Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Earls of Leicester.  The Earls of Leicester.
Rounder Records, 2014.  Jerry Douglas:

We reviewed Traveler, Jerry Douglas’ last album, a while back, and he’s been a busy boy since then.  Between the Warren native’s Transatlantic Sessions series with Aly Bain (If we can afford them all, we’ll review the lot), his triple dobro work with Mike Aldridge and Rob Ickes, his session work with various folks, and who knows what else in the last couple of years, he seems unstoppable.  Here he has assembled a group of bluegrass and Americana giants to pay tribute to Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys.  A more traditional project than we might expect from Douglas, this still makes sense.  These musicians were all profoundly influenced by the original sounds created by this dominant bluegrass machine of the 1940s-1960s.  Heck, Johnny Warren is the son of FMB fiddler Paul Warren, so as Ronnie McCoury, who provides the liner notes to the album says, “It’s in the genes.”  

This album contains fourteen tracks, but it seems like less.  The music just flows, and it’s easy to get lost in.  All tunes are from the FMB catalog and they’re all familiar if you’re a bluegrass fan, but they’re not necessarily the usual songs one might expect.  No “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” or “Cumberland Gap” (much as I’d like to hear them).  In fact, not a single tune here is found on the classic Complete Mercury Sessions album, but the FMB catalog is a deep one, and they had plenty of choices.  There’s not a single clunker in the batch here, and the band is tight and expert at every turn.  They bring forth the sound of the FMB, but don’t just reproduce it.  These guys are of a different generation, and while their hearts can be found in the most traditional of bluegrass styles, they can’t help but make the sound a bit more modern.  The arrangements are slightly different, the vocal harmonies a bit updated, their playing influenced by so many changes in music since the FMB were making music.  Of course, the recorded sound is top quality.  They sound traditional, but their playing and singing is influenced by but not restricted by the gentlemen they revere.  Shawn Camp is a fine vocalist for this project, and every musician is to be congratulated on his contributions.  

If you’re searching for classic bluegrass, you won’t go wrong with this album.  Jerry Douglas has done a spectacular job of putting together this tribute.  I’m just not sure why they chose their band name.

Personnel:  Shawn Camp; (lead vocals, guitar), Charlie Cushman (banjo, rhythm guitar, lead guitar on “Who Will Sing for Me”), Jerry Douglas (dobro, vocals, producer), Tim O’Brien (vocals, mandolin), Johnny Warren (fiddle, bass vocal), Barry Bales (bass, vocals).
Tracks:  Big Black Train, Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down, I’ll Go Stepping Too, Till the End of the World Rolls ‘Round, Dig a Hole in the Meadow, Some Old Day, I Won’t Be Hanging Around, I Don’t Care Anymore, On My Mind, You’re not a Drop in the Bucket, Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, The Wandering Boy, Who Will Sing for Me.

Jeff Wanser

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