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Roland White & Friends

Tribute To The Kentucky Colonels – 2018 (Mountain Home)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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The storied history of The Kentucky Colonels - Roland and Clarence White, Roger Bush, Bobby Slone, Billy Ray Latham, LeRoy Mack and others - goes back to 1954 when the California-based White Brothers decided music making was for them. With just two albums to their credit, "The New Sound of Bluegrass America" and "Appalachian Swing!", The Bluegrass Colonels influenced generations of bluegrass players following in their wake.

The impact of Clarence White had on acoustic guitar playing is well-documented. Older brother Roland is as revered in mandolin circles. A sideman with Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt and featured member of The Country Gazette and The Nashville Bluegrass Band, as well as leader of his own Roland White Band and as an in-demand instructor, mandolin aficionados become excited at the mere mention of his name. Fifty-four years after the first Kentucky Colonels album was released, White returns with this volume of tribute to his original group.

White has long honed a reputation for bridging generations within bluegrass, and with "A Tribute to the Kentucky Colonels" he again turns to mentorship. Across 12 numbers, White is joined by some of the finest and relatively-youthful pickers in the business including Kristen Scott Benson, Gina Furtado, Justin Hiltner and Aaron Babelhauser all of whom make their presence known with splendid displays on five-string banjo. Featured guitarists include Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, Jon Stickley, Josh Haddix, and others including David Greer ("I Might Take You Back" and "Clinch Mountain Backstep") for us old guys.

Without fault, the assembled musicians rip through instrumental interpretations of bluegrass standards including "I Am A Pilgrim" and "Nine Pound Hammer," while White handles the lead vocals on beloved songs such as "Little White Washed Chimney" and perhaps the strongest number, "If You're Ever Gonna Love Me" featuring Brooke and Darin Aldridge on harmony vocals. "Listen to the Mockingbird" is as beautiful as ever played with Stickley and Haddix playing off White's mandolin.

Despite utilizing numerous (and disparate) instrumentalists, the album is remarkably cohesive in its sound and presentation. As with the finest bluegrass albums, there is no sense of overkill or one-upmanship apparent. Unified around White's mandolin playing, every bit as powerful, clean and vibrant as it has ever been, these familiar songs and tunes are energetically presented. "Alabama Jubilee" is fiery, with White playfully dancing along the strings and providing a range of tones and shades to appreciate. Similar descriptors could be applied to lively takes of "Farewell Blues" and "Soldier's Joy"/"Ragtime Annie," the latter which features Patrick McAvinue on fiddle.

"A Tribute to The Kentucky Colonels" is a strong bluegrass recording well-rooted in the music's tradition.