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Longview goes deep again

By John Lupton, April 2008

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The new album does indeed feature material from unexpected sources, a prime example being "The Baptism of Jesse Taylor" by longtime Nashville tunesmith Dallas Frazier. "We got that song from an old Ralph Stanley recording with Keith Whitley singing lead on it, and James just sang the fire out of it. I brought that one to the table, and James was just tickled to have the opportunity to sing it. Lou wanted to play lead guitar on it, and his interpretation of it was sort of a Maybelle Carter kind of approach, and I thought that was quite fitting, to just take it a step farther back than even the Stanley sound, way, way back into the history of traditional music…nothing fancy at all, it's just melody - and good."

Likewise, says Rigsby, the newcomers fit into the instrumental mix like, well, a fiddle. "Ron sliding in on fiddle wasn't a stretch because much like Glen Duncan, Ron is a walking encyclopedia of fiddle playing. There's nothing he can't do on the fiddle, and there's nothing Glen couldn't do. They're both incredible players…Anything you could ask of them they could do."

And Crowe, of course, is simply an iconic presence. "To me, the biggest stylistic change was the banjo slot. J. D. Crowe is a stylist in and of his own right, you know? He doesn't play like anyone else…he doesn't have to play like anyone else, he is a standard-bearer of his own. Joe was (also) a walking encyclopedia of banjo playing, but…he was a big fan of Don Reno's banjo playing (and) Earl (Scruggs). Those were his two big guys. So this record has taken a big turn in that direction because it's got a stylist in his own right…putting his own stamp on it."

As for the bass end, Rigsby alludes to Wilborn's "rock-solid timing" and laughs appreciatively at the native Texan's habit of keeping time with his mouth. "I've had occasion over the years to look back at him, and his jaw is always just keeping a beat. I never have to worry about the bottom end of this thing. And we work together because mandolin and bass play the counter-rhythm to one another."

Though Longview has played relatively few live shows over the years, due in part to the difficulty in coordinating all their schedules, there were times when Wilborn would be absent due to his work with his wife Lynn Morris and, lately, with Michael Cleveland's band.

"I always dreaded those times – not that we wouldn't have a good bass player, we'd always have a good fill-in – but I've always missed having him there. When I knew he was gonna be the guy, it was always a complete joy to me because I just love him as a person, and I just love that solid beat."

Although "Deep In The Montains" was actually more or less "in the can" by the summer of 2006, Rigsby says it was important not to rush the release and wait for the right time. "One thing we didn't want to do is put that record out in a time when it would just come out with a whisper, and last year was a really busy, busy time in the bluegrass industry as far as high-profile releases. We just wanted to put it out at a time when it would get the most bang in the media, and it looks like this is a pretty good time of the year for that type of project, as far as sort of an ‘all-star' kind of project. And there were a couple of loose ends that had to be tied up on it as far as mixing…and we wound up re-cutting one song. We just wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing by putting it out when we chose to put it out."

Continuing with that thread, he acknowledges that unlike "regular" full-time bands, they've never felt the pressure to record or tour on the same basis. "Longview was never intended to be a full-time touring act. In its inception it was intended to be a recording project band only…When we made our first recording, we didn't have any idea that we would play any (gigs), but we enjoyed it so much we ended up playing quite a bit, actually. So we're just gonna kind of let demand dictate how much we play and where, all the while knowing that we can't play a ton because all of us have pretty busy schedules, and it makes us play with a lot of intensity when we do play…We hope the fans receive this record like they did the rest of them and demand that (promoters) get us out to see us play live. That's the whole point."

Of course, like the others Rigsby has plenty of other things outside Longview to keep him busy. As leader of his own band, Midnight Call, he's nearing completion of a gospel release for Rebel Records, he continues to be among the most sought-after producers in bluegrass, and his "day job" as Director of the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State University helps keep bread on the table for his growing family which, he proudly notes, now includes a four-month old son.

He looks forward to fulfilling the contract with Rounder for a fifth Longview project, says they're already selecting material for it, but admits that as he gets older, going into the studio gets to be more of a chore than it used to be.

"But I'll always do it with these guys, because I really like doing it and…they're just total masters at what they do, and when you get to play with the masters, it's such an honor and thrill."

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