The Circuit Riders "Let the Ride Begin" released on Pinecastle, 2006
Gold...In A Way is a (very) semi-regular feature here at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass in which I look back at a bluegrass album that has, for whatever reason, again struck my fancy.
If I've learned nothing else in fifteen years of writing about bluegrass music, it is that bands come and go- no matter how solid the outfit appears, it is the rare band that lasts more than five years.
Since Charlie Waller passed in 2004, his son Randy has attempted to keep the Country Gentleman name alive by performing with various configurations using the Randy Waller & the Country Gentlemen brand.
I have a memory that the final line-up of the Charlie Waller-led edition of the band performed for a while with Charlie's son, but soon parted ways with Randy.
The first mention of the bluegrass band The Circuit Riders I located today (as opposed to a county band with the same name) is from early 2005 when it was announced that the musicians who comprised the final version of Charlie Waller's Country Gentlemen- Darin Aldridge, Billy Gee, and Greg Corbett- had joined forces with veteran guitar player and singer Greg Luck (JD Crowe & the New South, IIIrd Tyme Out) and reso wiz Jaret Carter.
Despite their bona fides, The Circuit Riders produced only a single album, late 2006's "Let the Ride Begin." Several reviews of the album appeared, and according to the various sites that post play lists, the band garnered a fair amount of airplay. Reports that I've read about their live appearances were uniformly positive.
The Circuit Riders were a going concern into 2009, but appear to have broken up by the middle of that year; certainly I couldn't find mention of the group performing following the formation of Darin & Brooke Aldridge's group.
And that is how it goes in the bluegrass world- bands get together, play some great music together, and eventually (for whatever reason) part ways. Nothing unusual, but it seems to happen more often in bluegrass; most likely, that is only because we are so close to the music. I certainly don't notice it when a country band or rock band go their separate directions.
The Circuit Riders' sole recording is a lasting bluegrass treat. My review of the album was originally written for Bluegrass Now in early 2007. Having listened to the album three times this afternoon while researching the band and writing this piece, I am as engaged as I was when it was released. There is a lot of that 'Country' Country Gentlemen sound in their approach, but the album has a lot of different things going on within it- by no means were they a 'one trick' band.
Original 2007 review:
At the 2005 IBMA World of Bluegrass, a cavalcade of superior music was encountered at the numerous showcases, but no new band impressed more than The Circuit Riders. A little over a year later, they delivered their fully-realized debut album, and it is a keeper!
The first sounds one encounters on this strong album are a flurry of resophonic guitar notes from Jaret Carter, setting the tone for the entire listening experience. Unmistakably a bluegrass set from start to finish, the band includes country overtones that accent the traditions contained.
The core of the band comprised the final edition of Charlie Waller's Country Gentlemen, and while one may feel the spirit of Waller in the music, Greg Luck sings in his own, full voice, handling most of the ballad work. "Lonesome Wind" has chart potential, while a rendition of Steve Wilson's "Colder and Colder" is just pure smooth. Sung by Luck, Acoustic Syndicate's "Katie and Burl" has all the hallmarks of a new bluegrass classic.
Splitting the lead vocal duties with Luck, Darin Aldridge brings "Powderfinger," Neil Young's early 70's classic, to the bluegrass world with what the band calls a 'full throttle' take. It is the most engaging appearance within a collection of very strong material. Aldridge sings a handful of songs, including the gospel number "In the Master's Glory."
The only other lead vocal appearance is by Carter; recalling Tim Stafford, he admirably sings "Take Me Back to Old Kentucky," and provides a little extra diversity to the album. Several of the songs feature bluegrass trios including "Mama, What Does Heaven Look Like There" and "Ten Years."
With such vocal prowess, one may overlook the instrumental talents of the quintet; the band presents their music within a spectrum of bluegrass perfection. Sometimes it is an Aldridge mandolin fill that captures the ear, as on "Seed of Doubt." Elsewhere, it is Greg Corbett's banjo work that stands out, with no finer example occurring within a take of the classic "Cold Wind." Even bassman Billy Gee gets a break on "Foggy Mountain Special," but like all great players soon slides unobtrusively back into the background.
"Let the Ride Begin" is only the first of likely a string of satisfying bluegrass projects from The Circuit Riders. I can't wait to see where their trail leads!
As it turns out, their trail eventually led elsewhere, with Darin Aldridge being the highest profile former Circuit Rider, forming a group with his spouse Brooke and having considerable chart success with their releases. As an aside, "Powderfinger" was and may still be a staple of their live shows.
Greg Luck has since played with HeartTown, Darren Beachley, and the appropriately named bluegrass band, Constant Change. I can't find a recent note about Greg Corbett, while Jaret Carter is equally tough to track down. Billy Gee appears to be currently in a band called the Toneblazers, which also features Jack Lawrence.