Twenty years ago, Joe Mullins and his late dad Paul "Moon" Mullins headed up the Traditional Grass, an Ohio-based band renowned for exactly that, some of the finest straight-ahead bluegrass to be heard on stage and recording in the day. After disbanding in the late 90s, Joe went into the radio business as a station owner - his current band name "Radio Ramblers" wasn't pulled out of thin air - and now runs an empire of three classic country Ohio stations. He didn't disappear from bluegrass entirely, playing an integral part in the four (so far) Longview projects, and following his dad's passing in 2008 returned to the circuit with a band good enough to garner the IBMA's Emerging Artist nod in 2012 and a string of Opry appearances.
It should come as no surprise that this fourth Rebel release (as were the earlier Traditional Grass discs) finds Mullins continuing to do what he does best. The arrangements, production and performance are vintage and classic, and should satisfy everyone from the hardcore purists to the newcomers trying to "get" what bluegrass is all about.
Although there is a title track among the 14 cuts, in a wider sense the theme of life moving ever forward, whatever it brings, is reflected in many of the other song titles such as "Blue Collar Blues," "Through A Coal Miner's Eyes" and "Now The Summer's Gone." "The Last Parade" tells of a hometown war casualty returning for the final time and features the anomaly - for bluegrass - of a full string section, but it's a nicely conceived piece. "Johnson Island Prison," written by Mullins with former Traditional Grass band mate Mark Rader, chronicles the frigid escape from the notorious Lake Erie prison camp by a Confederate who vows never to see snow again. On the whole, it's an intelligent and entertaining variety of material.
Mullins shares the lead vocals with Duane Sparks (guitar) and Mike Terry (mandolin), but the highlights are in the trios (Hank Williams' "May You Never Be Alone") and quartets, in particular the a cappella rendition of "The Dearest Friend I Ever Had." Mullins has a knack for putting harmony parts together, and two decades after the heyday of the Traditional Grass, he shows he's still got it.