As we enter the year marking the 70th anniversary of the landmark sessions by Bill Monroe that started off this whole "bluegrass" thing, there seem to be more and more young contemporary bluegrass musicians coming out of high-tone music schools like Berklee and Julliard and bringing more and more sophistication to the genre. It's good to know, though, that the "Old School" is still going strong, and Danny Paisley still deals out the hard-edged, uncompromising, and power-packed bluegrass that his father, the late Bob Paisley was renowned for. With Danny's own teenaged son Ryan now in the band, the Southern Grass is now in its third generation of making music that goes straight to the gut and straight through the heart.
The 13 tracks on "Weary River" include new versions of some of the best-loved songs from the more than three decades that Danny and his father formed one of the most dynamic duet partnerships on the bluegrass scene, highlighting their passion for drawing material from the realm of classic country and old time music. "Darling Nellie Across The Sea," for example, is an A. P. Carter song that was a staple of Bob Paisley's repertoire going back to his days with his partner Ted Lundy and their band, the Southern Mountain Boys. Likewise, Merle Haggard's "Somewhere Between" is a longtime Paisley favorite redone here, and one of the strongest cuts is "The Letter Edged In Black," a 19th century chestnut well known in bluegrass from a classic recording by Charlie Moore, but it's a song that's perfectly matched to the mournful edge that Danny Paisley's voice carries like no one else's in modern bluegrass. "Mother Knows Best" is a Marty Robbins classic that Bob Paisley sang with unmatched conviction, but Danny's remake is pretty damn close. He's equally compelling on the title track by Chris Stuart, one of the premier modern writers in modern bluegrass and acoustic music.
Bluegrass fans often talk of "drive," a quality in a band that's hard to define beyond simply saying "you know it when you hear it," but the Southern Grass has always matched vocal power to instrumental excellence. Over the years, there has usually been at least one member of the Lundy family in the band, and the good news is that Ted's son T. J. has returned after a few years away. Ryan Paisley is a budding talent on mandolin, and Mark Delaney's banjo work is solid and reliable throughout. It's difficult for bassist Eric Troutman to step in as Danny's duet partner, but he understands the dynamic well and does a very good job.
This is music that stays true to the melody, doesn't throw in a lot of flourishes and ornamentation, and as the saying goes, they do their best to let the song tell you what it wants. It's hardcore, bracing bluegrass the way a lot of people still want it, and very few bands do it as well as Paisley and his crew.