... and 1/2 ... A genuine, sincere & comforting approach to bluegrass and gospel
Playing Time – 44:33 -- SONGS - Redwood Hill, A Place Prepared For Me, I Shall Be At Home With Jesus, Memory Of You, Little Bessie, I Will Trade The Old Cross For A Crown, Bringing Mary Home, One Kiss Away From Loneliness, Lord Don't Leave Me Here, I'll Talk It All Over With Him , Come And Sit By The River, April's Green, Some Day, When I've Traveled My Last Mile, Walking Down The Line
It’s interesting that two recent bluegrass releases, Bill Yates’ “Country Gentlemen Tribute” (on the Mastershield label) and The Country Boys’ “Sing Bluegrass and Gospel” (on the Hay Holler label), both cover the same three songs on their respective albums. The songs in common are Redwood Hill, Little Bessie, and Walking Down The Line. Both albums actually chose “Redwood Hill” (written by Gordon Lightfoot) as their set opener. This reinforces the great impact that the seminal material of The Country Gentlemen has had on many subsequent bluegrass units. Perhaps it’s because the songs are nostalgically soothing and fit the bluegrass repertoire like a pair of old shoes. Bill Yates was directly involved with the late Charlie Waller for 18 plus years, and his entire album is a tribute to capture and recreate the former band’s sound. The Country Boys, on the other hand, are a North Carolina traditional group with over three decades of experience that simply loves the Country Gentlemen’s repertoire (they also cover “Bringing Mary Home” and “Come and Sit by the River”) while also incorporating a healthy share of bluegrass gospel. As a result, the common ground in both projects is the expression of honor, praise and respect in more ways than one.
Bill Yates spent many years playing bass for The Country Gentlemen, but on this tribute album he only sings (lead and harmony). The bass playing is left to Dave MacGlashan. To recreate the historic sound, the SPBGMA Preservation Hall of Greats member assembled some other excellent musicians too -- Mike Phipps (lead and harmony vocals), Darren Beachley (guitar, lead and harmony vocals), Dave Propst (mandolin, lead and harmony vocals), Kevin Mallow (fiddle), Scott Walker (banjo), and Mark Clifton (resophonic guitar). These guys are well-known on the eastern seaboard as members of such fine groups as Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, The Shenandoah Blue Band, and Jay Armsworthy & Eastern Tradition. With four lead and harmony vocalists on the album, it certainly would have been nice if liner notes had indicated who is singing what. However, it is apparently Mike Phipps who provides the stellar vocalizing reminiscent of Charlie Waller’s. Mastershield Records confirmed that it is Mike Phipps singing most of the lead on the project. Yates and Friends succeed in depicting both sound and psyche of the pioneering Country Gentlemen. While some may argue that it’s the original releases that were most pivotal to the genre, it’s also beneficial to revisit that same material with a new updated cast of musicians using contemporary recording technology to recreate a sound from decades before. Another volume is hopefully in the works for future release.
The Country Boys may be best known as a regional band in their neck of the woods, but they display a solid foundation that capitalizes on their collective strengths. Their tempos are a tad more relaxed than Bill Yates’, and their presentation is more methodical. Also in comparison, The Country Boys have more flavoring of old-time mountain rusticity, primarily a function of their vocals and J. A Midkiff’s fiddling. The “Sing Bluegrass and Gospel” album also features a number of lead singers – guitarist Johnny Joyce in that primary role for six numbers including most of the Country Gentlemen covers. Bassist Don Clifton also sings lead on six songs, mostly gospel. For some pleasant variety, it’s a welcome treat to hear mandolinist Kevin Easter on “I Will Trade the Old Cross for a Crown,” and banjo-player Tim Bowman sings lead with a copious amount of enthusiasm and energy on both fast and slow songs, “I’ll Talk It All Over With Him” and “April’s Green.” The Country Boys clearly have a lot of entertainment value, and they seem very content to thrill audiences with music and ministry at fiddlers conventions, festivals, churches, private parties and front porches. While not planned as a commercial venture, The Country Boys’ album is one that will bring much pleasure and joy as we simply appreciate their genuine, sincere and comforting approach to bluegrass and gospel. While neither The Country Boys nor Bill Yates seem to be striving for great commercial success with their albums, it’s certainly heart-warming and reassuring to know that there are bluegrass groups like them. (Joe Ross)