To bluegrass purists, "first generation bluegrass" refers not just to artists (Monroe, Wiseman, Flatt & Scruggs, Jim and Jessie), but also to an ethos and instrumentation (Rule 1: no drums). Audie Blaylock came of age, at 19, playing with one of the first generation artists, Jimmy Martin, the King Of Bluegrass.
Martin died in 2005, long after Blaylock had left his travelling band. Blaylock played as a sideman for Rhonda Vincent and Red Allen before forming Redline. Blaylock's fellow members in Redline are younger players, but devotion to the first generation sound continues with "The Road That Winds," although not without some textured surprises along the way.
Like many bluegrass musicians, Blaylock learned in his family's orbit, slowing down 33 RPM records with rubber bands to learn a new lick from recordings. For latter-day players who can automatically change tempo (without changing pitch) on YouTube or their handheld device, this may seem quaint, but the attachment that bound Blaylock with the music persists.
'The Road That Winds" does not disappoint. The notes are struck sweet and pure. Blaylock's tenor vocals fit his material well. With Bob Amos' "Down Where The Wild River Rolls," most closely identified with Hot Rize, Redline's spare instrumentation and loping tempo shine. That "Roll" is followed by "Ride and Roll," which takes the same simple setup and picks through at a hundred more beats per minute. It's a real treat that borrows equally from Monroe and Bill Haley. Knowing their cue, Redline launches into bassist Reed Jones' "The Ties That Bind," which has a rockabilly feel.
Call the disc sneaky-ambitious. The hits ("Ties," Cal Jackson and Jerry Salley's "Safe Water," Blaylock's own "I'm Still Alive") far outweigh the misses (Elton John's "Daniel"). Blaylock and Redline are comfortable interpreting others' material, but both Jones and Blaylock ("Alive" and "Life Without A Spare") contribute original materials that fit well with the collective work. "The Road That Winds" was recorded in Scott Vestal's studio and engineered and mixed by Vestal. He contributes a layer of clarity and purpose to virtually every project he is part of whether as a player or engineer. "The Road That Winds" is no exception.
Redline features stout players: fiddler Patrick McAvinue, bassist Jones and Evan Ward on banjo. Mandolinist Jesse Brock lays down a tasty line on the title cut. Audie Blaylock and Redline are true to their roots, but "The Road That Winds," delivers a fresh bluegrass experience.