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Blue Yonder

Rough And Ready Heart – 2018 (New Song Recordings)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Blue Yonder

Blue Yonder is essentially an all-star trio of terrific country and bluegrass players based in Charleston, West Va. Their songs are solid, well-structured and crisp with none of the dozen on "Rough And Ready Heart" exceeding four minutes. The sound is authentically pure, and it's both appealing and refreshing as the band moves through classic country, rockabilly, swing and folk.

The album is dedicated to the listeners who join Blue Yonder every Tuesday night at Bluegrass Kitchen in Charleston, where the band has played almost every week since 2013. Principal award-winning songwriter and lead vocalist John Lilly has built a reputation for his songs about living, loving and losing. Most can relate to his songs rather easily. Guitarist Robert Shafer, who plays electric guitar, is a noted rockabilly guitarist and is a multiple winner in the Winfield Walnut Valley national flat-picking contest. He enjoys getting the opportunity to stretch out more than usual in this band, due to Lilly's varied styles. Upright bassist Will Carter is a well-known player in old timey and bluegrass circles;and has been a major shaper of key festivals including Mountain Stage/NewSong Music Festival. They are joined by drummer Tony Creasman, and on harmonies by John Cloyd Miller and Gar Ragland, the latter having also produced and mixed the record.

The opening "Standing By the Side of the Road" is immediately infectious and might easily induce the listener to sing along with the chorus. The deft picking of Shafer carries the music along as he plays his electric guitar like a pedal steel at times, while at other times, makes rapidly clean runs, as Lilly's rhythm guitar pushes him. The title track moves along briskly as well before they settle into the ballad "Lost in Yesterday," colored by harmonies on the chorus. The album alternates between the swinging up-tempo style and ballads for the next six tracks before closing with three strong tunes, the intriguing story of "Tombstone Charlie," the barroom lament, "You Can't Get There from Here" and the Chuck Berry-inspired rockabilly "Green Light."

Throughout the music is seemingly effortless, reflecting the great chemistry among the players. Blue Yonder, unlike the name, never reaches. They just stay tight, reminding us how good country music can be in the hands of masters.