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Songs from the Road Band

Traveling Show – 2015 (Lucks Dumpy Toad)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Songs from the Road Band

Being an assemblage of musicians who get together when their "other" bands aren't otherwise occupying their time and attention, it would exceed available space to go into detail about all 11 of the credited folks on this third release by the Songs From The Road Band and what they've done. The inescapable central figure, though, is Charles Humphrey III, bass player and founding member of the Steep Canyon Rangers, not so much because he's the executive producer of the disc as the fact that he co-wrote all 14 tracks.

More than a decade ago he collected some friends from the Rangers' Chapel Hill, N.C. stomping grounds as a way to perform and record some of the material he had been writing that, the Rangers being a band blessed with several talented writers, wasn't making it onto their records or stage shows. The first album was titled simply "Songs From The Road," and the name stuck.

The arrangements are, no surprise, the kind of richly textured bluegrass with hints of pedal steel and other classic country elements that is characteristic of the Steep Canyon sound, but with different voices and instrumental styling, it's distinctive music in it's own right. These are all thoroughly professional musicians who understand that, as the saying goes, it's best to let the song tell you what it wants rather than to try and bend it to your particular style, and Humphreys wisely steps back, concentrates on his bass and gives the rest of them room to shine. This is a well thought-out and produced effort.

As far as the songs themselves, Humphreys and his co-writers (and there are several) cover a lot of ground, from the light-hearted "Hillbilly Wedding Day" to the somber closing cut, "By The Banks." The melodies are inviting, and the lyrics are imaginative and thoughtful, evoking a lot of different moods. "Thompson Flood" tells a gripping and moving tale of disaster, with Phil Barker's lead vocal capturing the trauma of seeing lives washed away. Likewise, Andrew Marlin's vocal on "Rake Out The Nails" embodies the ache and bitterness of the end of a relationship in the metaphor of razing the house it was built for to the ground and starting over.

When individual members of successful bands step out and do projects of their own, the results are not always satisfying. "Buddy bands" sometimes turn out to be bad ideas, where no two of them are quite on the same page. In this case, though, this is not "Charles Humphrey and the Songs From The Road Band." This is a team effort all the way through, and it works pretty well.