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Lonesome River Band

Mayhayley's House – 2017 (Mountain Home)

Reviewed by Devin Adams

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For years, Lonesome River Band was proud to be "Carrying The Tradition" of bluegrass music. Then, with last year's release they began the process of "Bridging The Tradition" of bluegrass to something a little more progressive, a little more modern. Now, "Mayhayley's House" proves that LRB is continuing across that bridge. What is ironic, or funny, is that Mayhayley Lancaster, from whom the project takes its name, was known for resisting modernization and keeping with the old tradition (she was a lawyer, fortune teller, midwife and more), where LRB has embraced bits and pieces of change, but that change has been gradual.

Once, the use of an electric bass was considered progressive in bluegrass, and for a time, LRB embraced it. Now, drums and piano are considered progressive, and LRB embraces those as well. There was a time when the mandolin chop was the snare drum of the bluegrass world. Now, there is an actual snare drum. The evolution has been slow and has taken longer than any other genre of music, probably due to the love of traditional sound; however, LRB has stayed at the forefront of what traditional sound can evolve into.

"Mayhayley's House" is a journey of different sounds and influences. "Wrong Road Again" opens with powerful banjo picking and a quick tempo on the snare, but is soon followed by "Old Coyote Town," a slow tempo song that trades banjo strings for a piano's. Country music influence creeps in on "As the Crow Flies" and "Hickory Hollow Times and County News." "Blackbirds and Crows" and "As Lonesome As I Am" are a pair of standouts. Yet, traditional tunes, reworked with a modern twist, like "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss" ("Shady Grove") and a super fun version of "Ida Red" prove that evolution is not always a bad thing.

Lancaster might well have resisted the changing of traditions, but surely would have found it difficult to resist "Mayhayleys' House." From the first note to the last, she would have found a rich, dynamic and enjoyable project that had evolved just enough to engage those looking for something modern sounding, but at the same time was steeped in enough tradition to satisfy the purists.