Big Country Bluegrass is one of the finest groups working today, and their presentation of roots and hollers bluegrass is as strong as you are going to encounter in 2019.
"Mountains, Mamas and Memories" features a dozen terrific performances, not a single 'skip-it' song in the bunch.
Eddie Gill is a tremendous vocalist, and his solid country voice carries much of the album. "Country Boy, Banjo and Flat Top Guitar,"-BCB's latest charting song-"The Whiskey or the Coal," and "Is This Seat Taken?"-their subject matter foundational to the genre-sound fresh and inspired. "You Can't Buy Your Way Out of the Mines" is a standout.
"Carolina Traveler" is as animated as anything contained on the set. So convincing is Gill's delivery that even a song that is challenging from a sociological standpoint-"Times Were Good When Times Were Bad"-is appreciated. One of Bill Anderson's earliest hits is cranked up-"Dead or Alive" moves like the pursued convict telling this tale.
Sells has a down-home vocal delivery reminding one of Gloria Belle, with a little Delia Bell when she draws-out her rhymes. It is very appealing, and on "Mama's Radio" she sits the listener down directly and vocally constructs around us the old home filled with the sounds of "voices of long, long ago."
A six-person group, Big Country Bluegrass centers their approach about the driving rhythm of bassist Tony King, right out front in the mix. No shrinking violets, here-the Big Country Bluegrass sound is stout, resolute in its traditional grounding.
Tim Laughlin's fiddle weaves in, out, and around just like it should-"The Hills of Caroline" being a bit of a showcase-and John Treadway is no slouch on the 5-string: on songs like "Back to the Mountains" his runs and fills are much appreciated. G-runs abound, as do workmanlike-licks-nothing too fanciful-as Gill and Teresa Sells keep the guitar parts interesting, and Tommy Sells doesn't allow his mandolin to be hidden within these invigorating arrangements. Their songs feature three-part harmony, and the combination of Teresa's tenor and Laughlin's lower baritone is dynamic. Treadway also sings some harmony, proving that the band is blessed with four able singers.
I've seen folks take a narrow, simplistic view that bluegrass is a tired formula, one that has little going for it but a few notes and hokum: recently a writer in a major outlet derided the music, claiming "Bluegrass again? What more can you say about it?"
Country Bluegrass-album after album- prove that bluegrass is as vital and powerful as any of its Americana cousins. "Mountains, Mamas and Memories" is bold and bright, filled with the beautiful bounty that the best of bluegrass offers.