with Steve Earle, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. But all through it, they have remained true to form, the Del McCoury Band.
With 2022’s Almost Proud, Del McCoury celebrates a lifetime in bluegrass. At 83, his voice sounds as strong and clear as ever. The band, including Del’s sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo), as well as Jason Carter (fiddle) and Alan Bartram (bass) is one of the tightest bands in bluegrass. Playing together for thirty years, they read each other’s minds and interact seamlessly. There is a level of musicality and maturity that is unmatched by newer bands.
The album opens with the title track Almost Proud, which tells the story of a younger, wild man that grows into a more contemplative elder. Next, Del sings the heart rendering “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” by Kris Kristofferson. “Rainbow of my Dreams” is a Lester Flatt standard, but McCoury adds his signature voice and makes it his own. “My Little Darlin’” by the recently late J.D. Hutchison, sounds like it could have been on Bill Monroe’s setlist in 1946. The driving “Running Wild” is standard fare for the Del McCoury band, a fast burner with great harmonies that could have fit well on the Cold, Hard Facts record that drove me to the band in all those years ago. “Sid” is another barnburner (and no one does these better than DMB), while other highlights include the waltz, “Brown Paper Bag” and “Honky Tonk Nights,” featuring Vince Gill. I also really enjoyed the closer, “Other Shore” an ode to a loved one gone too soon.
“Almost Proud” is another in a long line of great Del McCoury Band albums. As Del ages and his sons move forward with the Travelling McCourys (another great band), I’m not sure how many more records Del will release. But at 83, he can certainly be proud of “Almost Proud.”