Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers
"They're Playing My Song"
Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers are among the many excellent bands that seem to be over-looked when one surveys the bluegrass landscape. They captured the most recent IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year award, an accolade that bodes well for their future given that previous recent winners include The Boxcars, The SteelDrivers, Dailey & Vincent, and the Steep Canyon Randers.
The latest from Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers has its soul firmly entrenched in classic bluegrass sounds, but its musical foundation can be located in country music radio of yesterday. Two of the album's first three tracks- Bottom of a Mountain and Steel Guitar Rag- are reinvented from long ago recordings of Johnny Cash and Leon McAuliffe with Bob Wills, while the lead number, A Blue Million Tears, sounds as it hails from the 50s.
Unlike select current bluegrass outfits, The Radio Ramblers are not afraid to be associated with the music's history. A live take of Katy Daley closes the set while the music of the McReynolds (She Left Me Standing on the Mountain) and Osborne Brothers (a terrific medley encompassing bits of Windy City, Making Plans, Fair and Tender Ladies, and Kentucky) is revisited.
Other familiar songs undertaken by this excellent quintet are When the Snow Falls on My Foggy Mountain Home (from Dave Evans & River Bend) and Listen, They're Playing My Song the track that closed Waylon Jennings's 1967 "The One and Only" album.
Adam McIntosh handles several of the album's lead vocals. His is a versatile voice, capable of carrying a gentle, introspective ballad such as Bill Anderson's Some Kind of War and his own Grandad (The Preacher) as well as the more honky-tonkish title track and A Blue Million Tears. Mike Terry takes lead on a pair of "Home" songs, When the Snow Falls... and Our Old Kentucky Home a song he wrote. As well, he shines on Bottom of a Mountain. All are performances deserving attention.
Without doubt, Joe Mullins is an excellent tenor singer. His voice has been featured with Longview, The Traditional Grass, and The Boys from Indiana, not to mention the previous releases (including the live e.p. of earlier this year) of the Radio Ramblers. When he isn't ably singing the lead on numbers as varied as Moses, Set My People Free, Osborne Brothers Medley, and Lily, he is complementing the vocal efforts of his band members by singing the tenor part.
Instrumentally, the album is superior. Cruisin' Timber lets everyone stretch out a little, while on the vocal numbers the playing is sparkling. As expected on top-flight releases, there isn't a note out of place and nothing is over- or under- played.
Start to finish, "They're Playing My Song" kept this listener's attention. No small feat that, considering the dozens of albums vying for attention. Classic bluegrass sounds in a contemporary package, that is what Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers deliver. If you enjoyed their previous albums "Rambler's Call" and "Hymns from the Hills," you won't be taking any chances by purchasing this recent Rebel release.