That Just Happened
Produced by Jim VanCleve and Mountain Heart
Recorded by: David Hall
Recorded at: First Ave Sound, Ocean Way Studios, BlackBird Studios, Nashville TN
Mixed by: David Hall and Jim VanCleve
Mixed at BlackBird in Rooms “C” and “F”, Nashville, TN
Assistant Engineer: Brad Bass
Mastered by: Benny Quinn
Artwork by: Anthony Ladd
Logo Design: Richards & Southern, Inc.
Band Photos: Thomas Petillo
Management/Booking: Brian Smith, Leadership Artists, LLC, www.leadershipartists.com
Financial Management: White Hat Management Services
This project was recorded exclusively using DPA Microphones.
Please visit the band at:
Mountain Heart endorses: D’Addario Strings, DPA Microphones, Honest Abe Log Homes, TKL & Cedar Creek Cases, Vietti Chili and French’s Boots & Shoes
Jim VanCleve & Jason Moore play NS Design instruments
Aaron Ramsey plays Daley Mandolins and Blue Chip Picks
Barry Abernathy plays Huber Banjos
Jake Stargel plays Collings Guitars
Josh Shilling plays Henderson Guitars
John Cowan appears courtesy of E1 Records
Bryan Sutton appears courtesy of Sugar Hill Records
Eddie Bayers appears courtesy of his bad self
That Just Happened
If continuity is your watchword - if you fall hard for bands at first listen and pray they don’t change too much, then friend, Mountain Heart is gonna break yours. In a genre once noted for its conservatism, Mountain Heart has been on a ten-year, freewheeling acoustic adventure. The energy and vision to achieve this without spiraling into oblivion has come largely from the two musicians who’ve been there from the beginning: fiddler Jim VanCleve and banjo player Barry Abernathy. When they launched in 1999, Mountain Heart was a straight-shooting bluegrass band. As personnel shifted (bringing in current bass player Jason Moore and a couple of guitar hotshots), the sound grew more aggressive, sometimes even transgressive, as they made several high-energy albums that further defined their unique place.
And then along came Josh.
Many of us first heard Josh Shilling on Mountain Heart’s thrilling 2007 live album The Road That Never Ends. And it was something of a brain twister. The band’s whip-crack rhythm and power was all there. But now the Mountain Heart sound was capped by a voice that echoed not of the mountains but of Memphis or Muscle Shoals or Macon, GA. And in a gesture not at all designed to make bluegrass die-hards profess endless love, he played keyboards.
One resists putting too much emphasis on any one guy in a band that’s always drawn on everyone’s ideas to make a larger whole (and still does), but there’s no denying the transformation Shilling has enabled, with his multi-instrumental skills, his diverse musical background and most of all his gigantic, soul-stirring, southern rocking voice. No one could have predicted that it was Mountain Heart’s destiny to be a bluegrass/soul/rock/R&B/funk fusion band, but there you go. Inevitably, such a unique sound and attack is going to ruffle some feathers in the world from which they came, but they’re already capturing the imagination of a large number of new fans out there who’d otherwise never have given bluegrass two thoughts.
Today’s band is loaded with chops and flush with youth. Shilling is just 27 years old. Mandolinist Aaron Ramsey is two years younger. Newest is guitar phenom Jake Stargel, who signed on when he was not yet 20. In this versatile and adventuresome group, VanCleve (still just 31) and Abernathy are now the wise veterans, and they may finally have bandmates who are even more relentlessly creative than they are.
This recording reflects the first studio effort by this new and ready-to-rock version of Mountain Heart. There are some impressive contributions from friends, vocally from John Cowan and guitarishly Bryan Sutton for example, but this compact, sporty, seven-song project is really about the amazing range of moods and textures of which Mountain Heart is capable.
The title track, penned by Shilling and VanCleve, builds from a whisper to a roar, with a brazen, get-involved chorus worthy of a big arena show. Its soundscape is huge, with keys from Josh and drums from the legendary session man Eddie Bayers, but with enough acoustic wood-and-wire integrity to be kind of miraculous. And fear not, bluegrass mavens, because the hearty “Little Sadie” that follows is a ripping take on a classic, as well as an homage to the legendary Tony Rice, who has spent much of the past couple of years touring as an honorary member of Mountain Heart.
Then, a nice, sharp turn. “Even If It Breaks My Heart” puts Shilling back in front, with a shapely ballad that some could mistake for a lost Vince Gill track. This wistful song of letting go takes full advantage of Shilling’s piano and nuanced voice, while rebuking country radio programmers who’ve argued for years that acoustic music can’t sound big enough for their airwaves. They would do well to reconsider. Up next, “Same Old Heartache” taps the drive that helped Mountain Heart land opening slots for Lynyrd Skynyrd, while Barry Abernathy takes a vocal turn on “Just Get Up And Go,” with a dark angst that one can’t learn anywhere but bluegrass school.
The disc closes with two songs that have become central to Mountain Heart’s live show and new-era attitude. “The Ride” is an operatic drama starring a certain ghost of country music godhead. And then there’s the roof-raiser, a cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post.” With its vocal heft and jam-worthy architecture, this re-imagined classic is the song that now typically seals the deal with audiences experiencing Mountain Heart for the first time.
This EP should be remembered as more than just a new chapter in the band’s career - more like the beginning of book two in a trilogy. Going forward, a lot is possible with this configuration and its huge range of skills and gifts. They still have that bluegrass-inspired name and bluegrass woven into their DNA. But they also have the ambition to jump fences and the daring to pull that off with style and infectious passion. It would be a mistake to think of the band as the “future of bluegrass,” but they are already key players in a new American music-scape where bluegrass finally gets its fair place in the mix.