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Balsam Range

Aeonic – 2019 (Mountain Home)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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Formed in 2007, Balsam Range already earned many international Bluegrass Music Association Awards across six albums. On their seventh, the acoustic quintet features four-part harmonies on most tunes, while the prevailing instruments are fiddle, mandolin, banjo, upright bass and guitar. Balsam Range is Buddy Melton (fiddle, vocals), Darren Nicholson (mandolin, vocals), Dr. Marc Pruett (banjo), Tim Surrett (bass, Dobro, Weissenborn, vocals) and Caleb Smith (guitar, vocals).

The curious title comes from a rather obscure Greek word about time and timing. It's about vitality and about meaning. In other words, great music has no expiration date. As such, this album is different than their previous ones in that these are songs written by others. Other than George Harrison's "If I Needed Someone" and possibly Ray LaMontagne's "Hobo Blues," they are relatively obscure.

They lead with "The Girl Who Invented the Wheel," a single that's already become a huge radio hit, sung by IBMA's Male Vocalist of the Year Buddy Melton. The next group of songs are about journeys into self-reflection and social commentary with lead vocals shared among all but Pruett. Smith's emotive vocal on "Hobo Blues" is particularly striking in this ballad that stands out amidst several more up-tempo tunes. Melton sings "Get Me Gone," which was co-written by Walt Wilkins, who gave the band the 2010 IBMA Song of the Year with "Trains I Missed."

Balsam Range is consistently voted as one of the top band's in bluegrass. Listen to Surrett, two-time IBMA Bass Player of the Year, sing The Beatles' "If I Needed Someone," giving it a lively tempo and the group's signature harmonies. Balsam Range proves that they are equally adept at being inventive or playing in a solid, traditional bluegrass mode as on "Let My Life Be a Light." Bluegrass aficionado or not, you absolutely need to hear them for impeccable picking and glorious vocals.