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Band of Ruhks

Band of Ruhks – 2015 (101 Ranch)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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Ronnie Bowman, Don Rigsby and Kenny Smith, who all put in their time in the Lonesome River Band, join together to create a traditional sound with early 21st century sensibility with their new band.

This is country bluegrass. The Band of Ruhks leave the banjo synthesizer behind, but create a rich production bed that emphasizes Bowman's vocals. After all, he was the IBMA Vocalist of The Year for three years in the late 1990's.

Some of the choices are typical of the genre: "Coal Mining Man" is a paean to hard work with little reward. But, who's that singing lead on the front end? Oh, Dr. Ralph Stanley himself. "All The Way," the CD's lead-off number displays crisp, clear high lonesome sounds of bluegrass with strong playing. It's a beautiful tune.

After the first three songs establishing the Ruhks country bona fides, "Bootleg John" is mountain bluegrass featuring Rigsby on lead vocal. Rigsby plays all manner of mandolin-family instruments here. His voice lends heart, reminiscent of his CD "Empty Old Mailbox."

Like Rigsby and Bowman, Smith, a guitarist, did some time in the Lonesome River Band, played with his wife Amanda Smith in a touring band, and has schooled a generation of guitar players. His work on "All We Need" strikes the right balance between spare and rich.

True to the players' backgrounds, "Band of Ruhks" straddles the gap between country (Harley Allen's "Rendezvous With Danger") and bluegrass ("Lost Highway") music with confidence and appreciation for each. Bowman, Rigsby and Smith enlisted strong sidemen, most notably John Mayer on banjo, Jimmy Stewart on resonator guitar and Stuart Duncan's fiddle in choice spots. These are not players recording a bluegrass album to cement their country street credibility; they respect the music by playing and singing.