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Adam Steffey

Here to Stay – 2016 (Mountain Home)

Reviewed by Fred Smith

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CDs by Adam Steffey

From the opening notes of "Mountain Man," the first cut of Adam Steffey's "Here To Stay," the message is clear: here's some unapologetic mountain music, with a good dose of modern sensibility. The notes are clear, the lyrics defiant; Steffey is not only "Here To Stay," but here to play.

Steffey is one of the finest mandolin players of his generation. He's played with Alison Kraus and Mountain Heart (among others). His currently performance gig is as a member of The Boxcars. Steffey frequently shows up as a session player on country mainstream efforts to lend a bit of mountain cred.

"Here To Stay" is a beautiful collection of songs Steffey did from his time with Krauss and Mountain Heart, among others. Steffey's playing shows well (see, for example, "Pitching Wedge," Steffey's only original). But, his voice also reveals a great deal. It's an alto mountain swell, surrounding the notes and infusing them with strength. There's nothing precious in his singing; rather, Steffey's voice inhabits the message of the songs in a very affecting way.

Steffey, among other accomplishments, is a lecturer and band director at East Tennessee State University's Bluegrass, Old Time, Celtic and Country Music Department. His knowledge of the form inspires the selections. From Eric Gibson's "The Space I'm In" to Bob Lucas' "No Place To Hide" straight on to Robert Johnson's "Come Thou Fount (Of Every Blessing)," which acts as a coda to the collection. The songs, whilst not predictable, all point to the central soul of mountain music. Especially entertaining is the traditional "Hell Among The Yearlings" in which Steffey trades mandolin licks with his wife Tina on banjo. Jason Davis' banjo on other cuts complements Steffey as in Billy Ray Reynolds' "Cloudy Days" (like "No Place," "Days" is identified with Kraus). Barry Bales, stalwart standup bassist, lays down a bottom that drives the movement up in the range. Ron Stewart's fiddle contributes greatly, and Tim Surrett is featured in a number of vocal harmonies.

"Here To Stay" is savory, stout and enhances Steffey's reputation as a solid traditional artist. He has chosen the songs and the band well. The playing matches the wisdom of the selections.