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Highland Travelers

Highland Travelers – 2018 (Mountain Fever)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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Three parts mountain music, and one part river bottom grit," Highland Travelers" represents a firm statement on behalf of the band on the same name. "Highland Travelers" is spare, yet textured. Many bands cannot hit that sweet spot, opting for a treacly high end or common bluegrass forms. Highland Travelers rises above, by seeking a bottom to complement the high lonesome sound.

The band might have been (but, thankfully, was not) called "Box Choice" since the musicians come from The Boxcars and Joe Mullins' backing band, Ramblers' Choice. Adam Steffey, who fronted The Boxcars with his high-level mandolin work, is here. Steffey has never confronted a tasty lick that he couldn't wrestle to the ground and call his own.

But Highland Travelers is more than Steffey. It's a group of like-minded musicians who really know how to find and execute material. "Old Country Church" is emblematic. Jason Davis' counterpoint banjo nicely lays down the line whilst Keith Garrett's vocals lift the song into the realm of present memory. Garrett is a fine songwriter, and this selection stands equal to the Hank Williams tune with a similar title. Garry Hultman, another former Boxcar, draws out sweet Dobro figures on virtually every cut. Kameron Keller, a former Rambler offers solid bass work and some singing.

Garrett carries a lot, but not all, of the vocal duties. Steffey, whose voice needs the right pocket, hits the mark on the two opening songs, Josh Miller's "Girl That Loved Me" and the Eli Johnson-written "Always Will Be".

"Highland Traveler" displays a confidence in its material and an assuredness in playing. It's a collection with a traditional sensibility, but with real depth.