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Blue Highway

The Game – 2014 (Rounder)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Blue Highway

As if to underline and emphasize why they've been among the most solid and dependable bands in the bluegrass world for the past 20 years, "The Game" highlights all the factors that have made Blue Highway favorites at festivals and concert halls across the land, and not just those catering to the bluegrass faithful.

When you've got the combination of vocal excellence, instrumental wizardry, songwriting /composing skills and straight-up joy for performing that these guys (Tim Stafford, Wayne Taylor, Shawn Lane, Rob Ickes and Jason Burleson) collectively demonstrate album after album and show after show, it's difficult for even the classical and opera fans (who may only be there because it's part of their season subscription) not to be impressed.

Though the band has done more than a few covers over the years, once again they rely on the writing skills of Stafford, Taylor and Lane for all but one song (the traditional "Hicks's Farewell"). The title track, co-written by Lane with Barry Bales, is a tale of gambling, murder and a bad man on the run that resonates with the same kind of imagery that predecessors like Marty Robbins and Merle Haggard have drawn on for decades. Stafford also teams up with Steve Gulley for "A Change Of Faith In Tennessee," a story of redemption brought about by the realization that "truth is just another point of view." Not too far removed from that theme is Taylor's "Talk Is Cheap," a driving tune in classic bluegrass style about things that maybe are better left unsaid.

Ickes continues to substantiate his renown as one of the best resophonic guitarists alive on one of the two instrumentals, "Funny Farm," which he composed. The other, "Dogtown," is a Burleson tune that opens with a bowed bass flowing into a minor-key banjo intro and just takes off from there - a nice example of why many feel minor-key tunes tend to be more intriguing and satisfying.

Most bands, regardless of genre, run the danger of getting stale and repetitive when they've spent two decades together, but this quintet has the knack of finding new and fresh ways to do their thing.