Did they have a particular theme in mind for this album?
"We wanted to try something different," states Shiflett. "Our sound has kind of evolved into where we're more of a country band playing bluegrass instruments. We wanted to do country, honky-tonk and bluegrass all combined album. Trying to appeal to as many people as we could that liked those different kinds of music."
Outsiders may find it hard to believe, but mixing honky-tonk with bluegrass is a somewhat controversial in purist circles. So is the band's subtle use of a snare and kick drum, which supplements the percussive slap of the upright bass.
"Sonny Osborne (of the legendary Osborne Brothers), who wrote the liner notes of our new album, and I were talking," says Shiflett. "It was after the fact, and I told him that we were no longer using the snare because of personnel changes. So he said, 'Well, I'm glad you're not.' I said 'Why?' 'Because you didn't need it to start with.'"
One thing Shiflett felt they did need was radio exposure, and he hopes guest star Lauderdale can help generate some with his recording of Jenkins' "How Wrong A Man Can Be."
"Actually, we weren't there at the same time," says Shiflett of the recording process. "When we cross paths with him, Jim always says what a big fan he is of our music. Of course, we're fans of his music as well - he's a great songwriter. So, I just called him up and said, 'We've got a song that we wrote, and we feel like it would really fit you, and we'd like for you to do it on our album.' Then, we went in and got the song just like we would have done if he hadn't been there. I had done the lead vocals originally. He came in, listened to the way I had done it, then put his style to it."
Although Shiflett feels the business end of things is not a natural fit for him, he is encouraged by bluegrass music's recent popularity spurt.
"I think bluegrass music is probably bigger now than it ever has been. A lot of it has to do with the exposure it's getting. The 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?' movie, Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless, people like that. I thought Ricky Skaggs was very wise. When he was doing his country thing he always included one or two bluegrass numbers. So, when he went back to bluegrass, he automatically had that same fan base. There's a lot of people in bluegrass that don't agree with that, but I think that's what helped with the growth of bluegrass - the exposure through people like Skaggs and Dolly Parton."
"So, even where we're at, it's helped boost our pay and helped increase our dates. It's just an ongoing process. We're making more money than we ever have per show."
Despite this upturn in fortunes, Jenkins left to attend a firefighter academy, and founding member Lindley seems content to work in an insurance office. "It's just hard for a married person to commit himself to being gone that much," reasons Shiflett. "I'm not saying it can't be done. It takes a lot of work and a lot of trust and discipline. Everybody's single in the band now, so now it's pretty good."
Indeed, with album release concerts on the horizon, the bandleader broke his solidarity with Texas musicians and enlisted the aid of some rather formidable Kentucky talent.
"Wes Vanderpool is playing the banjo," says Shiflett. "He's been wanting that job for a long time, and that's who Jake wanted to have it if he ever left. Wes was formerly with the Wildwood Valley Boys. Shane Bartley is playing the mandolin. His last group was David Petersen and 1946. Before that he was with Rarely Heard, and he spent some time with Lost & Found. He's been around the block a few times. The fiddle player is named Matt Arnold, and he was formerly with David Petersen and 1946."
When asked how the new line-up is working out, Shiflett sounds positive. "Good, good. My son is still with me, and Andy Ruf the Dobro player is still with me. So, with banjo, mandolin and fiddle, we've got three new additions. It takes a while to get all the material worked up. We're doing some album release concerts here, and we really don't know all the material, like what's on the CD - not as well as Jake, Randy and Chuck knew it. It's a little difficult to pull some of that off at the present time, but hopefully as we work into it, we'll get better."
Yet, the band still does Jenkins' material, and Shiflett seems to be leaving the door open for his return. "I've culled a lot of the songs he wrote and was holding them back for later albums," admits the group's head honcho. "There's enough material that he's wrote for another 10 albums."
Whether the new line-up works out or Lauderdale's contribution gives them a radio foothold or not, Shiflett is resolute about keeping the show on the road.
"We're still at it and hopefully here to stay for a while. I'm into it more as a career than I am for the big lights and the awards and all that. Our music should speak louder than words. So, when it affects you, touches your life and makes you smile or whatever, that's what it's all about."