Emerging from a latter version of The New South, over the past 16 years, Wildfire has quietly established themselves as a consistent bluegrass outfit. With original members Robert Hale (guitar) and Curtis Chapman (bass) leading the way, Wildfire returns with "Rented Room on Broadway," their fifth album. John Lewis remains on banjo while bluegrass vagabonds Greg Luck (fiddle and guitar, and another J. D. Crowe alumnus) and Chris Davis (mandolin) make their recording debut.
A highlight of every Wildfire album has been the lead vocals of Hale, and that continues here. "Home Again" was released as a single more than two years ago and is a well-constructed, modern bluegrass song within the familiar theme of wanting to go "back home again." The other Hale composition is "Three," a song that takes a different tact in that it focuses on the comforts found in the present.
Wildfire has always featured a heavy country element within their bluegrass including songs pulled from the charts, and several of the numbers featured herein may be vaguely familiar. "They Don't Make 'Em Like My Daddy Anymore" was a number 4 hit for Loretta Lynn in 1974, Cal Smith recorded "The Ghost of Jim Bob Wilson" the next year, "I Get the Picture" was a Keith Whitley album track for RCA, and "Small Enough to Crawl," like the Lynn hit a Jerry Chestnut song, comes via Mel Street. These numbers are not frequently encountered, a testament to the group's ability to mine the past.
"The Letter," not too long ago recorded by Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, is given a less rambunctious tempo than The Box Tops envisioned, adding to the effectiveness of Wildfire's performance. Unfortunately, the album notes do not identify lead singers, but "Riding the Fence" and "Dollar" are also effectively performed. A strong song of faith, "Driving Nails," closes the disc.
Wildfire is a distinctive, contemporary bluegrass band, and they have an appealing approach to the music. The banjo and fiddle are prominent in their arrangements, and their harmonies are sound. On a song such as "A Bible and a Bus Ticket Home," the group successfully frames sentimental lyrics with classic instrumental touches (isolated bass notes representing the lonesomeness of a sparse rented room, fiddle to support the grieving) and three-part harmony that combine into a very strong presentation.
Wildfire continues to produce appealing, memorable bluegrass music.