by Roy Streever
What a night to write a CD review! A beautiful sunset, the last great weather of 2011, a wonderful cabernet. OK, let’s talk about the McPeak Brothers. Unless you’re a hardcore bluegrass listener and go back a few years, you may have missed these guys. Now is your chance to catch some real nice pickin’ and singing – classic three part brother harmonies, courtesy of Larry, Dewey and Mike presented in their unique style. They’re the type of harmonies and arrangements that make you stop and listen and say, “Who are these guys?”
“You Won’t Ever Forget me”
That was kind of my introduction to this band via Bluegrass Junction on Sirius XM radio. I’d heard Chris Jones spin “Bend In The River” a few times before I started searching on-line for the recording but, alas, it apparently had not yet been released. Then I heard “Simon Crutchfield’s Grave” and searched again: same result. All I found were covers by the band, Rarely Herd. Apparently they heard something they liked, too. Finally the CD has been released and, in addition to the two great cuts referenced above, you can treat yourself to their rendition of Michael Martin Murphy’s “Lost River” (you can start your own debate as to the lyrics of the chorus) and the title cut, written by Larry McPeak.
The fourteen cuts on this release were all recorded between 1977 and 1983, and are drawn from two recordings previously released on the County label, and one on the Rebel label. Guest artists from the County sessions include Jim Buchanon on fiddle and Jerry Douglas on dobro. Two young aspiring musicians provided mandolin: Ricky Skaggs on the first (County) release and Rickie Simpkins on the second. The 1983 Rebel release featured Gene Elders on fiddle and Jeff McKiff on mandolin.
The band never hit it big enough to give up their day jobs and, thus, remained largely a regional band in the Wytheville, VA area. Tim White contributed some great liner notes documenting the band’s history. In addition to the aforementioned cuts, the McPeaks were the first band to record Louissa Branscomb’s “Steel Rails,” a much slower rendition than you’re probably accustomed to hearing (by Alison Krauss and Union Station). Other highlights include Merle Haggard’s “Shelly’s Winter Love,” Pete Goble’s “Back To Dixie,” and Dallas Frazier’s “Shoulder To Shoulder.” What stands out for me, throughout, are the smooth harmonies. Speed is not the featured element of the McPeak brother’s recordings; most are slower paced numbers, allowing the listener to absorb and appreciate their impeccable harmonies.
Oh, did I mention the best part? The selling price: ten bucks! I’d spend ten bucks just to hear “Bend In The River.” Treat yourself. Happy Holidays.