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Josh Williams

Modern Man – 2016 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Josh Williams

Deeply influenced by those who shaded the lines between bluegrass and country - Keith Whitley, Tony Rice, J. D. Crowe - Josh Williams has been, since 1993, one of the 'next' generation of bluegrass artists to watch. "Modern Day Man" is his third adult release, sixth overall.

Currently guitar player and featured vocalist with Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Williams has a long bluegrass resume including experiences leading his own outfit, Special Consensus, Rice, and Crowe. After being dismissed from The Rage, and while winning three International Bluegrass Music Awards as Guitarist of the Year from 2008-2010, Williams found himself as one of the bluegrass community's whispered secrets: he was a meth addict.

Celebrating six years of sobriety, "Modern Day Man" is Williams' first release since 2010's "Down Home," an impressive album. "Modern Day Man" is certainly its equal, a mature and confident portrait of an artist working at the top of his game. Presenting a mix of bluegrass leaning mightily toward classic country, the album features a long list of collaborators including Sam Bush, Aubrey Haynie, Sierra Hull, Rob Ickes, Aaron McDaris and Scott Vestal.

The influence of Whitley, someone tormented by his own struggles, is apparent with "Girl of the Canyon" and "Another Town" having appeared on "Somewhere Between," a 1982 New South album. Pedal steel master Doug Jernigan, featured on "Sad Songs & Waltzes," Crowe's 2000 reimagining of "Somewhere Between," also makes contributions to "Modern Day Man," nowhere more effectively than on "Across the Great Divide." Further emotional gravitas is apparent in "Let It Go," a Ronnie Bowman/Jerry Douglas song that provided inspiration to Williams' personal reboot.

"Lonesome Lesson Learned" is a straight-ahead bluegrass burner, a reminiscence on lost love, while "Always Have, Always Will" and "Prodigal Son" tread on relationships challenged by weakness and deceit. "Sweet Little Boy" has a similar theme of self-betrayal, but with redemption achieved. Previously recorded on his "Lonesome Highway" in 2004, Williams revisits "Mordecai," a song carrying a powerful message of acceptance and duality.

A stunning bluegrass vocalist and guitarist, Josh Williams' contributions to Vincent's concert appearances are significant, never failing to impress. With the release of "Modern Day Man," Williams delivers evidence that second chances must be earned through honesty, acceptance and no little bit of hard work.