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Merle Monroe

Back to the Country – 2019 (Pinecastle)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Merle Monroe

True to their well-chosen moniker, the musical repertoire of Merle Monroe ideally encapsulates a country/bluegrass hybrid. Led by veteran vocalist Tim Raybon and dynamic five-string stalwart Daniel Grindstaff, Merle Monroe have done the near impossible, blending hardcore country influences and throwback flavors without losing the vocal and instrumental intensity required of contemporary bluegrass.

Six songs are Raybon originals, and each - including "Beautiful Kentucky" and "Whippoorwill" - would be at home on any classic Osborne Brothers album. Raybon is most obviously a gifted bluegrass singer with a range that seems unlimited; "Blessed City" and "The Kindest Man" - two more of his numbers - reveal the extent of his vocal approaches.

Grindstaff has long been a notable bluegrass banjo presence as a sideman for Jim and Jesse, The Osbornes, David Davis, and Marty Raybon. He can pour it on ("Singing Crazy Like Patsy Cline," for example) but is equally adept populating a song with memorable fills and accents, as on "Mama's Hungry Eyes" and "I'll Follow You."

Skip Ewing's "Dad," Bobby Bond's "Back Where It's At," Roger Miller's "This Town" and a second Haggard song, the white-line anthem "Movin' On," create the backbone for an unrelenting country-bluegrass journey. Guitarist Josh Doss contributes, as does touring bass player Jayd Raines, albeit limited to harmony vocals.

"Back to the Country" is an appealing debut from Merle Monroe.