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Junior Sisk rambles again, by choice

By Rick Bell, June 2008

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"It's my favorite cut. It's the right words that everyone can relate to. It's a little different than what I normally do. I told him, 'I don't know if I can sing it.' We all just loved how it came out. Now we hope the deejays love it too." "Leavin for You" is for the guys, he said. "It's a payback song; I tell the crowd, 'I can say that on stage.'"

The band ends the show with "Steel Rail," which Sisk admits has "a bunch of words," but it's a barn-burner. Yet there's one song that's neatly tucked deep in the album. It doesn't stand out, in terms of it being a bluegrass hit, a foot-stomper or whatever else you might want to call a song. But it holds special meaning for Sisk.

Sisk co-wrote "Man in the Moon" with his father, Harry Sisk Sr. "My dad has written more than 500 songs in his lifetime," Sisk says, who adds that several were included on past Blue Ridge albums. "I'll go in and rearrange them. He says I sing like Carter Stanley.

"Dad doesn't play anymore. He had an old J-45 Gibson, but he won't play in front of me. I try to get him up on stage when he's in the crowd, and he'd do an old Stanley song."

Though the members of Ramblers Choice came together rather quickly, they didn't want to rush into the studio until they felt ready. The song selection fell into place, and the band committed to a regular practice schedule. For six months the band met at least once a week and drilled on a series of new songs as well as cuts from their first record. "Alan Bibey did a lot of that with Blue Ridge," Sisk says. "In a band, there's five different ideas on how to do things. But he had everything mapped out. It's not just weekend picking."

Sisk booked shows while with Blue Ridge and Wyatt Rice, so when Ramblers Choice re-formed, many of the contacts were still there. Promoters don't like to deal with a middleman, he said. They wanted to deal directly with the artist. But that consumes a lot of time, he said. And there's the whole Internet thing, complete with a Web site and a MySpace page. Sisk admits it's all a little overwhelming.

"If I was on my own, I couldn't do it all," he says. Family members are helping with the Web projects, which will ultimately allow them to sell their albums online. Sisk also hired a publicist. "Folks say, 'Man, you've got it made. You do 2 45-minute sets. But they don't know about the 12-hour drive there and back," Sisk says. The first year was hard, he admits. They did about 40 dates last year as they got comfortable with each other. Like a lot of bluegrass artists, construction jobs help pay the bills while music satisfies the soul during the weekend gigs and festivals. That's true for Sisk, who as front man for the band also had to be manager, booking agent and publicist all while trying to maintain his construction job.

The record deal with Rebel also fell into place, Sisk says. Dale Perry, who's now with Parmley's band, gave Sisk a good deal to cut a three-song demo. Sisk then shopped it with all the biggies - Rounder, Pinecastle, Sugar Hill and Rebel, who responded that they'd like to do the project. Sisk met with Rebel President Dave Freeman during the 2007 IBMA festival.

"I've admired Rebel for years," Sisk says. "I have a pile of their records at home. They have a genuine love for this music, and it shows. When I met with (Dave's son) Mark Freeman, it lit a fire under me. They're as excited as we are about this record. They've been right there with us."

Having Bowman produce the album was something of a coup, though he, Massey and Sisk are longtime friends. From bowling to horseshoes to cookouts, they often hang out together whenever they can. "When Ronnie moved to Nashville, we stayed hooked up," Sisk says. "Ronnie produced Wyatt Rice & Santa Cruz. I asked him if he'd be interested in producing this one."

Bowman had just completed his production chores with the Steep Canyon Rangers, so the timing was perfect. Ramblers Choice assembled at Bowman's house and eight days later emerged with the record. Sisk says they also scored a big coup when Rice agreed to engineer the album. "I played with him for three years," Sisk says. "No one has a better ear for music than he does."

Still, as proud as Sisk and Ramblers Choice is of their new album, which was released on Rebel Records in early June, there will be inevitable comparisons to their debut release of a decade ago. "It's going to be hard to keep up with the first Rambler's project," Sisk admits. "But I think this one is right there with it. I have to admit though, it sounds like an old man singing."

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