In an era when more and more of the bluegrass scene seems to be inhabited by graduates of the "big city music schools" who are infusing the music of Monroe and Stanley with ever more complicated strains and exotic chords and rhythms, Virginia-based guitarist and singer Mickey Galyean and his backing trio (Rick Pardue, banjo; Brad Hiatt, bass; Billy Hawks, fiddle) are more than happy to continue providing evidence that the "old school" is still very much alive and well. The term "high lonesome" may be dangerously close to becoming a cliché, but veteran grassers like Galyean and his crew are living reminders of why the term exists at all and continues to have meaning. Bluegrass was built on the regional bands who played the music straight-ahead, no holds barred, and this is squarely in that tradition. The band's name, Cullen's Bridge is not an homage to any structure or geographical location, it reflects Mickey's desire to carry the music of his late father, Cullen Galyean, into the future.
For evidence that this is very much on their minds, look no further than the third cut of this new dozeen, Pardue's "No Candy In My Bluegrass", a wry stab at the artificially sweet and watered-down nature of much of modern country and bluegrass. Each member contributes original material, but much of the album's charm comes from their selection of classic and traditional fare that covers most of the usual themes: prison ("The Convict and the Rose"), hope ("Wear A Red Rose"), faith ("You Can Go To Heaven"), love lost ("Too Late To Say Goodbye") and, of course, home ("The Blue Ridge Mountains"). Perhaps the most striking track, though, is a stripped-down version of "The Drunkard's Dream" featuring Galyean's vocal and guitar backed only by Hawks' fiddle, a captivating take on an old standard.
Galyean's lead vocals are satisfyingly hard-edged, enhanced by the trio backing of Pardue and Hiatt, and the band is nicely balanced between the singing and the instrumentals - very competent all around. Bluegrass may be making some inroads among the wine-and-cheese crowd these days, but if a good, stiff shot of "musical whiskey" is more your style, this will do the job.